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Living Dangerously in the Shadow of the Lewis and Clark Bridge

By Ray Lucas

LIKE MANY IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, I crossed the new Lewis and Clark Bridge shortly after it opened last month. I have always been a Lewis and Clark Expedition geek, and I think naming the bridge after these historic explorers was a fitting tribute to their connection with our area. Unlike the bridge travelers of today, they had no bridges to cross the rivers on their journey or even a map of the waters, lands and mountains between the mouth of Silver Creek in Clarksville where Lewis joined Clark to prepare for their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

After my brief journey across the bridge, I pulled out my worn copy of Undaunted Courage and began re-reading the extraordinary story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. To say the pair and their Corps of Discovery were the ultimate bad asses is an understatement. Two years in the elements exploring unmapped rivers and lands, making contact with unknown Indian tribes, crossing the Rocky Mountains, running from grizzly bears, nearing starvation on many occasions – this was a dangerous endeavor.

As I reflect on their everyday adventures and struggles during the years of 1804-1806, compared to my 30 second excursion across the Ohio River on the bridge that now bears their name, I can’t help but wonder about the impact that facing occasional danger might play in our lives. I think there must be something in facing a daring and dangerous task that is essential in building our character.

Thinking back over the past 12 months, the most dangerous feats I can claim are trying a brand-new ice cream flavor at Comfy Cow, walking into my fantasy football draft having done no online research to guide my picks and not taking the insurance plan on my new iPhone. The results have been mixed. The Bourbon Maple Walnut ice cream was delicious but I finished dead last in my football league. To date, I only have a small nick on the screen of my phone but in today’s world, a phone with no Otter Box is living dangerously.

Maybe living dangerously is a young person’s game. Most of the truly dangerous things I have lived through in my life happened in my youth. Walking across the K and I railroad bridge in the middle of the night from New Albany to Portland, bungee jumping in the parking lot of the long-closed All Stars bar, and jumping off 76 Falls into Lake Cumberland some 50 feet below. As I recall these young acts, stupidity comes to mind more than living dangerously and building character.

I had this conversation with a friend recently at lunch, and we were lamenting that while our youth may not have been as wild as that of our peers in 1804, at the very least we had a more “free range” experience than our kids have today.

I recalled my first job was on Melvin and Annie Klein’s farm where, as a seventh grader, the other pickers challenged me to climb with them up the water tower near the farm to “earn” my first paycheck. I was scared as the older boys and I started climbing the 120-foot tower but somehow found the courage to climb one rung after another until we reached the top. We sat on the catwalk with our legs dangling free and enjoyed the view of the edge of the knobs. A true experience of “undaunted courage” that I still draw on today.

My friend Marc agreed that times are different than the 1980s when we came of age. He remembered riding his bike with friends as a young teen from Sellersburg to Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Clarksville where they ordered a Coke to go with their free chips and salsa. From their Mexican pit stop, they proceeded across the Clark Memorial Bridge (now George Rogers Clark and his younger brother William Clark both have a local bridge) to the Louisville Galleria at the present day Fourth Street Live location.

We smiled at our experiences of daring over lunch and lamented that most kids today don’t have the same type of uncharted childhood that we experienced. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to limit my children’s experiences of what could be life-threatening adventure and for good reasons. Allowing my children to climb water towers or bike dangerous roads to Louisville would not go over well with my wife or Child Protective Services. But in so sheltering them, am I depriving them of crucible moments that test them and give them the inner courage to persevere later in life? Tough questions for modern parents.

Regardless, I have decided that having the Lewis and Clark Bridge in my backyard can be a reminder to me each time I journey across its span to seek out more experiences that push me outside of my comfort zone. When crossing into the East End in search of new restaurants and retail experiences, I resolve to also look for opportunities to live more dangerously and when appropriate allow my children to join me.

Maybe I’ll write a short story about climbing water towers. Maybe I will take the kids on a night hike in Charlestown State Park in the moonlight shadow of the new bridge. Maybe our family will volunteer to help the homeless through Exit 0. Maybe I’ll go skydiving or on a hot air balloon ride.

Or maybe my kids and I will ride our bikes across the new bike lane of the Lewis & Clark Bridge and stop for cokes, chips and salsa at Los Aztecas in Prospect. And if we are living particular dangerously – we’ll also order queso.