“The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River & such principal streams of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river, may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.” —Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States Washington, D.C., June 20, 1803
Our Journey Begins
Kayla Cavaliere, my 19-year-old granddaughter, and I are racing through Dulles Airport to catch an early morning flight to St. Louis. We meet up with Jeff Arpin, the third member of our expedition, behind a rapidly forming line of frenzied passengers heading into security.
Slipping into my seat and buckling up for takeoff, I recall that Meriwether Lewis left Washington, D.C., on July 5, 1803, to begin preparations for his voyage up the Missouri River. During his trip to the fur-trading outpost in St. Louis, Lewis acquired boats, men, provisions, and his co-captain, William Clark. The idea for the excursion was spawned by Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase from France, which almost doubled the size of the United States, for the bargain price of million.
After arriving on the banks of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, winter quarters were constructed. The Corps of Discovery’s expedition would begin some 11 months after Lewis departed Washington. In contrast, our 21st century flying machine will have us in St. Louis in a few hours, and we’ll begin our own journey along the Lewis & Clark Trail tomorrow.
Shiny new Can-Am Spyder Limiteds, courtesy of Bombardier Recreational Products, are awaiting us at the “Cowtown USA, Inc.” motorsports dealership in Cuba, MO. Len Damouth, and his father who owns the dealership, give us a thorough briefing on our mounts. Somewhat like Lewis and Clark at the beginning of their journey, we load up our gear and begin the 90-mile ride back to our lodging in St. Louis. After encountering several GPS challenges and wrong turns in a sketchy part of town, we finally arrive at around 10 p.m.
Motorcycles & Gear
Two 2012 Can-Am Spyder RT Limiteds
“I Set out at 4 oClock P. M. in the presence of many of the Neighbouring inhabitents, and proceeded on under a jentle brease up the Missourie …”
—William Clark, May 14, 1804
Our modern-day adventure begins in Illinois on the east bank of the Mississippi River at approximately the same location where the Corps of Discovery set out in 1804. We ascend the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower in an elevator, which slows to a stop at the 150-foot high observation deck. We’re greeted with a bird’s-eye view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The 2,341-mile “Mighty Mo” collects the drainage from more than a half million square miles of semi-arid topography in parts of ten states and two Canadian provinces.
Just down the road from the tower, we find the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site’s Visitor Center. Touring the exhibits, we’re fascinated by a full-scale replica of the type of keelboat used by Lewis and Clark. A cutaway section illustrates how every available space was packed full of provisions for the long trip.
We’re tingling with excitement as we start our 21st century expedition along the Lewis & Clark Trail. Just as the Corps of Discovery required some time to become proficient piloting their boats, we realize that mastering the Can-Ams also will take some practice. Crossing west over the Mississippi on the McKinley Bridge, the iconic Gateway Arch dominates the St. Louis skyline. A few minutes later, we’re parked and looking up in awe at this massive man-made structure.
We scan the grounds for the Visitor Center and Museum of Westward Expansion, but no such building is in sight. We see visitors walking along sidewalks, but then they disappear from view. The mystery is soon solved, however, as we too descend a ramp into the cavernous underground visitor center and museum. The museum, chock-full of 19th century artifacts, provides a cool respite from the triple-digit temperatures and oppressive humidity above ground.
Our last stop of the day is at William Clark’s gravesite in Bellefontaine Cemetery. I know from previous research that the gravesite is marked by a large obelisk and naively believe that finding it will be simple. Entering the cemetery’s labyrinth of roads, we’re confronted with literally hundreds of obelisks. But a courteous landscaper leads us to Clark’s granite obelisk. Under Clark’s bust, the inscription reads, “SOLDIER, EXPLORER, STATESMAN AND PATRIOT. HIS LIFE IS WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF HIS COUNTRY.”