Shamrock Tour® - Hannibal, Missouri

Text: Wayne Peterson • Photography: John Kimpel

Designate a pivot point for the Midwest and it could surely be Hannibal, MO. Located on the Mississippi River north of St Louis, MO, and south of Quincy, IL, it's darn close to dead center. It's the bastion of Midwest "manners," a mix of Southern Baptist honesty and Midwest hospitality.

Home Port: Hannibal, Missouri

It doesn't take long to figure out who Missouri in general and Hannibal in particular have taken into their hearts: with the Mark Twain Café, Mark Twain Laundromat, Mark Twain Clinic, even a Pepsi machine with his picture on it, you begin to get the “Twain” of thought. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name of Mark Twain, spent his childhood in Hannibal, where he relocated from Florida, MO at the age of four.

People come from around the world to experience this old fashioned Americana, and I dare say that few, if any, are disappointed. There's the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, that famous white fence, a museum with 15 original Rockwell paintings, a river boat, Mark Twain Cave, Lovers' Leap (with a great view of Hannibal), and Riverview Park, north of town. A definite don't miss is Richard Garey's recreation, called Mark Twain Himself at Planters Theater on Main Street. Check for times at www.heritagestage.com.

Most locations are within walking distance, others a few miles out of town. The town is in a classic grid design so once we knew a few key locations, everything fell into place. We found a plentiful supply of motels and B&B's, also both Mom & Pop restaurants and fast food chains on Hwy 61. Regional specialties are fried chicken, fried catfish, biscuits and gravy, and of course, lip-smacking homemade pies.

Loop One: Southwest Missouri

Hannibal has the Mississippi on its east, Hwy's 72 on its north, and 61on the west. Hwy 79, also known as Great River Road (GRR) runs through the center of town. Our motley crew for this tour includes: John on his FXR Harley, Jim on his Honda Gold Wing, Norb, the new guy, on his Ultra Classic H-D, and me, on a 2009 Suzuki C50/Lehman Trike. As luck has it, this is one of the wettest springs in memory. The fields are under water, and we continually must swerve to miss large snapping turtles. We also find numerous possums and raccoons that forgot to look both ways, much to the delight of the buzzards constantly circling above.

Floodgates on the Mississippi are closed, as are roads through towns. We start on Hwy 79, famous for its winding path along the Mississippi. Just as we are getting into it, Old Mother Nature pulls a fast one: landslide! Soaked earth doesn't hold rock really well, so we are off 79 and onto a detour to Louisiana (the city, I hope). These side trips throw our mileage off, and at times we're just plain lost. Thank you, GPS (most of the time).

Time and distance have little relevance here. Rolling hills, sweeping corners, snaking though forested hills and small farms, at times we can see three or more hills disappearing into the distance. It's not hard to give ourselves up to this and become intoxicated with the road, but then reality steps in: speed limit 35! It takes up to two hours to go 50 miles! With the proliferation of towns and curves, a consistent speed is pure illusion. With washouts and detours, we're running late, and this is deer country. I already dodged one, and its only 3:30 p.m.

We plow on, cut speed, and pray for lazy deer. We roll through numerous towns. Small ones of 100-300 consisting of little homes, some older and needing a bit of TLC, mobile homes with wood cutouts of fat ladies bending over, a repair guy named Jim, a town dog on the road, calico cats sunning on porches, and a water tower. Medium ones of 500-1000, which have a tractor dealer, grain elevators, IGA, Handy Hank, and maybe a gas station with a mini mart. Most are neat and tidy with white clapboard homes and kids playing baseball. And then there are the big towns of 1500-3000, which have a town square, old four-story court house, statue of a confederate soldier, Ford dealership, ice-cream shop, super market, café called Jill's, a Main Street dominated by grand Victorian homes – one a funeral home. This is pure country, and there's something very comforting about that. Two things these small-medium towns don't have are restaurants and gas stations, which is how I end up buying lawn mower gas from a kind citizen. This Suzuki trike is a little gas hog, getting 30 mpg on a 4-gallon tank!

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2011 back issue.