Monday, June 21, 2004 Updated: June 22, 11:50 AM ET
Blazing the trail
By Jim Caple Page 2
THE MOUTH OF THE MISSOURI -- The grandest road trip in American history (that didn't involve Crash Davis and a bus-load of minor leaguers) pushed off from here two centuries ago.
"I set out at 4 o'clock p.m. in the presence of many of the neighboring inhabitants,'' William Clark wrote in his journal entry of May 14, 1804, "and proceeded under a gentle breeze up the Missouri to the upper point of the first island, four miles, and camped on the island.''
Meriwether Lewis joined Clark and his men a few days upriver in St. Charles, Mo., and the first American journey across the continent began.
Lewis and Clark took 28 months to complete their expedition. I will take two weeks to travel their route by car. That's not nearly enough time to cover the trail adequately; but then, I have more pressing demands than they did -- after all, Lewis and Clark didn't need to worry about keeping up with their fantasy teams.
On their journey, Lewis and Clark faced challenges almost as daunting as those of a No. 16 seed on the Road to the Final Four. Begin with their major goal: the discovery of a navigable water passage to the Pacific Ocean -- something that did not, in fact, exist. There were no U.S. maps showing anything beyond present-day North Dakota, but it was widely assumed that the Northwest Passage existed as surely as the Great Lakes.
For that matter, they also expected to find a single range of Allegheny-sized mountains, and perhaps wooly mammoths and mastodons, even blue-eyed Indians who spoke Welsh. Clark estimated the journey to the Pacific and back would cover 3,000 miles; they wound up traveling 8,000.
In other words, they really had no idea of what awaited them. The expedition would spend nearly two and a half years in the wilderness, enduring 45-degrees-below-zero cold, waist-deep snow, Class 5 rapids, imposing mountains, non-stop rain, scarce food, ferocious grizzly bears and hungrier mosquitoes. Their survival depended again and again on unfamiliar tribes of Native Americans. At one point, they were reduced to eating dog meat. Their most prescribed forms of medicine were blood-letting and a powerful laxative that contained enough mercury that its traces can still be found along the trail.
And you think the Expos have it rough.
Jim Caple boldly stands at the mouth of the Missouri River.
Somehow, these remarkable explorers made it. Lewis and Clark boated up the Missouri, crossed the Rockies, canoed to the ocean and not only returned to tell their tale, but lost only one man along the way. They mapped half the continent, helped turn the country's Manifest Destiny into reality, opened the West to generations of pioneers, provided an epic adventure that has captured the nation's imagination for 200 years and led the way for the Dodgers and Giants to move to California.
Despite my abbreviated schedule, I will discover a wide trail of sports in their footsteps. Over the next two weeks, I will sweat with the beer vendors hauling 25-pound cases up and down the aisles at Busch Stadium. I will share late-night drinks with Clark's great-great-great grandson on the banks of the Missouri. I will keep score with the Omaha faithful at the College World Series. I will shoot hoops with the Three Tribes reservation team in North Dakota. I will boat through the White Cliffs of Montana, hike the Lolo trail into Idaho, explore Nike headquarters outside Portland and finish up at Fort Clatsop on the Oregon Coast.
At least, that's part of the schedule. I expect to stumble across much more, though I doubt I'll find any lumbering, wooly mammoths or mastodons.
After all, the TrailBlazers traded Rasheed Wallace last year.
This is my third summer sports road trip for Page 2. Two years ago, I drove Interstate 90 from its end at Safeco Field in Seattle to its beginning just past Fenway Park at the Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston. Last summer, I traveled the length of the Mississippi River. This, however, is the tour I've anticipated the most.
I grew up in a Columbia River milltown just a long fly ball from where the Corps of Discovery canoed on its final leg to the Pacific. The Lewis and Clark Trail highway markers are so numerous in the area that even Damon Stoudamire must have occasionally noticed them through the thick haze inside his Hummer when he played in Portland.
Like many who grew up near the trail there or in any of the 11 states it touches, I've long dreamed of retracing their route. Many have done so; many, many more are doing it during the bicentennial. One man is kayaking the trail. Others are cycling it. And there is a hardy group of re-enactors who are following the trek day-by-day, taking a keelboat up the Missouri to Fort Mandan in North Dakota, and then venturing onto the Pacific via canoe, horse and foot.
It's like Turn Back the Clock Night, only theirs will last nearly 900 nights.
The man portraying Lewis in this re-enactment, Scott Mandrell, grew up in Alton, Illinois, just a few miles from where the expedition wintered at Camp River Dubois at the mouth of the Missouri before setting off on the journey upriver.
"It has always been a strong part of my life,'' Mandrell says. "I genuinely do believe that the Lewis and Clark story is the great American epic. It captured a moment and defined ourselves as Americans.''
Because the Missouri has changed its course over time, the actual site of the camp is likely underwater now. But the state of Illinois has built a wonderful replica a few miles away, where the present-day Missouri and Mississippi meet.
It's a warm, humid day and I am uncomfortable as I visit Camp River Dubois. But I'm not nearly as uncomfortable as Rex Maynard, a park volunteer dressed in the heavy wool clothing of the early 1800s. Sweat is dripping from his face, but he doesn't mind -- he loves what he is doing. He is a junior high school social studies teacher in St. Louis; and when he is at Camp River Dubois, he jokes, people actually listen to his history lessons.
Forget the AC, Rex Maynard never heard of it when he travels back to the 18th century.
"The thing about Lewis and Clark was it was totally about the team,'' Maynard says. "They were a military corps, and the army typically has one commander; but Lewis recognized his weaknesses and he brought in Clark to share the command equally.
"Lewis ordered all the equipment and took care of all that stuff -- he was a very detail-oriented person. Clark was a real people person. He knew how to get along with people and how to get them to do things. Lewis invited him to work together equally. The expedition was the Corps of Discovery, and they were its core, the core of the teamwork.''
It really was an extraordinary move. Clark, always referred to as a captain on the expedition, never officially had that rank. But Lewis made certain the other men didn't find out. The two were always equal in command.
It would be like Derek Jeter offering to give A-Rod co-captaincy of the Yankees.
"The whole expedition had such a teamwork concept,'' Maynard says. "There were some disciplinary problems when they wintered here, and there were several court martials along the way. But after that first winter they spent together at Mandan in North Dakota, there were no more problems. They were a total team, all committed to one goal.
"They were a little more like the Pistons than the Lakers.''
It's closing time when Maynard says this. It's getting late. He needs to lock the stockade and I need to begin my journey. I return to the car, pop in a Springsteen CD, open a diet Pepsi and crank the air conditioning. I pull out of the parking lot and drive toward Interstate 70, where my Lewis and Clark Trail of Sports begins:
The Mark McGwire Freeway.
Within minutes, the Gateway Arch fills my windshield.
Beyond lies the West.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com