Milligan College journalism professor Jim Dahlman told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he left Elizabethton on May 22 and trekked 275 miles through part of Virginia to end up at Fort Boonesborough State Park near Richmond, Ky., this month.
He said he interviewed people along the way about what the land means to them.
"In some cases, people have just unpacked their entire life stories," he said. "I think they're eager to tell their stories. They don't get many chances to do that."
Dahlman said the Wilderness Road is the name for several pioneer routes but that he tried to follow a path made by Boone and 30 ax men in 1775.
"I was curious to see how it had grown up and how it's developed, and if that might tell us something about the region as a whole and also how the United States has grown up over the last 240 years," Dahlman said.
Dahlman said he hopes to write a book about the experience.
He started his trip at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, 5 miles from his Johnson City home. He thought that a fitting place to start, since Boone and Richard Henderson negotiated the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, in which Henderson's Transylvania Company bought a large part of Kentucky and a part of Tennessee from the Cherokee.
Henderson hired Boone to improve the existing path to make it easier for settlers to travel through the wilderness.
"Boone had wanted to move there for a long time, so this was on his agenda anyway," Dahlman said. "So he and these 30 ax men took off in March 1775 ... and followed this trail, widened it, improved it, marked it better. It was still very rough. It was, at best, a bridle path. From that point up through the Cumberland Gap, and then up into Boonesborough is where they ended up."
Modern roads such as U.S. 25E follow nearly the same route. The trip gave Dahlman a renewed respect for early settlers.
"Right now we cruise over these mountains and we cruise over these rivers, and we don't give them a second thought," he said. "But to these early settlers and travelers, the mountains and rivers were major obstacles."