The Tour 2009 USA 2009 All Tours

from
Minneapolis
via
St. Louis
to
Memphis
Distance: 1010 Miles
Duration: 18 Days

Minnesota

Wisconsin

Iowa

Illinois

Missouri

Kentucky

Tennessee

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2009 USA


Watershed of the Mississippi and its tributaries Missouri, Ohio and Arkansas


The Mississippi River forms the borders of ten States.


The route of my Bicycle Tour and the journey by car

Why on Earth the USA, and Why on Earth the Mississippi?

In the Spring of 2009, I was informed by my doctor, that I am incurably ill. Not so that I will drop dead in the next year or two, but none the less, bad enough that it will slowly put a stop to my world travels on a bicycle. This fact brought me to the conclusion that I need to do another (possibly last) long tour, while I still can. I thought about it for a short time, and tried to work out what possibly would be a worthy tour to undertake:

European Countries? - Too close, then I can do any of them later,
Australia? - For a bicycle tour too big and too dry,
Canada? - Probably too cold,
The Orient? - Well not quite my cup of tea,
South-America? - With my state of health probably too strenuous,
The South-pole, - too cold at this time of year and at any time of the year!,
Africa? - Maybe a bit unsafe for a Blond European woman alone?
Asia? - Quite attractive for my wishes, but too many different choices to make, and which of the many countries there should I chose?

So at the end there remained only one continent/country, and one that until recently was a no-go area for me, due to the unfriendly attitude of the Government to tourist under the old President: "The good ol' USA".

I had always had an interest in the USA, going back to the times when as a child, I had read some books about Cowboys and Indians, and also from reading Mark Twain and his tales of Life on the Mississippi.

Despite the years that have passed, and that these stories have fallen slowly into the deeper and less frequently visited regions of my brain, they were never quite forgotten. So soon the memories were re-found, dusted down and allowed to run wild in my head for a few short days, and these quickly pushed out any thoughts I may have had of going anywhere else, and also any reservations I now since held about the USA.

Mark Twain's descriptive skills of the Mississippi, were back in my head as fresh as they were when I was a small child, and so the decision fell on making this trip either up or down the Mississippi.



Preparation

I was not doing this to prove anything, and so would not need to try to cover EVERY mile down the river, that was clear, then I would allow my own health constraints and feelings decide if and what I would or could do.

This meant that I did not need to start from the actual spring of the river in Minnesota, nor do I need to go right down to the very end where it entered the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Instead I would start at the first major city a few miles from where it commences, Minneapolis, and only go down as far as the last major city before it ends, New Orleans.

I would make my tour between these two metropolises and leave it open, if I would do the entire thing by bicycle, or (depending upon circumstances and my health by the time I got there), by Car, Boat, Bus, or a mixture.

Whatever method would be used, the decision to "set" the start and finish cities at least made it possible for me to book the flights and also the hotels for the first and last nights. My Tour then would follow the flow of the Mississippi and if possible be undertaken on a bicycle, then I had three main goals that I at least wanted to achieve
1. I wanted to reach the confluences of the two larger rivers Missouri and Ohio on a bicycle.
2. To get from Minneapolis to the "deep south" -and-
3. To do (if possible) at least 1000 Miles (e.g. 1600 km) by pedal-power.

In March 2009, I started to undertake the planning, seeking flights and options for either a dog's leg (from New Orleans back to Minneapolis or Chicago) for the return flight, or a triangular arrangement where the one (Left) side of the triangle was my actual North-south bike tour the other two sides the flight out (north route) and return (south route).

In March 2009, I started to undertake the planning, seeking flights and options for either a dog's leg (from New Orleans back to Minneapolis or Chicago) for the return flight, or a triangular arrangement where the one (Left) side of the triangle was my actual North-south bike tour the other two sides the flight out (north route) and return (south route).

The dog's leg return flight option, allowed for returning back over the airport I arrived in, and booking transport for the bike, but the carriage of the bike on the various domestic links was too costly especially due to the need for new transport packaging of the Bicycle each time.

The Bike Shop, where I bought a new bicycle


My new American bicycle
Deciding the possible cost and risk (such as the bike may miss a flight or become lost altogether) were too high to take my own Bicycle, so I opted to buy one there for the trip.

I booked my flight out from Germany, via London, and Chicago to Minneapolis, for the 15th of June 2009, and booked the return flight for the 15th of July 2009, back from New Orleans, via Dallas to Frankfurt-Main, Germany.

I booked two nights Hotel in Richfield, near to Minneapolis, so that on arrival I could go buy a Bicycle and if I could not immediately find what I wanted, buy the parts and fit it out to my exact needs myself.

Since there do not seem to be any "good" detailed road maps of the USA available here in Germany, and I had heard from a friend, also not many in the USA, I planed the entire trip on the Internet, printing maps and views from Satellite image and Mapping pages and other sources, and ending up with a sizable stack of pages to work on.

These also added to the weight of material to carry in my panniers, but luckily this additional weight could be reduced at every Service Station or camp site with free space in their trash cans.

The flight to the USA and arrival procedures went quite smoothly, despite being treated with deep suspicion on arrival, being finger printed, etc. This behaviour would have once shaken me, then just 20 years after fleeing the "Repressive Communist East Germany", I would never have dreamed of being treated like a common criminal when going to the "Land of the Free!" But since 9/11 I knew what had changed and what to expect, so it was a little less uncomfortable. After clearing immigration and customs, I took the short domestic flight to Minneapolis. There I was confronted with the sudden high temperature and humidity, which then continued to follow me through the entire trip.

The purchase of a suitable bicycle proved relatively easy, I had previously sought out a few Bicycle Stores in the Internet that were within easy walking distance of my Hotel, despite the horrified staff of the Hotel trying to convince me that walking a few miles "by foot!" would be too far! Then apparently no-one who lives or works there walks anywhere.

This suspicion is backed up by the fact that on many roads and side streets, there are no sidewalks for pedestrians, but that was of no great importance to me, other than a risk of a fine for jay-walking, then I was going on foot to the store, but would be coming back on a brand new bike!

The Store was very helpful and the service good, so after I selected all the bits I wanted to fit to my new "Tubular Donkey", I let them assemble it for me and so saved a planned emergency day I had left for kitting up, and could instead go see the Mall of America, the world's biggest shopping center and money drain.




The Route

I started my tour on the 17th of June, 2009, very early in the morning, after a quick breakfast and checking out. This meant my fears of being caught up in the heavy city rush-hour traffic were unfounded, and I soon reached the outskirts of the Twin Cities without any problems.

I traveled the initial "warm-up" period with ease, switching in and out of the two states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, crossing the river between these two states several times, then remember the river forms the state line between them.

After Iowa and the lower part of Wisconsin, I reached Illinois. This state has the longest river-front of all states on the Mississippi and so, about half of the distance I traveled, was in this state alone.

The traffic increased in Illinois and the roads were a lot narrower than before, so making it imperative to concentrate at all times and be careful of the passing traffic, especially the turbulence from the passing "18 wheeler" semi-trailer trucks.

At times it was quite dangerous to use my original planned route, and so a detour on to side roads which were not even on my more detailed maps needed to be risked. However I managed to ensure that in aggregate I still went in the right direction and found my way back to my main route. On the other-hand, there were sections of the road in Illinois, that were quite wide and even had a marked cycle lane or completely separate Cycle paths far from the maddening traffic.

In Illinois, I rode mainly down the so called Great River Road or on parallel-to-it running side roads and paths.

The upper section the tour was quite strenuous, then leaving the deep cut of the river meant a strenuous uphill effort, quickly followed by a frantic downhill drop to the river front again. The time this took, combined with the humid heat made a deep impact on my daily coverage. Covering less distance than planned, made me fall an entire day behind after just a few days.

Luckily the route started to even out in the middle of Illinois, which made me feel a lot happier.

In my path however was the so-called Quad Cities which needed traversing as quickly as possible. In the stifling heat, I rode through seemingly endless miles of business and commercial areas, which was not so much fun. But soon they were behind me and I was once again on my way out into the free space and nature. At night I either camped in my tent, which I had brought with me from Germany, or sought refuge and a chance to recover in a Motel if I could find one at the right price or right place. Finding a camping site or Motel was not always easy, but somehow I found one or the other when needed.

Shortly before reaching the Pere Marquette State Park, suddenly two spokes on my back wheel "Twanged" their sad good-bye, and so I had to proceed more slowly and carefully without them to my next planned stopping place.

Considering I had bought a "tough" mountain bike precisely to prevent such material failures, this was not good, but I was certainly not going to ride back to the store where I bought it to complain. The journey to the nearest Bicycle store for spares and the repair cost me another lost day, and consumed up the last of my planned reserve time.

I then had to traverse St. Louis, where the Missouri merges into the Mississippi. This is the largest of all the Mississippi's tributary's. In St. Louis the river had a convenient pathway just for cyclist, leading right into the city center and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial .

After a quick stop for Photos, it was then out via the East St. Louis part of the city and relatively quiet side roads, so that I was able to achieve my best daily coverage of 100 Miles.

Two days later I got to Cairo, the southern most point of Illinouis and the place where the Ohio merges into the Mississippi. Here I could decide if I wanted to cross the Ohio bridge into Kentucky, or cross the Mississippi bridge into the state of Missouri.

As I wanted to ride the ferry from Dorena, Missouri to Hickman, Kentucky I selected the route through the state of Missouri.

After my ferry journey, I had (with 18 km or just over eleven miles in Kentucky, which was the shortest distance I had rode in any U.S. State) reached the state of Tennessee and also my goal of reaching the South .

After stopping over at a campsite along the Reelfoot Lake near Tiptonville, Tennessee, the next day, July the 4th, (Independence day) confronted me with a strong head-on wind, which turned into a major storm. I wanted to force myself on at a faster pace to make up the two lost days mentioned above, but the storm now made it even worse. Any chance of making up lost time was out of the question, and although wanting to achieve, in fact needing to achieve 150 kms (about 100 miles) on that and the next days to get back on schedule I only managed 25 Miles and was exhausted.

It was too windy to consider trying to pitch a tent, and besides I was too tired to even try, So I decided to look for and take shelter in a nearby Motel, and after getting warm again, would decide if (A) I should carry on as far as possible on bike, then at the last possible moment seek alternative transport to the Hotel in New Orleans, in time to get my flight, or (B) spend a day or two in the Motel and then hire a car for the rest of the journey. I decided I would hire a car and enjoy the last few days visiting additional places of interest along my original route and still ensure I got to my destination hotel in New Orleans and the airport in time for my return flight.

The last few days were a real pleasure. I was able to take my time driving off where I wanted, and without any pressure to "bash-on". With the Car I drove through parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, and recovered from the demands of the preceding part of my bicycle tour.


Tour Stages Pictures USA 2009 All Tours