About the 1973 Lewis and Clark Expedition and the members:
By Gary Kimsey
In 1973, when I was a young man of 23 years of age, I took a six-month journey following the trail of the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition.
There were five of us. Our trip of a little less than 4,000 miles took place from late May to November 19. We traveled the waterways in two canoes and a kayak and backpacked across the Rockies.
Back in 1973, the official federally designated Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail started near St. Louis, Mo. (In 2019, congress changed the start of the official trail to Pittsburgh, Pa., where Meriwether Lewis departed in 1803 in a keelboat).
From St. Louis, the trail goes up the Missouri River (the explorers built Fort Mandan in North Dakota and spent the 1804-05 winter there). In the spring of 1805, the expedition went west over the Rockies, and then down the Snake and Columbia rivers to the mouth of the Columbia at the Pacific coasts of Washington and Oregon. After wintering at a fort (Fort Clatsop) that they built near the Columbia’s mouth, the explorers returned in 1806 by largely the same route back to St. Louis, with some side trips of exploration.
In 1973, our departure point was Fort Clatsop, a replica of the fort Lewis and Clark built near the mouth of the Columbia River for the winter of 1805-06. We paddled 450 miles up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, Idaho. There, we had our two canoes and kayak trucked to Montana.
We then hiked 425 miles along the Lola Trail across Idaho and into Montana. We returned to the water on the Beaverhead River near Dillon, Montana. We paddled down the Beaverhead and then the Jefferson River to the Missouri River. From there, we followed the Missouri River to St. Louis.
We traveled through nine states and met governors, congressmen and hundreds of local people (about 2,000 people in total), many of whom were Lewis and Clark enthusiasts. Our journey was three decades before the 2003-06 national bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition of 1804 to 1806. We were the first group to journey the trail to promote Lewis and Clark. Here is info from the Missouri River Paddlers organization about individuals and groups who have paddled various waterways of the trail from 1962 through 2021.
The 1973 explorers
The youngest of us was a tall, rosy-cheeked Idahoan, Clay Asher, who had just graduated from the Twin Falls high school and reached the age of 18 only a few days prior to our departure. He could paddle all day. Even with a heavy 60-pound pack on his back, he kept a long-legged stride going for hours along rough and steep mountain trails. He loved the outdoors. He knew the wildlife and the plant life. He had a natural instinct for navigating rapids. Most importantly, he knew how to laugh while standing soaked in a freezing downpour in the middle of nowhere. Lewis and Clark had a youngster with them, too, George Shannon, who sometimes got lost but knew how to hunt. He and Clay were the same age when they started their journeys. I’ve often wondered if Clay was Shannon’s reincarnation. Very tragically, Clay died in 1977 in an industrial accident in Twin Falls.
The oldest member of our expedition, Mike Cochran, 29, was a cartoonist, a very good one. He chronicled our adventure through his cartoons. Mike moved to Santa Fe after the expedition. He lived there until several years ago when he relocated to Palm Springs, Calif. In December 2015, he boarded a bus headed to Truth or Consequence, N.M. That was the last anyone heard of him. During a search for him, I posted notices on Facebook pages for artists in New Mexico and sent emails to people around the country who knew him. I talked to law enforcement in California and New Mexico. Finally, I learned from a lawman that Mike had returned to Santa Fe, caught a severe cold and passed away in a hotel room. A sad, lonely ending for a great guy.
Today, Mike Wien is a professional speaker and author of The Specific Edge: How Sustained Effort Wins in Business and Life. He works primarily with franchise organizations and professional services firms to help them develop specific strategies for leveraging their core strengths and growing their business. His typical clients are the Davids in their respective industries. He helps them effectively compete with the Goliaths by out-thinking, out-witting, and out-maneuvering their competitors. He is also a competitive triathlete. He is a board member and vice president of the USA Triathlon association. Mike and and Nannette, Mike’s lovely wife of almost 50 years, live in Boulder, Colo. More about Mike.
Bob Miller was the leader and organizer of our journey. Like Mike Wien and me, Bob was 23 years old. He learned his wilderness skills as a guide leading Boy Scout canoe trips into the Canadian wilderness north of Ely, Minn. His enthusiasm and good humor encouraged the four of us to undertake the Lewis and Clark journey. He went on to become a successful lawyer in Durango, Colo. One of his lifelong passions has been improving the environment. He and his delightful wife Kathleen, a registered nurse, built an award-winner Durango home that is energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.
When we hiked across the Rocky Mountains—a trek of more than a month–we were joined by two friends: Pam and Winston Marugg. Each was a wonderful, hardy person who immediately became adjusted to the rigors of the trail, which included carrying 60-pound backpacks through forests, and along wilderness trails and on the sides of highways where at times the heat was almost unbearable. Several years later, Pam and Winston parted ways with each other but still remain friends. Pam eventually retired from Hewlett Packard where she was in charge of organizing the company’s worldwide events. She now lives with her husband in Windsor, Colo. Winston went on to marry a gentle-souled nurse named Mary. In 1979, Winston and Mary built the Sonlight Christian Camp near Pagosa Springs, Colo., The camp has provided thousands of children and adults with leadership skills, outdoor living experiences and experiential learning.
We also had two other companions during the first half of our expedition: Kawnipi and Love, two small basset-terrier dogs, both gentle, inquisitive and fun to be around. They joined us on our canoe and kayak journey up the Columbia and Snake rivers and on the Lolo Trail hike. At the end of our hike, we sent them home with Pam and Winston because we thought the rigors of our upcoming journey down the Missouri River may be too hard on them. Alas, as we all know, pets unfortunately do not live as many years as humans…but even today they are still alive in our memories; each of us thinks of them with warmth and love.
During our expedition, I wrote weekly articles for newspapers around the country. I also wrote magazine articles. After the journey was completed, I gave slide shows to a hundred organizations such as Boy Scout troops, Kiwanis Clubs and historical societies. I became a reporter for the Kansas City Star and later an editor at three magazines. The last half of my career was spent in public relations and marketing for Colorado State University and then the University of Colorado Health system. I retired in 2014 and now write, among other things, a blog (GaryKimsey.com) and a second blog, poudreriver.org, about living along the Cache la Poudre River in the northern Colorado Rockies. My wife Patty and I live part of the year in Independence, Mo., where we met in junior high school in 1963. We both have family and close friends from high school still living in Independence. I’m currently a board member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and volunteer on various communication projects for the organization.
How did the five of you manage to get together? The two Mikes, Bob and I were classmates at Colorado State University. I was editor of the school’s newspaper; Mike Wien, the advertising manager; and Mike Cochran, the cartoonist. Bob was vice president of the student government. Bob knew Clay from Boy Scout canoe trips in Canada. Clay, by the way, had just turned 18 at the start of our expedition.
What did you eat? Before the journey, we purchased a ton of freeze-dried and dehydrated food. We divided it into packages and mailed the packages to post offices and mayors of towns along the trail, with notes asking them to hang onto the packages until we arrived. Every post office and mayor did.
Did you capsize much? Yes, yes, yes. I was in canoes that capsized a total of 22 times. Once, along the wild rapids of the Missouri River near Great Falls, Montana, I got stuck under the canoe and would have drowned if Mike Wien hadn’t seen my hand sticking out of the water and pulled me up. Mike Cochran was in a canoe that capsized in the cold water of the Snake River in Washington. He nearly died from exposure before we were able to get him to shore and build campfires around him to warm him up.
What was your most memorable experience? The Columbia River passes through a desert-like region in eastern Washington. Summer temperatures routinely rise to over 100 degrees. One blazing hot afternoon we ran out of drinking water in a forlorn region. We were afraid to drink from the Columbia because of the oil and other pollution floating on top of the water. We stopped on a rocky shore and collapsed from thirst. A few minutes later five grapefruits came floating down the river. We ate them and were refreshed enough to paddle on to the next town. Where did the grapefruits come from? We had no idea. Ever since then, I’ve believed in miracles.
Finally, one question always arises when someone hears about our journey: Why did you do it?
The answer is simple. Because it was an adventure.
Go on an adventure yourself. You’ll enjoy it.
For more information:
Click this link… lewis_clark_empire_bykimsey …to read an article about our journey that I wrote for the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine, published July 14, 1974.