Image: Talent Search group rides past fields of canola in Idaho

High school students enrolled in Western's Talent Search Program and program staff ride their bicycles past fields of canola in Idaho during the 2005 Lewis and Clark Expedition of Rediscovery. (Photo by Todd Murdock)  

Image: Talent Search group approaches Oregon's Mount Hood
Talent Search students and staff get a view of Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, as they bicycle through the state of Washington. (Photo by Troy Adams)

CULLOWHEE – After students and staff members from Western Carolina University's Talent Search Program rolled the last mile to the Pacific Ocean and dismounted from their mountain bikes, completing a three-year effort to retrace the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from St. Louis, Mo., to the Oregon coast, there was a predictable round of hugs, tears and high-fives as they dipped their feet in the salty waters.

But there also was bittersweet regret for some students participating in this year's “Lewis and Clark Expedition of Rediscovery,” said Todd Murdock, director of Western's Talent Search Program.

“Several of the kids commented about feeling great because of their huge accomplishment, and at the same time they were sad because this great adventure that they had been looking forward to for so long was over,” Murdock said.

“Many felt they might never do anything like that again in their lives. We told them, ‘Baloney. You're still young. This experience raises the bar for you. We think you will enjoy many more adventures in your life. It's up to you to get out there and pursue them.'”

The group of nine Western North Carolina high school students and program staff traveled from Cullowhee to Missoula, Mont., on Tuesday, July 5, to begin a three-week bicycling journey of 752 miles in which they followed as closely as possible the route taken by the famed Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years ago. Previous Talent Search contingents finished the first 950 miles of the route, from St. Louis to western Montana, by bicycle and canoe during trips in the summers of 2003 and 2004.

This year's group of students included three who completed the first legs of the Expedition of Rediscovery in 2003 and 2004 -- Isaac Rhodes, senior at Hiwassee Dam High School; Jason Crisp, junior at Smoky Mountain High School; and Drew Bowers, senior at Swain County High School.

Three students who completed the 2004 journey returned to participate again – Miah Williams, sophomore at Robbinsville High School; Jessie Nosworthy, senior at Swain County High; and Tyler West, junior at Nantahala School.

New students participating this year were Aaron Queen, freshman at Swain County High; Andrew White, sophomore at Smoky Mountain High; and Randy Massey, sophomore at Nantahala School.

The adult staff included Murdock; Talent Search staff members Maggie Donahue, Lisa Dubbert, Leigh McDonald and Russ Harris; and a Talent Search graduate, Troy Adams.

The 2005 route took the Talent Search group across the northern Rocky Mountains, along the Snake River, and through the Columbia River Gorge to the Oregon coast. The three-week journey entailed a total of 49 flat tires and three days in which the group pedaled more than 70 miles each day, including one 75-mile day in the gorge, pedaling for six hours into a 30-mile-per-hour headwind – the hardest day of the trip, Murdock said.

During the journey, the students and staff camped in established campgrounds, city parks and at county fairgrounds, with the students cooking their own meals and recording their thoughts each night in personal journals. The group also visited historic sites along the route and talked about issues such as leadership, group dynamics and personal responsibility, Murdock said.

After completing this year's Expedition of Rediscovery on Friday, July 22, the Talent Search group visited Lewis and Clark 's winter camp and toured Astoria, Ore., before flying back to North Carolina on Monday, July 25. The students were reunited with their families at a celebration at a Waynesville restaurant.

Looking back on the three years of the Expedition of Rediscovery, which involved a total of 16 students, Murdock said it has been “awesome” for the staff to observe the students as they discovered that they can do things they didn't know they could do before.

The challenges presented by the entire Expedition of Rediscovery – the immense physical challenge of the bicycling and paddling, the social challenge of learning how to function as a group, and the emotional challenge of being away from home – all served to open up possibilities for the students, who came back from the trips with a “world view” and a “self-view” different from the one they held before, Murdock said.

“The neatest part for me has been watching them discover the good qualities they have. They have so very much fortitude and perseverance,” he said.

“I don't know if these trips gave the students those qualities, but I'm sure that it did reveal them,” Murdock said.

Talent Search is a federally funded program that Western has hosted for 24 years. Students join the program in the seventh grade and the Talent Search staff follows them through to their high school graduations, providing academic, career and financial aid counseling while encouraging the students to go to the post-secondary school of their choice. One of the primary methods used by Western's program to help young people expand their horizons is outdoor adventure.

Western's Talent Search staff works with about 900 middle and high school students from the counties of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain, and from the Qualla Boundary.

The Expedition of Rediscovery was financed with federal funds appropriated by the U.S. Department of Education. The trips were free for the students, who only had to provide their own spending money, clothing and personal items. Sponsors for this year's trip were Nantahala Outdoor Center and Motion Makers Bicycle Shop.

For more information, contact the Talent Search Program at Western at (828) 227-7137.

Maintained by the WCU Office of Public Relations
Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Western Carolina University