They may not sport the telltale pointed ears of their sci-fi counterparts, but there’s a wholesale movement of fanatics afoot. Dubbed “Clarkies,” they’re famous for their near-obsessive devotion to the minutiae of the Lewis & Clark expedition, as well as their ability to debate, vehemently at times, said minutiae.
The group of 14 gathered around a campfire near the Lolo Trail in Idaho on the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 16, most likely got more than they bargained for in their effort to follow—quite literally—the footsteps of their historical heroes. The bright orange tents scattered at the edge of camp glowed in a thin white layer of snow deposited by the leading edge of a cold, wet front; the next morning, campers trudged through five inches of the stuff to get to the breakfast tent. Put together by Missoula’s Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures, the hiking trip followed some 65 miles of the duo’s original path on the high ridge just north of the Lochsa River. And even though these Clarkies—from locales as temperate as California, Virginia, and Louisiana—were prematurely thrust into legitimate winter conditions, not a complaint was heard around the fire as Harry Fritz delivered an impassioned account of the expedition.
Fritz, a highly regarded and much-published history professor at the University of Montana, focused on the area’s historical significance, but also careened off to cover general issues, such as the correct pronunciation of Sacajawea (Fritz favors the Shoshone way, basically a phonetic pronunciation) and the sheer historical balls it must have taken to split up in the Missoula Valley with plans to meet—after traveling through country neither had seen before—at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, some 550 miles distant.
On hand to film the chilly class was a freelance team working for National Geo-graphic television, two fellows who plan on traversing other parts of the expedition path by boat, bike and RV.
The kicker to all this? We’re yet two years away from the 200th anniversary of Lewis & Clark actually laying eyes on this neck of the woods.