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Pedaling the Mississippi
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My bike, Crush, gazes over the river while we nap in the shade.
My bike, Crush, gazes over the river while we nap in the shade.
By Rachel Ruhlen
Sept. 12, 2013 9:28 a.m.



In the spring of 2014, my dad and I plan to bicycle to the 40 state parks in Missouri that have campgrounds. In preparation for this trip, we participated in Biking Across Kansas. We bought panniers, tents, sleeping bags, and a tiny gas stove. We pedal a lot of miles.

Last weekend was our shake-down cruise to test out our equipment. We biked 2 days up the east side of the Mississippi River and 2 days down the west side. We drove to Canton, MO, parked the truck at City Hall, and walked our bikes onto the ferry to cross the Mississippi River. On the first day we pedaled between corn fields and soybean fields, bluffs on one side and the river on the other, to Nauvoo State Park (47 miles). Nauvoo has historical significance. The Mormons fled Nauvoo to establish Salt Lake City. An idealistic French commune, the Icarians, moved in until the movement went bankrupt.

After a night in Nauvoo, we headed north to Burlington, IA where we crossed the Mississippi River on the Hwy 34 bridge. We toured Snake Alley, the 2nd crookedest street in the nation with 5 switchbacks in a single block. Then we continued west a few more miles to arrive in Geode State Park (55 miles), our camping destination. The water main had broken and we wouldn't get a shower! The lake water was low and green but we enjoyed cooling off in it anyway.

The next day took us through Fort Madison, IA where we mingled with departing rodeo traffic. Fort Madison is named for the short lived fort which quickly fell to attacks from Sauk Indians. Soon after that, we could see the Mormon temple in Nauvoo across the river. We followed the beautiful Mississippi River Trail almost to Keokuk, and stopped in a private campground that had hot showers AND Wi-Fi (43 miles). After no cell phone signal for 3 days, I was delighted to talk to my husband and daughter again.

We intended to go back to the Mississippi River Trail for the final day, but the beautiful river couldn't compete with the prospect of getting to the air-conditioned truck in only 30 miles, so we stuck to the highway. By noon we were back in Kirksville eating lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant.

Our shake-down cruise taught us quite a lot. We learned just how hard the ground can be during a drought, and that we need inflatable mattresses. After 2 flat tires, Dad learned that he needs Kevlar tires. We learned that refilling 5 water bottles over and over all evening is tedious and tiresome, and that we need a collapsible bucket. We learned that we can eat an amazing amount of food after an entire day of bicycling!

"It's a good thing we did this," I remarked, "because otherwise we'd have spent the entire 40 State Parks trip wishing for things like air mattresses and a collapsible bucket. Instead, we'll spend the entire 40 State Parks trip wishing for things that we haven't yet discovered we need."

You can read more about our trip at crazyguyonabike.

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