by Graciela Becerra
Heart beating fast while he held his breath, Patrick Dobson stayed completely still as he waited for the bears to leave. He was lying flat on the floor of Yellowstone National Park while they sniffed up and down his body.
Dobson, a history professor at the college, walked for two and a half months from Kansas City to Helena, Montana, then canoed back on the Missouri river and published two books about the experience.
Dobson’s first book, published in 2009, is titled “Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains” and recounts his experience traveling to Montana on foot and meeting the seldom-seen people living in the small towns.
“I chose to walk because I’ve always been fascinated with the Great Plains. I think it’s beautiful,” Dobson said. “And to experience that space outside of a car, outside of a window … on the outer side of the glass, alone, on your feet, you can’t compare it. [It’s] a very humbling … very beautiful kind of experience.”
Although Dobson walked completely alone, he was often approached by generous strangers that offered him rides.
“People were stopping on the side of the road and offering me rides,” Dobson said. “So I made a rule that I would not take a ride more than 25 or 30 miles, which is a day’s walk.”
His most recent book, published this year, is titled “Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer.” The book describes his journey back to Kansas City by canoeing the Missouri River.
The idea was actually suggested to him by a six-year-old boy who was studying the Lewis and Clark expedition at the time.
“He basically said ‘well, if you’re going to walk all the way to Montana, you might as well come home through the Missouri River,’” Dobson said.
Coming home wasn’t exactly a smooth ride for Dobson.
“One time, I got windbound on Fort Peck Lake for about five days,” Dobson said. “It wasn’t that I was scared for my life — I just thought that I’d never get out of there … that it would take me months and months to get back home.”
His plan was initially met with mixed reaction from his friends and family.
“They thought I was selfish, because I did have a three-year-old daughter … They said it was foolish. They said it was dangerous. Other people said it was something they wish they could do,” Dobson said.
Despite the various reactions, Dobson felt that embarking on the five-month-long journey was something he had to do.
“Basically, I was stuck in my job, I seemed to be broke all the time. I was working harder and harder and not really getting anywhere,” Dobson said. “I was a single dad, very afraid of my role as a father, very unsure of myself.”
Dobson’s trip, and the people he met along the way, helped open his eyes to what was missing in his life.
“The people [were] some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Some of them were troubled, many of them had happy lives and some of them were struggling,” Dobson said. “Yet, somehow, they all had something that I wanted for myself: a kind of confidence that I didn’t have.”
Dobson expressed just how significant the trip was for him.
“That trip still works in my life every day … taking the trip didn’t immediately change my life. It changed me — it did not change my conditions,” Dobson said. “And ultimately I had to be the one to change those conditions. No trip was going to do it for me, no person was going to do it for me. It was me that had to do those things.”
Dobson specified what the trip taught him about life and about himself.
“If I’m fearful of something, I just have to face it,” Dobson said. “Life, like any journey, is just one step at a time. I also learned, being a person with low self-esteem, that I had a certain kind of inner power that I didn’t know I had, fortitude. It was courage, not bravery.”
Dobson knows he’ll take a similar trip one day but isn’t entirely sure about specifics.
“I know I’ll probably take another walk someday … that I’ll canoe down the Missouri River again. I’ve thought of Europe many times. I would like to walk in Europe. I’d love to canoe there too.”
Dobson plans on waiting until his 13-year-old son graduates high school before embarking on another adventure.
“I’ll be 60 years old then, but I can still walk. I can still canoe,” Dobson said.
Dobson will be speaking about his most recent book at the college on Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. in Carlsen Center 212. For more information on Dobson, visit his website at http://patrickdobson.com/.