By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
With a population of just 29, Lupus does not seem poised to disrupt this bucolic idyll. Huddled by the banks of the Missouri, Lupus is a town with no stoplights. Its Main Street intersects with a dirt road, and last year the town's largest public-works project was the addition of a bathroom to the one-room community center. Life is slow in Lupus, and the people seem to like it that way.
Imagine, then, the excitement when the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles' RV convoy pulls into Lupus and begins to set up camp.
The Discovery Expedition boasts more than 200 active members from across the country. Many drop in and out of the tour, typically showing up on the weekends for a night or two of adventure. But Lupus is one of the last stops on the expedition's two-year journey, and even on a Tuesday night the corps' numbers have swelled to more than double the town's population.
That doesn't stop village elders from feting the boys in buckskin aside from Sacagawea, women aren't allowed on the canoes as if they were the intrepid explorers they pretend to be. After treating the travelers to dinner and live banjo music al fresco, former Lupus mayor Jim Denny, a portly man sporting a beefy mustache and a Hawaiian shirt, delivers an impromptu speech, presenting corps member Josh Loftis with a pink flamingo lawn ornament to commemorate Loftis' entry into the "Procession of the Flamingo."
Loftis, who at age twenty is one of the Discovery Expedition's youngest members, has been on the trail for as long as anyone in the group. He's tall and wiry, with shaggy brown hair and a narrow, hairless chest. This last characteristic manifests itself frequently, as Loftis is known for boarding the boats wearing nothing but a loincloth and chaps. He says he's a descendant of George Shannon, one of the members of the original expedition. Accepting his lawn ornament, Loftis recounts that when the expedition reached the Pacific, he ran clutching an American flag in one hand and a pirate flag in the other headlong into the surf.
It's only nine o'clock, but the festivities are beginning to wind down. Tomorrow the ersatz corps will hook canoes to pirogue and motor to Jefferson City. After supping upon a feast provided by the city, Mayor John Landwehr will read a proclamation signed by Governor Matt Blunt. Dressed in buckskin and a billed fur hat, Jan "Meriwether Lewis" Donaldson will give each dignitary a friendship medal silver-colored coins the Discovery Expedition has been doling out along its route. The festivities will conclude with a serenade by the Jefferson City Cantorum's Lewis & Clark Singers.
But for all the evening's bonhomie, one topic prompts the re-enactors to emit disapproving whispers: First Squad.
Led by Churchill "William" Clark and Scott "Meriwether Lewis" Mandrell, First Squad is significantly smaller, and younger, than Discovery Expedition. This squadron has propelled itself down the river in a pair of elaborately carved dugout canoes and a third "banana boat" canoe. Unlike the Discovery corps, this crew has paddled nearly every mile of the Missouri River, portaging only around impassable dams.
Long-haired and scruffy, First Squad's ten or so members dress in a hodgepodge of styles ranging from period dress to Tevas. They wear do-rags, and their clothes are filthy and full of holes. Nonetheless, they're quick to proudly point out that "this shirt's logged thousands of miles." They've fueled their journey with equal parts liquor and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Many of them smoke incessantly.
For much of the trip they've shadowed the Discovery Expedition like a bad conscience, occasionally disrupting its ceremonies and showing up the family-friendly Discovery corps with their tales of brute paddling force. Today two hours after Discovery Expedition has landed in St. Charles, after Mayor Patti York, tarted up in period dress, has honored the corps with a speech and after the assembled crowd has visited Discovery's campsite to learn about medical practices of the early nineteenth century First Squad quietly docks its canoes on the St. Charles riverfront.
Since Mandrell has had to resume his teaching duties in the Clayton School District, this week First Squad is led by Clark, who says he's a great-great-great-great-grandson of William Clark. A 42-year-old bartender from Denver, Clark has long, curly brown hair, blue eyes and cheeks flecked with a perpetual two-day stubble. He has the sort of chin that slopes almost seamlessly into his neck and wears a pair of nascent muttonchops that reach out toward his mouth. Today he's got a red bandana tied on his head, a pair of knee-high leather boots and a long-sleeved white shirt with a massive tear in the right armpit.
Climbing out of his canoe, Clark heads for land, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a shared bag of tortilla chips. As he clambers through a small patch of reeds, he passes a tall, blond woman who has brought her young son down to see the boats.
"Oh! They're a couple of beauties," she exclaims, complimenting the canoes, which the crew has carved and painted with colorful eagles and turtles.
"They are a couple of beauties," Clark repeats with a wry smile. When the blonde is out of earshot, he adds, "I know a MILF when I see one. I remember this town. I love St. Charles."