I recently read West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express, by Jim DeFelice. It is a fascinating read about the history of the famous Pony Express. It was founded by three men to deliver mail and messages across the country, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California in a span of 10 days (2 days longer in the winter). At the peak there were 180 riders, 400 horses, and 184 stations.
The riders traveled 75 miles each and an average of 80 riders were on the route at any given time. Each rider carried a water sack, horn, revolver, and a Bible along with a special type of mailbag known as a “mochilla”—the Spanish word for knapsack. They rode through uninhabited desert, over ice-capped mountains, oceanic plains, whitewater rivers, and harsh terrain in heat and in cold.
The riders literally delivered the mail, and they delivered it fast, but it was not enough. The Pony Express went bankrupt after only 18 months. The primary reason that is cited for the failure of the Pony Express is the rise of the transcontinental telegraph line but the reality is, the reasons are far more complex. If you enjoy stories of adventure and nuance, with many colorful characters, I would recommend reading the book.
One thing stood out to me about the failure of the Pony Express. Speed alone is not enough. Vani Kola wrote a piece entitled “Speed Vs. Sustainability” for Yourstory. Kola wrote, “Speed seems to fascinate everyone. It has become one of the fundamental factors to achieve anything worthwhile. Doing things faster is a success in itself. To say the least, speed is a way of life today.”
The Pony Express had the speed part down, and it took great adventure and courage to accomplish what they did. However, they couldn’t sustain it. In the article I referenced by Kola, the statement is made, “If you keep going without being sure you can sustain yourself at this speed, probability is very high that you will run-into a wall…Is there a perfect balance between speed and sustainability? You need to check only two things- whether speed is essential for survival and whether you can maintain this speed…You need to be a hundred percent ready to sustain the speed.”
The Pony Express reminds me that we can experience a flurry of activity in our work, and a lot of excitement may surround it, but it is also important to carry out our work in a way that will last and can be sustained!