CULLOWHEE – A group of Western North Carolina high school students will pedal their way through a lesson in American history this summer as they retrace the path of Lewis and Clark in a trip sponsored by Western Carolina University’s Talent Search Program.

Talent Search students in session
Todd Murdock, director of Western Carolina University’s Talent Search Program, leads a group of Talent Search students on a bicycle ride during an April “shakedown” session. Eight students were chosen to participate in the program’s “Expedition of Rediscovery.”

The Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, began its four-year journey in 1803, traveling from St. Louis, Mo., to the Pacific and opening up the American West for exploration. During this bicentennial anniversary of that legendary event, the Talent Search “Expedition of Rediscovery” will take eight WNC students on a backroads journey that will test them both physically and mentally.

The students, accompanied by Talent Search staff and volunteers, will travel by van to St. Louis on July 3. After celebrating July 4 at that city’s Gateway Arch and touring the Lewis and Clark museum there, the group will hop on mountain bikes on July 5 to begin a two-week journey to cover 500-plus miles of the Lewis and Clark route between St. Louis and Yankton, S.D.

Just as it took Lewis and Clark four years to prepare for their expedition, reach the Pacific Ocean and return home, it also will require four years for the Talent Search group to reach its destination at Astoria, Ore. Over the next three summers, other Talent Search students will complete the remaining portions of the route by hiking, cycling or paddling, said Todd Murdock, director of the program at Western.

“I think this will be a neat way for these kids to learn about history, but there’s all kinds of other things that will go along with it, such as how to get along in a group and make decisions with each other. And, of course, there is the physical aspect, too,” Murdock said.

Talent Search is a federally funded program that Western has hosted for 22 years. Students join the program in the seventh grade and the 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 currently works with about 900 middle and high school students from Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, and the Qualla Boundary.

Robert Caruso, vice chancellor for student affairs at Western, said the “Expedition of Rediscovery” is one of the most innovative opportunities ever offered to area Talent Search students and a “great way for these students to participate in an unusual educational experience combining history, geography and leadership development.”

Planning started last fall as the Talent Search staff began working on the logistical aspects of the project. In April, 19 Talent Search students gathered on Western’s campus for a “shakedown session” that included a 20-mile bicycle ride, bicycle safety course and campout. Eight students were chosen to participate in the summer trip.

The eight students are freshman Jason Crisp and senior Adrian Thomas, Smoky Mountain High School; freshman Joshua Levi West, Cherokee High School; junior Elle Pat Perkins, Robbinsville High School; freshman Andrew Ronald Bowers, Swain County High School; and sophomore Jason Ryan Murphy, freshman Isaac Thomas Rhodes and junior Jessica Noel Rhodes, Hiwassee Dam High School. Isaac and Jessica Rhodes are siblings.

The “Expedition of Rediscovery” also will include Talent Search staff members Leigh McDonald and Maggie Donahue and two Talent Search graduates, Troy Adams and Amanda Buchanan.

Murdock, a native of Mitchell County, licensed professional counselor and accomplished outdoor athlete who earned two bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree at Western, said he was lucky to accompany his parents on numerous trips to historic sites when he was a child. “That’s the first time I remember being excited about history,” he said.

Murdock said a Talent Search trip of this magnitude has been on his mind for a long time, and the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition made this the perfect year to begin to retrace the explorers’ route. The group will visit many historic sites as it pedals out of Missouri and onto the Great Plains, and numerous interpretive events are being held this summer along the route, he said.

The “Expedition of Rediscovery” is being financed with federal funds appropriated by the U.S. Department of Education. The trip is free for the students involved, who only will have to provide their own spending money, clothing and personal items.

The students will cook their own meals with grocery store-purchased products, and the entire group will camp out each night, Murdock said.

To prepare for the trip, each student is reading a book relating to the Lewis and Clark expedition, and they also have workout plans to help them prepare for the rigors of cycling more than 50 miles per day for nine days.

The students will maintain journals about their adventures, and after they return, the best excerpts from those journals and photographs will be combined to create PowerPoint presentations for each student to take back to his or her school, Murdock said. “They’ll be the resident expert on the entire Lewis and Clark expedition,” he said.

Murdock said he believes the eight students involved in the trip have a notion of what they’re about to do, but the full magnitude of the project has not yet hit home.

“I’m excited about the stories these kids are going to tell me five years from now, when they’ve had a chance for all this to sink in and they realize what an adventure this was for them,” he said.

The cycling portion of the trip will begin on July 5 in St. Charles, Mo., and end in Yankton on July 14. The Talent Search contingent plans to post updates, at least every three days, on the program’s Web site, located at http://www.wcu.edu/talentsearch/.

For more information about the “Expedition of Rediscovery,” contact Murdock at (828) 227-7137.

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Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University