Southwestern Middle School teacher Katie Moderau retraced the Lewis and Clark Expedition route this summer. With her were her children, Lexi and Torsten, and her mother Nancy Strandmark. (Photo courtesy of Katie Moderau)
Southwestern Middle School teacher Katie Moderau retraced the Lewis and Clark Expedition route this summer. With her were her children, Lexi and Torsten, and her mother Nancy Strandmark. (Photo courtesy of Katie Moderau)

Katie Moderau did in five weeks what it took explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark two years to accomplish.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was the first American venture to successfully cross what is now the western portion of the United States. The pair departed in May 1804 from near St. Louis on the Mississippi River, making their way westward through the Continental Divide to the Pacific Coast.

They traveled by canoe and on foot. Moderau enjoyed more comfortable travel accomodations.

Moderau, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Southwestern Middle School — with her children, Lexi and Torsten, and her mother Nancy Strandmark — retraced the Lewis and Clark trail.

Moderau was awarded a Teacher Creativity Endowment from Eli Lilly, and used the money to follow the path of the famed explorers. 

The grant is awarded to individuals who have been teaching for at least five years as a way to renew their passion for teaching, Moderau said.

Teaching U.S. history at Southwestern, Moderau felt that the grant would be a way to bring greater depth to her students’ learning experience by allowing her to follow in the footsteps of the first journey of westward expansion.

“I thought of the insights I could bring back to the classroom,” she said.

Moderau began her journey at St. Louis as a symbolic way to honor the original start of Lewis and Clark’s journey. From there, she traveled westward along the Missouri River to the Colombia River, and from there to the Pacific Ocean.

The journey gave Moderau and her family a chance to visit areas that weren’t even states when Lewis and Clark explored the West.

Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California were stops along the way.

“It’s almost 8,000 miles,” Moderau said.

One of the most fun and unexpected things they experienced was a covered wagon ride in Nebraska and feeding bison, she said. “Being that up close was neat,” she said.

Retracing the steps of Lewis and Clark yielded surprising facts that most people don’t know, Moderau said.

Charles Floyd — who succumbed to appendicitis — was the only casualty of the 50-60 member expedition during the two year journey, Moderau said.

Another interesting fact, she said, was that the expedition didn’t go blindly into the West.

“Their maps were so accurate,” she said.

Most people think that the expedition was a journey into an empty land, but it wasn’t, Moderau said. The lands they explored were populated with Native American tribes, each with their own culture and practices.

Moderau’s daughter, Lexi, loved going to Alcatraz Island, and 4-year-old Torsten was excited any time they got to ride a locomotive or a steam boat, she said.

There was one disappointment on the trip — not getting to see a live bear. Moderau said they looked all over Yellowstone National Park and in California. “We were determined to see a bear, but we never saw one,” she said.

Moderau said she will bring her experience  into the classroom to make U.S. history more interesting. She said that she hoped to use what she learned to develop an interactive game for students that will help them learn more about the journey of Louis and Clark.

“I’m excited to go back and share these new things,” she said. Adding her personal stories will bring new life to what some youngsters think is “boring history,” she said.

By letting her students know what’s out there, she hopes that it will inspire them to, maybe, one day travel on their own.

“A lot of kids don’t make it any farther than their hometown. I want them to see that there are so many different places,” Moderau said.

“I would hope people go if they can. You get to see so many things,” she said.

Moderau created an online blog to document her journey. Go to: oneteachersjourneywest.wordpress.com to read more and see photos.