Archives for July 2014

FOLLOWING THE MISSISSIPPI: Celebrating The Nation’s Birthday In America’s Hometown


Spending The 4th With Tom & Huck

Spending The 4th With Tom & Huck

Tonight, after three longs days of driving, I’m spending my second consecutive night in Hannibal, Missouri, having merely traveled the two miles to town and back today. Taking the day off to bask in history and walk in the footsteps of—in my opinion—America’s greatest writer feels luxurious after my whirlwind trek from Lake Itasca.



Map Of The Web Like Cavern Passages...No Wonder A Young Twain Got Lost!

Map Of The Web Like Cavern Passages…No Wonder A Young Twain Got Lost!

As I write these words I’m basking in a warm, orange glow: my first ever act of blogging by firelight. I’m camped just a few hundred yards from the cavern where Samuel Clemens got lost as a child, an incident that he would recreate as central plot point in his breakthrough novel: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Blogging by a campfire may seem like an odd juxtaposition of the elemental and artificial, but it feels rather romantic. I’d like to think Mark Twain would approve.


Arriving In Hannibal

Arriving In Hannibal

I’d arrived in Hannibal late in the afternoon on the Fourth of July after spending the previous night in Iowa, too rushed to relax as my idealistic visions of cooking dinner on a scenic bluff gave way to hurriedly pitching my tent while daylight faded as I munched on veggies and lunch meat. I knew I’d have the entire next day to explore Hannibal, though, so that afternoon allowed myself to relax before heading into town for the fireworks.

Relaxing In Hannibal On The Fourth

Relaxing At My Lovely Campsite After Dinner

I’d been worried that [Read more…]



La Crosse, Wisconsin

La Crosse, Wisconsin

My drive through rural Wisconsin was bookended by La Crosse and Prairie du Chien, two towns that were nice enough but not as intriguing as those of southern Minnesota. I crossed into Iowa at Marquette, which was nothing more than a couple of motels and a casino with a giant buffet (per the billboard) tucked beneath a steep bluff, but just a couple of miles to the south McGregor turned out to be a comely one street town ending in a T-intersection at a large stone church.


Crossing Into Iowa

Crossing Into Iowa

This picturesque and abrupt termination made McGregor memorable, but there wasn’t a coffee shop or cafe to distract passers through. This trend would hold throughout much of Iowa. The towns were neat and pleasant, but they were quite chaste compared to those of slutty Minnesota, trying to seduce naïve strangers with its lurid craft boutiques and frilly cafes.

In fact, McGregor was so indifferent to outsiders that this crucial intersection—the only one in town—didn’t bother embellishing route numbers with anything as gaudy as hints about what town…state park…local attraction…or NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY… may be found by following a particular route. Your choices were 76 or County X56. Locals would know.

Abrupt Ending In McGregor

Abrupt Ending In McGregor

I figured the county route was too obscure to be The Great River Road, so I turned right and soon came to an even more confusing intersection in the middle of nowhere that correlated poorly withthe tattered road atlas from [Read more…]

FOLLOWING THE MISSISSIPPI: A Cluster of Culture (Southern Minnesota)


2014-07-03 11.07.23I’d gone to bed a bundle of nerves from pushing too far the day before, but woke feeling refreshed and excited. As an added bonus, I was surprised to discover by daylight that Red Wing was a lovely red brick town filled with towering churches, historically preserved storefronts, and converted warehouses, all nestled beneath a scenic bluff with a park on top providing a panoramic view of it all. I’d visited Allentown once expecting industrial ruin per the Billy Joel song and was shocked to find a bustling, refurbished downtown district. Similarly, the Dylan song had prepared me for Dickensian bleakness, yet Red Wing turned out to be one of the most charming small towns I visited.

2014-07-03 11.00.35I wandered the streets soaking in the sunshine and hometown vibe for a while—my favorite pastime when visiting a new place—before being lured into a bakery and coffee shop prominently featuring a banner proclaiming it had been voted Minnesota’s best. It had a comfy, rustic vibe and the long display case was packed so full of delectable confections that I instantly knew the low carb diet I’d clung to so stubbornly was about to take the morning off.

As I stared lustily at the menagerie of decadence, I asked the girl behind the counter to steer me to the best option, desperate to get the most bang for my buck with my nutritional sin, but she assured me everything was good. Well, that really narrowed things down!

2014-07-03 11.00.25Normally I steer clear of donuts, considering them the cotton candy of pastry. Krispy Kremes in particular dissolve on the tongue before I’m fully aware of what I’m tasting, yet shortly after that millisecond of indulgence my blood sugar spikes and I ache for bed like suffering a bad flu. These hearty round pastries, however, held a greater promise, and I asked about the day’s special— [Read more…]

FOLLOWING THE MISSISSIPPI: Recreational River (Central Minnesota & Western Wisconsin)


2014-07-02 16.52.20

Little Falls

The shores of the Mississippi River straightened out south of Brainerd, and as I approached a string of pleasant small towns hugging its banks I realized I wasn’t going to reach Iowa before dark—not even close. As the sun dipped towards the western horizon I felt the stress of my own expectations; tomorrow would mark a full week in Minnesota, the first of ten states bordering the river. I’d built some flexibility into my trip but not enough to spend two months meandering back to New Orleans!

Bucolic Riverfront Park In Little Falls

Bucolic Riverfront Park In Little Falls

Despite my stress, I wanted to see as much as humanly possible so around 4 o’clock pulled into the small waterfront park at Little Falls—the next significant small town after Brainerd—to stretch my legs and snap a few pictures of the dam built upon its namesake. It seems ever town in Minnesota maintains such a pastoral park curled up against the river, and in the glistening later afternoon sunlight teens idly lounged about on summer break while cubicle bound professionals paused on their way home for a moment in the sun. Unfortunately, I didn’t have long to linger, wanting to get as close to the border as possible before nightfall.

2014-07-02 16.48.31I only made it an hour and two towns closer, however, (skipping industrial St. Cloud) before stopping again. Mike and Kelly Chase, friends from my Krewe of Rocckus adventure that kicked off this blog, had invited me to [Read more…]

FOLLOWING THE MISSISSIPPI: A Winding Wilderness Waterway


2014-07-01 12.35.04The town of Bemidji lies about 20 miles northeast of the Mississippi’s source and boasts dual claims to fame: first town on the Mississippi River and birthplace of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (and I’m not sure they realize the latter aren’t actual historical figures!) During its initial wilderness leg the modest Mississippi balloons into three of Minnesota’s largest lakes in quick succession like a python that swallowed the Three Little Pigs. Bemidji, a surprisingly robust college hockey town (home of The U of M-Bemidji), hugs the first of these lakes that dominate the Mississippi’s initial northern arc and is the only one developed beyond small fishing camp and boat resorts.

2014-07-01 17.39.39Upon entering town, it’s near-mandatory to stop by the welcome center and allow the giant statues of Paul & Babe to photo bomb you by the lake. Just around the corner, though, is a nearly completed lakefront arena of grand scale and design that promises to draw legends and giants of a different ilk. Whereas the lakefront is the main draw, there’s a string of alluring coffee shops and cafes mixed amongst the souvenir shops running perpendicular from the waterfront like a spoke. Venture a little further and you run into a cheerily cluttered antique mall perfect for visiting packrats and a small operational wool mill that sells the socks and gloves it produces next door along with an assortment of heavy wool clothing from other manufacturers to help you through the frigid northern winters.

The River Flowing Into Lake Bemidji

The River Flowing Into Lake Bemidji

The primary reason visitors travel this far north, though, is for [Read more…]



"I crush you with my fingers, great river!"

“I crush you with my fingers, great river!”

Identifying a river seems to be an obvious endeavor, but choosing which trickle of rainwater is the true source can be as tricky as determining which grain of sand begins a beach. Thus, it wasn’t until 1832 that the source of the Mighty Mississippi was established when a local Native American led Henry Schoolcraft—a geologist and U.S. diplomat on an Indian peacekeeping mission who decided to take a side trip after failing to find the source with previous expeditions—to the portage flowing from a lake that Schoolcraft named Itasca. As with any such claim, controversy quickly ensued and other ambitious explorers tried to refute his claim.

2014-06-30 16.33.15Modern scientists even question whether the northern branch of the great confluence should be considered the ‘true river,’ for the Missouri River, branching to the west, dwarfs the length of the entire recognized Mississippi while the Ohio River—branching to the east—contributes by far the greatest volume of water. Yet while debate may continue in scientific communities, Schoolcraft triumphed with historians, mapmakers, and vacationers seeking to stride the humble origins of the nation’s greatest river.


2014-06-30 17.06.07Schoolcraft created the name Itasca by combining the Latin words veritas (true) and caput (head), though he might as well have called it Lake Disappointment! Early writers and naturalists, eager to witness the birth of the Mighty Mississippi, decried this marshy, log and debris jammed outlet as an unworthy beginning for the nation’s legendary artery.

Rendering of Veritas Caput As It Was

Rendering of Veritas Caput As It Was

Although the modern aesthetic would tend towards preseveration, depression era work corpsmen decided to [Read more…]



Moosing Around In Duluth

Moosing Around In Duluth

While visiting my sister, Kelli Sarrett Moors, over Christmas I raved so much about the curry pickles she and my mother canned last summer she sent me home with a jar. I later raved on Facebook about how I put them on a sandwich and enjoyed it so much that I forgot to add meat. Alas, they are sweet pickles and full of sugar, so when I embarked on My Low Carb Lent I pushed the half-finished jar to the back of the refrigerator. As I emptied out my apartment, however, I couldn’t bear to leave behind the best pickles ever.

Between maintaining my diet—which I’ve eased up on a bit per design—and cleaning out my fridge, I left New Orleans with two coolers full of food. Last Thursday as I transferred this mass of groceries into Jesse’s refrigerator, he and Amy were stunned. When I pulled out the half-finished jar of pickles, though, it was too much. “That’s just ridiculous!” Jesse declared, shaking his head.

One Of Duluth's Lights

One Of Duluth’s Lights

Two days later as we headed north to Duluth, a frigid college/tourist/mining town perched on a hillside on the southeastern tip of Lake Superior, I realized in a huff that I’d left my wallet in Jesse’s basement. Later, as we pitched our tents along the shore of the lake, Jesse and Amy again marveled as I pulled out elastic jewelry string and began to repair my tent poles whose innards had dry rotted. Then, when Jesse realized we’d forgot trash bags I declared, “We can just use my [Read more…]