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AP Photo/Mattoon Journal Gazette, Ken Trevarthan
In this photo taken Aug. 30, 2010, Donald Blum, 80, is seen with some of his collected Alaska trip maps and brochures at his home west of Dorans, Ill. Blum’s 15,000 mile, 52-day trip traced the route of the Lewis and Clark trail.

Illinois man goes on Alaskan adventure

September 19, 2010 at 12:41 AM

Mattoon Journal-Gazette

MATTOON - In May 1804, Lewis and Clark set out to explore the West. Their historic adventure is still studied in classrooms and by history buffs today.

But, some people take it even a step further.

Donald Blum of Mattoon wanted to live the experience in modern day, and see first-hand what Meriwether Lewis and William Clark might have seen along their trail.

Blum has been intrigued by the Lewis and Clark expedition for years and has read a number of books about the pair of explorers.

Mild-mannered Blum, 80, had served in the U.S. Marines from 1950 to 1954. His experiences included the Battle of Inchon, which was one of the first turning points of the Korean War.

Since high school he has wanted to visit Alaska. After retiring from a career in construction work - a widower for two years - he was ready to follow his dream and take to the road for some awesome scenery. But, unlike the early explorers, he traveled alone, leaving Mattoon on May 25.

The modern-day explorer left home with his destination plans to visit Alaska, following as much of the Lewis and Clark Trail as possible.

“My primary purpose on this trip was to follow their path. I wanted to see what they were seeing,” Blum said.

And see things, he did.

Like Lewis and Clark he faced some extreme conditions, visited with strangers and saw parts of the country and some wildlife he had never seen before. Fortunately, he experienced no mishaps nor mechanical breakdowns during the entire journey.

Armed with his digital camera and some maps, and pulling his 26-foot travel trailer, Blum left home in his new truck.

He returned on July 15, some 15,000 miles and 52 days later, with about 700 photos and plenty of fond memories and stories of his experiences.

Once he was outside of the contiguous United States, adventures arose.

“In the Upper Yukon I saw elk, buffalo and Big Horn Sheep. I encountered a big grizzly along the road near Watson Lake (in the southeast Yukon). But, I decided not to challenge him,” he said, with a smile. “I’d imagine my heart did a few flip-flops when I saw that big bear on the side of the road.”

While Alaska offered picturesque backdrops and adventuresome hikes, it also brought some challenges.

Blum said he was up for the challenge presented by the Harding Icefield Trail, located in the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.

“I didn’t know there were so many glaciers in any part of the world, but I saw lots there in Alaska,” he said.

Harding Icefield, according to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, is where 30 named glaciers come together to cover 700 square miles. This icefield is only one of four in the U.S. It
receives at least 400 inches of snow each year.

“I hiked the 7.4-mile trail in Seward, Alaska, that was extremely rugged. A lot of people started up that trail, but not all of them made it to the top. There was lots of snow and it was almost impossible,” he

Blum said he’s not much of a planner, but would rather, “fly by the seat of my pants.” When he departed for Alaska, he didn’t have a return date, and had considered staying in Alaska through the summer, when he was offered the job as a campground host at Cooper’s Landing, about 100 miles south of Anchorage.

The farthest point on his travels was Homer, Alaska, a city located in Kenai Peninsula Borough. He also spent a few days at the Valdez, Alaska, near the pipeline terminal. He visited the Arctic Circle, and saw where the History Channel’s reality show, “Ice Road Truckers,” was filmed. He spent about four weeks in Alaska, where most days were cool and damp.

“There weren’t many days that it didn’t sprinkle on me and I was there four weeks,” Blum said. “The weather was mostly in the 60s-70s, usually overcast and cloudy.”

On the trip, Blum also visited sites such as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Grand Canyon in Arizona, Bryce Canyon in Utah, Idaho Falls in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

He even “discovered” Mount Blum, a summit of mountains in the State of Washington, in the North Cascade National Park. Because it held the same name, Blum said, “I had to go check that out. I had no idea there was such a place.

“I spent the Fourth of July in Nephi, Utah. I woke up on July 5th and it was so cold, I had to turn on my heater in the camper. It was 37 degrees and was a record low there on that date.”

Outside of seeing first-hand the breathtaking landscapes, Blum also met some interesting people.

“On a group tour to the Arctic Circle, we stopped at the Yukon River Crossing. There I met a guy who had been riding a bike. He had to push his bike 14 miles because he had a flat tire and his tire pump had broken,” Blum said.

Another group tour he joined was at the Denali National Park, located on the interior of Alaska, which offered plenty of wildlife viewing. From the bus tour, Blum said he saw Dall sheep, grizzly bears, elk, moose, black bear and swans.

And a boat tour in Seward, Alaska, took about eight hours with plenty of sights of glaciers, stellar sea lions, killer whales, dolphins and more.

“I enjoy being at home here in the (rural Mattoon) country. When I travel I try to stay away from the big cities whenever I can,” he said.

“I love to drive. When you are flying you are all cramped up.”
Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette,

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WOW!!! What an adventure!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/20 at 07:55 AM

Way to go Don! what a beautiful country the U.S.A. is, we are truley blessed to live here just think of Lewis and Clark went thru it was tough and they had to be real tough individuals, when you read there stories wow!the adventure of this great land had to be what kept em going!thanks for sharing Don and thank you for serving this nation!

Posted by trolloni on 09/23 at 08:05 PM

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