Cycling the Mississippi


The Mississippi River is probably most famous for being the setting of some of Mark Twain’s most famous books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Born on the banks of the river, the writer spent much of his life there and even got his pen name from a term used the boats that travelled up and down the river. As many writers or painters or musicians have done over the centuries, Mark Twain immortalised the river and gave the world a timeless portrait of what that world was like in the 19th century.

I admit that it was probably reading Mark Twain that made me want to visit the river in person and being the avid cyclist that I am I wanted to do it from my saddle. The river starts in Minnesota and goes all the way through America and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans which was founded on the delta of the Mississippi. The location of the city as the gateway to the Mississippi and subsequently the Great Plains is what allowed the city to thrive.

While it definitely takes more than a week or two to pedal one’s way down the river—and therefore can’t usually be completely by someone when on holiday from their job—it’s good to know that there is a well-marked cycling path the whole length of the river, so whatever portion you decide to cycle down you won’t have any problems.

With my interest in Mark Twain my first trip started in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. The town itself has capitalised on its famous son and offered much for the Twain-lover to see, but was rather a small town. On my journey I saw Saint Louis—gateway to the West, as it was and sometimes still is, called—and then continued along Missouri’s eastern border all the way down to Memphis, Tennessee, the birthplace of Elvis and by extension, according to many rock’n’roll.

That was one of the best cycling trips I’ve ever taken for the simple reason that I was able to see the culture of a region at the heart of America. Although I didn’t get to see all of the river, it was well worth it and I hope in the future I’ll be able to return to do the rest of the river, bit by bit.