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August 2, 2017 - Dubuque, Iowa

By meriwether, Aug 2 2017 12:08PM

Hello Everyone -

When the little stream finds its way out of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, it’s not much more than a trickle, a small babbling brook. You can straddle it, put your feet on either side, and wade ankle deep through it’s shallow waters. But within a couple hundred miles, it’s breadth and force begin to build, fed by numerous tributaries . . . and then the stream becomes a river . . . but not just any river . . . it becomes a waterway that aspires greatly.

By the time it reaches Minneapolis/St. Paul, it has become one of the major rivers of the world. Native Americans called it Misi-ziibi or Great River. Broad and expansive, its valley stretches for miles across a vast wetland that forms the Mississippi Flyway, a route that almost half the nation’s migratory birds and waterfowl follow on their yearly migrations from the Arctic to Central and South America. 

It is a river of substance, a river of culture and history, a river of powerful geologic forces. As the Native Americans who lived and hunted along its banks and traveled its currents would say  . . .  it is The Father Of Waters

The Mississippi River courses for 2,300 miles through the heartland, and along with its mighty tributaries The Missouri and Ohio Rivers, it drains the entire central region of the United States and southern Canada stretching from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains. Rains falling on those widely separated slopes mingle and find their way together as they flow into the Gulf of Mexico at the Great River’s mouth at New Orleans. Much like a human body, this major artery carries the lifeblood of our country - its produce and commerce - to faraway destinations and markets. 

The Mississippi River is central to our country’s story, and although we have altered it and try to control it, we have not tamed it. The Father of Waters does indeed have a mind of its own.

I’ve been wheeling along the course of the Great River this past week for over 200 miles on what is know as The Great River Road - a series of roadways on either side of the Mississippi that follow closely it’s course. The scenery has been magnificent with dramatic river bluffs etching either shore. These bluffs and forested hills are part of what is known as the Driftless region - an area that was not touched by the glaciers of the most recent ice ages - and hence these bluffs were unaffected by glaciation resulting in a dramatic and rugged landscape.  They are home to bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and various other raptors soaring on wind currents and searching for that next tasty meal of fish.

First on the Minnesota side, and now on the Wisconsin side - cycling  along The Great River Road has been a truly spectacular ride - one of the premiere rides of my journey, as was my ride up the Columbia River Gorge . . . as was my ride in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark along the mighty Missouri.  The Mississippi,  the Missouri, the Columbia, the Colorado, and the Ohio - these major rivers of our country form not only the geographic backbone of this land, but they are significant to  our history, expansion, and growth. They are integral to our well being as a country, and need to be preserved and protected. 

A bit of serendipity . . . in the beautiful river town of Stillwater, MN, I decided to knock on the door of St. Mary’s Catholic Church  since I didn’t have a place to stay for the night - might they have a place where I could pitch a tent or throw my sleeping pad and bag? They did not, but Flo Harris - the office manager who was just closing up for the day - made a couple of calls, and scheduled a complimentary stay for me at the beautiful and historic Lowell Inn in Stillwater - one of the classic old hotels dating back to 1927.

And then on the streets of La Crosse, WI, I stopped to look at my maps as I am often wont to do. A man and his daughter approached me to find out what I was about. Actually they had driven by me, pulled over, and got out just to come back and talk to me. Mark and Matty were very interested in my story, and before I knew it, they had invited me to come and stay at their home for the night. Mark is an avid cyclist himself, so there was much to discuss.  Matty was leaving the next day for a trip to Glacier National Park with her Mom . . . Glacier Park - I remembered it well!

Two great kindnesses shown to a wayfaring cyclist. 

Many interesting sights to see along The Great River Road. One of those was the National Eage Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, where I made the acquaintance of Angel and Columbia, two beautiful bald eagles that have broken wings, and thus could not survive on their own in the wild. Such majestic animals and fitting ambassadors for our National Symbol. Angel was given her name by a visiting 4th grader, and Columbia was named for the Columbia Space Shuttle Crew that perished in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster of 2003.

Yesterday morning, August 1, I started out in Wisconsin, then I was in Illinois for about five minutes, and finally  Iowa welcomed me. Actually I was on my way to work with Dubuque Habitat For Humanity. Dubuque lies along the banks of The Father Of Waters, and my goodness, it is one hilly city. The Habitat worksite was far above the  banks of the Mississippi, and I had to get off and push Floyd and Bob (the trailer) up an unbelievably steep grade. Rarely do I have to get off and push, but this was one of those rare times - the grade was virtually unrideable.  Once at the Habitat job site, it took me a while to recover, but it turned out to be a great day, and my 18th volunteer opportunity with a Habitat For Humanity affiliate for this journey. 

A bit of a milestone in my fundraising efforts: I've reached my goal of $20,0000 for Save The Children. So many thanks go out to all of my donors who have made this possible!

I am now about 450 miles from home, and I am Proceeding On.

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