WARRENTON, Ore. - Mark Hamilton packed his kayak, carried it down to the river and, at low tide, began making his way down the Lewis and Clark River to the Columbia River.
After wintering near the estuary as the famous explorers did nearly 200 years ago, Hamilton was ready to go home.
Nearly four months ago, Hamilton, 50, arrived at Fort Clatsop National Memorial after retracing the Lewis and Clark Trail by kayak, dory and pack mule, alone and on a schedule dictated by the expedition's journals.
In December, the Muncie, Ind., man had made his way across the same reach from Youngs Bay in a gale-force wind that was blowing against the tide, filling the water surface with white-capped waves and currents.
Only 1 1/2 miles, under normal conditions it should have taken no longer than 30 minutes with the tide.
Last stretch took hours
But the last stretch took hours. So long that his receiving party had alerted the U.S. Coast Guard and park personnel to keep an eye out for him.
On Hamilton's return trip, which he began March 23, he is heading up the Columbia, across the Rockies, through Yellowstone and back to St. Louis.
Before his departure, in the cluttered galley of an albacore boat where he was living, he said he was hoping there would be little wave and wind action along the Columbia while heading east.
"When I look up there, it is more like a vine," he said of the river. "When I was coming down, I remember it really seeming like a river, and widening, and somewhat like a gentle river as well.
"You have to think your way up a river, where you float your way down a river. The river makes up its mind as it comes down. So if you just stay with the river and ride its flow, then you are going to make a pretty efficient passage downstream."
Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe of Portland provided Hamilton with a 16-foot sea kayak for his trip from Fort Clatsop to The Dalles, where he is scheduled to arrive today.
Getting from point A to point B is as important as making the miles, Hamilton said. Even though there are towns about every 20 miles, the river is remote and he will have provisions only for so long.
"It is amazingly remote out there," he said. "It may be two days before I get from one town to the next."
At The Dalles, Hamilton will meet up with Joe the pack mule for his leg across the Rockies. Joe is the same animal that helped him west.
Voyage has changed him
Hamilton's voyage west has changed him, he said. He has become the metaphor "life is a journey."
He feels fortunate that the elements have been good to him.
At first, he said, the idea of retracing the Corps of Discovery's journey was simple.
He wanted to experience the intricacies of the expedition's journals and the ardor of their journey.
"That, in itself, was probably worthy," Hamilton said. "But you work with those motivations for six months, and you start to fulfill some of it, and you start to realize that if you keep going, it might really happen."
He found the point about 350 miles up the Missouri River where Moses Reed deserted the expedition.
It was along muddy riverbanks with a few trees - stretches of scenery so similar that day after day he seemed to be held still.
The only change was that each summer day of his passage was a little hotter than the prior. And the humidity was increasing.
"I really never had much empathy for Moses (but) at this point, you can really see why somebody said it is time to leave - there is no reason to be here, and I'm going to depart."
At this point in the journey, Hamilton said he felt his mind, heart, emotions and his ideas expanding.
"I arrived at a larger motive, a more public motive," he said. "For me, it is to celebrate the multicuturalism Lewis and Clark portrayed as a multicultural group, a motley group."
Lewis and Clark, he said, "are a focal point for present-day Americans to . . . realize that history is part and parcel" of who they are and "who we will be."
"It's a good opportunity to improve ourselves, to heal, to reconcile all these intricacies of our national identity, which we have to do to grow as a nation," he said.