Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life of a freelance journalist - 1 down, 100 to go

I had hoped to sell some travel stories from our trip to help cover the costs and keep my freelance career going. Today the local paper, for which I've written since the mid-'90s, ran the first of several travel stories they're planning to use from our recent trip. The assignment: write about the entire 9,611-mile journey in 250-300 words.

Do the math and you'll see it's no easy task! We saw so much along the way, and with only 300 words max, I was hard pressed to provide ANY details. It took me about an hour to write the lead, but then I was off and running.

The editor was happy with what I provided. You can find it online here.

In case they can the online storage of it, here's the text:

Orcutt family offers tips on following Lewis and Clark road trip
By Jennifer Best/Contributing Writer

At the turn of the 19th century, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and 30 members of their Corps of Discovery embarked on an American adventure. Their quest: to map a waterway that would connect the United States of America with the Pacific Ocean while taking note of the peoples, flora and fauna of this vast, uncharted region.

They had no motorized transportation, no maps, sketchy medical knowledge and had been ordered by President Thomas Jefferson to return with new species, even large mythological beasts.

Two hundred years later, my daughters and I set out on our own quest: to keep American history alive, intriguing and tangible for budding historians by following the footsteps of these intrepid explorers. But we had a leg up — the shelter of a trailer, the power of a minivan, the knowledge of countless mapmakers held in our hands and a network of roads and highways beyond Clark’s imagination.

Our journey began where Lewis and Clark enjoyed their westernmost exposure, on what is now the Long Beach Peninsula of southwestern Washington State. In November 1805, 11 members of the Corps, led by Clark, walked this sandy shore in search of a winter haven. They found, instead, an unprotected, windblown, ocean-battered spit of land. They returned to the great Columbia River and crossed its treacherous waters in favor of the sheltered shore to the south.

Today, that once-lonely stretch of land is home to pocket communities of residents who enjoy the solitude of a 29-mile stretch which, at its widest point, reaches only 5 miles. Though isolated from the rest of the state by Willapa Bay to the east, and the first landfall for Pacific storms from the west, wildlife still flourishes there. Bears, deer and coyotes are not unusual sights in neighborhood yards. Locals continue to harvest wild salal berries, coastal strawberries, wintercress and wild mushrooms among other native flora, hunt bear, deer, elk, grouse and waterfowl, and enjoy the Pacific bounty just as humans have from time immemorial. Cranberry bogs and oyster pots bring forth their products each autumn and winter.

Winter months provide the most peaceful experience on the peninsula, with favorite local shops and restaurants remaining open throughout the cold, wet season. It’s an ideal time to live like the locals and take in small-town events from high school sports and arts to the Long Beach Christmas Tree lighting ala Dr. Seuss’s Whoville. Or hop across the historic Astoria-Megler Bridge, a 4-mile engineering marvel that stretches across the Columbia River, to visit Astoria and other coastal Oregon communities.

In summer, the peninsula comes alive as the carousel cogs are greased and set into motion, the miniature golf course is vacuumed and go-carts start their engines for the season. Visitors drive on the 26.3-miles of uninterrupted sandy beach, retrace the Corps’ “last mile” on a paved path through the dunes, build sandcastles, witness hundreds of kites in flight at the International Kite Festival, ride horseback, camp, shop and dine at venues ranging from sandy picnic blankets to cozy breakfast spots and a world-class restaurant.

Today the 3,630-mile stretch of the Lewis & Clark Trail stretching from the Pacific Oceano to St. Louis, Missouri, boasts a plethora of educational visitor attractions all boosted by the recent bicentennial of the trek. There are 81 museums, state parks and national parks along the trail dedicated to the Corps of Discovery and the tribes they encountered, and countless wayside markers.

By far the most interesting docents we found along the route were at Fort Clatsop, Ore., the 1805 winter quarters of the Corps. The seasoned guides speak conversationally as they recount that bitterly cold, wet winter and demonstrate the use of tools varying from log skinners to firearms compelling fashion.

The museum at Sgt. Floyd River Museum in Sioux City, Iowa, was the most child-friendly with hands-on activities throughout the museum designed to rope in visitors of all ages. What skills do you share that may come in useful on such a journey? Could you have been among the elite few selected for this journey? How would you have treated the variety of injuries and illnesses the adventurers encountered along the way?

Highways and byways sometimes parallel and often crisscross the route, tamed by dams, but trail and river guides offer the more rugged and wealthy traveler opportunities to walk the mountain passes and ride the river the corps explored. At Gates of the Mountains, river tours offer the general public the river view. In St. Louis, paddlewheel boats offer priceless days on the wide Mississippi River. Packers provide supplies, animals and guides over Lolo Pass, the rugged crossing through Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains. Other companies provide barge cruises and fishing treks along the waterways mapped by the Corps.

Like Lewis and Clark, who veered from their route on their return trip in an effort to find shortcuts and further map the area, the girls and I also tended to wander off our intended route, venturing into Glacier National Park, then Canada before returning again to the historic route and continuing east. And like the Corps, we were welcomed by the hospitality of locals along the way, invitations that led to a ranch stay, riverside hot springs, a canoe float, abundant huckleberry patches and some of the best views of American waterways.

And when our 9,611-mile journey was through, I asked the girls, ages 8 and 5, if they were ready to return home. “Yes,” the 8-year-old said, “but there’s still so much I want to see.”

Jennifer Best is an Orcutt-based freelance journalist. She can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. Great story! Hope you come by and see our Lewis & Clark maps.
    Glad you enjoyed our part of the world....


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