Gordon Thomas Ward

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Walking in the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark.  Area Writer Compares His Trek to Historic Journey Completed 200 Years Ago

Meg Huelsman, The Daily Record

November 14, 2005

Lewis and Clark wouldn't be able to canoe down the Missouri River today -- there are too many dams.


    That was one of the many things Gordon Ward learned when he and a colleague retraced the 1,800 mile trek that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made in 1805.


    "It was a life-changing experience," said Ward, 46.


    And now it's become a book titled "Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovering Inspiration Along the Lewis and Clark Trail."


    "It's taken me a long time to write the book, and now its publication coincides with the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's trip," Ward said.


    Ward and a colleague, Todd Paige, planned the trip for more than a year before they departed for Bismarck, N.D. with their bikes, tents, canoes, and supplies. They used Lewis and Clark's original 19th-century journals to plan their trip.


    In his own book, Ward compares images and events between the two journeys and notes how the landscape had changed.


    "They spoke of wild herds of antelope and the wild life, but that has changed," Ward said.


    "The river used to be wild and free and now it has dams and reservoirs along the route. If someone wanted to travel up or down the Missouri River by boat, he'd have to get by the dams."


    The trip was taken 10 years ago, at a time when both men were teaching at Far Hills Country Day School. The pair involved their school and raised money for both their expedition and an $80,000 scholarship that rewards students who perform well academically and have an interest in adventure.


    "The trip must have been very interesting, and the money went to help students who have the academic merit, but might not necessary have the funds to pay for the school," said Lizzy O'Mara of Far Hills Country Day School.


    "It was such a personally significant trip for both of us," Paige said. "It was incredibly rewarding and it was great that the entire school was involved with the trip."


    The men spent six weeks traversing grassy plains, climbing the Rocky Mountains and traveling through rivers in North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Oregon trying to follow as closely as possible the same steps that Lewis and Clark made during their journey.


Eerie Similarities


    During the trip, Ward and Paige noticed that there were some experiences that were eerily similar to Lewis and Clark's experience.


    Just like Clark in 1805, Ward became very ill with a high fever, chills and pains. He discovered a red ring on his side that told him he had Lyme disease and went to the hospital for antibiotics, but there had never been a case of the disease in Montana at that time.


    "Sometimes it's nice to be first," Ward said. "But not this time. I told the doctors what I had, but they had never seen the disease before."


    Clark also recovered, but his illness was never diagnosed.


    "The book has different layers to it," Ward said. "It can be read as a travel guide or as a historical book, but what I think is the most interesting part is the spiritual aspect. During the trip, we had some things happen to us that made me think that coincidences don't just happen."


Difficult Conditions


    Paige and Ward both talked about one instance in which the two men had spent hours bushwhacking along an old Native American trail in search of a higher route and a water source.


    "We had a large geological map that marks all of the streams and water sources," Ward said. "But those streams were only there during the spring, not during the hot summer."


    "Todd's legs were shaking and we had stopped sweating. Our heart rates were increased and we were seriously dehydrated. We were in serious trouble," he said.


    Suddenly, the men heard an engine and turned to see a blue Ford coming over the hill. The car stopped and the people inside gave them water and directed them to a nearby spring.


    "They were like angels," Ward said. "They appeared right in the moment when we needed them most."


    Ward has always been a history buff. He grew up on the historic Lloyd Estate in Bernardsville overlooking an American Indian cemetery and Gen. George Washington's Revolutionary War encampment.


    He currently lives in Bedminster and has taken the year off from teaching to promote his book. In September, he expects to be a high school history teacher again but he is unsure where.


    "Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovering Inspiration Along the Lewis and Clark Trail"is published by Lucky Press in Ohio and is available through amazon.com and independent bookstores throughout Morris County.


    "This was just an incredible experience," Ward said. "My perspective was completely altered by the trip and I came back a different person."