Talent Search cyclists
The Talent Search “Expedition of Rediscovery” students and staff members cycled 450 miles while following the path of Lewis and Clark. They are (front, left to right) Jessica Rhodes, Maggie Donahue, Leigh McDonald, (back, left to right) Levi West, Isaac Rhodes, Jason Murphy, Elle Perkins, Troy Adams, Jason Crisp, Adrian Thomas, Drew Bowers and Todd Murdock.

CULLOWHEE – Battling sweltering heat and saddle sores, eight local high school students enrolled in Western Carolina University’s Talent Search Program, along with program staff members, recently completed their mission to retrace a segment of the Lewis and Clark path by bicycle.

The students and program staff members cycled 450 miles of the route taken by the famous explorers 200 years ago, said Todd Murdock, director of the federally-funded program at Western.

The eight students who completed the bike ride 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.

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

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. 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 Talent Search students to reach their final 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, Murdock said.

This year’s “Expedition of Rediscovery” began as the group traveled by van to St. Louis on July 3. On July 5 the cyclists jumped on mountain bikes to begin following the Lewis and Clark route from St. Louis to Yankton, S.D.

The first week of riding resulted in some sore bottoms for the riders, but “the group progressed very much in ability and as a team with each passing mile,” Murdock said. “By the last few days, we were averaging about 15 mph on the bikes,” he said.

“Everywhere we went, people were interested in what we were doing,” Murdock said. “They also were glad they were not going with us. It was very hot. The temperature one day was 103 with 98 percent humidity. So our breaks had to be longer to allow folks to hydrate and rest.”

During the course of their journey, the students camped where Lewis and Clark camped and explored other landmarks visited by expedition members two centuries ago. The students kept journals to record their adventures, and the best excerpts from those journals will be used to create PowerPoint presentations for each student to present at his or her school.

“We did a lot of learning about Lewis and Clark, but we also focused a lot on leadership,” Murdock said. The group arrived in Yankton as scheduled on July 14 “in both good spirits and good health.”

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.

This year’s “Expedition of Rediscovery” was financed with federal funds appropriated by the U.S. Department of Education. The trip was free for the students involved, who only had to provide their own spending money, clothing and personal items.

For more information about Western’s Talent Search Program, call (828) 227-7137.

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Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University