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Do you always imagine what people from centuries ago thought when they looked up at the night sky? Or what sea farers were up against, crossing the oceans in huge, wooden boats? Our contributor Barrett Golding had long wondered what America was like back at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Lewis and Clark set out to explore the unknown, wild and wooly West. Early this summer, Barrett and a friend loaded their mountain bikes with provisions and followed the Missouri River, starting outside St. Louis, Missouri, with the goal of reaching Mandan, North Dakota, where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter. The trip isn't as tough as it was two centuries back, but it still has its trying moments.

Biking With Lewis and Clark - Part III

By Barrett Golding, 8/17/2001

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As soon as these people go home, we'll camp here. Marthasville, Missouri; population 800. Half of them are at this park, eating hot dogs, and cheering little leaguers. This first game is Lemke Trenching and Excavating versus Miller's Funeral Homes.

We left Saint Charles this afternoon, and pedaled 40 miles, a short day for us. The Lewis and Clark Expedition took 4 days to do the same distance. They got here Maay 25th, 1804. Captain Clark wrote: "Camped at the mouth of of a creek called La Charette above a small French village of 7 houses and as many families. Settled at this place to be convenient to hunt and trade with the Indians. This is the Last Settlement of Whites."

There's more houses here now. But when the buildings downtown come up for sale, FEMA buys them. It's cheaper than rebuilding every time the Missouri River floods; which it does often.

The community center here is made of cement to withstand the the floodwaters. They just move everything upstairs, and the river passes right through the a big opening, a 12 foot high, 20 foot wide walkway in the middle of the first floor. Don Sherman designed it. He's a retired Chrysler worker, and volunteer caretaker for the ballpark.

That night, it rains. In the morning at Loretta's Bar and Grill, Loretta tells us it's been raining for weeks. The river has risen four feet in past 24 hours, and more water is on the way.

Barrett: "What is that, ya know?"
Joe: "Those are bugs, frogs."
Three days out; the river is now 10 feet above floodstage. Critters are crawling over the trail. Turtles, snakes,and worms, thousands, no, a million worms, really. All trying the get out of the floodwaters. The river is crawling up the trial too. And soon, we're pedaling thru water. Fish are rising next to us, and turkey buzzards are fishing above our heads; we're bicycling in the Missouri River.

We pass swollen swamps, people out catfishing, with rods, with spears. We pass Eric Hazlett, who's also pedaling thru the water, pulling a big metal bike-trailer, which he's just about filled with buckets and buckets of night crawlers. To Lewis and Clark, this was the far West. To Joe and I, it's about as southern as this guy sounds.

A few miles up the trail are two guys standing in a beanfield, bowfishing. They have bows with arrows attached to fish-line and reels. Fish from the Missouri River have followed the floodwaters into what's now a pond in the middle of this farmer's field. Big fish, 2 to 4 foot gar and carp, which these guys will later chop into bait to catch even bigger catfish.

Clark's Journal: "Captain Clark. May 30th, 1804. Rained all last night. Set out at 6'oClock after a heavy shower, and proceeded on. The Current Verry Swift river riseing fast. a little after dark last night Several guns were herd below, I expect the French men fireing for Whithous who was lost in the woods. we Made 14 miles today. the river continue to rise. A heavy wind accompanied by rain & hail. The Country on each Side appear full of Water."
When Joe and I get to Jefferson City, both the way we had come, and the way we want to go are fenced off. "Trail Closed," says the sign. "Do not continue. You may become stranded with no escape route."

So we divert, north to Columbia. We'd heard about a guy there producing an opera based on Lewis and Clark. We get a hotel; dry out our gear. As we unpack, we unleash all kinds of Missouri River critters from our dip in the stream - there's things crawling and flying all around the room. Joe squeezes a welt on his arm and a tiny red mite comes out. We're our own traveling ecosystem. The pieces of the river we brought with and in us are busy settling into their new home.

Savvy Resources:

The "Great Pains and Accuracy" Tour is named after Jefferson's 1803 instructions to Lewis: "Your observations are to be taken with great pains and accuracy, to be entered distinctly and intelligibly, for others as well as yourself."

This show comes from HearingVoices.com, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The website for our bike/mic trip: http://www.hearingvoices.com/trail/.

There's also a discussion board dedicated to the project at: http://ranger78.webcrossing.com/WebX?50@225.lkgwaiJoaWP^3@.ee80d1b.

An excellent web site is "Discovering Lewis and Clark": http://www.lewis-clark.org.

You can find other pieces in the "Biking With Lewis and Clark" series at:

Part I
Part II
Part IV

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