Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don's Blog: June 17: To Astoria; Lewis and Clark and Manifest Destiny

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Today was another day of logistics and travel. Having rented a car in Portland for a one-way trip to Astoria, I headed to the Bike Gallery, also in Portland, where my bike was shipped from Quincy, and then assembled. They did a great job with the bike; by 9:00 a.m. I had the bike loaded into the car and was on my way.

The drive to Astoria took me into Washington State before dipping south again, over the massive Columbia River. The last 50 miles on route 30 covered (in the opposite direction) the road we will travel on day one of the bike trek. It was very hilly!

A strange sound emanating from the port in back of my hotel was that of sea lions frolicking in the ocean. Like a lot of old towns in the USA, Astoria is a mix of old-timers and tourism. That is reflected in the architecture. Brand new, modern hotels and restaurants are surrounded by a run-down shopping center and old, unkempt houses. There is no denying that the location is magnificent, the ocean and the massive Astoria Bridge looming over the port city. I will check in with the bike tour tomorrow, meeting the group for an orientation session. The cycling will begin soon!

Astoria, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny

According to Wikipedia, in 1811, Astoria was named after fur trader John Jacob Astor. Astor's Pacific Fur Company founded Fort Astoria as its primary fur-trading post in the Northwest, the first permanent U.S. settlement on the Pacific Coast. It was an extremely important post for American exploration of the continent and was influential in helping establish American claims to the land. In addition, the first U.S. Post Office west of the Rocky Mocntains was also established in Astoria in 1847.

Before that, According to the Old Oregon web site, “It was on a wet Christmas Eve day in 1805 that Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery moved into a stockade fort surrounded by lush old-growth forest, wetlands and wildlife and rested from their arduous 2,000 mile westward journey. Fort Clatsop, the winter encampment site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was named in honor of the local Clatsop Indians. The 33-member party spent the winter of 1805-06 learning from the Clatsop people, making moccasins and buckskin clothing, storing food and reworking their maps and journals in preparation for their long journey back to St. Louis.”

I had the chance to visit Fort Clatsop upon my arrival in Astoria today. Although a modest tourist site, the log cabin camp, situated deep well off the beaten path, offered perspective as to what it might have been like for the intrepid adventurers Lewis and Clark to have finally arrived at the Pacific, after more then 2,000 arduous miles of travel from St. Louis.

Almost from the inception of the United States, Americans embraced the idea of territorial expansion across the continent, toward the Pacific Ocean. Decades after Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific, the term “Manifest Density” was coined, putting a name on this American drive for expasnion. Translated literally, it means “obvious and inevitable.” The phrase was first used in the 1840s to promote the annexation of much of what is now the Western USA and contunied through the 1890s as the USA looked to expand beyond the continent. It came to embrace the belief that it was the USA’s mandate to expand and spread democracy, even my military means if necessary.

Now well into the 21st century, Americans continue to cross the USA in all directions. Now of course, it can be done in a matter of hours in an airplane, but the idea of traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or vice-versa, by means of your own power, retains a certain sense of romanticism. Perhaps that is why cross country bike tours, such as the one I am about to embark upon, are popular. Viewing the expanse of the Pacific Ocean from outside my hotel room, it is difficult to wrap my mind around the notion that I will cycle to the Atlantic, many thousands of miles away.