This summer we are going to begin an annual routine to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail. Admittedly we are not going to follow any kind of order that really makes sense- except that we will dedicate as many days as we have off to doing the journey. My daughter is fascinated with Sacajawea and I am an early American History nerd, so this is an easy way to get her to read and study and give us something in common.
The Corp of Discovery is the first true overland expedition that took place in the US. The challenge undertaken in 1804was equivalent to sending a man to the moon in the 1960’s. It was a vast undertaking that required a monstrous amount of planning and preparation. Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition and outlined the mission’s goals. Their objectives were primarily to look for a trade route to the Pacific for economic needs. Included was both its scientific and commercial value, to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to discover how the region could be expanded economically. Not only was the trade route necessary, but also the ability to lay claim to lands west, set up trade with the Indians, and send a message to Russia, Brittan, France, and Spain the intentions to one day occupy and fortify the North American West.
There are volumes about the expedition so I don’t want to provide a history lesson here. Instead I would encourage yo to read Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose. My point is to merely outline how this adventure is similar and provides an early outline to the art of overlanding.
Every time I read a journal entry, a synopsis of the trip, or see a movie – I am reminded just how intense this trip was and how it compares to the modern overlander. The Corp of Discovery traveled by several means, horse, watercraft, and foot. In the modern age we often times find ourselves traveling by aircraft (either to a jump point- or even midway through an adventure), loading our rigs on a barge or ferry, and even walking around some remote ghost town.
Like the expedition of 1804 had trade items such as beads, knives, face-paint, etc…who among us who has traveled in 3rd hasn’t taken chocolate, hats, t-shirts, pencils, patches, etc to trade or give as “gifts”. Overlanders tend to have their own currency they travel with.
like our Overlanding forefathers I have had to recruit not only team members for the expedition, but to hire guides and interpreters to get to where I was going or get help I needed. Lewis and Clark often found themselves negotiating these needed services.
When I read the account of the expedition for the first time several years ago I was blown away by the amount of provisions and equipment took along. Books, desk, barrels of food, grease, and whiskey, trade goods, scientific equipment, a blacksmith shop, pots and pans, etc. Then I look in the back of my rig with its shovels, jacks, air compressor…then the the front with radios, maps, gps gear. So glad my iPad is a more compact version of Lewis’ information system.
Years ago Melissa and I took a Wilderness First Aid course through NOLS. We were fortunate that the instructor in the course had a background in extended wilderness travel and had even served as an expedition medic in traveling to third world countries. Often times when in the backcountry or abroad- you are your team doctor for any kind of ailment or injury. Today’s equipment is much more advanced than what was carried by the Lewis and Clark team, but none-the-less, it is still highly valued and takes up a considerable amount of space in the rig.
Finally, not to drone too long on a subject of comparison I love- but navigation. Clark was an extraordinary map-maker and highly valued on his team for his use of celestial navigation aides. I have numerous maps, two-GPS devices, and years of experience in navigation in the wild. The tools may change, but the competencies to be a great navigator never do.
I love studying the similarities and each time I venture into my own Terra Incognita, I am reminded of these brave explorers and feel a special connection to living completely self-supported as they did.