Lewis and Clark charted a course we've learned to avoid

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Nearly 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark helped chart a nation. Their exploits propelled them forever into American folklore.

But, as all Americans know, it's easier to celebrate history than to live it.

We view the great outdoors differently today in our air conditioned minivans.

We can't imagine heading out West without a TV set and a bundle of videotaped movies.

It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their three-year journey without the benefit of fast food or a decent motel room.

I know my family wouldn't be thrilled by that journey. It would take a 20-mule train full of Claritin to get us very far in the great outdoors.

Becca and Bailey wouldn't have liked it. They would have turned up their noses at the trail food.

Lewis and Clark and their merry band ate critters, roots and dusty muffins. They didn't order out. There were no Happy Meals on their journey.

Becca wouldn't survive without chicken nuggets. As for Bailey, cheese pizza is a necessity.

Lewis and Clark didn't see it that way. They felt thrilled to have some charred buffalo, hardtack and salt pork.

Experts say they also ate ashcakes, patties of cornmeal, salt and water cooked on a rock in the middle of a camp fire.

I'm not sure why anyone would want to be an expert at ashcakes. It just goes to show that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, particularly on bad food.

Everything back then was cooked in fat. No one worried about bulging waistlines. Besides, people got plenty of exercise just trying to start a fire.

Becca and Bailey would find it hard to imagine that anyone would take such a journey without ever taking time out for a splash in the motel pool.

Lewis and Clark managed to journey across the West without having to fuel up at a single gas station. They made the trip without spotting a single billboard, either.

They didn't find a single amusement park or baseball stadium, hardly the stuff to write home about. Most amazingly, they managed to make their journey without the benefit of the National Park Service.

They met plenty of Indian tribes along the way. But Lewis and Clark would be lost in today's Disney-ized version of Native American culture.

Sacagawea joined the Lewis and Clark expedition, but she never got top billing or any frequent flyer miles.

In recent years, she's been little more than an unused coin to most Americans.

No doubt, she would have loved a few creature comforts. Fighting rivers, animals, weather and diseases for thousands of miles isn't a vacation package that most of us would buy.

Joni and I packed a whole emergency kit of medicine for our vacation to Disney World, which didn't require us to get off the pavement. We would have needed a whole boatload of bug spray if we were going to head into the bushes as well as those spray bottles of water with the battery powered fans.

Of course, Lewis and Clark didn't have those bottles or even a decent travel brochure.

They spent an entire winter in North Dakota, which clearly was going above and beyond the call of duty even by today's standards.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Lewis and Clark for trekking through the great outdoors so we wouldn't have to.

They showed Thomas Jefferson that getting over the rivers and through the woods was hard work.

Most Americans thought long and hard about it and concluded it would be better to stay home.

We're still there today, with our computers, dishwashers and other conveniences that make us all thankful to be following the well-worn path of progress rather than charting a course through the wilderness without a Walkman.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: