Gordon Thomas Ward

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His Quest West
Former Far Hills Country Day School teacher traveled the 1,800-mile journey of Lewis and Clark and brought home a lesson plan for life

Liza Jaipaul, Somerset Magazine

Spring 2006

It’s ten years now since Gordon Ward retraced the Lewis and Clark expedition by bicycle, foot and canoe. But the lesson he learned along the way remains timeless: live life on the shoulder.

 

    The history teacher and writer developed his philosophy while writing his latest book, Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovery and Inspiration along the Lewis and Clark Trail, a journal of his adventure retracing the historical route with friend and colleague, Todd Paige. The book was released last year to coincide with the bicentennial of the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark that explored the uncharted West and resulted in one of the greatest adventure stories in American history.

 

    “A great deal of time was spent literally riding on the shoulder of many roads and passing many sights,” Ward says. “I, in turn, was passed by many other travelers…” Ward believes that time should be spent on the shoulder, “allowing oneself to step back and permit life’s events to unfold naturally.”

 

    Though Ward is philosophical about life, he is the kind of person who makes things happen. The goal of the six-week, 1,800-mile Quest West was to raise funds through pledges for an endowed scholarship to Far Hills Country Day School (FHCDS) in Far Hills, where both Ward and Paige taught at the time. “We were successful in raising $85,000 through donations from individuals, and we were able to fund the scholarship.” Ward says. The scholarship was created to provide for an academically able student who, due to financial hardship, would not otherwise be able to attend FHCDS.

 

    In Life on the Shoulder, Ward’s observations are intermingled with quotes from the diaries of Lewis and Clark. “It’s a historical book, a travel book and a spiritual book,” he explains. Ward describes the trip as both historical and brutal. “It is about the things that happened to us in our journey, which were life-changing experiences.”

 

    The modern adventurers traveled through Idaho, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington before reaching their destination along the coast of Oregon. They traversed rivers, the Rocky Mountains and desolate areas, using Lewis and Clark’s original 19th century journals to map out their route. The trip was punctuated with “unbelievable coincidences that made me change my outlook on life, on why things happen to people,” Ward says. “I really think now that everything happens for a reason.”

 

    Some of the coincidences included Ward getting sick on the journey, with high fever, chills and pains, just as Clark did in 1805. Both he and Clark recovered and went on to finish the trip. Ward also tells of strangers appearing “like guardians” out of nowhere to help them. At one point, while in a particularly remote leg of the trip, they became dehydrated. “We stopped sweating. Our minds were foggy. Todd’s legs were shaking, and we knew we had to get water quickly, but we didn’t know how.” That’s when he says they heard a car. “The couple driving the car stopped, and the woman said ‘you look thirsty.’ They handed us a big seltzer bottle they had refilled with water, and then told us to hike west three miles where there would be a spring with all the water we needed.”

 

    “The whole trip was like that. It happened time and time again,” says Ward. “We had the feeling someone was watching out for us.”

 

    Paige, now head of the Middle School at The Pennington School in Pennington, describes Ward as “an incredibly thoughtful person who is always looking to enhance learning for students, both as an educator and by bringing experiences like our trip into the classrooms. He livens things up, and doesn’t just cover the basics.”

 

     FHCDS’s Head of School Jayne Geiger says the students followed the trip with great interest.  “It became a history lesson and fund raiser at the same time. It has enabled a number of wonderful young people to be a part of Far Hills Country Day School,” she adds.

 

    The Louis Starr Scholarship, Geiger says, is named after the late Louis Starr of Bedminster, an alumnus who had a long association with the school. Starr inherited Clark’s diaries after they were discovered in 1952 in a desk that belonged to his grandfather. “We consulted him on this voyage, and he was a big force behind it,” Ward says, “even donating money towards the scholarship.”

 

    Ward is humble about his accomplishments, believing that the “exploration of the greatest wilderness lies just beneath the skin in the hearts and minds of us all.”

 

    In addition to teaching and writing, Ward offers team building and motivational programs to corporations and schools, and conducts speaking engagements. Ward has also published a poetry book, Windows: A Collection of Verse, and he is currently working on a local history manuscript called A Bit of Earth, and a spiritual book, Tracing Infinity.

 

    It will be interesting to see what’s next on Ward’s journey.