In the summer of 1998, when all of my college buddies headed off to New York City to intern at fancy magazines, law firms and financial institutions, I signed on to work as a gardener at Glacier National Park in Montana. Though it sounds corny to say, I headed West looking for adventure. So it was fitting that I crammed into my duffel bag a copy of Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, the historian’s compulsively readable account of the Lewis and Clark passage.
At Many Glacier Hotel, my duties were limited: I mowed lawns, planted and watered geraniums and occasionally snuck off to the women’s dormitory. I spent the rest of my time camping and hiking the backcountry, climbing mountains and avoiding grizzlies. And all this time, Ambrose kept me company. In a time of complacency, of manifest screen addiction, of a complete disconnect from the world that has shaped us, I revisited the greatest true-life adventure story in the American history of the continent while I was experiencing my own adventure. “As we passed on,” Lewis says, “it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end,” and I felt the same as I hiked the Skyline Trail, drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road, swam the cold crystalline waters of Swiftcurrent Lake.
Percy’s latest novel is Red Moon
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