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In the footsteps of Lewis and Clark

VehiclesGang ActivityColleges and UniversitiesMeriwether Lewis

I am drawn to the captains. My relationship with Lewis and Clark began years earlier when I first read their journals. I gained a measure of these men and came to like them as people.

I am continuously compelled to walk in their footsteps, so once again I'm headed to Montana. Each passing mile takes us deeper into this adventure. Sitting in the back of the van with 13 college students, I scribble my thoughts on loose pieces of paper, intermittently glancing at the countryside we're passing.

The white lines of the road evaporate suddenly and then reappear. They seem to keep time with the sycophantic rhythms of the highway, the wind and the sound of the rubber meeting the road.

This is my 29th year of adventuring into the Rocky Mountains, teaching history, mythology and how to survive off the land. The lure of open country is hypnotic. The landscape is filled with mythologies and mysteries that awaken an awareness that we are genetically linked to a primordial past of hunters and voyagers.

Adventure is intoxicating and its own aphrodisiac. Many things are known and many things are unknown, and in between there are doors. I hope to open those doors and show my students that what they find can help them forget what they were looking for. Adventure is a process of self-discovery. It's not so much about the thing discovered, but about the discovery itself.

Even the gods are spectators to the deeds of adventurers. Adventure in of itself is the search for the divine, the elusive, the unknown. In our search, things of divine nature are revealed to us, which may or may not lead us to our ultimate goal.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out in the spring of 1804 to discover the fabled Passage to India, an all-water route through the interior of North America. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery but yet failed to find their original intent. Instead they discovered the future of a fledgling nation, the land itself and the promises it held.

This year I am taking 11 students to canoe the upper Missouri River in northern Montana. The Missouri is a beast: a long and dangerous, wildly beautiful snake. Its vast parries and distant mountains and seemingly limitless length will test our physical endurance and comprehension at every turn.

Our trip is more than 100 miles through some of the most isolated, rugged and beautiful country in America. We'll float the fabled White Cliffs and the Badlands memorialized by Lewis' poetic descriptions as "Scenes of Visionary Enchantment."

The origins of my journeys float on the lofty thoughts that I borrowed from Thoreau: "Wilderness is the tonic of life."

During college I was a street-gang counselor and was charged with keeping the gang kids from killing each other. I had this crazy idea that adventure and physical challenge could tame the restless souls of wayward youth. Thus, I began taking kids to the mountains and showing them the possibilities of adventure. So here I sit in this crowded van 44 years later, and the same ideas still float above me. I'm still telling those timeless stories of Lewis and Clark, mountain men, Indians. I'm still holding on to the premise that experiential education is a self-revelation.

As we climb the Colorado Plateau the chatter in the van subsides. Rich hues of green explode. Lodgepole, ponderosa, Douglas fir and cedar trees loom as giants. We are swift as we enter an ancient circ cut by the Gallatin River. We are surrounded by snow-capped mountains the Gallatin, Absoroarka, Teton, and we sail amidst them.

I sense the presence of the captains, and as they would have done, I watch the grand eternal Earth, sunrise and sunset, and as the round Earth rolls, I am haunted by the endless inquiry, "Who are we?"

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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