This week, rise early one morning and drive to the edge of town. The sunrise, with the bright blues and golds painting the clouds, can't help but evoke a feeling of wonder. The bluffs that line Western Iowa stand as resolute guardians for the tall grasses waving in the cool morning breeze. The Missouri River seems eternal, stretching to infinity in both directions. It flows from the point where it meets the arching sky on the distant horizon. That horizon beckons you, with all the promise of a new day.
The sky, the hills, the river: these are constants. If you are far enough away from the city, it is not too difficult to imagine the same scene greeting the men who formed the Voyage of Discovery nearly 200 years ago. The difference, of course, is the promise that their day would not include air conditioners, cell phones or computers. Cars or planes, microwave ovens or fast food places. Grocery stores, rest areas or roads.
Only the sky, the hills, and the river.
Their day promised hard work and sweat, as they rowed, poled, or pulled the barge and two other boats up an unruly river. A river filled with muddy water, switchbacks, crumbling banks, submerged stumps and numerous other hazards, all waiting to grasp the unwary.
The promise also included being part of an adventure that people would remember two centuries later. A trip that would fill blank spaces on maps and eventually fill pages of books, as they surveyed, studied and catalogued the wilderness in their search for the mythical "Northwest Passage," an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean.
They never found it, and through their voyage, they proved it didn't exist. To some, this made the Voyage of Discovery a failure. How could it be? The very name of their trek speaks their purpose, and they were more successful than they could have imagined. The Expedition catalogued 178 plants and 122 animals. They also returned with word of 24 Indian tribes previously unknown to the outside world.
Too often, though, we see their trip only as history. For them, it was a trip into the future, and they were writing that future a day at a time with their actions.
Over the next 10 weeks, The Weekender will travel with the men of the Corps of Discovery Expedition, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, from the time they enter what is currently Nebraska until they leave the tri-state region in late September.
We'll report on their journey as it happened 198 years ago that month. We'll share their successes and discoveries as they explore not just the river, but also the surrounding areas we call home today. We'll also share the near disasters, the two desertions, and the two dismissals, as well as the only death among their crew during the entire 28-month trek. We'll show you the world as they saw it. You'll recognize the scenery, and you'll have a better appreciation of the changes, and the similarities, between their world and ours.
In a companion article, we'll take you through the same region today, and show you the highways and the roads that take you to the places they described in their journals.
We'll also explore the best today's world has to offer the traveler, including shops, restaurants and historical displays, as you follow one of the most important treks in the history of America.
In the nearly 200 years since their journey, their adventure has never been equaled. They founded an epic story worthy of the Greek classics, and in the process they founded the basis for an enduring piece of America culture. They are the cornerstone of the American dream, the belief that with enough effort and desire, resourceful and resolute men and women could persevere, prosper and achieve almost anything.
When you look at that sunrise, and the vast sky reaching out to the edge of the world, you'll know the excitement and the wonder that powered these adventurers. You'll also know a little more about this piece of American history. The Voyage starts here. Welcome aboard.