It’s not always easy to convey to a class of fourth-grade social studies students how perilous an adventure it was 200 years ago for explorers setting off into then uncharted territory. But when a modern-day thrill seeker brings back videos and pictures that trace such an epic journey, it’s much easier to imagine.
Joe Cesarini, a retired firefighter and father of Peggy Perry, a teacher at Field-Stevenson, elicited awed gasps from Perry’s students with footage of his backpacking trip along a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Standing at the edge of a cliff, Cesarini recorded images of himself kicking a football-sized rock over the edge, and then following its descent as it tumbled hundreds and hundreds of feet.
“They didn’t have GPS in those days,” Cesarini quipped of the famed exploration.
Narrow paths and towering mountains were just some of the dangers that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered when they set out in 1804 to take stock of the Louisiana Territory that had just been purchased from France. That dramatic expansion of the nation’s borders was the subject of a recent lesson in Perry’s social studies class. Perry’s father spent six days last summer camping in the Bitterroot Mountains, located at the border of Montano and Idaho, where Lewis and Clark learned the toughest part of their journey to the Pacific Ocean had just begun.
On Feb. 18, Cesarini capped his daughter’s lesson on Lewis and Clark with a presentation on his effort to experience the trail for himself.
“I just wanted to see what it must have been like,” Cesarini said. “I guess I’m a Lewis and Clark fan.”
Each year, Cesarini gathers with a few friends for a camping adventure. This trip, which began on Aug. 17, took them into a rugged mountain range where temperatures hovered above freezing at night and reached 75 degrees during the day.
In addition to his video diary and photos from the trip, Cesarini showed students his backpack, a lightweight tent and samples of the dehydrated food that he and his fellow hikers carried. He explained that traveling during the 1800s would have been much more difficult because the equipment was heavier and food had to be hunted.
Students from each of the school’s fourth-grade classrooms gathered in the gymnasium to listen to Cesarini, and eagerly raised their hands to show-off their knowledge of Lewis and Clark’s journey. During a question-and-answer segment, kids asked about animal encounters, whether Cesarini carried a gun, and if there were any roads winding through the wilderness.
Perry, the students’ teacher, said her father’s interest in the outdoors is not hereditary. She wrinkled her nose at the thought of eating dehydrated food.
“No cell phone, no real food, no bathroom. It was totally living in the outdoors and that’s totally not me,” Perry said.