Searching for Lewis and Clark in far away times

Background information about Gary Kimsey and retracing the Lewis & Clark Trail:

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 3,700 miles took place from late May to Nov. 19. We traveled the waterways in two canoes and a kayak and backpacked across the Rockies.

The official federally designated Lewis and Clark Trail starts near St. Louis, Mo., goes up the Missouri River, west over the Rockies, and down the Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific coasts of Washington and Oregon. After wintering in Oregon, the explorers returned in 1806 by largely the same route, with some side trips of exploration, back to St. Louis.

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 River to St. Louis.

What Lewis and Clark and their dog Seaman would discover at today's Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.

What Lewis and Clark and their dog Seaman would discover at today’s Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. Cartoons by Mike Cochran.

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 2003-06 national bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition of 1804 to 1806.

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 which_way_300pixelsEdge: 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.

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, this blog ( and another blog,, 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.



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 mayors 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 22st-_louis_300pixels 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 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.