May 6, 2016
By meriwether, May 10 2016 06:33PM
The whale was huge . . . and She wanted to see it! The monster had washed up on shore about 35 miles south of the mouth of the Columbia River. She had probably heard the men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (The Corps of Discovery) talking about it with incredulity. It was January 1806, and the 33 souls that made up the The Corps of Discovery were suffering through a dark, damp, and dreary 4 months at their winter encampment at the mouth of the Columbia known as Fort Clatsop which they had built in just a few weeks. The winter snows of the high Rockies prevented their return to the United States until spring.
They were weary of eating fish, rotten elk, and dog (yes - that’s right . . .dog), and a culinary sampling of whale blubber had teased their appetites for more. They had heard from some local Indians about a huge creature that had washed ashore to the south of Fort Clatsop. Captain William Clark determined to lead some of the men south along the coast to find this monster of a whale and secure as much blubber and oil as they could bear back to the fort.
And She wanted to go - this young Indian girl who had borne her little baby on her back for over 2,000 miles, and had proved time and again to have as much courage as any man on the expedition. The young 16 or 17 year old mother - Sacagawea (Sakakawea) - was determined to lay her eyes on the great beast. She had not been included in the party to proceed on to the south in search of the monster, so She spoke up for herself, and She must have done so forcefully, for Lewis and Clark listened, and allowed her to join the party. Lewis noted in his journal, “ . . .she (Sacagawea) observed that she had traveled a long way with us to see the great waters, and that now that monstrous fish was also to be seen, she thought it very hard she could not be permitted to see either.”
What pluck Sacagawea had and what fortitude - to travel thousands of miles to the Great Waters of the Pacific and back carrying her infant son, Jean Baptiste, the whole way . . . and SHE the only female among 32 hearty frontiersmen. Her presence with the Corps was significant, and her contributions were many, though She received nothing in return. After the Expedition William Clark wrote of her that She, “ . . . “deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that route than we had in our power to give her .” She is one of those figures from history I hope to meet in that Great Hunting Ground Beyond!
I turned away from the Pacific a few days ago . . . turned away from the Pacific and pedaled eastward toward Portland. So I guess you could say I hit my Northwest Corner - my 4th corner - in Lincoln City, OR. It had been a struggle for me making my way up the West Coast, seemingly moving at a snail’s pace against the north winds and negotiating the never ending climbs of this spectacular coastline. So I was quite gratified that my last day on the Pacific Coast Highway was a glorious one - not a cloud above, temperatures around 70, and a north wind that relented, for the most part. More than once I pulled into one of the numerous turnouts along the coast highway, basked in the sun, and tried to take it all in - the sun, the sky, the rolling surf, the beauty of this union of land and ocean. Spent a little time at Lincoln City’s beach where a fresh water river meets the saltwater sea. Was hosted that night by Tony and Kay - friends of my sister - who have a great house overlooking the Pacific.
And so turning my back on the Pacific after all these weeks, I headed inland to Portland, a two day ride that was almost as good, just because it was uncommonly level, and those winds were now blowing from the Northwest, boosting me along at 12, 14, 16 mph - so unlike my crawl` up the California and Oregon coasts.
I spent Wednesday volunteering with Portland Habitat For Humanity - my 15th volunteer city while on this journey. As always, it was an excellent group of dedicated staff and volunteers with whom to spend the day working on a small community of homes in Portland’s Northeast quarter. I worked with Adam, Americorps worker, and Joe, Afghanistan War Veteran, on siding one of the homes going up here.
I also found myself behind the wheel of a Ford Edge - just the second time I have driven in over 8 and a half months. The main purpose for the car rental was to proceed on to the Mouth of the Columbia so I could visit Fort Clatsop once again as I did in 2005 at the end of my Lewis and Clark ride. My experience then left a great impression on me, but about a month after my visit to the 1950’s era recreation of the fort, it burned to the ground! I almost suspected some cause/effect in play there - had I left a candle burning somewhere? Since then, I have been eager to return to see how they have rebuilt the Fort. And I was not disappointed - it was a beautiful day with few visitors about, so I could wander in and around the recreated Fort and listen for the echoes of mingled American, French, and Native voices speaking of a monstrous fish to be seen somewhere to the south.
I have a ticket for Saturday on Amtrak’s The Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago. I was in a similar circumstance about a month ago in Berkely, CA, but changed my mind. Barring another dramatic change of thinking, I will more than likely be training eastward toward The Windy City.
Acknowledgement and thanks once again to these repeat donors who have made donations to Habitat For Humanity and/or Save The Children in support of my ride: Bruce Burgin, Gary and Pat Corrigan, and Tim and Joan Kreps.