Thursday, July 25, 2002

In Search of the Mighty Mississippi

This is supposed to be a Mississippi River bike ride, but as I look at my large scale DeLorme map the river is hard to find.

George and I have stopped at a quick-mart kind of place somewhere on the southeast side of Minneapolis for our respective breakfasts preferences (George, two microwave burritos and me, the more traditional coffee, sweet roll and Pall Mall). This is the first open food place we've found since breaking camp 30 minutes ago behind a clump of trees on the southern boundary of a twenty acre barren field which serves, once a year, as the parking lot for the Minnesota State Fair.

We have reason to believe we are heading in the desired direction toward "The River," somewhere to the south and/or east, based on a combination of various navigational aides at our disposal, including the sun, my trusty GPS, a small, confusing map of the city and anecdotal evidence from the occasional helpful citizen.

But, as I said, "The River is surprisingly hard to find, given its alleged size.

So we head due east, and eventually do find a river but it's not the right one. It's the St. Croix, certainly a respectable river, but we are not satisfied. So we head south toward Prescott, Wis. (Where the Great River Road, our planned route, begins). Here we expect to cross, and view, for the first time on our trip, the magnificence of The River, that great divider of the continent, fed by a thousand tributaries and who knows how many sprAWL*Mart parking lots, draining half a continent. The river you have seen in movies and read about. The river of Mark Twain, of course, and paddlewheel steamboats, the grandaddy of them all, nurturing commerce, literature, myth and romance for 300 years ever since its discovery by Marquette and LaSalle.

Our expectations are perhaps a bit too high.

We do, in fact, cross a bridge into Prescott, but it ain't the Mighty One. It's just our old friend the St. Croix. But we suspect we're close, so we hang out in Prescott for a while. After a barbecue sandwich at a riverside cafe, we go in search of the public library.

I know what you're thinking. Diligent and dedicated biker-writers that we are, we're looking to do some original research on the River, browsing the archives for historical factoids to write about. Wrong! In case you've forgotten my previous e-mails, this enterprise is not necessarily about facts. But that fact does not imply it's not about truth.

The real reason for the library search is that George is not blessed with his own Pocketmail Composer, so he must keep in contact with the workaday world using whatever internet facilities he can find. And in many miles of travel he has found public libraries to be free and accessible. Specifically, now he's following closely Lance Armstrong's progress in the Tour de France.

Like many small towns along the Mississippi, and along other rivers as well, one building suffices for multiple civic functions, including in this case the Mayor, City Manager, Police and George's particular interest, the library.

As luck would have it, while we were waiting outside for his turn at the computer, who should approach us but the City Manager himself. And moreover, seeing our fully-loaded bikes, he wants to engage us in conversation.

Even though he is a city manager, he, like most people we meet, misinterpret our mission. No, neither of us has yet been mistaken for Lance making a wrong turn at the Tour. The most common misconception is that we are somehow refugees from the Minneapolis to Chicago Aids Ride, even though we are nowhere near the route. On my trip to Des Moines last month, I was surely a wayward rider from RAGBRAI, never mind I was a month or so early.

The city manager of Prescott had a different impression of us. We must be advance scouts for the approaching Missouri MS Ride, which was heading north along the River and would soon establish a rest stop in his town. Once more we had to patiently explain that it is actually possible to ride your bicycle from town to town without benefit of support vehicles and the companionship of several thousand other riders. He revealed that he, too, had a bike and rode it on occasion, though judging by his girth, he could benefit from more frequent use.

Now one thing I have discovered about George is that he is by nature inquisitive. A "Curious George," as it were. So as you might expect, he had a few questions for his hired honorship. Uppermost on his mind that afternoon, aside from the approaching invasion of the MSers, was the recent loss of a number of key members of his staff, as well as a few policemen. Probing deeper, we discovered that the root cause of this was, surprisingly, political. And what was the divisive issue here in Prescott, a town of 15,000? "Those damn no-growthers have taken over the city council," he ranted in a most undignified tone. At which point the conversation deteriorated, especially after I asked why the Civic Building we were standing in was located two miles from the actual town and surrounded by a parking lot worthy of Wal*Mart.

At this point his demi-honor remembered an important meeting, and George logged on to get the scoop on Lance. Shortly thereafter we pedaled out of Prescottt, heading for Diamond Bluff, where we hoped to get our first glimpse of the elusive Mighty One.


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