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Bedminster Man Writes Book about Historic Trip.  Gordon Ward Followed Routes of of Lewis and Clark Journey

Sandy Stuart, The Bernardsville News

November 9, 2005

In Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's era, a shoulder was a body part, not the edge of a paved roadway where slower traffic travels.

 

    But Lewis and Clark might have appreciated the sentiment behind "Life on the Shoulder," a book by Bedminster resident and Bernardsville native Gordon Ward.

 

    Published this fall to coincide with the bicentennial anniversary of Lewis and Clark's historic expedition through the American Northwest, "Life on the Shoulder" details Ward's 1994 recreation of the journey.

 

    The title was chosen, said Ward, both as a reference to bicycling along highway shoulders while retracing the route of the Lewis and Clark Trail, and as a nod toward a slower and more reflective way of life.

 

    "The book has different layers to it," said Ward, a history teacher who's taking a year off to promote his book and work on another. "It's part travel guide, part historical reference, and part book about a spiritual journey."

 

    Ward made the 1,800-mile bicycle, canoe, and hiking journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail with Todd Paige of Pennington when both were teachers at Far Hills Country Day School.

 

    They were inspired by the late Louis Starr of Bedminster Township, who inherited William Clark's personal diaries after they were discovered in 1952 in a roll-top desk that belonged to his grandfather.  Starr, whose family has a long association with Far Hills Country Day School, donated the diaries to the Yale University library.

 

    Ward described the journey as a "life changing experience."

 

    Written in journal form, "Life on the Shoulder" intersperses Ward's personal observations during the trip with passages from the diaries of Lewis and Clark.

 

Facing Adversity

 

    Although Ward and Paige's journey was made during the era of paved highways, cell phones and support vehicles, it was by no means easy. As with Lewis and Clark's voyage, there were factors like illness, storms, and wildlife to contend with.

 

    "We had read Lewis and Clark's journals before we left, so we knew the kinds of things they experienced," said Ward. "The more time that went by, the more parallels we found."

 

    For instance, Lewis' diary entry on July 27, 1805 refers to Clark being "very sick with a high fever on him and much fatigued and exhausted."

 

    Ward also became weak, dizzy and nauseous at one point while canoeing in Montana.  "Todd had to paddle me out." he recalled. "After I got out of the canoe, I just lay there, I couldn't move."

 

    Ward was taken to a hospital emergency room, where he was originally diagnosed as being dehydrated.

 

    The fever and weakness persisted, however, and finally Ward noticed a rash on his side in a bull's eye shape - a telltale sign of Lyme Disease. After convincing Montana doctors, who had never seen a case of Lyme before, Ward was able to get the antibiotics he needed.

 

    In Lewis' diary, he refers to an incident in which a buffalo bull, apparently alarmed by the sight of campfires, charged through an area where expedition members were sleeping, its hooves missing some men's heads by only 18 inches.

 

    Ward and Paige had their own brush with bovine creatures.

 

    On part of their trip, Ward and Paige awoke in their tent one morning to find themselves surrounded by a large herd of free-range cattle.

 

    "We didn't want to spook them. We didn't want to cause a stampede," remembered Ward.  "We moved very, very slowly out of the tent."

 

Help From 'Angels'

 

    Although Ward and Paige's trip took place 11 years ago, Ward said he continues to derive spiritual lessons from it.

 

    "The side of the book I'm most excited about is the spiritual aspect," said Ward. "Some of the things that happened really made us think someone was watching out for us."

 

    For instance, during one of the wilderness hiking portions of the trip, Ward and Paige found themselves severely dehydrated while bushwhacking up the side of a mountain in search of a main trail.

 

    They had a map showing local water sources, but it turned out that the streams were seasonal, present only during times of snow melt. This was mid-summer, and all of the streams were dry gulches.

 

    As Ward and Paige reached the main trail along the mountain ridge, along came a motor vehicle, seemingly out of nowhere. The couple handed them a bottle of water and told them of a natural spring three miles away.

 

    "They seemed like angels to us at that point," said Ward, who noted that this section of the trail is traveled by only about three vehicles per day. "It makes you think a lot about coincidences and the things that happen."

 

    It wasn't Ward and Paige's first encounter with "angels."

 

    Earlier, while bicycling in a nearly unpopulated section of Montana, a man they encountered told them about a one-day detour they would have to take around an impassable stretch of road they had planned to travel.

 

    They were not within cell phone range, so they had no way to contact family members in the support vehicle to inform them that they would not be on the agreed-upon route. Meanwhile, a local weather report called for a major storm with the possibility of grapefruit-sized hail.

 

    Miraculously, the support vehicle crew encountered the same man - hours apart - and were able to find Ward and Paige.

 

    The full title of Ward's book is "Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovery and Inspiration along the Lewis and Clark Trail," and it was published by Lucky Press. It is dedicated to Ward's two children, Melina, 18, and Cory, 9.

 

    Ward is hoping the same publisher will be interested in his second book, "A Bit of Earth," about growing up on the former Lloyd estate on the Bernardsville Mountain in the 1960s.

 

    "It's just a recapturing of the childhood I experiences, growing up in a semi-rural area," he said. "Everything's totally changed now. Bernardsville is nothing like what it was then."

 

    While Ward is working on the final edit of "A Bit of Earth," he's busy promoting "Life on the Shoulder."

 

    He has a lecture scheduled at the Bernardsville Library on Jan. 12, additional lectures planned at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and a number of book signings planned at area stores.  He's also hoping to speak to school, church and youth groups.

 

    Ward left Far Hills Country Day School several years ago and most recently taught at Mount Saint Mary's Academy in Watchung. He's still considering where to teach next year.

 

    Paige also left Far Hills Country Day School and is now head of the middle school program at the Pennington School in Pennington. Ward said Paige also kept diaries on their trip, but not for publication.