Thanks everyone for your input and I would definitely appreciate more if anyone has any other thoughts on the matter. My plan going forward is to use the 7.3, buy inexpensive drop handlebars, new brake levers (mine are integrated and new ones are like $12), buy the DA 9sp bar-ends, and buy the cassette (I want indexing and the PC-970 is only $34.99 at Performance right now) and of course a 9 speed chain.
As for the wheels, I'll buy some emergency spokes and get the wheels trued when I get my bike rebuilt in Oregon (shipping from Ohio) Any suggestions for bike shops at the start of the Louis and Clark trail? My Bontragers are 2009, so I don't know if that's past the problem years or not, but I used to weigh 50 pounds more than I do now and I broke just 1 spoke at that weight, which seems okay to me; that's the weight I'll probably be touring at once its loaded up. If I run into any real problems, I can just buy a new wheel somewhere, right? I assume that I'm never more than a day or two from a bike store and I'm touring with a friend if my bike becomes inoperable.
Thank you again everyone and please chime in if you have any more thoughts!