One of the things that I love doing on the bicycle rides is to cycle along the big rivers. On the Underground Railroad ride, I kept leaving and returning to the Ohio River which played a large role as Civil War-era slaves sought to escape to Canada. Riding along all the Great Lakes has been a thrill too. But one of the biggest charges I get is when I see the grandest river of all, the mighty Mississippi River. I have been to the source of the Mississippi in Minnesota at Itasca State Park. The river is about 12 feet wide there and about two feet deep. I won’t return to that area this time, leaving some of the largest mosquitoes I’ve seen to chase other meals. But I do plan to see most of the rest of the Mississippi on this ride.
I’ve done the major mapped-out rides that cross the United States, so I’ll take another approach this time. My open block of time available for the ride is about a month, starting on Monday, Aug. 1. Also, there are several things that I want to avoid on this trip. I am not planning to ship the bike in either direction, avoiding the possibility of damage as has happened several times. I also won’t be flying to the start or from the finish if all goes well. Finally, I won’t be following a planned route for significant portions of the journey as I have in the past. This adventure will continue entirely by feel, and if something nearby looks good to visit, I will probably do it. No deserts, no long stretches without supplies and no major mountains will make this trip more about fun and people than physical duress and uncertainty.
Here is what I do know. I will drive to somewhere close to Dubuque, Iowa, over most of two days and about 1,000 miles. The bike ride should begin on Aug. 3 when I ride to the Field of Dreams near Dyarsville, Iowa. I will see the baseball field, the house and all the sites we’ve seen in the movie. The site closes on Aug. 5 in preparation for the one Major League game played there each year.
From there, I plan to ride east back to the Mississippi probably just south of Dubuque and head south toward Hannibal, one of the focal points of the trip. Of course, most of us know that Hannibal was the home of Mark Twain and his fictional characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I plan to spend a day there sightseeing.
I plan to ride as close to the river as possible, although the levees along the water will often block the view of the river. There are enough hills that I should have regular sightings of the river as it widens and deepens heading south.
The details aren’t necessarily specific on what towns I will visit heading south, although I do plan to visit Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi. Both are loaded with history. There will be no big cities until I reach New Orleans. I plan to bypass St. Louis and Memphis, both of which I have visited before. Bypassing St. Louis lets me cross the Missouri River.
I do have a map that shows that much of the last 20 or so miles into New Orleans will allow riding along the tops of the levees for great views. Total direct mileage from Hannibal is about 800, but likely I will have more than that because I won’t take anywhere near the most direct route. I have not visited New Orleans since more than a dozen years ago on running club business, but I do have directions as to how to traverse the city on a bike.
Once in New Orleans, I may spend an extra day there, but the focus at that time will change over to making train connections. If all does go well, and I’ll pray for that many times over the next six weeks, my bike and I will catch a ride home on Amtrak’s Southern Crescent. A 20-hour train ride that should begin about 9 am on an August morning will end early the next morning back in Salisbury, from where I plan to ride back to the farm. The major Amtrak routes take bikes now by reservation and I want to take advantage of my first ever bike/train connection.
So, there you have it. Probably six states and about 1,300 miles. I hope you all will enjoy riding along again on another of my bicycle journeys. Only in New Orleans will I visit a place where I’ve previously been. The Post will again cover my ride and you can email me anytime at email@example.com with suggestions and questions. I am excited to be riding again!