The “strong brown god”

“The Mississippi River: more than a river or a waterway, but a river system that extends from the Rockies to the Appalachians. The Mississippi gathers up the other rivers like foundlings, and this area of drainage covers nearly half of the United States, approximately 1,250,000 square miles. Great rivers like the Missouri and the Ohio, minor ones like the Illinois and Arkansas, and rivers you never heard of like the Rock and the Black and the Chippewa — they all flow into the Mississippi, the greatest river, either directly or indirectly, and the big river lovingly takes her charges down to the sea. Thirty-one states and two Canadian provinces she drains, discharging into the oceans more water than any other river but two — the Amazon and the Congo. From Wyoming to West Virginia, Montana to North Dakota to North Carolina, the rivers of the midsection of the country flow into the Mississippi and belong to her.”
Eddy L. Harris, Mississippi Solo, 1988

ST. FRANCISVILLE, La. — The poet T.S. Eliot, who was born in St. Louis on the Mississippi, called the river “a strong brown god — sullen, untamed and untractable.”
Here at St. Francisville, where we crossed the “brown god” Wednesday on our eastbound bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., the Mississippi has gathered the waters from all her foundling rivers and flows full bore to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, completing her 2,340-mile odyssey from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota across the continental United States.

Crossing the Mississippi

Fellow rider John Vandevelde talks to a curious ferry passenger as we cross the Mississippi. That's my bike in the foreground

We crossed the big river by ferry near the end of a 50.77-mile ride from Simmesport, La., to St. Francisville. Just northeast of Simmesport, the Red River joins the Mississippi and forms the Atchafalaya River. We crossed the Atchafalaya at the start of our ride out of Simmesport on a high, narrow bridge and then rode on country roads along the levees in the bottomland between the two rivers.
Atchafalaya RiverThe terrain reminded me of the bottomland between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in St. Charles County, Mo., just across the Mississippi from my hometown, Alton, Ill.
At Simmesport on Tuesday night, we camped at the Yellow Bayou Memorial Park in Avoyelles Parish, where Confederate soldiers built a still-visible earthen fortification to defend against Union forces under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks at the Battle of Yellow Bayou on May 18, 1864.
welcome to st. francisvilleThe park had working toilets, but no showers. So we had to hike a half-mile down busy Louisiana 1 to use the showers at Maddie’s Truck Plaza. In another gesture of Southern hospitality, the owner of the truck plaza and an adjacent casino allowed three cross-country cyclists, with whom we’ve been crossing paths since New Mexico, to sleep inside a disused truckers’ lounge at the back of the property.
St. Francisville mapWednesday’s ride was relatively free of aggressive dogs. But on Tuesday, as we rode through bayou country from Washington to Simmesport, they seemed to bound out from every yard, intent on getting a piece of an ankle or bicycle pannier. Two riders have souvenir bite marks in their rear panniers, apparently the work of the same demented dog.
My strategy is to let the dogs approach and then turn on them with a mighty growl. The roaring noise, coming from a human on a bicycle, usually confuses the dogs and slows them down a step or two, allowing me to accelerate out of harm’s way. But if the growl doesn’t work, I have a cannister of pepper spray at hand. And I’m not afraid to use it.



Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys

8 responses to “The “strong brown god”

  1. Dealing with dogs.. I live in Mississippi and I guess have gotten used to cycling around dogs. This always works for me. I take my water bottle and when the dog is near I squirt a stream of water just a bit in front if it.. .it also confuses the dog and stops it. I know water is valuable, but if the growl doesn’t work and you have time, you might want to try it.

  2. Dad,

    I’ve never heard you growl at a dog before, but it cracks me up every time you bark at squirrels during bike rides. Ride safely.


  3. Ben

    Another milestone reached!! Well, Thomas already made a comment about the squirrel barking. I guess that it really works. Love, Ben

  4. Cynthia

    As a beginning biker, I have only met with the dogs in my neighborhood. They usually don’t want a piece of me but seem to be intent on notifying me of their presence. At any rate, I was advised to carry a bit of lemon juice to squirt at them with a water gun. Seems the juice may burn their eyes a little but otherwise is harmless. However, I have not had the need to use it at this point. I wonder if the neighbors would mind if I use their dogs as a guinea pigs? Hmmm.

  5. Pingback: Another journey ends « Jim’s Bike Blog

  6. Pingback: Adding to the lore of the Big River « Jim’s Bike Blog

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