A bike ride through history Parkdale teacher Kathleen Welland finds lessons for her students along one of America’s oldest paths

Photo by Christian Knight

Kathleen Welland reveals the tanline she developed on her two and a half month ride from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop. The Parkdale school teacher passed through the Gorge via the Historic Highway on Monday.


News staff writer

August 6, 2005

Kathleen Welland’s face is tan and tough, like that of a homeless man, which is fitting since Welland has been living like a homeless person for the last two and a half months.

She has been roaming through the nation’s breadbasket, its Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Continental Divide and the Cascades – all from the seat of the $200 bike she purchased with a gift certificate.

Her entire purpose is to retrace Lewis and Clark’s journey from Saint Louis, Mo. to Fort Clatsop.

On Monday, she passed the road – Highway 35 – that would have led to her Parkdale home.

“It’s tempting to ride up (Highway) 35,” she smiled while pausing along Historic Highway to meet some friends. “Once I get there, I’m afraid I won’t get back on the bike.”

Her journey began in St. Louis on June 20. It ended Aug. 3, when she pedaled into Fort Clatsop.

In Iowa, she found endless rows of corn.

Nebraska, the nicest people she’d ever met.

South Dakota is where the headwinds started, which relented just before the North Dakota border, transforming into three days of Mother Nature’s whispering encouragement: tailwinds.

She survived a torrential thunderstorm and 107 mph winds in Wolf Point, Mont., called a “Bow Echo.” And then pedaled by an earthquake near Missoula a few days later.

In Idaho she began climbing mountain passes. She saw the Columbia for the first time in a month and a half when she crossed into Oregon and just Sunday, she saw Mount Hood for the first time.

She’s studied Lewis and Clark’s journals juncture by juncture in this trip, trying to understand how they felt at the confluence of the Missouri and the mouth of the Columbia.

For the 40-year-old kindergarten teacher, however, this journey has been about witnessing and often experiencing kindness.

From the very beginning, she says, when St. Louis-based adventure magazine writer invited her to his and his wife’s house and let her drive his car throughout the city, Welland has received so many acts of kindness from strangers it sort of became a theme to her trip.

“This trip, more than anything, has restored my belief in humanity,” she says while cruising down the Historic Highway toward Hood River. “All the wonderful people along the way. They stopped and gave me water … I’ve approached people with my map. They gave me directions, fed me, washed my clothes.”

Nearly every summer, the 13-year Parkdale teacher ventures off on a trip. In 2003 she flew to South America.

In 1995 she flew to Virginia Beach with her bike and pedaled it all the way to the Pacific coast at Florence.

“This one was a lot more challenging,” she says. “A lot more remote. There were days that I rode 100 miles without going through a single town. Loneliness. Oh yes. I got lonely.”

Every time she ventures into the foreign world, she tries to bring something back – both tangible and intangible.

This year, she laughs, her young students will be enjoying an in-depth section on Lewis and Clark’s journey. They’ll also be enjoying the $300 worth of gifts she bought for them.

What a story she’ll have to tell.

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