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June 2004 Route update
Bits and stories about World Bike for Breath. A Bulletin for sponsors. Volume 2, November, 2004
"Mosquitoes verry troublesom," wrote Captain Meriwether Lewis in his journal as he camped with the Corps of Discovery along the banks of the Missouri River near present day Fort Benton, Montana.
Reading Lewis’ comments by flashlight, while our family huddled in our tents near Lewis’ former campsite, brought peals of laughter from my husband, Lorenz, and our two daughters—twelve year old Yvonne, and fourteen year old Anya.
Our arms and legs covered in itchy red dots from the day’s relentless mosquito attacks, we could easily commiserate with Lewis’ comments. Our family was pedaling along the route that the famed Lewis and Clark expedition had taken from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, and discovering—to our joy and distress—that two hundred years later, it was still possible to experience some of the Corps’ own trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
In May, as our family set off from Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast, I had secretly wondered whether this final leg of our family’s sixteen month cycling odyssey around the world for asthma would be able to compare to the ancient temples and castles of Europe, the exotic colors and cultures of Asia, or the majestic beauty of Australia and the south Pacific. Yet as we cycled along the trail of these great American explorers-- camping under the majestic peaks of the Cascade, Bitterroot and Rocky Mountains; pedaling through the vast plains (now reservations) of the great Indian nations that had once welcomed Lewis and Clark; and visiting the many museums, reconstructed forts and historic markers along the way—it was with amazement and humbleness that we shared our country’s heritage with our daughters.
Our family began our journey from the Pacific Ocean (retracing Lewis’ homeward bound route) fittingly on a misty cool morning—much like the many mornings that must have greeted the expedition during their rainy layover in the winter of 1805. Like Lewis and Clark we carried our own journals; unlike them we were armed with maps and a fabulous guidebook for families: Lewis and Clark for Kids (Janis Herbert, Chicago Review Press). We first pedaled along the lush waterfall canyons of the Columbia River; and soon came to understand why Clark wrote “Ocian in view! O! The joy!” as the Corps paddled past snow covered Mount Hood, to sight the Pacific Ocean. Continuing on thirstily into the barren hot deserts of eastern Oregon, we felt renewed respect for the courage of both the Corps of Discovery and the many pioneers who followed later along the dusty Oregon Trail.
In Idaho we fell to sleep at night to the dancing babble of the Lochsa River, sprinkled on its banks with the white flowers of the camas or bitterroot plant. Anya and Yvonne’s imaginations soared with visions of Captain Lewis, quill and ink in hand, sketching these nourishing (though bitter) roots and flowers in his botanical journals. During the day, we visited the archeological remains of ancient villages of the Nez Perce Indians. The terrible fate of this tribe, who had befriended and aided the starving Clark and his exploratory party as they stumbled out of the freezing Bitterroot mountains, was told in tragic roadsigns on the road to Montana, along their ill starred and fatal escape route from the U.S army seventy years after meeting the Corps. Pedaling over the frigid 5235 foot Lolo Pass, our mouths blowing frosty balloons in June, it was not difficult to commiserate with the hardship and suffering the Corps (or the Nez Perce) must have felt in crossing this challenging mountain range.
As our family headed north from Missoula, Montana, into the Rockies, we entered some of the loveliest high mountain country of our entire world ride. Unspoiled quiet roads meandered through rolling green mountain valleys, circled by silent white peaks. Pronghorn antelope sprang alongside of us; bighorn sheep climbed along the ridges; whitetail deer nibbled at grass in the fields; and bald eagles soared overhead: a teeming unspoiled world of wildlife, as awe inspiring and astounding to us as it must have been to Lewis and Clark. We heartily agreed that this country was, as Lewis put it, “beautifull in the extreme.”
The descent to Great Falls, MT presaged yet another change in landscape: to the long empty expanse of the great plains. After a day in the fascinating Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (displaying life size dioramas of the Corps’ eleven day portage around the former falls) our family pedaled north above the vermillion and sand etched cliffs of the great Missouri River. Feeling the need to experience life on the river as the Corps must have seen it, we rented a canoe for two days at Fort Benton. As we paddled along pristine silent waters dotted with pelicans, eagles, whooping cranes and other wild birds, we dreamed of the time when the cliffs once also teemed with buffalo, deer and the “great white bear”.
Sadly, the pishkun or Indian buffalo jump at Havre, MT, is now only an archaeological reminder of the days when the great plains had such an abundance of wildlife that Lewis remarked in his journals that he could hardly turn in any direction without seeing a buffalo, deer or elk. Like the buffalo, we discovered that the many native peoples who had lived in harmony with them—the Sioux, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Chippewa-Cree and Blackfeet-- had also all but disappeared. Throughout eastern Montana and North Dakota we pedaled through sad, desolate, poverty stricken Indian reservations. Indeed the misery was so great among these formerly proud peoples, that our daughter, Yvonne, remarked, as we pedaled past yet another crumbling peeling town of hovels, that the villages “reminded her of Tonga”: one of the poorest Third world countries we had cycled through on our entire world ride.
It was with regret that our family bid goodbye to the Lewis and Clark trail in Washburn, north of Bismark, North Dakota. Wandering along the wooden palisades of the reconstructed Fort Mandan-- the Corps’ home for the winter of 1804—we sympathized with Lewis and Clark’s many emotions as the Corps returned to Mandan on their homeward bound journey in 1806. Like Lewis and Clark our family would be returning from a year and a half long odyssey to distant lands, far away from friends and relatives. As the four of us pedaled into Washington D.C. two months later, we each shared many mixed feelings: joy, sadness, excitement, longing, love. Overlaying it all, stood out the days and days of unforgettable memories. I understood, perhaps too fully, the poignant final words of Herbert’s excellent Lewis and Clark for Kids:
"How often in later years did Clark stand on the banks of the Missouri River and look west? How many times did he close his eyes and imagine the vast plains, the tall grasses swaying in the wind, and the herds of buffalo that dotted the countryside…What marvels he and Lewis had seen… "
Thank you for letting us share with you some of the marvels our family has seen this past year and a half.World Bike for Breath
P.O. Box 11581
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Updated: June 16, 2004