It was a dark and stormy night. Except it was about 10.30 in the morning.
Heading west along I-70 it looked like we were driving towards an enormous massif of black rock. But this is Missouri – sure, it’s not pancake flat, but there ain’t no mountains.
It wasn’t a solid wall we were about to encounter. It was cloud. But what a cloud. Day turned to night as I fumbled with the headlights. And then the rain started. Drizzle begat heavy rain begat torrential rain begat biblical rain. The traffic had slowed, but there were still trucks and pick-ups belting along at 70mph, while I latched onto the taillights of a car in front that was going at what I considered to be a safer speed.
I gripped the wheel slightly harder as visibility fell to a matter of yards. Road signs helpfully told me that it was the law to use my wipers. Signs that I couldn’t have read if my wipers weren’t already swishing back and forth like a frenzied 4-year-old’s goodbye wave.
On any other road I’d have stopped. But on the interstate that’s not really an option. I’ve driven in some seriously heavy rain before, but never into a storm like this. Lightning and thunder coincided above our heads. The edge of the weather front was visible some 5-10 miles away to the south. The road veered north.
The car in front indicated right. My guiding light, quite literally, was abandoning me. I saw that the exit was for a rest area, so I followed suit. By the time I rejoined the road, the intense bursts of rain were fewer and further inbetween. And when I took the turning to Fort Osage, they had almost stopped.
Fort Osage – built by Clark several years after the Corps had returned from their expedition – offers a tremendous view of the Missouri.
It played an important role in the trade with the Indian tribes, as well as being a garrison for troops. As America spread west, the need for a fort here diminished, and it was decommisioned in 1827.
The Corps itself had passed this point in June 1804 and had also experienced some bad weather. The thought of ploughing upstream against this strong current in the sort of downpour I’d just experienced simply added another layer to my admiration for these adventurers.