In our very first New Adventure for Zombies, Run!, you’re travelling back to 1804 to accompany Lewis & Clark on the Corps of Discovery Expedition from Pittsburgh, PA. all the way to the Pacific coast – that’s 3,700 miles!. You’ll be guided through the route by your personal automated travel companion who’ll also make sure you don’t get lost in time!
Sadly, we can’t actually send you back in time (yet!), but we hope that our New Adventure will give you a vivid glimpse of history. We’ve spoken with Alex Acks, the writer of the Lewis & Clark story, about their experience of researching and writing the race!
What made you decide on the Lewis & Clark expedition as the basis for a race?
I was pitching ideas for historical journeys, which are a bit harder to come by than you might think. Or more, ones that are famous enough to be recognizable and yet self-contained enough to be made into a run aren’t that common. Lewis & Clark is one I hit on because it met those criteria, and because I knew just enough about it to know it would be exciting before I started more in-depth research.
I think it was also on my mind because I’d recently visited my parents in Boise, and there’s a statue in the Idaho Botanical Gardens of Sacagawea, with a bunch of plants that she showed to Lewis planted around it. So there was an opportunity to look at a historical expedition with a female member!
The race takes the form of a time-travel tour, with your very own guide. What made you choose this framing device, rather than doing a straight run-down of the events?
The journey is so long in both distance and time that I wanted a device that would allow us to skip to the interesting bits, so to speak. Because a lot of it was a day to day slog of men walking long distances and eating appalling amounts of boiled meat.
Which was the most fun part to write?
The bit in Montana, which may not be the most exciting or historically significant… but to me, it was an opportunity to try to describe what the mountain west is like to people who have never seen it.
What was the most interesting thing you found out while researching the race?
In Stephen E. Ambrose’s book UNDAUNTED COURAGE, he described how Lewis and Clark were basically acting as arms dealers to the Native Americans too. While they didn’t actually trade many guns – they couldn’t, because they needed them for their own party to hunt – they were out there showing off American weapons technology to people who hadn’t seen it yet. And then of course, the big sales pitch was effectively, “we’ll sell you all these super awesome guns, but you’d better only use them to hunt animals – no shooting the other Native Americans!” Which I actually found really funny in a horrible way, because boy have things not changed.
Anything you would have loved to include but had time limits?
I really wish I could have gotten more in there about the part of the mission that was diplomacy with the Native Americans. There were a lot of little incidents, both hostile and not that would have added dimension.
Also, you’ll notice that this is only half the journey. After the winter, the party had to turn around and go all the way back, and there are definitely some interesting stories as well. Though part of why I cut it off at the arrival to the Pacific is that the return journey has a real downer of an ending: after his triumphant return, Lewis basically squanders all of the goodwill he’s earned, does a terrible job of being the governor of all the new territory, and then shoots himself.
How did you go about planning and outlining the race script?
I looked at a lot of timelines and maps of the journey that were already written, and then tried to match up the major points with interesting stories that could go with them… like the arrival in Montana coinciding with them encountering their first grizzly bear.
Is there anything you hope people take away from running it?
Something that I’m not confident I did the best job with–the fact that viewed from one side, this was a massive journey into an unknown continent… but the continent wasn’t really unknown. There were lots of people living there already, who obviously knew their land well and were often extremely welcoming toward a nation that was set to treat them very poorly in short order.
So there’s a tension between this exciting, cool journey where people basically walked across the really wide bit of America, which is an enormous undertaking by any standard… and just the very idea that the purpose was to map “purchased” land that didn’t actually belong to the people who had sold it.
Also, on a lighter note, America is ridiculously big and mountains make everything difficult.
The Lewis and Clarke race is available in the New Adventures tab of the Zombies, Run! app now! Thank you very much to Alex Acks for talking with me about the race. You can find them at https://katsudon.net/