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On the Pony Express Trail by Scott Alumbaugh

On the Pony Express Trail by Scott Alumbaugh

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The Pony Express has a hold on the American imagination wildly out of proportion to its actual role in the history of the West. The system of transporting mail to California by a relay of lone riders on swift horses ran less than eighteen months in 1860-1861 and failed by every measure of success. Nevertheless, it has become the most iconic symbol of the West.

Scott Alumbaugh was so taken with the Pony Express that at age 62 he bikepacked 1,400 miles of the trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Salt Lake City, Utah. Alumbaugh’s journey took five weeks on a route that was mostly off-road, sometimes through remote territory. Along the way he came to see the celebrated Pony Express as a collection of fables based on a few historical facts and reshaped into a symbol of the spirit that “won the West.” 

On The Pony Express Trail: One Man’s Bikepacking Journey to Discover History from a Different Kind of Saddle recounts Scott Alumbaugh’s experience bikepacking the Pony Express Trail during the summer of 2021. The narrative follows his day-to-day experiences and impressions—the challenges, the sites he visited, the country he rode through, and the interactions with the people he met—while taking a fresh look at the real Pony Express in the context of mid-1800s historical events along the trail: The Mexican-American, Utah, and Paiute Wars; the California and Pike’s Peak gold rushes; the overland emigration of hundreds of thousands to Oregon and California; the exodus of tens of thousands of Mormons to Utah; and the increasingly contentious fight over slavery along with the looming threat of civil war.

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