July 29, 2005 – Friday – Day 34

48 States or Bust – The USA on Two Wheels
Miles Today: 206 – Total Miles: 8623– Average: 253.6 (travel days)
11AM-4PM (5hrs)
(-staying at an EconoLodge) MO (33/48)

If anyone asks you how far it is from one side of the top of Missouri to the other, you can tell them it’s just about exactly 200 miles! And that’s what we covered under sunny skies today. It was mixed road surface so in parts we had to slow down, but basically it was farm fields of corn and some wheat, warm winds in our face, and pockets of trees beside the road. Also, rolling hills for a change instead of pancake flat land. Karen noted that more than half the sky was covered with swirling clouds.

We had begun late because we had to pick up another camera battery and charger at the local Wal-Mart, but it was basically a good ride. And then we had a race to get to the 4pm riverboat ride which was the last of the day out of Hannibal.

Hannibal, Missouri. The name conjures up for me the days of Mark Twain and the slow-paced days of life on the river. I had bicycled through here in 1985 in the midst of my New Orleans to Canada – All Mississippi bicycle ride. (1642 Miles – 31 Days – Jun 24 to Jul 26) It was a great ride and as a far as I know, I’m still the only one to have crossed the country both ways (west to east, and south to north) solo!! Anyway, one of the highlights of that ride was my campsite right by the river. Here are my notes about it from my 1985 journal:

As I wrote this particular journal entry it was a really special and wonderful moment. I was sitting right smack dab on a bank of the Mississippi. It was not more than ten feet in front of me. My tent site wasn’t more than 100-yards in back of this picnic table I’m writing upon. A huge barge was just floating by. A long train whistled past to the left about 300-yards away. It was just before dusk and there was a cooling wind to the east blowing my way.

The river looked so serene here. An occasional bottle would float by, but otherwise it looked clean and gentle. I was seated with cameras at the ready and binoculars set. The green of the banks and the green/blue/gray of the ripples combined with the millions of birdcalls to create an idyllic peaceful setting.

The barges moved so slowly and smoothly down the river. They were like hour hands… they hardly seemed to move at all, but then you noticed, after looking away, how time tricked you. And movement was there after all. But like southern drawls, and the ways of many southern folks, the barges were purposeful, & intent, and forever moving forward.

The odd duck horn of the tugs as they nudged their cargo downstream was delightful and it was easy to see how Samuel Clemens – or anyone – could fall in love with the Mississippi. The snake-like barge cargo seemed to stretch for miles in front of the barge pushers. And what a slow inexorable push it was! I got a wave from a riverboat captain and it felt like a real treat! It was about 8PM, and the light was dimming on the riverfront. To the sounds of the river, the train, and the birds, I fell fast asleep in the cozy tent.

As I wrote, we raced to the 4pm riverboat ride. I didn’t think we’d make it really, but arrived JUST in the nick of time to get tickets and board. We got there at 3:55pm! As with most touristy places, one has to go the gift shop area first, but then we boarded for the hour-long trip up and down the river near Hannibal. The PA system had a cheesy soundtrack of history and jokes and tall tales that occasionally punctuated the peacefulness of the ride. One could see many of the younger folks quite bored with the ride. After all, there were no loud fireworks, fast animation, or gored up battle scenes. It was a slow and purposeful trip. Occasionally the loud full horn of the ship would blast and there was a short rendition from the big calliope on the top deck. It was warm and sunny and we both enjoyed the ride – and the comparison between it and the willy-nilly racing of the motorcycle rides that we’ve daily been taking for more than the last month.

Soon it was over and we climbed back on shore, to the Shadow, and having gotten caught up in the mellowness of the river, and the steamboat ride, and the sunny day, we made the decision (even though we were only at 200 miles) to stay in Hannibal for the night. We found a reasonable EconoLodge and scored one of the nicest rooms of the trip – a huge spacious new room to boot.

After a little nap we got on the motorcycle (sans gear other than helmet) and took some back roads into the main part of town. We noticed to our dismay that even on this Friday evening, all the tourist shops and little stores had closed up early – before 8pm even.

We went to the Mark Twain Dinette (the enormous mug proclaiming its name as signpost) and had a delicious reasonably priced meal, that included home made root beer in a somewhat frosted mug.

From a town brochure:

Hannibal is a picturesque town situated on the banks of the Mississippi River approximately 80 miles north of St. Louis off of US Highway 61. Best known as the boyhood home of the American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), who is better known as Mark Twain, the emphasis on this fact is evident throughout the town. Many attraction and businesses focus on a relationship to Twain or two of his better known novels of life along the Mississippi – Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Attractions in this genre include the Mark Twain Boyhood Home And Museum, the Becky Thatcher House, and Grant’s Drug Store where Twain once lived.

Hannibal does have a significant history besides its connection to Mark Twain and his imagination. Hannibal was founded in 1819 and chartered as a city in 1845. The first railroad to cross the state of Missouri was the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. The first locomotive manufactured west of the Mississippi, a 34 ton engine called the General Grant, and the first railway mail car for sorting mail en route were made in the town’s railroad shops.

After the meal we walked around the corner to see some of the old buildings – Becky Thatcher’s house, Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and the Tom Sawyer fence of fame. We headed back after the walk through the cool air of dusk – we were determined to get a good night’s sleep and an early start tomorrow.

Author: Joel Perlish

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