Iowa River Tour: Beside the Big Muddy

Iowa River Tour: Beside the Big Muddy
The Ojibwe people called it "Missi Sippi," Great River, and perhaps no other geographical feature has been traveled on, along, and written about more than this one. Samuel Clemens, using the pen name Mark Twain, turned the Mississippi River into a living entity, untamed, unforgiving, and yet harmoniously bound to the people and towns on its banks. Winding through many of these towns, you will find the Great River Road and other explorers drawn to the Big Muddy.

Now and then you get a chance to return to familiar countryside, and so it is for this tour  -  to visit the Mississippi River and ride a loop on the Great River Road through Iowa and Illinois with turning points in Dubuque and Keokuk, Iowa. This is memorable territory. I taught at Loras College in Dubuque for four years, and that employment gave me the opportunity to explore many a river road and taste some very good food while at it.

Although this tour focuses on a relatively small section of the river dividing Illinois and Iowa, the entire length of the Great River Road passes through ten states, on either side of the river for nearly 3,000 miles. This National Scenic Byway is the work of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, with its roots going back to 1938.

Plan for a 500-mile loop on this tour. However, no ride really ever begins from the official "starting point." From my home, near South Bend, Indiana, the ride is four days, nearly 1,100 miles. It also includes an unexpected encounter with a "Pavement Ends" sign where the road abruptly turns from great pavement to gravel. I was doing about 60 mph. More about that later.