Lewis and Clark Adventure

I woke up Friday morning, filled with excitement and a little trepidation. It had been a rough week for our life together. Partly his fault, partly mine. I’d spent many days blaming myself entirely and needing reassurance from every direction that I was on the right path. I felt like a failure. As a wife, as a mother, as a friend, as a business partner. Most of all, I doubted myself, that I wasn’t good enough.

It was his idea to have a day with just us. Just our little family. We thought we’d spend the day at the zoo. A chance to reconnect and just be together. No distractions. Away from everything that was hanging over us. Away from my feelings of failure.

It was cool, almost raining that morning. I asked him if he still wanted to go. Were we brave enough? I don’t think anything would have stopped him. The kids packed their own backpacks with snacks and drinks – when did they stop needing me to do everything?

I was of course on Facebook checking out the world while I was missing the world around me. Damn, I’d done it again. I shut it down and got ready to go.

I was quiet as we drove out of town; in the distance, we could see the sun shining on the mountain peaks. I felt the sun trying to shine in my heart again.

“Maybe we should keep driving south until we find the sun?” I turned to him and smiled.

The kids jumped in, “To the United States?”

“Why not?”

The kids were ecstatic, “Yeah, let’s go!!”

He looked at me, “What do you think?”

I hesitated for only a moment. This was the chance. This was the Universe speaking to me, giving me a chance to unplug and plug back into US.

We needed our passports so he turned the car around while two excited kids were bouncing around in the back seat.

“I’ve never driven to the States before,” I said, getting into the mood. “This will be an adventure, won’t it!?”

A couple quick phone calls and text messages to make arrangements for my oldest and our pets, and then we were off!

The sun was shining brightly as soon as we drove through Calgary. I took it as a sign! My heart soared as the chatter continued in the car. I realized that I hadn’t spoken that many words to my youngest two for a very long time. They weren’t even arguing, we were just talking about what we’d do on our adventure and what they would tell their friends after the weekend was over.

We speculated about what it would be like at the border.  Of course, my youngest was hoping to see guns and soldiers guarding the gates. My daughter speculated that the fences would stretch for miles. I had no idea since I’d never been that way before!

It was amazing how everyone talked and laughed. No DS’s, no cell phone, no movie player, not even an iPod or a song on the radio. Just us. Together. Enjoying each other’s company. A couple sibling arguments ensued, one in particular made everyone laugh. Rebecca was demanding that Lucas say “please” when making any and all requests to her. We were pointing out that she needed to extend the same courtesy to him. Out of nowhere, Lucas piped up, “Please, will you jump off a cliff?” Not a very nice thing to say, true, but all of us laughed, including his sister! God, it was so good to hear those giggles again.

I showed them where I would be riding the Ride to Conquer Cancer. We saw fields that stretched so far; irrigation pipes stretched across them. The mountains rose beside us as we followed them along to the border. The big windmills near Fort McLeod reminded us of the time we’d spent one day at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. That was the furthest south we’d been before. The rest was undiscovered country for the kids. I’d been to Lethbridge, but that was it.

The unfamiliar territory amazed me. How different it was from where I grew up. I grew up in the hills; trees everywhere. Land here stretched so far and wide. So many miles between houses. Did the people here know each other?

My daughter asked, “Mom, do you ever wonder where the people in planes are going? What they are doing?” It struck me yet again how similar this girl is to me.

“Yes, Becca, I have wondered that and imagined lots of things that they could be doing.”

“Me too,” she said, as she gazed out the window.

Finally, the kilometre countdown to the border got smaller and smaller. We were there! It wasn’t quite as exciting as my youngest had hoped, but he was still pretty excited! We made it through without a hitch.

Suddenly, the landscape changed. Bruce and I both commented on it several times. Houses were even farther apart and the sky was absolutely HUGE! No wonder Montana was called Big Sky Country! Beautiful! The mountains vanished far, far off in the distance. The landscape was tougher here. Less green, fewer fields.

The countdown to Great Falls was harder to understand. Miles now instead of kilometers. Mile markers were a fun way to do it for a little while, but the kids were getting hungry and tired of being in the car. The last hour was looking like it was going to be the longest. I read to them; the  whines went away as I managed to read an entire Geronimo Stilton book just as we pulled into Great Falls.

Their excitement was back again! We’d made it! Now what!?

We drove down beautiful tree lined streets in search of a hotel; we were in a residential section and had no map! It was an adventure, wasn’t it? Lucas began counting houses with American flags. Rebecca joined in and remarked about how much more Americans do that than we Canadians do. Something to learn from our American neighbors. None of us seemed to mind the detour down the quiet streets, seeing the lives of Great Falls.

We finally discovered a busier street with more restaurants and stuff. Stopping at a gas station, we asked where the nearest hotel was. The cashier pointed, “Right there, and there’s another one there, and others further down the street!” We were totally right in the middle of several! Missed them completely!

We pulled up to the closest one. My kids are always completely wired when getting to stay in a hotel! We didn’t have much to unpack, so we got settled pretty quickly and then walked off to find something to eat. After being in the car for hours, it was good to walk around!

After awhile, we found a Mexican restaurant that looked good. It was crowded (a good sign in my opinion!). The food was yummy, the beer hit the spot and the company even better! We wandered off again, amazed at how much cheaper eating out is in the US than it is at home!

We were also amazed that no one else seemed to be out walking around. It was a nice evening and we were alone on the street. It didn’t seem very busy at all. Where was everyone – it was a Friday of a long weekend? I expected crowds everywhere.

We wandered around, looking for snacks for at the hotel, but didn’t find much for groceries other than the convenience store. How convenient though! We could get a bevy for ourselves as well as some snacks for the kids! 😉

At the hotel, we piled on the king size bed, snuggled in to watch a movie and hang out. We were all pretty tired by ten and shut everything down and tucked kids into the sofa bed.

I was asleep instantly; something I’ve never done in a hotel room before. I was surprised when Rebecca woke me the next morning. I had contentedly slept pretty much through the night. I’d felt so good just being there with them; being just mom. We decided to stay another night at another hotel.

Where to today? We had no plan at all. I cannot describe how great that felt. It was a little rainy, but that didn’t dampen our spirits any! After a good breakfast, we got the advice of the girl behind the counter about what to go and see. We headed off to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. It sat at the edge along the Missouri River, near the Great Falls themselves.

It started with a film about the Portage that Lewis and Clark had to make at Great Falls. How they travelled and didn’t lose heart as the Discovery crew pulled those huge loads around the falls.

As we sat there in the dark, listening to their adventure, I thought about ours. They never gave up. They did not have it easy travelling up that muddy river. Our lives have been in a muddy river too, at times our boat has almost capsized. We don’t know what lies ahead or beneath us. Yet, we continue on.

They had that portage. What they had thought would take them a day, took them two weeks. Two weeks of back breaking labor, dragging those loads up rocky hillsides, cacti digging into moccasined feet. A hail storm fell upon them as they crossed that bare landscape. How many times have we struggled with the load we’re carrying? How many times has something that should have been simple taken the two of us so much more to work through? The obstacles that have threatened us, divided us, cut us; yet we’ve still found a way.

The President had asked them to do their duty, and they did. They were all volunteers. They were together in the mission of their lives. We made a promise to each other too. We were not forced to be together, we chose it. Our mission to take care of this family and each other is the most honorable one we have both ever undertaken. We can’t stop now. Not when we are so close to the Pacific.

How similar that adventure was to ours. I was there. I was in that moment with my family. I did not feel like a failure. I was not a failure because I was still trying. I had not given up. I will never give up. We will never give up.

I looked over at my kids, absorbing, learning. So happy to just be there on that adventure. They weren’t asking themselves about life’s purpose. They were just there. I looked over their heads at my husband and smiled. Silently thanking him for this adventure.

We moved on through the exhibit. It was very interactive and had really great volunteers. One gentleman explained weapons from long before the time of Lewis and Clark to us for at least 1/2 hour. We all really enjoyed the tour and learned so much.

The sun had started trying to peek out, so on the recommendation of the clerk at the hotel, we continued up the road to the Great Falls themselves. Again, we were pretty much alone out there, a Saturday afternoon and no one was around. We were meant to be alone together, I am sure of it now. It meant that we could be ourselves, we didn’t have to worry what others would think or say about us hanging out being us!

We imagined what it must have been like trying to go around those falls. How the men must have felt when they first saw them. How they must have wanted to turn around and go home. They didn’t. They found a way. We were amazed at that. I think all of us understood the significance of the fact that they kept going.

Lucas wanted to go and see the Air Force Museum next. Unfortunately, it ended up being closed, so we continued on. It did give us a chance to be sure that we visit our own Air Museum back at home. We promised Lucas that we would go there this summer.

Rebecca wanted to visit an art museum – my suggestion was the Charlie Russell Museum because he is such a part of Montana’s history and the fact that I knew he was a cowboy artist would likely mean that Lucas would find something that interested him as well.

Rebecca and I looked at pretty much every painting. She was enthralled with the detail and how his ‘style’ changed over time as he practiced and learned more techniques. She had so many questions about Indian life that plays such an important role in so many of Charlie’s paintings and sculptures.

Lucas enjoyed the statues and collection of guns that were in the museum as well. We talked about what life was like during that time. How Charlie Russell hated cars and some of his paintings depicted the struggle that people had when the world was changing so quickly away from simple cowboy ways. His horse-drawn hearse fascinated Lucas. His many letters that he wrote to his friends weren’t just letters. He told stories and drew pictures of life in the west. That reminded me of how we bloggers tell our stories – sometimes with our words and sometimes with pictures. We are capturing part of history too.

The photos in an exhibit there called “Hard Twist: Western Ranch Women” by Barbara Van Cleve  as a favorite of mine. I grew up on a farm and never really realized how much a farm/ranch wife does every day. She is not only the wife, cook, maid and mother, she is the hard-working ranch hand and boss; taking care of animals and the land alongside the men. Sometimes even in place of the men. I thought about how I used to rant and rave about women being treated as equals. These women are out there living it. Taking a break from branding to nurse a baby or check supper in the oven…a woman’s work is never done. It made me look again into my own heart and realize just how much I am capable of. How much I am not alone, that I have sisters of such strength and resolve, there, backing me up every step of the way.

By the time we were done in the museum, we were ready to find another hotel room and some food! A quick drive down the road and surprisingly, we found another nice hotel with a room available! How lucky can you get?! 😉

Off we went to get some food and some bathing suits to hit the pool later – we’d not packed any and I figured that Rebecca and I both needed new ones anyway, so why not buy some while we were there? They were easy to find, and again, cheaper that at home! Little Caesar’s pizza and a bottle of Lewis and Clark vodka was our gourmet meal of the day! Very cool!

I went down to the pool with the kids for a little while. After a quick swim and a dip in the hot tub, I hung out on a chair just to watch them. I remembered how the last time we were away and in a hotel pool, Lucas wouldn’t let go of my neck. I thought he’d never be a swimmer.

There they both were, out of arms reach and I did not have to worry – they had both become so sure of themselves. They had both grown up so fast right before my eyes. How had I missed this? How had they stopped needing me as much? When did they become these tall kids that I didn’t have to watch every second? When did they become mature enough to go through not one, but two museums in a single day without complaining, soaking up new information as fast as they could?

I watched their dark heads bent together in conspiracy there in the pool, hanging on the rope. Wondering how one minute, they were the best of friends, and the next…oh, there it was, a shove and a dunk under water! A splutter and retaliation. Both dripping and laughing, best friends again! How did they do that?

I sat and watched them playing their games. Just the two of them. Oblivious to the other kids around them. Oblivious even to me. Only the two of them. I wondered if it would always be that way? I certainly hoped so and vowed to be sure to give them plenty of opportunities to have that kind of time together. My heart ached a little for their big brother who wasn’t there with us, but remembered that I had spent these days with him too.

I fell asleep quickly again that night. Safe there, far away from home, but feeling very at home.

We headed home again the next day after a big breakfast. We were quieter on the trip back.  Not disappointed or tired, just content to be heading home again.

Lewis and Clark were anxious to head back home after their long journey west. They returned heroes and surprised many that they were returning at all. They split up on the journey back before coming back together just before arriving at home.

Again, I think of how similar that is to our little journey through our lives together. We have stories to share and remember all that we’ve seen and learned together, just as the Lewis and Clark Discovery Expedition had so many journals and stories to pass on to generations that followed.

We are heroes in our own minds because we never gave up. We have split apart on our own discoveries of ourselves, but we always come back together again; knowing that we are more complete as the whole than the sum of the parts. We have surprised even ourselves that we have returned from what at times seems so very far away, conquering what seems to be insurmountable.

I know that there are many more adventures to come; some easy, some may risk much. Each one will be important in its own way. We could sit at home and be safe in our own little world, content with not having to discover who we really are. It is definitely easier. We can believe that we are less than we really are.

Lewis and Clark could have let someone else go on that adventure to the Pacific. There will always be someone else. Captain Clark remarked in his journal on the day of his 35th birthday that occurred during the expedition that he felt like he had not yet contributed to making the world a better place! Can you imagine that!? He was in the middle of an epic adventure of discovery, yet felt that he had not done anything with his life! He had no idea what effect his life would have on the lives of others.

I must remember that my epic adventure is right here in front of me. Each and every day that I get up and try again; try to be a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better business partner – that is an adventure in itself. Each time that I take a chance and just BE means something to someone else. No matter how small and insignificant I believe it to be, it may be the greatest discovery to someone else.

I think Lewis and Clark would be proud of our little adventure, what do you think?

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10 thoughts on “Lewis and Clark Adventure

  1. Shawna, you are such a gifted writer. I will be standing in line when your first book comes out. Keep up the great work.

  2. I loved this post! I was born in Great Falls. 🙂 I enjoyed the spirit of adventure in this piece and the parallels to Lewis and Clark throughout. It sounds like a wonderful few days and believe me, your kids will never forget it!

    1. Great Falls is really quite a beautiful city! And the history…very cool! Hope you get back there sometimes! They were still excited today, especially planning on telling their friends the story!

  3. I really really really needed to read this today. I had been saving it didnt know why but then I just sat down after what seemed to be one of the longest day of my life and I thought, hey I should check shawnas blog so i did. Here I sit inspired and rejuvenated thanks shawna. We really should get together for coffee or something soon. B

  4. That is EXACTLY how I feel every time we go on one of our spontaneous adventures. I’m so glad to see that you were finally able to cross the border – you missed out on that when we were younger (minus the cigarette smoke! lol).

    I’m very glad that you were able to experience a few of those moments with the kids – it is such a cool experience when they get to see things new with you – and amazing when you realize how much they’re growing up overnight! It truly is what makes people happy – that is why I am the way I am – happy! One warning though, those moments are absolutely addictive; you’ll soon be venturing often! 🙂

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