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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Lewis & Clark Trail - some trip!

Here we are, a week into the new year, and already my plans are in pieces. Such is the life of the self-employed jobbing writer. Still, I think it’s good news I’m hearing. So I’ll come back to it in a moment. Somewhere in the back of my mind is the dim recollection of a book I was writing, a memoir of my many jobs….

I see that I last worked on it on 21 December. What with Christmas, a visit to relatives in South Wales, and various other distractions, that seems an awfully long time ago. I couldn’t even remember where I’d got to until I called up the file just now. Ah yes, the winter of 2003-04, when I worked at the sugar-beet factory, around the time that BBC director came up to York and filmed me paddling about on the river Ouse and talking to camera, when we stayed up late and discussed the six-part documentary we would make: me travelling the Lewis and Clark Trail by car, on foot, on horseback and by canoe, to commemorate the bicentennial of that epic journey, 1804-1806.

I think he got as far as submitting the film, the treatment, the proposal, the whole darned package to the BBC, the Discovery Channel - and then nothing. Ho hum. I took off for St Louis anyway, and did the whole trip to Astoria and back in a rented 4WD with an old school-chum. 

We packed a tent, our cooking pots, a broadcast quality microphone and recorder, and over the next month or so linked up with various CVBs along the way (Convention and Visitor Bureaux), interviewing everybody from tourism directors to Lewis and Clark scholars, park rangers, Native representatives, merchandisers of Lewis and Clark commemorative candies and beer, restaurateurs…. We chartered boats along the Missouri and down the Columbia, visited Forts Mandan and Clatsop, were invited into earth lodges and tipis. We even spent a day or two tagging along with the party of re-enactors who took three replica craft and covered every last inch of the Trail according to the original party’s timetable. Two and a half years!

Here they are in mid-Kansas:

And here’s their Newfoundland terrier (who dropped dead just a few weeks after I took this photo):

They included among their number the great-great-and-then-some-grandson of Capt. Clark himself, seen here addressing the crew after they’d raised the flag and made camp for the night.

Talking of camps, here’s one of my favourites, along the upper Missouri, not far for Mandan. I can smell the coffee.

I should come back to this another day. It’s quite a story. I intend to include some of the material in that book I mentioned the other day, about the 17 trans-Mississippi states and my travels therein. The most thrilling part - and the most distressing, I suppose - was the interviews we did with certain Native spokespeople. We talked to people from the Ponca, Mandan-Hidatsa, Lakota, Nez Perce, Chinook and several others too. Their views on Lewis and Clark were provocative, pungent and informed. What a shame that I never got more than a few scraps of that material into print - and that BBC Radio never commissioned the show I proposed to them, distilled out from seventeen hours of taped interviews. Oh well, they’re run by children these days…. I’ll add it to the list of books to write. 

Which brings me to my news. There are two items of note.  One, we have a major production company asking whether the film rights for the Now Then, Lad series are still available. It may come to nothing, but it could just be a huge break. We’ll see; all in good in time, as one’s parents used to say. Meanwhile I have been asked whether I would like to ghost-write a science fiction novel for an Asian writer. Substantial fee involved. Stand by for groans as I take up a new challenge, all in order to keep the lobo from the puerto, as you might say in old Mexico….

Okay, time to sign off with a photo of yours truly, eight years ago, straddling the mighty Missouri at its very source up in the western mountains. (Yep, I forget the exact spot, but it’ll be there, in the notebooks, in the attic, under the camping gear and Christmas decorations….)

More anon.

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