The view from Crown Point along the Columbia River Gorge was ethereal. Sun rays shown beneath the fog-filled sky, turning the Columbia into a silver ribbon and silhouetting the mountains. It was magnificent.
I was startled by a soft voice with a question: “Excuse me, ma’am, what is that long strip running along the water’s edge?”
“Interstate 84,” I said.
“What’s an Interstate?”
The tall gentleman in buckskins must be pulling my leg, I thought. “Interstate highways run between states for major supply hauling between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and all points between. Where are you from?”
“We started from Pittsburgh over two years ago, but I am originally from Virginia.” Ah ha, all RVers talk about where they are from “originally.”
“You’re an RVer,” I stated.
“What‘s an RV?” he asked.
I pointed to The George. His eyes popped, “What is that?” Maybe this was “Candid Camera.” I put on my best smile as he balanced his long rifle against the building.
“Well, it’s kinda, sorta a big box on wheels with everything in it for personal comfort, a little like a prairie schooner, only it has an indoor bathroom, refrigerator, stove and electric lights. Would you like to see it?” I don’t often offer tours, but a guy from Virginia wearing a coonskin cap couldn’t be all bad.
“Are you with a Reenactment?”
“What’s a Reenactment?”
“What’s your name, friend?”
“Meriwether.” Goose bumps rippled my arms.
“What year is it, Captain Lewis?”
“Uh, I think you’ve been caught in a time warp. This is 2006.” With the look on his face, I could see he wasn’t familiar with Captain Kirk and time warps. Instead I asked, “Are you hungry?”
“I’m starved. Could we start a fire? I have some fresh rabbit in my pack.”
I wondered just how fresh 200-year-old-rabbit could be, “It is only a short ways to Multnomah Falls Lodge, sort of like Grinders Stand on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee where you were…ah…only on a grander scale.” I almost blurted, “Where you were buried,” but maybe this wasn’t the time to tell him that he died at 35. “The Inn is not far from Beacon Rock.” He perked up. “That’s where you met the tidewater on your way to the Pacific,” I said.
“How did you know that?”
“From your published journals. You also mentioned a series of chutes and falls, ‘the water passing with great velocity forming & boiling in a most horriable (sic) manner.’ One of those was probably Multnomah Falls.”
“You’ve read my journals?”
“I have many books about you and your accomplishments. If you followed the same route today, you would find interpretive signs all the way from the St. Louis Gateway Arch commemorating the beginning of the Lewis and Clark journey, all the way to Fort Clatsop, especially here in Oregon and Washington. I wish you had written more.”
“What are Oregon and Washington?”
“Oregon is where we are standing. It is our 33rd State, admitted in 1859. Across the river is the State of Washington. It became our 42nd State in 1889.”
“Actually, there are 50.” He had a “Wow” look.
I gave him a tour of The George and started the engine. He was completely speechless I’d say. I recognized that telling him about my “454” horses would be pushing the envelope.
Unhooking the car, I said, “Henry Ford is credited with mass producing the first cars at the beginning of the 1900s.” I didn’t tell him mine was the least fancy with only four wheels and an engine.
He was enchanted as we twisted our way down toward Multnomah Falls. “This was the first paved road to cross Oregon’s Cascade Mountains a hundred and ten years after you came through. See what you started?” I said with a laugh. He smiled.
“You paved the way for a great migration of pioneers who came west to make unbelievable changes, but some of the quiet, peaceful ‘untouched’ wilderness areas have been preserved. The strong winds still blow as they did when you were trapped with your canoes and dugouts for two weeks of violent weather while trying to cross the mouth of the Columbia. Now people use the wind for windsurfing.”
“Well, you take this long, thick board with pointy ends and a tall pole with a canvas sail attached, climb aboard, and sail through the water really fast.”
“We have more free time than you did. Sailboats, racing boats, and a sternwheeler also use the river, at least as far up as the dam.”
“The Bonneville Dam was the first of many built in the Columbia River Gorge and the first one to have glass windows to watch the fish ladders.”
“Ladders for fish?”
“It’s a long story.”
At Multnomah Falls, he looked up and saw something soaring through the sky.
“It’s an airplane, probably circling the Portland International Airport where the Neerchokioo Indian village used to be.”
“But what’s an airplane?”
“Well, it’s a really long, hollow, bullet-shaped metal body with wings that carry it through the air. A hundred years after you departed for the Pacific, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew the first motor-powered airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Where it took you and the corps two-plus years struggling against unbelievable hardships to reach our western shores, we can now fly from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic in four hours.” This wasn’t the time to overwhelm him with the news that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969 and that flying in outer space was a common occurrence.
We watched the falls as we ate breakfast, and I answered his many questions. When I paid the bill, the waitress asked for my e-mail address. I glanced at Meriwether and knew his next question.
“It kind of flies through the air like the plane. If you had had e-mail on your trip west, you could have kept President Jefferson apprised of your every adventure at a moment’s notice. With a digital camera, you could have sent him pictures of it, too.”
He turned pale. “Meriwether, are you feeling OK? Let me call for help on my cell phone.”
“Cell ph…” With that, he slowly disappeared back into his own time zone.
RVers lead such interesting lives. (Meriwether would have loved spell check!) God Bless.
– – – – – – –
Autographed copies of Revised RVing Alaska and Canada ($16.95); Adventures with the Silver Gypsy ($14.95); Full-Time RVing: How to Make it Happen $14.95); In Pursuit of a Dream ($8), and Freedom Unlimited, The Fun and Facts of Full-timing ($9) are available through author Sharlene Minshall, Box 1040, Congress, AZ 85332-1040, www.full-time-rver.com or Amazon.com. Postage and handling are $4 for one book and $1 for each additional book.