My husband, Peter, and I just completed visits to all 50 of the United States of America.  A photo commemorating the visit to our last State, Idaho, accompanies this post. We experienced plentiful rewards along this marvelous adventure – magnificent scenery (America IS beautiful), interesting people, and inspiration from the pride people take in the part of the world they claim as home.  These rewards strengthen my belief about the value of exploration to personal and professional growth. Since the last part of my journey covered some of the same ground as the quintessential American exploration – the Corps of Discovery quest to find a path to the Pacific led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark  – the lessons from both strike me as guides to hitting the real and metaphorical trails of life.

My Expedition Notes
Be Open – Towns might have been named after George Rogers Clark, and generations of Americans might know his story, had he not turned down the offer to co-lead the Corp of Discovery.  His brother, William, said “yes.” The rest, as we know, is history. While less the makings of a legend, I think about the things learned and people met because I said “yes” to the invitation. On the other hand, I wonder what was missed because I passed up other opportunities. I can’t grow if I don’t go. 

Surround Yourself With a Diversity of Talent – The thirty-three people on the Corp of Discovery were primarily white Americans with a military background. However, if not for replacing two majority members en route with a Frenchman and his wife – Charbonneau and his Shoshone Indian wife Sacagawea – the history of the American West may well be different. Charbonneau had the language skills to negotiate with Indians experienced with French traders. The surprise talent may have been 16-year-old Sacagawea, who became known as Bird Woman because she had a vision of the land “like a bird.” She brought not only language skills but an appreciation of Indian culture that served the Corp well on their expedition.  I reflect on times when skills or experience needed to win came not from the expected members selected for the task, but from the heroes who saw it differently.

Give, Don’t Just Take– The Corp of Discovery landed in Idaho sick, hungry and dispirited. One of the reasons the Nez Perce Indians did not kill them in their weakened state is that William Clark offered his medical skills. He helped the Nez Perce cure infections, so they saw value in keeping him and his band of explorers around.  Explorations offer great potential for personal growth, and not only for the traveler. It’s not just about taking, but giving. Exploit opportunities to make everyone better because of the journey.

Build Alliances – From the Mendan camp to Fort Clatsop, red hands and Indian wisdom helped The Corps of Discovery through alliances.  Lewis and Clark traded skills for horses, goods for guns with the Nez Perce.   The tribe went so far as to agree to store the Corps’ horses as they finished the trip by canoe. The Clatsop Indians advised the soaked and sick Corps on where to build their winter camp away from high tide and where food was plentiful.  Lewis and Clark gave the camp to the Clatsop in gratitude when they left. We can’t possibly know everything we need to when we set out on a personal or professional adventure. But those who have traveled our road or live in the destination do know. Be open to alliances to fill our gaps, and make sure any trades make everyone better.

Enjoy The View– The Corps of Discovery did not set out to have fun, but even they packed whiskey and fiddles for the road. It occurs to me that I often expect the reward to be at the end, which means I could miss much along the way.  This occurred to me when I was navigating a bicycle down a steep, S shaped hill on Old Highway 30 near Hood River, Oregon. The slope and the speed presented quite a challenge for my intermediate skills. I proceeded with heart pumping and white knuckles, gripping the handlebars and looking intently down at the road. Then, I happened to glance up. I enjoyed the most magnificent view of the Columbia River Gorge on a beautiful autumn day. Sunshine bounced off the white caps to make them glitter like diamonds. Hills with deep blue and green fir trees, with pops of bright red maples, sloped right down to the water. Sailboats and wind surfers danced across the river. The reward was not at the bottom of the hill that I was so anxiously trying to reach, but the view presented from the top. I wonder how many other times I missed the fun and the reward because it was not at the end after all, but along the way.

Moments of greatness are possible on expeditions for purpose or pleasure when we:
Say “Yes.” Whenever possible, take the trip.  Take the challenge. Take the tough job. Visit the unexpected. You’ll be different because of it.

People Not Like You Can Be Your Best Guides. “There” is not like “Here.” Surrounding yourself with a diversity of culture, experience, age, and skill may be the difference between success and failure. You never know what you need.

Leave People and Places Better.  You may get the most satisfaction from offering skills on your adventure. Many who take humanitarian trips claim it’s the giver who gets the most benefit.  Offer your skills, offer to help, offer support.  Allow everyone to gain from your presence.

Develop New Alliances. Make the benefits of your expedition last because of new contacts and/or new partners. They help the journey continue, even after you’ve returned home.

Stop and Look at The View. Often, the reason to climb the hill, scale the mountain, take the ride is to see something. Don’t focus so much on the end that you miss the joy along the way.

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