Most children in the U.S. learn about the Pony Express in grade school, but the lesson is usually short. We generally learn that it was a sort of horse-driven postal service, that it happened a long time ago in the Western U.S., and that it involved a lot of hard work.
That doesn’t give the Pony Express its due. Founded in 1860, the short-lived institution was a crucial part of America’s communication infrastructure. Pony Express riders brought Civil War news to California and other western territories, which could have meant the difference between keeping the union strong and intact or having it splinter into smaller factions. These men and women endured some of the harshest conditions faced by westward emigrants, yet they persevered and delivered critical documents from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA in an average of just 10 days.
As a long distance cyclist, I have long been interested in the potential of the Pony Express Trail as a bikepacking route. And this August, after about eight months of reading National Historic Trail Association overlay maps and drawing up GPX files, I was finally able to put wheels to the ground.
My goal was to stay as true as possible to the known Pony Express route. To achieve that, I drew a route that follows current roads and (in some places) singletrack, linking known Pony Express stations and following historical markers. I did deviate from the original route a few times, but only to avoid pavement and heavy traffic areas.