Gordon Thomas Ward

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Modern-Day Trailblazer Chronicals His Journey on the Lewis and Clark Trail

Janet Leonardi, The Courier News

November 23, 2005

Gordon T. Ward has an affinity for writing, history, and adventure. This Bedminster resident readily admits that he has written his entire life.


    "I knew I would always write -- it's a release," he said. He also cherishes the study of history, focusing on the pre-revolutionary Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Add to these his love of adventure and it's easy to understand how he came to write "Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovery and Inspiration along the Lewis and Clark Trail."


    A little more than a decade ago, Ward, a teacher along with his friend and colleague, Todd Paige, planned to explore the Oregon Trail. But through a series of fortuitous circumstances, the pair came into possession of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's original 19th-century journals. The Oregon Trail trip quickly was replaced by a fascinating 1,800-mile journey retracing Lewis and Clark's steps through Idaho, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington, culminating on the coast of Oregon.


    "We painstakingly planned every detail of the trip for over a year before we set out with bikes, canoes and gear for our starting point in North Dakota," Ward recalled. "We left at the end of June in 1994 and returned in August, six weeks later. It was, at times, an arduous journey, traveling on rivers, through the Rocky Mountains and across desolate plains."


    But arduous though the trip was, it was exhilarating, as well. Ward recounts how much of the time was charged with uncertainty, like searching to replenish their water supply. It also was fraught with unexplainable, and sometimes, eerie parallels to incidences of the original explorers' trip.


    Ward even became seriously ill along the route, as Clark had in 1805, but both recovered and continued the journey. And on several occasions, strangers appeared, literally out of nowhere, to guide the present day explorers to streams or help.


    "We tried to retrace Lewis and Clark's steps to the best of our ability," Ward said. "After the first week, I decided to keep a journal of our experiences, just as they had."


    The result is "Life on the Shoulder," which he describes as part travel guide, part history book and part self-revelation.


    "Todd and I spent a good deal of time riding on the shoulder of roads. It afforded the opportunity to take a closer at life and do some self-exploration, as well. Moving at a slow pace along uninhabited roadsides forced us to observe the smaller and slower nuances of life," Ward said. "The entire journey was definitely a life-changing experience for me."


    It took years for the author to find the right publisher and 2005, the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's trip, seemed the opportune time for the book's release." 'Life on the Shoulder' contains many layers and, while making discoveries about the western wilderness and its inhabitants, I made important discoveries about myself," Ward said.


    Today, Ward is still writing, completing another book about the history of the land where he spent his childhood in Bernardsville. He speaks before groups, plans to teach American history again next year and hopes to complete yet another leg of Lewis and Clark's famed journey. Ward has, quite obviously, many more trails to blaze.