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I’ll Always Remember My First Time

natchez trace, to live forever

I sat in the back quadrant of the room, off to the right. When he sidled up to me, I dug my fingernails into particle board and plastic. I tried to be quiet, but I still think I let out a little sigh.

It was fourth grade.

United States history.

The section on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark read something like this: On orders from Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark followed Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian, through the Louisiana Purchase along the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.

Next topic.

I remember thinking WaitwaitWAIT!!! How did three people accomplish such a thing? (They didn’t. The Corps of Discovery contained thirty-three people and a dog named Seaman. They never said the word ‘seaman’ in parochial school history. Pity.)

I looked at the drawing of two men and a native woman in my fourth grade history book, her finger pointing over white-capped mountains to the ocean in the distance, and I never realized she was really charting a path.

For me.

I never dreamed following the tip of her finger would lead me to the places it has, to commit to the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

On March 1, 2014, my novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis will debut, and I will begin to walk the entire length of the road where Lewis died.

The Natchez Trace, from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, is 444 miles of ancient earth. A road laid down by migrating animals ten thousand years ago. A road adopted by the first humans to see North America. A road used by conquistadors and soldiers, bandits and traders. Before the steamship made the road a relic, untold thousands died there.

Including Meriwether Lewis.

Because there’s a first time for everything, even monumentally stupid things. I will be the first modern person to walk the entire Trace on consecutive days. The journey will take just over a month.

And, because in my novel Meriwether Lewis is a guardian angel of sorts to a little girl who’s looking for her father, my own father has agreed to join me. Nonono, Roy will do no walking, but he will make up for it with talking. And eating. And hopefully entertaining us all.

I hope you will hang around for the lead-up to this trip, Dear Reader. If you have friends who are into history, or fitness, or are just plain crazy, I hope you’ll share this journey with them.

I’m going to need all the help I can get.

129 Comments Post a comment
  1. I knew it! Great great news Andra – have you heard the song “looking For Lewis and Clark” by The Long Ryders? An anthem for your tramp!

    January 2, 2014
    • I haven’t heard that song, Jim. I will have to look it up. I’m going to use a series of songs as anthems for this tramp. One more is certainly welcome.

      January 2, 2014
      • In the late 80’s a load of American guitar bands were very trendy over here (early REM, Guadalcanal Diary, The Blasters) My brother bought The Long Ryders album.

        January 2, 2014
  2. History. Fitness. Packing in the middle of the night with three hours’ sleep to spare – Andra, you’re talking my language! And the moment you said you said you would walk the entire road where he died I said ‘oh please let it not be Rte 66!’

    January 2, 2014
  3. National histories are strange beasts, partisan for the most part, fragments of which are vaguely remembered from school by the majority of the population….save for scholars, film makers and novelists. I look forward to the Natchez Trace which sounds like a sequel to the Missouri Breaks….will Jack be in it? 🙂

    January 2, 2014
    • I never imagined Jack Nicholson in the movie. There HAS to be a movie, though.

      January 2, 2014
  4. Well, I see your penchant for titillating titles has continued into 2014 in fine form. I was not aware of plans for this epic adventure, and I know there is no way in hell you will walk 444 miles. So, what gives, Andra?

    January 2, 2014
    • I will walk 444 miles. Yes, I will. In about 5 weeks. 15 miles per day with 1 day per week for a break will have me in Nashville around April 4, just in time for Tori Young’s birthday. Ha.

      January 2, 2014
  5. this is amazing on many levels, and i look forward to all of it.

    January 2, 2014
    • I hope it all delivers, Beth. I’m terrified of all of it. 🙂

      January 2, 2014
      • not to worry, that is what makes it so great. if it were easy, it would not be a personal challenge for you. we are all behind you and whatever the outcome it will be a great journey with multiple surprises i’m quite sure. mark my words, you will learn things about yourself, and the world, that you never imagined.

        January 2, 2014
    • My thoughts exactly. You’re doing something so unique, simultaneously thoughtful and compulsive… I love it! I can’t wait to hear what you come across, internally and externally.

      January 2, 2014
      • I only hope it turns out well. 🙂 It’s a very scary thing.

        January 2, 2014
  6. Couldn’t help it…

    January 2, 2014
    • I may have to think about this song on the days where I have to walk, and it’s raining. Today is my first training day. I have to take my butt outside this afternoon, and it’s pouring here right now. It’s a good thing you posted this when you did.

      January 2, 2014
  7. And since you’ve really inspired me…

    January 2, 2014
  8. I’m so excited! I don’t have to move from my seat and I get to experience your whole world of wonder 🙂

    January 2, 2014
    • You’re always welcome to come on over and take a few steps with me, Fiona. 🙂 As long as anyone tells me a story about the Natchez Trace while I walk, they are welcome to come along. I’m sure there’s some Irish ancestor of yours who touched the place way back when.

      January 2, 2014
  9. Wow…from 4th grade history to a novel…and a journey ..literal and not so.
    That’s awesome, Andra!
    All the success to you on your journey!!

    January 2, 2014
    • I need all the well wishes I can get, Shree. This is certifiably insane.

      January 2, 2014
  10. Novels and Walks and Talks, oh my! Excited to follow your journey, missy!

    January 2, 2014
  11. De todo corazón os deseo a tod@s un expléndido nuevo año 2014.


    With all my heart I wish you all a splendid new year 2014.

    January 2, 2014
  12. Awesome news, I look forward to reading the book and the blog parts!

    January 2, 2014
    • I’m very much looking forward to having people read the book. It needs to be read, and I hope readers will champion Merry and Emmaline.

      January 2, 2014
  13. Jill Clary Stevenson #

    I can’t wait! Undaunted Courage is one of my favorite books so I will be anticipating Lewis’ afterjourney. Congratulations and much luck!

    January 2, 2014
    • It’s one of my favorite books as well, Jill. But that’s another story for another day.

      January 2, 2014
  14. Looking forward to it!

    January 2, 2014
  15. omtatjuan #

    I am impressed.. Educate me.. Who died on the way back from the West Coast.. Was it Clark or Lewis? Last summer we made it to where they ended their journey near Astoria Oregon.

    January 2, 2014
    • Only one man died on the expedition, Juan. On the way out to the Pacific, a man came down with appendicitis. There was nothing they could do for him. His appendix ruptured, and he died. No one died on the return trip, though Lewis did shoot a Native American in Montana. Lewis was 35 years old when he died, a short three years after the expedition ended. Clark lived well into his sixties.

      January 2, 2014
      • omtatjuan #

        Pardon my ignorance but how many men were on this trip out west….

        January 2, 2014
    • Thirty-three people total, 32 men and 1 woman. One of the men was African-American (Clark’s slave.) Sacagawea had a son during the trip.

      January 2, 2014
  16. Whoa….this sounds great. I was a history minor in collage and have spent a life time of study. You can also put “I’m walking,” by Fats Domino on your playlist.

    January 2, 2014
  17. Can’t wait. This is gonna be great.

    And really a weird connection, but have you seen the kid’s movie “Night in The Museum”? Sacagawea features fairly prominently in it. And it is actually kind of fun. Not as fun as a Roy story, but fun none-the-less.

    And now, on to the trail!

    January 2, 2014
    • So, Sacagawea can be in a museum movie, but Meriwether Lewis is not believable as a guardian angel for a little girl? (I’m sorry. I still can’t get over that comment.)

      January 2, 2014
      • Breathe in, breathe out, move on. Then kick them in the butt!! 🙂

        January 2, 2014
    • I just hope readers buy the premise.

      January 2, 2014
  18. Debbie #

    NatchezTrace sounds awesome! I have just started reading Wild. I am in awe of such an undertaking!Can’t wait for the stories and the book.

    January 2, 2014
    • I hope this trip will spawn more stories, though I am already working on a sequel to the novel. So much to do. So much to do.

      January 2, 2014
  19. What an awesome challenge for yourself. Glad you’ll have your Dad along for the journey. Glad you’re taking us too!

    January 2, 2014
    • I’m also lucky in that I will have other people at various times, because I can’t walk 15 miles a day and wrangle Roy on my own. Also other stories for other days.

      January 2, 2014
  20. Happy New Year!!! This is so very wonderful!

    January 2, 2014
    • Happy New Year, Shannon! It’s horrifying, but it must be done.

      January 2, 2014
  21. Oh, wow!! This is going to be a great adventure (from the comfort of my armchair no less)….and maybe, down the road (pun intended) a series of historical tales? Probably more serious tales than this series told though:

    January 2, 2014
    • A professional very much wants me to do historical tales, but I’m more interested in figuring out what historical people might’ve done if they had more time. I can tell twelve more Meriwether Lewis stories if I feel inspired, though, and that’s something.

      January 2, 2014
  22. This is so exciting Andra! Congratulations and I’m with you in spirit.

    January 2, 2014
  23. Yes, I’ll be hanging around for the lead-up, Andra, and the adventure. Good for you. With the spirit of Meriwether Lewis and the presence of Roy, I’m sure this will be fulfilling for you in many ways, as well as a wealth of material for you and your muse. I’m really excited that you are doing this.

    I always enjoy Michael Carnell’s comments and he (hi, Michael) made me laugh this morning as I am one of those “adults” who thinks “Night at the Museum” is fun and funny and thought of it and Sacagawea’s role as soon as you mention this adventure.

    Amazing, isn’t it, where a paragraph or two in an elementary text book can lead us?

    January 2, 2014
    • I’m terrified, Penny, but I’m ready for readers to have this book. I wrote this book because it is something I really wanted to read, and it didn’t exist as a genre. That’s been the biggest problem with it so far – “We don’t know where to slot this book, so we don’t know how to sell it.” Genre-benders always have that battle. I hope readers think it’s a good story.

      January 2, 2014
  24. Looking forward to your novel, Andra!!! Glad you’re taking the journey.

    January 2, 2014
    • I wish I could’ve come up with something different to promote it, but walking 444 miles through some pretty desolate country ought to generate a few stories, especially with Roy on board.

      January 2, 2014
  25. If you need any legwork at the Oregon end of the trail, let me know. I envy you this journey.

    January 2, 2014
    • I may take you up on that someday, Jim, just to hike in the Gorge again. I dearly love it there.

      January 2, 2014
  26. Fantastic venture! We shall be tracking you all the way.

    January 2, 2014
  27. Awesome!!

    January 2, 2014
    • It is in theory. My jury’s still out on the practice part. 🙂

      January 2, 2014
  28. I find myself here because of Robert Johnson. Having said that Congratulations on your accomplishments. Having traveled the Natchez Trace since 1970 when we moved from Vicksburg, MS to Huntsville, AL, it was the fastest way home to Kosciusko where I exited onto Highway 12 on to Sallis, MS. The Trace, as we call it in MS, is beautiful in all seasons. I wish you well on this journey.

    January 2, 2014
    • Robert has become a friend I never would’ve met without the Great Blogosphere. I look forward to scheduling a time with you to hear some of your stories and appreciate your follow up to my contact regarding that. Thanks for the well-wishes. It won’t be an easy walk, but I think it will overflow with good.

      January 3, 2014
  29. Now THAT is how to get some buzz going for a novel! Looking forward to the book and the walk notes (which might become a book themselves one day?)

    Buona fortuna!

    January 2, 2014
    • The walk will be a memoir of sorts, yes. Really more of a Trace memoir than a ‘me’ memoir, if that makes sense. At least, that’s my plan right now.

      January 2, 2014
  30. I’m so happy for you, Andra. It will be a grind, no doubt, but imagine the sense of accomplishment when you’re done. I participated in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer charity walk for 5 consecutive years. That is a 60 km course, done over two days — so approx. 19 miles per day. I learned, after being in traction the day after my first year attempt, that you definitely need to train. So get out there and start training!

    This sounds like a great adventure and also the perfect way to promote the novel. I couldn’t be more excited for you!

    January 2, 2014
    • I’ve been walking, but I haven’t forced myself to do 15 miles a day for several days in a row yet. Gotta do it, though.

      Traction? Really?? How long were you there?

      January 2, 2014
      • okay – traction may be a slight exaggeration, but I was in a shit-ton of pain on Day 2 (the second 19 miles) and then barely mobile the day after the event (day 3). That said, each year I did it, it got better (because I trained harder), to the point that the day after my 5th year I hit the gym and was doing squats.

        Get a great pair of shoes. For your length /duration – probably two pairs that you can alternate. And make sure to do some good stretching before you set out each day, and after rest breaks/meals before you head out again, as well as at the end of the day. Proper stretching will help a lot.

        on the days when you’re feeling really sore, a soak in a Jacuzzi will be a life saver. Epsom salts in a regular bath will do in a pinch. Also try alternating ice packs with heat packs. And tons of ibuprofen.

        that about covers it!

        January 2, 2014
      • I’m going to work with my yoga people to give me a routine to do for stretching. I got an awesome pair of shoes for not-wet days, and a great pair of hiking boots for wet days. I doubt I’ll find a jacuzzi in the back end of nowhere, though. 🙂

        You’re right that training is key. I hope I can do squats after this. 🙂

        January 2, 2014
      • I suspect that it will get easier for you the longer/farther you go, as crazy as that sounds. Our bodies adapt to the way we use them. Once your body figures out this is the deal day after day, I am guessing things will get better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will get a lot worse before it gets better. But it will get better. 🙂

        You got this.

        p.s. I am still interested in meeting you for part of it. I can’t commit to a month, but I may be able to swing a week. 😉

        January 2, 2014
      • OMG. That would be AMAZING! I would love it if you could. I can send you an itinerary as soon as I’m done with it, as several people have indicated an interest in doing some of this with me.

        January 2, 2014
      • Can’t wait to see it!

        January 2, 2014
  31. Ad this will make you walk faster just to get away from the thought of these talented guys walking behind you playing that on a loop for an entire day. It does stick in your head a little, I think. Gotta get Nancy Sinatra in on this (you know what song) and a few others.

    I’m sure your playlist will grow soon (the fans will blow suggestions your way, naturally), but don’t forget you also need some visual stimulation so you have motivation on those tough days.

    You may as well stahtwitaliddleclahsicAhnuld:

    As for Roy… I don’t know much about him, but he seems like he’d be an interesting traveling companion. I’d gather he’ll be traveling a bit more first class than you’ll be:

    January 2, 2014
    • If those talented guys walked up behind me, I’d die of happiness. That would be so freaking cool.

      January 2, 2014
  32. Kir Piccini #

    you are so inspiring in so many ways and today is no exception. You are amazing!!!
    My heart is so full for you right now and I can’t wait to read your book (and by extension) take this journey with you.

    XO

    January 2, 2014
    • At least it will be the most unorthodox book trailer EVER (especially since I refuse to do a book trailer.)

      January 2, 2014
  33. tarakianwarrior #

    I cried while reading this. If I didn’t have Mike depending on me to pay my share of the bills I’d join you IN PERSON, but since we have debt and he needs all the help that I can give (since I am the one spending…) I will join with you in spirit and in support. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and again…YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION!

    On another note…I got some really good under the clothes wear so I can go on my bike trip and will not freeze this time. I’ve got the shirt you got me ready to go. I’m so excited. The shirt you got me is the shirt that I will be wearing when I FINALLY make my 84 mile ride. YAY! I will be doing this in the spring also. So excited for you AND for me. I love your journeys because I always get to go with you. 😀 While I’m not an author (or blog writer for that matter), I will do my best to take notes and share my short journey with you (I think that’s better then sending you the shirt all sweat stained…don’t you think?).

    You are truly amazing and I cannot wait to read your book. Hard bound. 🙂

    January 2, 2014
    • It would be incredible if you could join me, Lori, but it’s hard to get to the back end of nowhere from Boise. At least you have the Lewis & Clark Trail close by.

      January 2, 2014
  34. I applaud you on such an ambitious feat. But at the same time I am sure you will feel like this often on the journey.

    January 2, 2014
    • If this song came out in 1977, it would be my theme song.

      January 2, 2014
  35. Oh wow Andra, this is so exciting!!! I can’t wait to read your updates from the road and of course read your book! I wish, wish, wish I could join you in person but I’ll definitely be there in spirit walking some virtual miles on the trail. 🙂

    January 2, 2014
    • We’ll have a lot of spirits along with us, whether walking live or following virtually. It’s that kind of place.

      January 2, 2014
  36. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG! Your novel is being published? OMGOMGOMGOMG! And you’re walking for a MONTH?? OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!

    Wowwie wow wow. Fan-ƒ¨¢kin’-tastic!

    January 2, 2014
    • And I have a very special request for you, Roxanne. I will email you privately.

      January 2, 2014
    • James Moffitt #

      of all the replies I just read I think this is the best one. LOL

      January 2, 2014
  37. As already said by above folks, I’ll be with you in spirit!! Go forth girl and tell us every detail! Congrats on your pub date, can’t wait to read it.

    January 2, 2014
  38. An Idee: You COULD make this a sort of interactive tale once you’re all done with it using TWINE: http://twinery.org// – that site just popped onto my radar today so I’m being nice and sharing.

    January 2, 2014
    • I can see me now as the star of my very own game. 🙂 But I might be able to use this for other things. Thanks for sharing it with me.

      January 2, 2014
  39. That’s so exciting, Andra! I can’t wait to read your book and follow your journey. Go, you!

    January 2, 2014
    • Thanks, Donna. Dumb me is what I say, but I’m doing it anyway. 🙂

      January 2, 2014
  40. Eha #

    Am a European born Aussie way across sea and land from you ~ have just subscribed and it very much seems at just the right time. So looking forwards to your journey and my learning experience. All the best and you surely have some wonderful and knowledgeable blogfriends commenting 🙂 !

    January 2, 2014
    • The people in this community are the best, aren’t they? Thank you for subscribing. Whether it’s the right time or a crazy time……we shall see. 🙂 I hope you enjoy this journey with me.

      January 2, 2014
  41. James Moffitt #

    As I read your blog post today Andra, my brain was saying “SAY DO WHAT!!!!!” I had to read it several times to let it sink in. WOWSER!! Your book is getting published? WOW…. That is more than awesome! I can’t wait to read it. 🙂 Now, as for the walking 444 million trillion gazillion miles…. My feet hurt just thinking about it. LOL BUT… breaking it up into 15 mile chunks seems like a practical way to attack the elephant. After all, we can’t eat an elephant in one bite. 🙂 I am so happy for ya! Congrats!!

    January 2, 2014
    • My feet hurt, too. And my brain hurts at the thought of how much I’ll have to be ‘on.’ But I’ll do it. All of it. I can’t wait.

      January 2, 2014
  42. Cool plan! Hope the weather cooperates ~ walking 15 miles a day in nice weather would be pleasant. In pouring rain, like we’ve had today, it would be . . . soggy.

    Here’s an anthem for you:

    January 2, 2014
    • Whatever the weather does, it does. People are more entertained by adversity.

      January 2, 2014
  43. Holy Cow, woman. You do not do things by halves, do you? Can’t wait.

    January 2, 2014
    • I generally must run into a steel tower multiple times to learn. I’ve always been that way.

      January 2, 2014
  44. Such a trip, a journey, an adventure! How I admire you-and adore the spirit that moves you to do such a thing! Wonderful! I’m very excited and I can’t wait to see it through your eyes.

    January 2, 2014
    • It will be something. After spending most of today on a really long walk, I can say that it’s going to be hard, but I’m excited about it.

      January 3, 2014
  45. Im sure youre gonna love it.
    Things dont happen just because one writes them, one has to get up and do them 🙂
    Congratulations, it does seems this year will be better.
    I guess the most difficult is not the walking, but the terrain and carrying stuff.

    January 3, 2014
    • I shouldn’t have to carry too much. Parts of the road are hilly, but it’s a road, not a trail, so it should be pretty level.

      January 3, 2014
  46. Wow! I’m impressed. Looking forward to tagging along via the blog!

    January 3, 2014
  47. Woo hoo! That means 14.8 miles every day. I know you’re working out a lot, but don’t forget to break in those hiking boots. I’m going to be with you emotionally during the process…my feet hurt thinking about it. Now, biking, I could perhaps do…not walking…though I bet there are a lot of hills.

    January 3, 2014
    • I won’t finish until April 3, so 15 miles per day with one rest day per week.

      Lots and lots and LOTS of people bike the Trace. It’s very popular for that, particularly in Tennessee. I’m sure MTM will want to come for that section so that he can bike while I walk.

      January 3, 2014
      • I’m so happy that many are going to share the walk with you. Sounds like Carnell and MTM are going to be two critical ones.

        January 3, 2014
  48. I look forward to following you on your journey!

    January 3, 2014
  49. Hmmm… I wonder if you can skate partway: http://inventist.com/Swerverskates/

    That would make for an interesting update or three and you could also multitask and do some dancing on a nice smooth surface:

    January 3, 2014
  50. vastlycurious.com #

    Congratulations on your stamina and courage! I WILL be following you!

    January 4, 2014
  51. Jen #

    I both envy you and am so thrilled for you Andra! Can’t wait to follow (and share in) your journey!

    January 4, 2014
  52. What an awesome thing to do! I’m looking forward to following you on your journey 🙂

    January 6, 2014
  53. I LOVE this idea. I cannot wait to hear all of the details and annoy you with all of my long hike trials and travails. My initial piece of advice — always keep a piece of wrapped fancy hard cheese, some cured meat, and an apple in your pack. They won’t spoil and having a civilized mid-day snack makes all of the difference.

    January 7, 2014
    • I’m happy to have as much advice as you can stand to give me. I’m training, but this is a big undertaking. I’m assembling different gear for various kinds of weather. I’m getting some specialized yoga routines to do to stretch my legs well in the evenings. I’m considering some compression stockings. If you have any other tips, you’re welcome to email me and share. I’m really excited and scared about this undertaking. 🙂

      January 7, 2014
  54. I am so happy about the book’s being published, also your next path and adventure, including your father, too! This is outstanding news and so glad I dropped by to find this out, before it was too late to start reading about the preparations for the trip, too! I will be a ‘cheerleader’ and ‘cheer’ you on the great walk! You will be in my thoughts and prayers for this month-long endeavor, Andra! Robin

    January 8, 2014
  55. Oh wow! How exciting! I can’t wait to read your book 🙂

    January 8, 2014
  56. Andra, I’m so excited for you. I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome this novel is, and how honored I am to have been a beta reader. I feel like I failed you because I never got my shit together to follow-up with the other! I am so excited, and I want to walk the trail with you when you come to my area. This is going to rock.

    January 11, 2014
    • The other would never have come together on my time table anyway. A lot had happened since we last traded emails, and I know it will all contribute to good things and a successful book launch. I hope everyone loves the book as much as you did.

      January 11, 2014
      • Let me know when you’re walking the Alabama portion of the trail, yes? I would love to walk a couple of miles with you.

        January 13, 2014
      • March 24 – 26 are the Alabama or partial Alabama days. The 25th is a full day of walking in AL. (Only 32 miles of the Trace run through AL, so it’s quick. Ha.)

        January 13, 2014

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