By Gary Kimsey
Our journey of six months and 4,200 miles took place from late May to Nov. 19, 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 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 to St. Louis.
We traveled through nine states and met governors, congressmen and hundreds of local people, most of whom were Lewis and Clark enthusiasts. Our journey was a decade before the 2004-06 national bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition of 1804 to 1806.
The youngest of us, Clay Asher of Twin Falls, Idaho, had just turned 18 years old and was a recent high school graduate. He was a tall, knowledgeable outdoorsman who enjoyed the wilds of forests and rivers. In many ways, he was the best of us. He died in 1977 in an industrial accident.
The oldest, 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 has heard about him. During this last year’s search for him, I posted notices on Facebook pages for artists in New Mexico and sent emails to people who know him. Law enforcement has been notified, but no clues to his whereabouts have surfaced.
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. 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 the solar home industry. He and his wife Kathleen built an award-winner Durango home that is energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Learn about the Miller home.
I wrote weekly articles about our trip for newspapers around the country. After the journey was completed, I give 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 2015 and now write, among other things, this blog (GaryKimsey.com) and another blog, poudreriver.org, about living along the Cache la Poudre River in the northern Colorado Rockies.
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 in the student government. He knew Clay from Boy Scout canoe trips in Canada.
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 mayor of towns along the trail, with notes asking them to hang onto the packages until we arrived. Every mayor did.
Did you capsize much? 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 favorite 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 been a believer 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.