Biking in Lewis + Clark’s Footsteps

“A kid can do a whole lot more than most adults think.” That’s how my eight-year-old son responded to people who thought it was too much for him to cycle with me for 67 days down the length of Japan.

We traveled 2,500 miles on connected bikes carrying about 75 pounds of gear to support a global tree-planting campaign and the United Nations’ efforts to combat climate change. Along the way, we traversed eight mountain passes in the Japanese Alps and took on sumo wrestlers

When we finally made it to the end, my son joked that we should send post cards to the many naysayers with a simple note: “Turns out an eight-year-old can ride a bike all the way across Japan.”

Two years later (and two years ago), we cycled the rim of Iceland — but this time, we brought my four-year-old daughter along. We looked like a long bicycle train with my son on a cycle connected to my bike, and my daughter behind him in a trailer. Once I got us moving, it was easy to stay on a straight line and maintain momentum. But at even the slightest incline, my legs groaned under the weight of the kids and 100 pounds of gear.

Many people asked, “Are you crazy?” They worried that my kids would get bored, exhausted, even frostbitten. My responses:

  • Yes, I’m crazy. I want to go on crazy adventures with my kids while they are young. I want to create crazy fun memories together. And I hope that, when they grow up, my children will come up with their own crazy adventures to share with their kids.
  • Yes, they’ll get bored sometimes. What’s wrong with being bored? That’s what imagination is for.
  • No, it won’t be too much for them. Children are meant to play outside all day long. Their muscles want to be challenged; their brains crave new experiences; and they come alive in nature. 
  • Yes, we were uncomfortable, even miserable, at times. Any adventure worth having involves a little pain. But the uncomfortable times made us appreciate simple comforts like taking a hot bath or snuggling in our sleeping bags together. 

For our next family adventure this summer, my kids and I will be retracing the most famous expedition in American history on the Lewis and Clark Trail. It took the intrepid explorers more than a year and a half to cover this distance. We’ll do it in two months.

We will start by car in St. Louis, head north along the Missouri River, then switch to bikes and ride west through North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon until we reach the Pacific Ocean. Can two young kids pedal over the Rockies? We are soon to find out.

Along the way, we’ll document the interesting people and places we visit and seek out landscape views that remain unchanged since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark described them in their journals.

The goal of the 1804-1806 expedition was to discover a water passage to the Pacific, but the trip also yielded an abundance of biological information. Lewis identified hundreds of new plants and animals. (Of course, these were not new to the Native Americans who lived along the route.) My kids and I will try to find some of these plants and animals and talk with locals about how the natural environment has changed over time. We’ll also collect data for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to help make our roads safer for wildlife.

We’ll learn together, too, by reading the journals of Lewis and Clark along our route. We’ll talk about Sacagawea — a Shoshone woman whose skills as a translator, guide, and mediator proved indispensable to the expeditioners — and York, William Clark’s slave, who also contributed to the expedition’s success (though he and Sacagawea were not paid for their work). And I’ll tell my children stories of earlier generations in my family who headed west as homesteaders.

When Meriwether Lewis turned 31, in the midst of the expedition, he lamented that he had “yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation.” Lewis may have been being overly humble in the midst of a journey he well knew would be of tremendous significance, but it’s a worthy sentiment.

In an effort to give back ourselves, my kids and I have committed to giving presentations to schools and science museums about what we learned on our trip. We will share conversations we had with ranchers and Native Americans, note the changes to the natural environment along the route in the past two centuries – and even comment upon the travails of perhaps too much quality family time!

When Lewis began his remarkable journey out west in 1804, he wrote: “I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

I have felt the same at the start of each family adventure I’ve taken with my kids. I can’t wait for this one to begin.

Charles R. Scott is an endurance athlete, family adventurer, and United Nations “Climate Hero.” Follow his epic family adventure on his personal blog and check out the book he wrote about the bicycle trip across Japan, Rising Son.


  1. Hans Erdman
    Isanti, MN
    August 28, 2013, 1:46 pm

    Did you ride the Yankton Sioux Reservation in SD, through old Greenwood, Marty and Pickstown?

  2. Stephanie Alberts
    Colorado Springs
    August 7, 2013, 3:03 pm

    In an amazing series of events, of which I’m sure to write a book, I met Charles, Sho & Saya 2 days ago atop Lost Trail Pass in Montana. They were climbing the mountain from the south side and I drove my SUV from the north side. Our paths converged at the rest area atop. My curiosity peaked when I saw the bike trailer, then I realized the other rider was a child near the age of my eldest son. Amazed, I asked where they started from & the answer was so fantastic we spent the following four hours in conversation about our common life experiences. Saya clearly needed some girl time. I was happy to be her audience for cartwheels that weren’t “fails”, to find chipmunks to feed more lays potatoe chips to, and to stand watch by the door while she used the “creepy” restroom. Sho is unique, gifted and clearly way above average. His name means “to fly” in Japanese, so I think of him soaring over the mountain passes instead of pedaling. Charles is full of wisdom, an absolute inspiration & credit to the male gender. I’m forever grateful for the experience and my new friends. : )

  3. Stephen - NYC
    July 5, 2013, 11:02 am

    I just read your response to the person who asked not-so-nicely ‘are you crazy’ on your blog. You mentioned ACA, so never mind my question.

  4. Stephen - NYC
    New York City
    July 5, 2013, 10:53 am

    I have to admit that when I read the headline, I immediately thought you might be riding Adventure Cycling Association’s Lewis & Clark Trail –

    Are you planning to follow any of their route? I am sure you’ve researched the trail, but I can vouch for their research too. I’ve ridden the TransAmerica Bike route of theirs back in 1976 & 1980 (when they were still called Bikecentennial). You wouldn’t go wrong even if you just bought their map set as they list the services (such as there might be) on the route.
    Good luck to you and your children. They have already had some exciting bicycling adventures and they aren’t even teenagers yet.
    I agree with you answers to the ‘Are you crazy?’ question. Geez, we all got them all the time.

  5. Brandie
    July 1, 2013, 1:26 pm

    I’m intrigued but these less than traditional biking adventures. One of the Select Registry innkeepers recently completed a cycling adventure of his own.

    June 28, 2013, 2:39 pm

    Congratulations Charles! You are starting today your trip. I look forward to read your reports. It is wonderful to know what you are doing. I hope you will be an example for many families in the world.

  7. 4Rider
    June 20, 2013, 6:31 pm

    Kudos to Mr. Scott. In our current risk-adverse society it seems safety is paramount, and anyone who exposes their child to anything more risky than an X-Box is seen as practicing child abuse. The simple truth about life is, no one get out alive. At the bitter end, all we have is our experiences, and if our experiences are limited to what we experience in absolute safety, we have accumulated virtually nothing at all.

    From their earliest age we took our sons hiking (starting in a kiddy-pack on mom & dads back), bicycling, kayaking, climbing (in the gym and on actual, not-man-made rock), treking, canoeing, riding motorcycles off-road and overland, skiing and, gasp, even into the wilds of Alaska and Canada. One son spent weeks bicycling around rural China on a mission trip, assisting farmers with the rice harvest. Both traveled in Europe, traveled cross-country here at home on motorcycles, ventured deep into the wilderness of the south-west, and in-spite of it all, survived into adult-hood.

    Charles, just wait until you son comes to you to tell you how much he now appreciates all the efforts you went through to expose him to the entire world, not just the safety of the home-town, or the limits of the X-Box. Just wait until he tells you that his friends call him a “Renaissance Man” because of his experiences and knowledge. And just wait until you get to see him take your grandson on a bike ride across Japan!

    No one wants to be sitting around the retirement home regaling friends with tales of all the meetings and teleconferences you attended, or all the Warcraft games you won.