Gordon Thomas Ward

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Bedminster Man Follows Footsteps of Lewis, Clark

Allison Elyse Gualtieri, The Reporter

December 15, 2005

Lewis and Clark trekked across the American West, carrying out their mission to explore the vast country. With a little help and a little luck, they arrived in Astoria, Ore., and opened the west to the actions and imagination of a nation.


    For Gordon Ward, the spirit of their journey is still alive. After hiking, biking, and canoeing, the Bedminster man's recreation of their trip is complete as well, and will never fade.


    While he and his trip partner, Todd Paige, had originally planned to travel the Oregon Trail, a twist of fate brought them to the Lewis and Clark trail instead, one of many the two would experience along the way.


    He met a man whose grandfather had served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs after the Civil War, and found William Clark's field note in the antique roll-top desk that came along with the job.


    "We were hooked after that," Ward said. The two, both athletes, decided to change their plans, and kicked off their trip in St. Louis, where Lewis and Clark began theirs, before flying to Bismarck, N.D., to start their life on the road. Most of their travel was on bicycle, with a multi-day canoe trip along the Missouri River.


    "It's totally changed. You can't really travel on it like you could," he said, because there are dams along the way. "It was grueling in parts. Parts of it were very difficult, because of the environment, the terrain, or both. Or the weather."


    Despite the challenges and hardships the trip presented, the two kept on, and encountered a landscape that was both changed and the same as that described in the explorers' journals.


    "They saw hundreds of thousands of heads of buffalo out there. We saw one," he said. But on the Lolo Trail, little is different, and the two saw few other travelers.


    Now home, Ward has written a book about his journey that he describes as "part travel guide, part history book, and part philosophy and spiritual journey."


    The spiritual description of the trip is due to a number of coincidences along the way. "We had bizarre things happen to us. It was like, we have angels watching over us. We have a presence taking care of us, and there's no argument," Ward said.


    Once, when the two were out of water at the top of a trail, severely dehydrated and shaking, two people in a car gave them a bottle of water and pointed them in the direction of the nearest spring before going on their way. Only three other vehicles passed by the entire time they were on the Lolo Trail, and none stopped.


    Another time, they had missed meeting up with their support vehicle, and needed to get to a place with a phone. Ward flagged down a motorist for a ride – who recognized him, after seeing him on a news program a week earlier and hundreds of miles away.


    "This guy happened to see it, remembered it, and happened to be driving to Lewiston, Idaho," said Ward. "We had things like that happen time and time again."


    "It changed my life. We didn't feel alone out there," he said. "I really don't believe in a chance anymore."


    The book, titled "Life on the Shoulder," combines his journals of the trip with quotations from those of Lewis and Clark, and is available in local bookstores and online outlets. The former history teacher is now working on a biography of Meriwether Lewis, and will be speaking and signing books around the area, including from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at The Bookworm in Bernardsville.