We started planning this trip 16 months ago and the countdown started at 300+ days, the Big Day Countdown on my phone is at -1. It seemed like time kept accelerating exponentially as the countdown turned from months to weeks to days to hours while the to do list was going in the opposite direction. It’s a strange feeling when you’re looking forward to something for so long because the anticipation keeps it in a kind of surreal state. Our adventure is now!


As we pulled out of the driveway of Elizabeth’s parents’ house (where she had prepped for departure as I finished up work) it was an incredible feeling of freedom and relief. Freedom of the open road and a year with only the compass and calendar we agree to. Relief that all the gear we accumulated over the past year made it into the car and was organized beautifully with room to spare thanks to Elizabeth. We actually hit our ETD, but the real challenge for the day was staying awake after marathon packing session and under 4 hours of sleep. With all the adrenaline pumping this proved an easy task. It helped that we had some great stops as we made our way west…

Our first stop was ironically not a National Park or even an NPS site (see the difference between NPS designations here). It was more a symbolic visit to the spot where Lewis and Clark embarked on their expedition across the northwest: Camp Dubois. We wanted to kickoff our trip here for several reasons:

  1. Mostly we thought it was pretty cool symbolism to start out from the same point as the famous and incredibly impactful Corps of Discovery expedition did 211 years ago.
  2. My family has really been into Lewis and Clark history and reenacting for the past decade. So it has been a big part of our family hobbies and vacations and my growing up in the outdoors.
  3. Our first “park partner” was the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, who was immediately on board for helping us promote the NPS and supporting us however they could. (check out our feature in the LCNHT Trail Companion newsletter)


The Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Wood River, IL is set on the banks of the Missouri River and has a reconstructed fort that marks the place where the Corps of Discovery camped during the winter of 1803-1804 as they prepared and evaluated the recruits for the numerous skills they would need on the trail – most importantly hunting and tracking. Today the site marks the start of the LCNHT, which runs from Wood River to the Pacific and back along the routes of Lewis and Clark.


The Lewis and Clark trail connection actually continued through the first day of our trip. As we crossed Missouri our route hugged the Missouri River – through places like Elizabeth’s hometown of Washington – and we saw all sorts of signs marking the trail. If there’s one thing it’s hard to ignore if you live around the I-70 corridor it’s the connection to Lewis and Clark. We even stopped in Kansas City, KS at a place called Kaw Point. Even though we lived in KC for 3 years, this spot gave us a completely new perspective of the city. The little park is set on a Lewis and Clark campsite where the Kansas River joins the Missouri River (even Kansas water realizes everything better in Missouri – says the Mizzou grad).


After crossing Missouri our paths parted from the Lewis and Clark Trail (for now). But for anyone traveling anywhere from Missouri to Oregon, I almost guarantee they could find a fun little side stop or driving break related to Lewis and Cark somewhere along the way. If you need help with that just check out the awesome interactive map on the LCNHT website for tons of historical and educational points along the trail.

Now, we try not to entertain any delusions of grandeur (however I can’t say the same for my dad when he plays the role of Lewis 😉 – Love you dad!). We are not trying to equate the Switchback Kids with Lewis and Clark. Believe it or not there are a few differences:

Lewis and Clark

Switchback Kids

Military expedition

Personal challenge

Explored unknown territory of Louisiana Purchase

Exploring National Parks visited by millions each year

Traveled by boats, canoes, horses and foot

Traveling by 2015 Ford Escape (barring another vacay disaster)

Cost taxpayers $40K for over 40 men

Cost us $20k (goal) for 2

Covered 8K miles

Covered over 30K driven miles

1 member died (presumed appendicitis)

0 died (goal) 😉

Surprisingly there are also a few fun similarities:

  • Specific mission leading them across the US
    • L&C – find the Northwest passage to the Pacific, meet Native American tribes and document plants/animals
    • SBK – visit all 59 National Parks in one year (read how our idea started here)
  • 1 woman on the trip
  • Extensive planning and preparations
  • Documented their journey to share their explorations for the benefit of others
  • Saw tons of stuff they’d never seen before

And that last one is the one that really counts. We can’t all be professional adventurers and explorers like our boys L&C, but we can all follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and get out and find adventures of our own. #FindYourPark

Written by Cole

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3 Comments on "HITTING THE TRAIL: Departing in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark"

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Brian Sumner

Well, it sounds like you’re off to a good start. Like the comparison between you guys and L & C. Can’t wait to read more.

Tammy Donelson

Great start to an amazing journey. I enjoy all the detail of the planning and prep.

A. Janelle

God’s speed. Love you guys.