From all accounts it appears that everybody today has a bucket list, and travel is almost certainly on it. We even tout a few of our adventures as bucket list-worthy, often including states that – sadly – wind up as numbers 48, 49 or 50 of states visited.
But the essence of such a list is usually things that you have never done before. So what do you call things that you enjoyed so much you want to do them again?
I have such a list and after careful consideration I have decided to call it “My Favorite Things”. I’m sure few readers will be surprised to learn that the Lewis & Clark Trail is right at the top. It’s not easy to explain why this is, because I have traveled the entire trail so many times. Shouldn’t I be over it by now?
On reflection, there are probably a lot of reasons.
It is an extraordinary privilege to have followed the trail even once. The number doesn’t matter. It’s my special thing. Like Peter Pan who had his special place called Neverland. I have the Lewis & Clark Trail!
For instance, my participants have commented – before we are even half-way through the itinerary – that I introduce nearly every fort as my favorite! Guilty as charged. Sometimes in the middle of winter I find myself yearning for that delicious thrill I feel when pulling up to a fort along the trail, and wishing I could walk through those gates just one more time. Some of the forts we visit are inhabited by reeanactors who not only make us feel as if we have been plopped down at the beginning of the 19th century, but also help us understand why what happened here was so important. By contrast, some forts are eerily silent. By exploring on our own we are urged to use our newly-gained knowledge to picture the life of lonely soldiers laboring at an isolated frontier outpost, surrounded by empty prairie for miles and miles. These are what I call “goose bump” experiences – and there are plenty of them on the trail (any trail).
But it isn’t just forts. There are dozens of historic sites and natural wonders along the trail that make my pulse race. Over the years I have befriended many interpreters, trail guides, museum docents, and other keepers of the flame that I am always happy to see again. It is the reeanactors who make our travel adventures so memorable, by making these experiences come alive for our participants. And inevitably, I add new friends every year along the trail.
But still, I have done the entire trail more than a dozen times and although there have been a number of improvements to the program over the years, it is still the same basic route. Yet we’re starting to see participants re-booking this iconic trail program. It’s one thing for me to eagerly repeat this experience every year, but I’m an exception. If you had taken a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience like the Lewis & Clark Trail – would you do it again? Once-in-a-lifetime experiences are called that for a reason. Why do you suppose it still holds so much appeal for some of us?
I’ve put a lot of thought into this and I think I’ve finally come up with an answer: I’ve never done the trail alone; nor would I consider it. I’ve always set out on this adventure with a dozen or two of what – in just a few days’ time – will be my best friends. We have a whale of a lot of fun learning about the greatest adventure in American history, and in the process we learn from each other. It’s my traveling companions that make the whole thing worthwhile, and in the process, create wonderful memories. Each group inevitably develops its own personality with the individuals melding into a cohesive group with the same goal: the Pacific Ocean. All the fun along the way just becomes part of the package.
I’d even go further with this analogy. As unique as it is, it’s not the physical trail itself. Each of our tours has aspects that I yearn to do again. Rather, it is the experiences along the way, the learning aspect, the sharing with like-minded people who will bring a new slant to an old subject, or even an entirely new way of looking at something.
All this is very much on my mind as I prepare to head out on the trail again with a fresh group of sojourners (and some repeaters) to see what we can discover. If you are lucky enough to be going with us, I look forward to meeting you and learning together. If you haven’t yet traveled with us, think of us and the delightful adventure ahead as we gather in St. Louis on July 13 to retrace the path blazed by the Corp of Discovery, and changed history.