The Great River Road Ride

The Great River Road Ride by Owen RiessWe rode from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca, Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans , Louisiana and back… We completed the first leg–from Hastings, MN to Itasca, MN and back then crossed into Prescott, Wisconsin and rode the east side of the Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana and crossed the great river from east to west on the ferry. We headed north on the west side of the river and arrived back in Red Wing, Minnesota. Here’s a peek at our story in pictures.

Just four friends, and four thousand miles. Like someone smarter than me said, “all men die, but not all men live.”


The trip took ten days and the rest of the story is contained below. Enjoy the read and the pictures.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

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DAY ONE / Hastings, MN to Itasca, MN

The Great River Road Ride by Owen L. Riess

The Great River Road Ride by Owen L. Riess

It’s another perfect weather forecast calling for rain and not a cloud in the sky. I load the raingear into the saddlebag and head down the highway to meet the cowboys at the Buckboard in Lakeville, Minnesota. Our meeting is at 9:30 and I arrive at 9 and pull in next door to top off the fuel. I’m just getting the fuel flowing when Brian “Road Dog” pulls in to do the same. We top off the tanks and roll next door to eat. We are parked and climbing off the scooters when Mike “Dirt Biker” pulls up. We get a table and the coffee is flowing. The Buckboard Family restaurant – features hearty old fashioned home cooked style meals – according to the menu. Dave “Ace” arrives and we finish our eggs and coffee and head east towards Hastings, Minnesota to catch the Great River Road.

Our journey today – follow the Great River Road along the Mighty Mississippi from Hastings, Minnesota north to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca, Minnesota. We run east out of Lakeville through the Minnesota towns of Farmington and Vermillion and into Hastings where we find the familiar Great River Road Paddlewheel signs and climb on heading north.

We run the river road through Inver Grove Heights, MN where at one of the stoplights someone points out the King of Diamonds dance club. (purportedly there are great dancers their – LOL) The Great River Road is very difficult to stay on through South St Paul, St Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, once you get north of the Twin Cities into the towns of Dayton, Otsego and Elk River navigating by the signs along the river becomes pretty easy again.

It’s a beautiful day with a hint of autumn in the air and bits of red in the sumac and we are rolling along. It’s cool and we are in chaps, coats and gloves. We take CR 25 into Monticello and then 75 North into St Cloud, Minnesota. We catch CR 15 through the historic south side of St Cloud, known for its high-quality granite deposits (the Granite City) onto CR 1 and north out of St Cloud, Minnesota which is a nice college town of about 65,000. CR 1 turns into CR 21 then on to CR 25 north into Little Falls, MN.  The waterfall at Little Falls was long been turned into a dam. We cross over the Mississippi River on CR 27 (Broadway) and we make a pit stop to grab a sandwich and stretch.

We have been running the Great River Road all morning making pain staking effort at times to find it and stay on it with only a glimpse of the river at a distance unless we are crossing over the top of it. 

The road is pretty boring but filled with the camaraderie of friendship and motorcycling together until we get north to Brainerd and Baxter and start weaving around lakes.  In the 1870’s the railroad built a bridge over the Mississippi near Brainerd and transformed the area.  From here on in to Itasca State Park the road winds and wriggles through the countryside following country roads and National Forests.  We stop in Nisswa, Minnesota to fuel having covered 210 miles [$17 bucks and 46 MPG] then follow 371 north while the clouds roll in and the rain starts to pour.  We pull our caps down and our bandana’s up and we keep rolling.  This looks like passing weather so we figure we’ll just keep riding the storm out.   We pass Walker, Minnesota and the casino at the Leach Lake Indian Reservation has a big billboard announcing ‘38 Special’ on stage that evening.  Reminds me of a girl, but that’s another story, anyhow we hold on loosely in the pouring rain and keep rolling.  We keep rolling through the old logging camp towns and the sport fishing paradise havens, and on through the ChippewaNational Forest.  

We follow the Great River Road all the way to ItascaState Park. The Great River Road begins where the Mississippi River does! Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park and one of Minnesota’s seven National Natural Landmarks.  Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes.  The park’s most famous activity is stepping across the river at the source were it exits LakeItasca.  We’ve planned a morning walk across the mighty Mississippi where it starts its winding journey to the Gulf of Mexico. 

I take a little ride around ItascaState Park and stop for a photo opportunity at MaryLake before heading over to the historic Douglas Lodge.  We check in at the Douglas Lodge and move into our rooms at the Itasca Suites and head back to the Douglas Lodge for dinner.  ItascaLake walleye with Minnesota wild rice and top it off with pecan pie and coffee.  We had a little after dinner walk to enjoy the clear star filed night sky, and the quiet far from the city, we covered the scooters and called it a day.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

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DAY TWO / Itasca, MN to Hastings, MN

Itasca State ParkIt is so incredible quiet and peaceful this morning. I am showered and up and loaded by seven am. The men are sleeping in. I am cleaning the bike with the magic micro fiber cloth which stays damp with the morning dew the Harley-Davidson is covered in.

 I can hear the loons call and a few birds chirp and nothing else. This is not like being in the city – there is no noisy machinery din humming in the background.

 Frank stops by the bikes to chat and say hey – the bikes they attract attention wherever you go. Frank is originally from Holland and now lives in Alexandria, MN and spends his days restoring log cabins with original tools and techniques. He likes the cabins here in ItascaState Park which are all about 100-150 years old and in near perfect condition.  So while I clean the bike and wring the dew out of the magic cloth Frank and I talk about the weather, motorcycles and life.

 It’s not long before we hear a small girls voice talking with her dad “let’s go on a hike and find a bear” she says. “What will you do if you find a bear” her father asks and they are gone out of hearing range before we can hear her reply.

 I make my way down to the Douglas Lodge and get a cup of coffee and then down the long hand laid brick staircase to the lake. The clouds have moved on and the lake is smooth as glass. Little surface bugs skimming the water create its only movement. A pair of loons are diving and resurfacing across the lake, an occasional fish is jumping, and an old paddle boat sits quietly in the corner holding on to its tale of another time. This is where God goes on vacation. I soak it all in and have a morning prayer and a little meditation – I think of Jacqueline and remember the last time we were here together and wish she were here to share this with me. 

I walk back to the bikes and find the guys folding up the covers and loading their bikes and cleaning them up – except for the Road Dog – he’s wearing his dirt and grim like a badge of honor.  We all have breakfast at the Lodge and head to the north side of the park for a visit at the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  We find the MississippiHeadwatersVisitorCenter and head down to the lake.  The Mississippi river starts as a small stream coming out of LakeItasca, and there are large rocks clear across the mouth of the stream.  The four of us make our way out to the center of the rocks for a photo opportunity.  This is the beginning of the Mighty Mississippi.

 We get back on the Great River Road heading out of ItascaState Park and all the way to Bemidji, MN the signs are easy to follow, the roads are nice and smooth and there is very little traffic.  The local legend claims that it was the lumberjack Paul Bunyan’s footprint that created LakeBemidji.

 We are rolling along listening to our radio’s and taking in the natural beauty when we realize we all have the same station tuned in and its Charlie Pride singing ‘Mississippi Keep Rolling’.  Later Dave comments he was looking for the video camera’s to appear as the whole sequence was to perfect.  We had a good laugh.

 At a couple of points we had small groups of white tail deer crossing the road in front of us – and as we rumbled through the heavily wooded forest we had a full grown bald eagle jump off a huge pine in front of us and glide along about ten feet of the road for fifty or so yards until it picked up enough speed to disappear over the tree tops.  It was a spectacular sight.  There was nothing behind or in front of us on the road, just us four Harley riders thumping through the forest and then the eagle.  Like she was letting us know who was in charge here in ~ and it wasn’t us.

 We have been riding about four hours when we roll Grand Rapids, MN for fuel and lunch so after we top off the tanks we head to the Forest Lake Restaurant for a burger, coffee and to dry off.  It’s been great riding with plenty of photo opportunities regardless of the mixed weather with its occasional scattered showers.

 We leave Grand Rapids in the sunshine but dressed for more rain showers.  The road here is complete crap, filled with asphalt patches and tar snakes and it isn’t long before the asphalt ends and the Great River Road turns into a dirt road.  Yes, you read that correctly, and I don’t mean a gravel road, I mean a dirt road running through the wilderness.

 Finally, though the road is running right next to the Mississippi and it is starting to look like a river and not just a creek.  We see lots of deer, sometimes 8-9 together, sometimes crossing the road but mostly just standing a few hundred yards off the road in a herd.  Just standing there threatening and ominous those deer.  We keep moving.

 It’s late afternoon when we hit asphalt and head south.  The sun is out and warm, but the sky to the north and west is black as coal and coming toward us like a freight train.  We pick up the pace and run straight away to the next fuel stop where we take a little time under the canopy to put on all our rain gear.  We have run the Great River Road from Hastings, MN to Itasca, MN and back to St Cloud, MN where we were wishing we knew someone to give us some shelter from the storm.

 It’s a downpour and chilly and the weak would have parked their motorcycles, but not us we stagger ourselves and run through the rain and cold back to Minneapolis, MN where we give each other the obligatory “see ya later bro” wave and head to our respective homes.  I make my garage about 9 PM having had a great time with good friends.  We put on 690 miles in two days through every kind of weather.  We had followed the Great River Road to its beginning and in the process learned a lot about Minnesota, the Mississippi River, friendship, camaraderie, and ourselves.  Tomorrow we head south.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

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DAY THREE / Hastings, MN to Fulton, IL

Great River Road RideThe bike is loaded with a small t-bag and both saddlebags.  I’ve loaded lightly because the outside air temperature is 45 degrees and although there’s no wind it’s clear with a full moon and peaceful this early in the morning.  I’m in chaps, jacket and gloves and a helmet.  Fuck its cold, but I’m going south so I leave a lot of room to take all this outerwear off and stow it.  The house is empty! Its shut down and closed up, which is another story for another time.  Today I am on vacation and headed back up the road to meet Mike, Brian and Dave and cover some ground.  It’s a heady agenda we have to ride the balance of the Great River Road to the Gulf of Mexico and back.

 I meet Brian and Mike and we run into our first wrinkle.  Seems Dave who has sole custody of his two boys has lost his child care and has to cancel.  As parents and friends we understand, as a travel adventure companion he’s an integral part of the storyline and we will miss his insight and sense of humor.  As Dad’s ourselves we all know it’s easier to become a Dad than to be one. 

So that’s how we roll.  Across the Mississippi River at Hastings, MN to the northern most point on the eastern side of the GreatRiver at Prescott, WI.  We stop at the GreatRiverRoadVisitorCenter to refresh our history and take in some great views from atop the sandstone bluffs overlooking where the St. Croix River flows into the Mississippi, and we get our first lesson in confluence.  The confluence in this case is where the clear St. Croix runs into the muddy Mississippi.  From high atop the bluff you can see the St. Croix’s clear river lines merge into the muddy Mississippi until all that is left is the dark muddy water.

 All three of us have ridden this road north and south many times.  Today as we go south we pass through favorite stopping spots at Diamond Bluff, along LakePepin, the Creamery in Nelson, and the Buena VistaPark in Alma.  Our first stop to stretch is in Fountain City at Eagle Bluff which at 550 feet is highest point on the east side of the Mississippi River.  We catch a view of the Julia Swain River Paddleboat as she makes her way downstream.  We keep moving through La Crosse, and Prairie Du Chien to the IllinoisState line.  From Prescott, WI to the Illinois State Line its 249 miles and most of that parallels the railroad tracks along the river through well kept river towns dating from the days of fur traders.  The roads are nice and the views are beautiful.

 We hit Illinois and stop in Galena to eat, stretch and recharge.  A part of the adventure is talking with folks along the way and we learn about a huge tower we can climb further down the road with great views of the river.  But, when we get to the Long Hollow Scenic Overlook the tower is closed for maintenance.  We make it as far as Fulton, IL and now its dark and with no specific itinerary we pull off to the side of the road to huddle about what exactly the plan is going to be.  Mike asks how far we are going to go in the dark on these unfamiliar roads.  I say maybe we should find a place to stay.  And, Brian says how about that hotel right there?  We get a good laugh and check into the hotel for the night.  It’s been an easy 356 miles with good weather and lots of sunshine.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

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DAY FOUR / Fulton, IL to Columbia, IL

Great River Road RideWe are rolling out of Moline, IL at about 9 AM and there’s not a cloud in the sky, its 65 degrees and a beautiful sunny day.  We covered 371 miles yesterday.  Life is good!  We wearing coats, hats and gloves, but I’m wondering if we needed too.  As you would expect the Great River Road through Moline, Illinois is in the older industrial area of the City.  A lot of it is run down and not very scenic to put it nicely.  You probably wouldn’t want to pull in here to look for a room at ten o’clock at night.

As you get into Moline you find the JohnDeereMuseum, and the whole JohnDeereCenter is very attractive. The Great River Road Paddlewheel signs have been hard to follow to this point.  Once you get past this part of Moline it becomes nearly impossible to follow the Great River Road.  Whatever monies they had for the road signs got spent on something else.  After driving around and around in decades old run down industrial areas we finally make our way out of Moline, Illinois.  At the first stop light I holler at Brian “what did you think of Moline”?  And he says something “inaudible”.  So I holler over to Mike “what did you think of Moline, Illinois?” He yells back “SHIT HOLE” and we all laughed.  From then on it became the silence breaker “hey Mike what did you think of Moline, Illinois?”  Now you all know the answer.

 We make our way south to Heathburg, Illinois and onto Oquawka, Illinois whose claim to fame is Norma Jean the elephant.  Apparently, during a circus performance in 1972 Norma Jean was struck by lightning and they buried her where she fell in the town square.  So we have a stretch and a little photo opportunity and roll down the road.

 Next stop is Nauvoo, Illinois.  We park on main street and have lunch at Grandpa Joe’s.  This is the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Well at least it was until the opponents’ murdered leader Joseph Smith and forced them to leave.  The views here are spectacular overlooking the Mississippi River, and the pie at Joe’s was delicious.

We wait in Harden, Illinois to cross the Illinois River while the lift bridge lets a string of barges pass.  Everywhere we stop all the talk is about how high the water is along the GreatRiver.  Even though we never cross the Mississippi you cross lots and lots of bridges feeding into the big stream.  All the rivers flow into the Mississippi.  We on the other hand follow the Great River Road south through East St. Louis in Illinois to Columbia, Illinois and call it a day.  We did some night riding thinking it better to start the day on the south side of East St. Louis.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

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DAY FIVE / Columbia, Illinois to Batesville, MS

Great River Road RideIt’s sunny and 80 degrees.  We should have known going through all of the industrial areas that the truckers need to move things into and out off them. But, the Great River Road between Columbia, Illinois and Chester, Illinois is a crap motorcycle ride.  We followed dump trucks for about twenty miles before we could get around them.  All the bridges across the Mississippi are closed or down to one lane and the traffic is backed up for miles.  We hit a rest stop at Chester, Illinois and find a sculpture of Popeye and a plaque to the guy from Chester, Illinois that invented him.

We are looking forward to leaving Illinois thinking Kentucky might be more scenic when we hit Cairo, Illinois.  Cairo is the last town in Illinois before you cross the Ohio River and enter Kentucky.  So we are making our way along the Great River Road Route and almost out of Cairo, Illinois when Brian starts flashing his light so Mike and I pull over and wait for him.  Brian says “did you see downtown Cairo? We have to go back there and have a look around.”  We turn around and backtrack to main street Cairo, Illinois.

 There’s a big wrought iron entrance sign welcoming us to Cairo, Illinois.  We roll under the sign and head up the street.  We make it about two blocks and stop and park our motorcycles right in the middle of the street.  Main StreetCairo is a brand new brick cobblestone street from one end to the other.  It’s almost eerie as every building on the street is vacant and in major disrepair or collapsing.  The brick cobblestone street is so nice we start looking around for video camera’s thinking the whole town is a movie set. 

 But, it’s no movie.  Cairo, Illinois is a river port town and completely surrounded by levees and there is nothing moving in Cairo, Illinois.  The boys find the sole local establishment. Fat Boys Bar is owned by an ex Marine who works on a barge all day while his buddies run the bar and its filled with hospitality for a bunch of white guys and Harley-Davidson’s.  They tell stories of the black panthers and race riots and all the white business’ leaving and the town dying.  They warn us that the town makes a lot of its revenue by setting up speed traps on Interstate 57 and charging exorbitant fines. We walk around take pictures and get out of town.  We cross the Ohio River into Kentucky.

 Once you hit Tennessee and highway 51 you are pretty far off of the Mississippi River but the road is nice and we make a stop in Dyersburg, Tennessee to fuel at a little convenience store.  Inside they are selling live fishing bait comprised of chirping crickets and hot grilled food right next to each other.  We laugh and head to Memphis.

 The Great River Road is filled with history in Memphis.  We stop for photos at Sun Records and Graceland before heading south again.  We are headed to Clarksdale, Mississippi for the night.  When we stop for fuel in Clarksdale there’s a police officer fueling so we ask him where to stay.  He says its rough there R O U G H rough and he wouldn’t leave his Harley-Davidson outside there overnight.  So we backtrack up the freeway to Batesville, Mississippi for the night.  This was an interesting day!

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

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DAY SIX / Batesville, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana

Great River Road RideIt’s sunny and eighty degrees.  We start the day by backtracking to Clarksdale, Mississippi so we can continue south on the Great River Road.  Clarksdale looks pretty quiet and peaceful at 9 AM. The DeltaBluesMuseum is not open in Clarksville. So we roll. We cross the TallahatchieRiver, but see no sign of Billie Joe McAllister.  We know we are deep in the south now, as we’re passing cotton field after cotton field and lots of antebellum mansions.  Our American history pours from the nooks and crannies of these places.  In Minnesota at harvest time we find corn husks on the roadways, here in Mississippi you get cotton bolls. Cotton grows in a boll, or protective capsule, and when they harvest the cotton they take the good part and spread the bolls all over the roads to irritate gentlemen motorcycle enthusiasts.

I see a big sign that says PORT.  So I roll through the gate to get a good look at an actual working port on the Mississippi River, across the parking lot and past the elevators right over to the barges and the docks.  Mike and Brian catch up and go hey did you see the sign that said private property? I say no. Do you see all the prisoners?  Do you see the guards with the shotguns?  I say no.  oops.  We pull out of the yard and stop on the road to talk with the truckers all lined up waiting to unload.  They are hauling soy beans and grain.  The river is not leisure here.  Its all working on the river in these parts and the river is the highway and the river is the jobs.  The truck drivers tell us they bring in the prisoners and put them in their special blue and white stripped pants and shirts to provide cheap labor and armed guards from the prisons to supervise.

We stop in Greenville, Mississippi for fuel and lunch.  There’s a buy one great one free fish sandwich special ay McDonalds and a long line.  So we get in line for a fish sandwich and an ice cream cone.  We talk with everyone in line about the town and the business climate.  They tell us the pickle and diaper companies closed down and left town leaving lots of folks without jobs and no other industries to hire them.

 We are running highway 61 across the Delta.  Thousands of harvested acres around us that are not very scenic but its warm and sunny and the roads are nice and smooth.  We are running about 80 MPH in sleeveless shirts on a beautiful sunny day, and we’re headed to Vicksburg, Mississippi.  We’re passing signs that say evacuation route for those hurricanes that come in from the Gulf of Mexico.  We pass the cotton workers shacks along the plantations.  All the windows in the shacks are blacked out. They don’t open them up to enjoy the daylight. They work outside all day and go home in the dark and shut themselves up until the next day.  I really wanted to stop at a cotton gin today.

 Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in January of 1935.  He moved to Memphis in 1948 and soon after signed a contract with Sun Records in 1954 achieved tremendous popularity. His movie and acting career in records, movies, television and concerts made him one of the most successful and outstanding entertainers in the world. Elvis died in 1977 and is buried here at his Memphis home.  Graceland.

 When we hit Baton Rouge the Great River Road follows the major freeways into New Orleans across the longest bridge in the world.  No matter how fast we go on that bridge everyone keeps passing us.  At 75, 85, 95 and 100 zoom they go past.  There’s just nothing like running 100 MPH across the Bayou to get your blood flowing.  We roll to the edge of the French Quarter and make the 40th floor of the Marriott home.  Tonight we explore the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana.  So after a hot shower we hit the streets looking for dinner and adventure.

Many of the buildings in the Quarter date from before New Orleans became part of the United States.  Since the 1920s the historic buildings have been protected by law and cannot be demolished, and any renovations must match the period historic architectural style. The buildings remains painted in the pastel hues fashionable at the time. As a result, colorful walls and roofs and elaborately decorated ironwork balconies and galleries, from both the 18th century and the early 19th century, abound. 

The most well known of the French Quarter streets, Bourbon Street, is known for its drinking establishments, most of the bars are new but the Quarter also has a number of notable bars with interesting histories.  My favorite Pat O’Brien’s Bar is well-known for inventing the red cocktail, Hurricane, and a long time ago after an evening there with several Hurricane’s I came home with a tattoo I had no recollection of getting.

We make our way to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street. The tavern’s building, built sometime before 1772, is one of the older still standing structures in New Orleans and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States. According to legend the structure was once owned by the pirate Jean Lafittee.  Tonight it’s occupied by pirates from Minnesota.

We listen to the band for a set and then the lead singer comes around with a big empty jar asking for tips.  We tell her how we just rode in from Minnesota and she says “shut up” I’m from Minnesota.  So the rest of the time we are there she keeps yelling from the stage MINNESOTA.  They rocked and we had a great time at Lafitte’s.

We dig the obligatory walk up and down Bourbon Street and found the customary characters.  Three kids from Portland begging for a meal.  I gave them $20 bucks and the two guys played and the girl and I danced in the street.  We found a great meal at the Red Fish Grill and reminisced about cotton fields, crickets, Sun Records and Graceland.  It was a good day.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

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DAY SEVEN / New Orleans, Louisiana to Vidalai, Louisiana

Great River Road RideWe rode hard yesterday for 470 miles stayed out late and got a late start to the day. It is very humid and either drizzling or raining. We have breakfast in the Quarter and head to Jackson Square named after the Battle of New Orleans for victorious general Andrew Jackson; a statue of Jackson is in the center of the park.  Across the square is Café du Monde, open 24 hours a day, well known for the café au lait, coffee spiced with chicory, and beignets, served there continuously since the 19th century. It is a custom to blow the powdered sugar onto anyone who is going there for the first time, while making a wish. I tried it, but it didn’t work as it was still raining.

We roll south out of New Orleans towards the end of the road at Venice, Louisiana about 75 miles downstream.  We make it about 50 miles almost to Empire, Louisiana and we are down to one lane and the water is almost to the edges of both sides of the road.  The sheriff coming at us leading cowboys on horses pushing cattle fill the road and he tells us the road is closed from flooding and we have to turn around.  That marks the end of our southward roll.

We head back to New Orleans and catch the Algiers Ferry at Canal Street to cross the Mississippi River.  The Algiers Ferry has been in continuous operation since 1827 and costs $1.00 for a motorcycle and rider, but it’s the southern most public crossing of the Mississippi River, and we are trying to stay true to our objective of following the Mississippi down the east side from top to bottom and up the west side from bottom to top.

We make our way upstream on the west side of the Muddy Mississippi. Winding our way around this side of the Mississippi in southern Louisiana is a nightmare. The weather goes from pouring rain to bright sunshine and when it does the rain suits become saunas.  We are waiting patiently in the traffic until we get behind a very long line of dump trucks hauling gravel and sand probably to build a levee somewhere and the sun comes out and just before we melt we pull off the road and onto the sidewalk and roll past all the traffic. 

One of the things motorcycle riders are acutely aware of is the smell going on around them.  Louisiana gets the most aromatic award.  From the paper mills, oil refineries, cotton fields, to the swamp smell because half the ground is below sea level, Louisiana is a sensory overload of odoriferous pleasures.

It’s raining, nothing is marked and the traffic is insane.  We finally make Vidalia, Louisiana and call it a day.  The bad ass bikers made almost 250 miles today.  The combination of staying up late last night, the weather, and the crummy riding conditions made for a very long day, and we were exhausted.  So we are standing in the quiet lobby of the Comfort Suites Riverfront in Vidalia, Louisiana just the three of us and the clerk and in walks a very attractive woman.  Brian looks at her and says as loudly and clearly as possible “oh look fresh fur”.  We look at each other and burst out laughing so hard we almost pee our pants.  Brian is like oh crap I just thought it I didn’t mean to say it. 

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved.  No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

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DAY EIGHT / Vidalai, Louisiana to Cape Giardo, Missouri

Great River Road RideIts 65 degrees the fog is dissipating, and the sun is breaking through, and it’s already humid.  Mike is hoping a little sunshine does the same for him as he got up in the night  and hit his head on the wall so we had to find him a band aide.   We continue upstream passing lots of cotton gins along the way to Lake Providence, Louisiana. 

We poke around LakeProvidence finding a park where General Grant tried to dig a tunnel under the Mississippi to surprise the Confederates at Vicksburg which didn’t work, and stumbled upon the site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase.  This is also the site of the LouisianaStateCottonMuseum; we wave as we ride past.

We continue across the Delta into Arkansas where the land is flat and agriculture is the predominant industry.  If there were ever forests here they are long gone.  The road is wide and smooth and we are covering ground in high gear.  It’s great riding on an uneventful morning except for the Armadillo road kill that Brian has to photograph, and we knock off an easy couple hundred miles and roll into Dumas, Arkansas.

 We are looking for lunch and come across Roscoe’s Smokehouse, in Dumas, Arkansas.  This Mom & Pop shop had great food, the barbecue and coleslaw were delicious, and the baked beans were worthy of a blue ribbon.  So after lunch we are sitting on the porch visiting and Mike says to Pop why is your forearm all bandaged in gauze?

 So Pop tells us his tale.  An unlicensed barbecue entrepreneur has set up shop in the local park and is stealing his business.  So he goes to the police and files a complaint and they give the guy a fine and let him continue.  Well this just enflames Pop so he files another complaint that the barbecue is too close to the sidewalk and a hazard.  The police tell him they don’t think so, so Pop goes to the park stands on the sidewalk and puts the inside of his right forearm on the hot stove, not just once but twice, apparently to prove the point.

We think time to get the hell out of here, and roll up the street to the nearest gas station to fuel up.  We pull up to the pumps and turn off our bikes and some guy at a far pump tells us to be careful the pumps don’t shut off and the fire department was just here to clean up a big spill.  Turns out the rider opened his tank put the nozzle in turned on the fuel, went inside to shop and when he came out there was gas everywhere. 

 We say we have never heard of a motorcyclist putting the nozzle in and walking away from their bike, it only takes a few gallons and a few minutes to fill.  The guy inside the station said he made him pay for all the spilled gas.  We got out of Dumas, Arkansas thinking you couldn’t even make this stuff up.

 We’re headed north and catch a grain truck with too much oncoming traffic to pass and there are little pieces of grain falling out of the truck going bang bang bang off our fenders and fairings and faces.  Mike is right on the truck waiting for an opportunity to pass tucked in behind his fairing with the grain going bang bang bang, while Brian and I slow way down behind him and laugh and wonder to each other how long is he going to follow the guy. It was a good laugh. Soon we catch a break in traffic and roll by the guy and were running 90 MPH three abreast across Arkansas.  We ride north all the way to the Arkansas River where the water line is about twelve feet above flood stage and head into Missouri.

We are rolling right along and making great time and its just about dusk and Mike points to my headlights which are out.  So we pull over and dink around with the switches and shit and agree to get to the nearest town and call it a night and deal with it in the light of day.  Well the next town is Cape Giardo, Missouri about fifty miles up the road so we run 60 MPH with Mike on one side and Brian on the other and me in the middle with no headlights. 

Coopyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

Posted in Family, Friends, Harley-Davidson, Motorcycle Travel Adventure, Owen Riess, The Great River Road | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DAY NINE / Cape Giardo, Missouri to Muscatine, Iowa

Lock and Dam

Lock and Dam

It’s a beautiful morning on the Mississippi River and we are having breakfast on the patio overlooking the water and watching the barges go north and south.  I point out to Brian that he snored all night.  And, he points out that Mike had terrible gas, and Mike says “I did not!” It was a big day yesterday 467 miles, I change the fuse for my headlights and we roll towards St Louis, Missouri.  We stop under the arch to stretch.  The river is so high that the streets in St Louis that run along it are under water.  The Great River Road out of St. Louis is the freeway.  Big roads and big traffic until you get to the North 79 turnoff towards Hannibal, Missouri.  North 79 is a smooth asphalt road with lots of up and down elevation.  We follow it to Clarksville, Missouri.

Clarksville, Missouri is a Mississippi riverfront town filled with skilled artisans working in metal and furniture.  There’s a lock and dam there and the town is neat and clean.  We take some pictures and have coffee overlooking the Mississippi River.

 It’s a nice day partly sunny and about 70 degrees. The air has a cool feel to it so perfect for a light jacket or a long sleeve shirt.  We can tell we are moving north again.  It’s a beautiful day and a great day to be out riding a motorcycle with friends.  This is a nice roadway and attracts a lot of other motorcycles.  The trees along the river are starting to change into their yellows, oranges and reds.

 We reach Hannibal, Missouri and have a great visit.  We have big burgers and a walk along the riverfront.  The Lyon a WWII Naval Ship that served active duty on D-Day in the second wave is just leaving port and heading back up the Ohio River to its home port of Evansville, Indiana.  So we watch her pull out and leave.  All of the Mark Twain history has been painstakingly preserved and Hannibal makes it a fun experience.

Mark Twain came into the world as Samuel Clemens on November 1835, and moved to Hannibal, Missouri while he was a boy, and spent his youth here experiencing the adventures that shaped his life and colored his writings. At 24, he realized a boyhood dream when he was finally entrusted with the powers and duties of a steamboat pilot.  Samuel Clemens took his pen name of Mark Twain from his experience of working on the Mississippi river.

 Marking twain is the old riverboat custom of marking the depth of the river by dropping a weighted line into the water until it hits bottom. “Mark Twain” was a frequent call of the leadsman. It meant that the water was 12 feet deep and indicated safe water. The leadsman is the person who “heaves the lead” and “sings the mark”. In the days of Mark Twain, the mark meanings were actually sung as the paddle boat cautiously made its way along the river in potentially shallow water.

 We ride out of Hannibal, Missouri headed north through the little towns of Keokuk, Fort Madison with its Paddleboat Casino, and a very nice Veterans Memorial where Brian takes a turn shooting the ‘big guns’. In this case it’s a Browning Machine Gun Cal 50 M2 Mfg by the AC Spark Plug Division of General Motors in Flint, Michigan.  Then we roll north to Muscatine, Iowa and call it a day.

Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess.  All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.

Posted in Easy Local Motorcycle Rides, Family, Friends, Harley-Davidson, Motorcycle Travel Adventure, Owen Riess, The Great River Road | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment