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Mississippi River Bike Trail - Part 3

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Mississippi River Bike Trail - Part 3

The Oarhouse Closed at Eight

Saint Looey! From here at Delobar State Park I could float a raft or a canoe right to downtown St. Louis. I'd like to see from the river how the flow of the Missouri joins it there or that of the Ohio upstream at Cairo. I would, but I won't. Not this trip anyway.

Twain describes the world of 1542, the year DeSoto saw this river. He was the first white man to see it, it is said, though people had lived along its banks since time immemorial, as it is also said. It would be quite a "stretcher" to say he discovered the river. Still, for context, Twain says that when DeSoto arrived, "Michaelangelo's paint was not yet dry on The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel." Surely that and other hallmarks of western civilization were of no consequence to native tribes who had no idea what DeSoto's appearance portended.

In Muscatine, Iowa, I met a group of bicyclists beginning their week-long trip along the river. We met up again last night here at Delobar. Campground fees here are $9 for a single, which is a good deal. The campground host suggested I put my tent near theirs and he'd charge us the $28 family rate. "You're all one family, aren't you?" He winked. Then he knocked off the twenty and charged the eight of us $8. One buck each. A bit later he drove by in his truck and gave us a load of wood for the fire. These kindnesses on the trail continue.

Our host also told us that the "Oarhouse" was closed for the night, emphasizing the subtlety of its pronunciation. We breakfasted there and then my new friends pedaled on. I'm holding back for an extra day at Delobar, to read some more Twain, and to enjoy the river that's below a bluff just a hundred yards from where I pitched my tent. I am in no hurry.

I'm riding along the Mississippi River on what is called the Mississippi River Trail. That's only sometimes true. When I'm lucky I pedal on dedicated bicycle trails for twenty, sixty, or more than a hundred miles. Other times the trail is shared with trucks, cars, drunk drivers and texting fools.

Every stretch of road is local to someone and it is those of us traveling through that have to put the pieces together. Minnesota is a good place to begin because the new signs for the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) are so frequent you can navigate with them. Typically, they provide assurance that you have not missed a turn and are still headed the right way. Wisconsin is stingy with its signs, Scott Walker likely having spent bicycle funds on more important matters - like union busting. (There is a superb 20-mile dedicated trail just north of Onalaska, so not all is lost). In Illinois the bicycle signs are often old and faded, but they are perfect and appear right when and where you need them. That's a sign's job, right? Faded they may be, but keep 'em coming.

You gain a keen appreciation for the road when you sit on the saddle for hundreds of miles. Some days seems like a zero sum game and after a dozen miles of easy going you suspect there's a zen master watching your ease and the hills are waiting. I'm going down river, so the balance ought to be in my favor. Iowa, not known to me for its hills, threw in three days of eight percent grades that had me walking to the crests. I turned to look back down one hill and saw a sign warning truckers that it was a 15% grade! The last couple of days have been easy, peasy. Yesterday I had a tail wind for about 25 miles. Can't beat that.

Trails are my favorite, but sometimes the roads are a treat. Yesterday there was just enough roll to let you know it wasn't flat. The best are gentle rolling hills where you can see the tops of several hills forthcoming and the rollout of one hill will throw you near to the top of the next. I can bike those for hours. All in all, the road has been kind to me. The hills are bearable, one morning of rain so far, winds helping more than hurting, and I have yet to feel lost. The worst roads came surprisingly in a part of Iowa and Illinois where shoulders are sporadic or nonexistent. These have been the only places where I felt unsafe. Well, there and steep downhills. I'll take a gentle 2% couple of miles over an 8% life-threatening wondering if my brakes are really working any day. Ok, so sometimes I let it roll upwards of 30 mph, but I can't stay safe all of the time.

Liz got a chuckle when she heard I was headed to Nauvoo. "Do you know about Nauvoo?" She asked. But of course. This was where Joseph Smith brought his Church of the Latter Day Saints when they were all booted out of Missouri. Think what you may about Mormons and their prophets, they know where to buy real estate.

One big surprise on this trip has been the relative absence of snakes along side roads being harvested. It used to be that when harvest came, snakes that had fed on varmint rodents scurried away from the harvest machinery. My theory is that GMOs and pesticides have diminished the rodent populations and thus that of snakes. I asked one farmer about it and he asked me how many pheasant I have seen on my trip. "Not one." He told me that when he was a boy he'd walk the fields with a shotgun, shooting large numbers of the birds. "Today, look between those corn rows. There is no cover at all for the birds that used to live in the corn." So, snakes and pheasant have not appeared the way I had hoped. But those damned deer-shaped lawn sculptures seem to be everywhere.

Once again I am camped among oak trees. Acorns cover the ground, crunching under every step. I have never seen so many squirrels.

October 3, 2015
Oquawka, Illinois