Decision point and the Marias River and the Lewis and Clark expedition. What will be the “decision point” in your prostate cancer decision journey?

"Decision Point"- The confluence of the Marias River with the Missouri

“The Decision”- For Lewis and Clark

So what will do it for you? What will be your “Decision Point?”  For me it was my age (52 ) and my concerns about cure.

For you…will it be?

  • Cure
  • Your age
  • Your health
  • Your bias
  • The specifics of your biopsy and PSA
  • Your domestic situation
  • Your work
  • Your desire to have the latest and greatest, ” I want it because it’s new and cutting edge.”
  • Ease of treatment
  • Your best estimate of preserving potency
  • Your best estimate of preserving continence
  • Doing what a buddy did

To thine own self be true

If you have not read “Undaunted Courage” by Ambrose you should. I took the picture above on a canoe trip on a section of the Missouri with some friends years ago on a stretch that Lewis and Clark did. The picture above and whether they should go “left or right” was quite an issue at the time for the explorers. They had to explore their options and then make a decision…much like a newly diagnosed prostate cancer patient has to do.

So…what will be the “deal maker” for you. The choice that you come up with will not be right or wrong…it will hopefully be the one that is best for you.

An account of my trip on the Missouri River that traced a portion of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800’s.

The Missouri River Trip

“The water, in the course of time, in descending from those hills and plains, on either side of the river, had trickled down the soft sand cliffs and worn it into a thousand grotesque figures which, with the help of a little imagination, and an oblique view, at a distance are made to represent elegant ranges of lofty freestone buildings, having their parapets well stocked with statuary.”

–Meriwether Lewis May 31, 1805

All present and accounted for – all for one; one for all – that could have been the motto for the operation of our group of “travelers.”  This particular time, however, the group just didn’t get it.  Gary Gaines, our “paddler,” had been pushing the past ten years for a canoe trip as our yearly adventure out West.  The problem with this proposal in the past had been the lack of hiking and fly fishing, two foundation components of all our trips over the past fifteen years and the basic tenets of our “Rounder” mission statement.  Gary pushed forward with his pet brain child, and wouldn’t let it go.  He came to our trip-planning meeting armed with books, brochures, routes, cost estimate, and most importantly – the hook – our chance to participate in the upcoming bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition by retracing their famous path on the Missouri River.

Gary’s plan called for our flying into Great Falls, Montana, renting a car there, then traveling to Fort Benton, Montana, where we would embark on a three-day canoe trip down the wild and scenic upper Missouri River, the very route opened up two hundred years ago by the most noted adventurers and explorers in American history.  Even our camping spots along the river would be set up on the same campsites as that famous pair.

We immediately entertained visions of reading entries from the Lewis and Clark journals describing their experiences the very day they had stayed at each site, enjoying the two-hundred-year-old jottings of their first observations on these sites when first their eyes set upon them.

Stephen Ambrose, in his Undaunted Courage, describes the joy of camping in an area of such important history and the awakening of the spirit aroused by reading of the various obstacles they faced at the time.  Our little group would bring history to life, in a way similar to being at Gettysburg and reading the battle history; however, in our case, because this area of the Upper Missouri River Breaks is accessible only by canoe, we would be seeing something only a small percentage of Americans have ever seen, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the plan.  Clearly, our first hesitation about adopting Gary’s plan, its lacking fishing and hiking, was overcome, and the plan was approved and made palatable by the added caveat of a fly fishing trip to nearby Craig, Montana, at the end of the canoe trip.  Unbeknownst to the entire group, however, several disgruntled members felt they had been asked to acquiesce unfairly and decided that next year they would do what they wanted, a quid pro quo so to speak.  Ah…group dynamics and the negotiating.  It gets tougher each succeeding year as the group ages.  But for now, we were all aboard for our excursion.

The drive from the Great Falls airport to Fort Benton was short and delightful.  We had come through Great Falls several years ago on the way to a trip to the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and I remember viewing with awe the mural of Lewis and Clark themselves viewing the Great Falls of the Missouri.  This time, I was disappointed to discover that the mural was covered for repair and not viewable.  Lewis and Clark’s discovery of the falls, a series of five, was one of the major events of their expedition, and Lewis spends a lot of time describing the beauty of the falls in his journal: “This truly magnificent and sublimely grand object which has from the commencement of time, been concealed from the view of civilized man…”

Our stay in Fort Benton was booked in the oldest hotel in the city, the Grand Union Hotel.  This historic hotel was built to service the enormous trade made possible by the steamboats coming up the Missouri River in the mid-1800s.  Fort Benton was the westernmost navigable extent by river; thus, all supplies necessary for the gold and fur trade headed even further west, disembarked here, then embarked by wagon from Fort Benton.  Unfortunately for the city and for the Grand Union Hotel, railroad lines came two years later(?than when?), and bypassed the area, rendering the Hotel and the town unnecessary for trade, making the town important for historical reasons only.

All of this history available to us was inspiring; however, our group’s “great western adventure” began to take on a family vacation identity.  We commenced sitting around a little park on the Missouri near the hotel, remembering past trips, reading the historical markers, and then going on to visit the Lewis and Clark museum on the main drag.  The little lady there made popcorn for us while we watched a historical video about the historic expedition of the explorers.  People there marveled at our Southern accents and gave us posters and other souvenirs.  We were just like family vacation tourists all over the United States, and were getting embarrassed and began questioning the wisdom of the trip and its planner.  Just a year ago we’d been in the depths of the Selway river in the Bitteroot Wilderness of Idaho – now this pseudo family outing.

So, when darkness settled, and we had done everything possible in this one-main-street town, even listening to fifty or so Merle Haggard songs (the things we endure on these trips), we   walked over to a café where the sign announced, “Fresh Halibut – Cooked to Order.”  Most of us ordered the halibut – and it was good.  Someone asked the young waitress where they got their fish.  “Cisco,” she answered brightly.  “Interesting,” one of the group replied, obviously thinking, you know, we are in this small western town and the specialty food comes in from San Francisco, just like in the old days, you know, like on “Bonanza” or something.  “San Francisco?” another of our group inquired.  “Oh, no.  Sysco, it says it right on the side of the truck that brings all our food.”  Plainly, things were deteriorating quickly.

Across the street (everything was across the street) at the Canoe Montana outfitters, our source for securing the canoes, we met the next morning.  The six of us transferred everything we had brought in backpacks (it’s hard to break old habits) into waterproof bags, and with three canoes, we were off to Coal Landing as our starting point, forty-five minutes south of Fort Benton.  The trip, three days and approximately sixty miles, would end at Judith’s Landing.  We learned that the nearby Judith river had been named by Clark for his cousin Julia Hancock.  The real focus of this trip, however, and the reason Gary wanted to do it in the beginning, was the planned visit to the White Cliffs area along a section of the Missouri River.  Classified as wild and scenic, the views of the cliffs remain the same as they were two hundred years ago.  The magnificent cliffs are composed of sandstone, and over time, erosion has shaped them in interesting and unusual ways.  In some areas, they are several hundred feet high giving an appearance of tall buildings, some taking on shapes of people or anything else your imagination allows, a similar phenomenon to that of looking at clouds when you were a kid lying on your back in the grass.

This striking beauty of the whole surroundings with the view of the cliffs as a constant panoramic circling of the area made up our scenery for the entire canoe trip.  Stephen Ambrose places a footnote in his book describing this area, proclaiming that, “Of all the historic and/or scenic sights we have visited in the world, this is number one.  We made the trip ten times.”  Imagine it, our being in a canoe all day surrounded on both sides by majestic cliffs undisturbed by civilization and actually viewing it just as Lewis and Clark had done.  The sun, the water, the history.  It was like seeing the Grand Canyon, finding yourself somewhat speechless in the presence of the awesomeness of it all.

The first night, we camped at Stone Wall Creek, the campsite of Lewis and Clark on May 31, 1805, the date of the entry introducing this present story: “The hills and river cliffs which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance,” Lewis explains in his journal.  Our group participated vicariously in this same “romantic appearance” as we, too, sat along the river and read the entire journal entry from that date.  The afternoon winds, the ripples in the Missouri, the white cliffs across the river from where we sat were so awe-inspiring that Gary was gaining grandly in credibility for his trip planning.  We observed that we were about as close to the history of the expedition as one could ever be.

Later in the trip, we camped near Slaughter Creek, where the historic exploring pair saw hundreds of buffalo carcasses.  “Today we passed on the Stard.side,(sic) the remains of a vast number of mangled carcases of Buffalow (sic) which had been driven over a precipice of 120 ft. by the Indians and perished.”  The journal entry then explained that a swift Indian would be chosen to dress as a buffalo, lead the herd to a cliff, then step aside leaving them to rush to their death over the cliff into the river.  “If they are not fleet runners, the buffalo tread them underfoot and crush them to death.”  The Indians then harvest the kill from the bottom of the cliff.  Lewis noted that the wolves benefitted as well: “Saw a great many wolves in the neighborhood of these mangled carcasses, they were fat and extremely gentle.”

We fished on the river along the way, but anywhere, as was described in the journals, the fishing on this stretch of the Missouri was poor.  When our expedition in the canoes neared its end, we were all aware, I believe, that ours was a truly historic journey for our group of six, much like that of Lewis and Clark, but was significantly different as well.  We had a take out landing waiting for us.

Our take out occurred at Judith’s Landing where the “Canoe Montana” outfitter folks awaited to take us back to Fort Benton.  On the way, we crossed a bridge over a river, the Marias, that fed into the Missouri.  It was here that a very historic part of the Lewis and Clark expedition occurred.  When they reached this fork in the river, they did not know which was the Missouri, a very important factor for them because a wrong decision here would cost the group weeks of time and not allow them to cross the Rockies before winter set in.  Unlike our group with our outfitters waiting, ready to lead us into and down the Missouri from here, they had to spend two weeks at this spot determining the correct river.  They knew the real body of the Missouri had a series of “great falls” that had been described to them by the Mandan Indians.  This area, where they halted for decision-making has appropriately been named “Decision Point,” and the Lewis and Clark pair made several excursions from this area over the two-week period before they found the falls and the true Missouri River’s identity.  We, on the other hand, hiked to an overlook that allowed us a view of the Marias coming into the Missouri and the area where the expedition had halted for decision making.  It was essentially unchanged from what Lewis and Clark had seen, and was dripping with history.  You felt it viscerally.

From Decision Point, we went back to Fort Benton, then on to Craig, Montana, home of the blue ribbon trout waters of the Missouri River below the tailrace of Holter Dam just above Craig.  There, we spent our caveat two-day fishing portion of the trip with mixed results – then returned home.

Upon reflection about this particular trip, one might consider it a failure for us, no hiking, no fishing, only scenery and the embarrassment of being looked upon as tourists.  But then again, if viewed “with the help of a little imagination and an oblique view at a distance,” it wasn’t so bad.  Maybe we all should view each other, our situation, and “decision points” in life as Lewis viewed the White Cliffs.  Our trip of life would hence be more enjoyable and easier to traverse.


“The water, in the course of time, in descending from those hills and plains, on either side of the river, had trickled down the soft sand cliffs and worn it into a thousand grotesque figures which, with the help of a little imagination, and an oblique view, at a distance are made to represent elegant ranges of lofty freestone buildings, having their parapets well stocked with statuary.”

2 Replies to “Decision point and the Marias River and the Lewis and Clark expedition. What will be the “decision point” in your prostate cancer decision journey?”

  1. John, I have taken a number of vacations as a tourist and it really isn’t so bad. Easier than the way you guys do it and it is often interesting. Excellent/interesting/informative perspective. Ken


  2. I’ve enjoyed many books by Stephen Ambrose. The Lewis and Clark “Undaunted Courage” is a favorite. Gettysburg is also a very special destination.

    Thanks for all John.


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