The Mississippi is as effective a dividing line as our country has. Running the entire length of the US, nearly from Canada to the Gulf, a mile or more wide at most points, bridges are relatively infrequent, and thus the people and the culture do seem to change from one side to the other.
Due to driver error, we ended up crossing the Mississippi 7 times while seeing the arch in St. Louis, so we attacked it for our eighth and hopefully final time this morning. There seemed to be no point in leaving early (the air was like a steam bath even at sunrise/6 AM); getting the whole family moving is a major effort, and a 7:30 start seemed a victory, especially with Annie raging for half an hour after sleeping all night on the floor. The bridge at Fort Madison was 11 miles away from Nauvoo. Cody and the girls met Will and I just before the entrance. It was two lanes, looked sixty years old, and had lanes 11 feet wide, with no shoulders or ped walkway.
Our plan was to have Cody drive behind us, blinkers flashing, while we tootled over. Those precautions weren't really necessary, as the speed limit on the bridge was 25 mph, but even better, the bridge was a sideways draw bridge, and it opened for a barge to pass just as we started out. We ended up waiting 15 minutes at the gate in the middle of the river, getting a full chance to to view the environs. (To explain about the bridge: it's a double decker, with two lanes for cars on top, and two sets of train tracks on the bottom. When it needs to open, the central portion swivels about its center, opening up two lanes in the river for traffic there.) The banks were far enough away to make it feel like home, Puget Sound. There was time to dream of "Life on the Mississippi, river pilots avoiding sand bars and islands, and contemplate just what might be different on the other side. What I was hoping for: friendly people, rolling hills, and corn as high as a Mastadon's eye.
Once in Fort Madison, we caught the backwash of RAGBRAI. As we took the obligatory state line sign picture, the man at the visitor center came out and gave us 15-20 minutes on his role in greeting the riders to their final destination. The ride goes from Missouri to Mississip, and the tradition is to dip rear tire in the western Miss. River, and front in the Eastern. Entering town, we passed by Riverside Park, where this ceremony had taken place yesterday. Riders were still milling around a day later, getting picked up, waiting for buses, etc. The town had taken old bikes, spray painted them primary colors, and hung them from street lamps along the route. In West Point, a 14 foot high "Mt. Ragbrai" had been built from old Swcinns and Treks, with a ladder in the rear so folks could climb and get their picture taken on top. The city fathers/mothers of Ft. Madison had planted a time capsule with XXV RAGBRAI memorabilia, intending to open it 25 years hence. Their stated goal: intice the RAGBRAI planners to bring it back to Ft. Madison in 2022. These Iowans dream big and long!
Every place we stopped people wanted to know if we were part of RAGBRAI, or going home from it. Local papers were full of stories and pictures. And minivans passed us, going east, carrying bikes on top or back. Almost made us wish we'd been there. But we had our own traveling circus to move about, and at least one more day of tropical weather.
As I left Fort Madison, I stopped at "Jack's", which turned out to be something like Target or Wal-Mart. Inside, I bought four thermometers, hoping to never be ignorant of the temperature again. It did me little good to know that, as I left the store at 9:45, it was 93 degrees. Luckily, it never did get any warmer during the day. But having the late start, and the delays in getting over the river and thru Ft. Madison, I dragged my way thru the day's 55 miles, arriving at camp by 1:15 PM exhausted and glad to quit.
I took the girls swimming in the lake at the Keosauqua St Park, and waited for the weather to break. It did, at 5:30, with a bang. A classic Midwest thunderstorm, winds whipping up, gully washer rains, and thunder rolling and bouncing, and slicing around lightening better than any fireworks show; temp drops by 12 degrees in 15 minutes, 20 degrees in an hour. It's great to step out at night and not feel like I've moved from the AC in the RV into (or out to) a steam bath. Here's hoping the 3 consecutive 80 mile days planned will be under cloudier, cooler skies.
Miles: Will, 55; Al (single) 55; Cheryl, 2.
Total Miles: 1560
**Next Day's Journal**