Lewis, Clark, and Lori

Inside a life-changing expedition that took Valley member Lori Wallach down the Lewis and Clark Trail


Lori Wallach has watched a meteor shower slice through the Big Dipper over sacred Nez Perce tribal grounds.

She has floated on her back miles downstream on the winding Missouri River, surrounded by wild serenity. 

She has traced the footprints of Sacagawea across a crest of the Bitterroot Mountains.

And she can blame it all on a book. 

“From the time I could read, I’ve loved early American history,” says Wallach. “As a kid, my books of choice were biographies of our presidents and other famous Americans, non-fiction history books. I loved visiting historic sites on road trips—I learned the importance of being in the space where it happened.”

Twenty years ago in Chicago, Wallach saw a Chautauqua-like performance of Thomas Jefferson by Clay Jenkinson, a leading Jefferson scholar. In it, she learned about a guided canoe expedition he led every summer on a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail—and after reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose cover-to-cover in three days, she signed up for his August 2014 Missouri River trip.

Over the course of nine days, 50 miles by canoe, then 50 more by foot, Wallach and 32 other adventurers camped and hiked in the same exact spots where Lewis and Clark had, with in-depth lectures and stories along the way from Jenkinson, local outfitters, and First Peoples’ elders.

“The Lewis and Clark trail starts at Monticello in Virginia and goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon,” says Wallach. “We were on the White Cliffs stretch of the Upper Missouri River, chosen due to its pristine nature—most of that section still looks like it did in 1805, when they mapped out 4,162 miles of this land, unlocking its secrets. They had no concept of what the Rockies were, or how long it would take and how dangerous it would be.”

Fortunately for Wallach and her fellow explorers, the trip wasn’t entirely off-grid, despite nights spent around campfires and days spent on wind-whipped water. “We overnighted at Montana’s Lochsa Lodge and Grand Union Hotel where we cleaned up, donned formal wear, and enjoyed a fine-dining experience with tenderloin of buffalo. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life, and we’re in the middle of nowhere—just amazing.”

From meditative moments sitting immersed in a flowing current, to gathering with celebrated storytellers and fellow history geeks in grand hotels, the trip was life-changing for Wallach—but she credits the fact that she was able to take on such a strenuous and physically challenging endeavor at all to her friends and neighbors in The Cliffs Valley and Mountain Park.

“When I signed up for the trip, I’d never been in a canoe before. I’d never long-distance hiked 50 miles in three days up and down mountains. So I needed to start training if I wanted to do this,” laughs Wallach. “That is where The Cliffs came to the rescue because I had a group of very active girlfriends who helped me train. We’d gear up and hike for miles all around here or go out on Lake Jocassee to kayak and build up endurance. Without the community support and the natural resources that we have around us, there’s no way I would have even thought of doing this trip.”

Even though Wallach’s expedition is no longer offered, the friendships she built along the way have endured—and their Lewis and Clark-themed parties, complete with Buffalo tenderloin, keeps the memory alive.

This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To see more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.