The Great River (Of Sadness) Rode

“Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
-Annie Dillard

I was told recently that home will draw a person like a magnet, I believe that’s true, especially after these last few days.

I am on my way home now. I feel the adventure changing into something else. I’m not sure what, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.


I’m not sure if it is a magnet that’s drawing me home or grief that’s chasing me there. Over the last few of days I have pondered that often. I left my family in St. Louis on May 5th, and had a whirlwind ride to Hannibal, Missouri where I enjoyed the Mark Twain museum and the various historic buildings they have preserved in his honor. Norman Rockwell had a part in Mark Twain’s celebrity when he did the illustrations for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, so I got to see the art of two my favorite people in Hannibal. Norman and Mark both hold special places in my heart.


The day before I left for Hannibal was May The Fourth, an important day in every nerds life. I remember learning about the day from my best friend back in high school. She is a fellow Nerd,  who believed the sun revolved around Yoda, and set on Han Solo. Actually I’m not entirely sure that’s true (Amanda, were you in love with Han Solo too?)

I was witness to my young cousins finding out about the holiday for the first time. I was also witness to them playing badminton for the first time just the day before, when a friend of their’s showed up with two sets of rackets and a couple of shuttlecocks, which I, instead, called birdies. After their homework was done on May 4th we went outside and played another game of badminton. My cousins are nine and ten, very bright and very athletic. They enjoy sports like basketbal, and baseball; you know, all the games that involve running and hand eye coordination, two things I try to avoid doing at the same time. As I have come to learn in my short life, little boys have a lot of excess energy to run off. My cousins are constantly inviting me to join them in running or playing off this energy, which I have to refuse inorder to avoid those two aforementioned things, as well as any unwanted embarrassment that would undoubtedly befall me. I do not want to risk losing the title of ‘cool’ that has been silently bestowed upon me by my ownership of Little Wing, my abecedarian knowledge of engines, and my handiwork with  a pen and a paintbrush. Badminton though, that’s a different story. Give me a racket and a feathered bouncing ball any day. I can make those two things work, and if I can’t I will at least have fun trying.

The boys and I had a blast, and we were joined by their dad — my uncle — which only added to the fun. He was full of good tips on how to play better because he actually gets sports, and so he was able to direct all us whipper snappers on how to up our game.

After Badminton we had a wonderful dinner of Kuku Wa Kupaka, which is the Swahili way of saying coconut chicken. My aunt is originally from Zanzibar and so she knows these things. She has a head full of wonderful recipes and words, both of which the boys and I got a sample of that evening.

Later on that evening I found out that while I was out playing badminton with my cousins, my other aunt was back in South Dakota holding my Grandpa’s hand as he passed away. May The Fourth now holds a totally different meaning for me.


I planned to leave on May 5th before I had even found out about Grandpa Norm. After finding out I was uncertain of what to do, so I just carried on with the already formed plans. My GPS had broken in St. Louis on the day I had went to see the free art museum. This is the third or fourth time I have had a broken Garmin on my hands, and my plan was just to live with it. How lost could I get on the way back to Minnesota? When I repeated those words to my aunt and uncle they decided that I should get a new one. They looked into deals and found one at the local mall. They decided that before I took off on May 5th they would get it for me. So on May 5th my aunt had Little Wing and I follow her and her van to the mall so she could treat me to a GPS. The mall opened at 10:00 am, and so did the electronics store we were going to, purportedly. In all actuality, it didn’t.

My aunt and I walked around the mall for an hour before the electronics store finally turned on its lights and opened its gate. We had purchased refreshments while we waited — Aunt Brenda a hot chocolate and me a hot tea —  and talked a bit. When the store opened up we were pleased to find that they still had the GPS they had posted online. I wasn’t pleased, however, to find it wouldn’t fit the mount that was already superglued to Little Wing’s windshield. Serendipty, the Universe, or maybe just the electronics store had our back though, because they had a used Garmin in their box of old GPS’ along with thecheap offbrandwe were looking for. It was a newer Garmin than I already had, and it would fit the standard Garmin mount Little Wing already held tight.

My aunt was kind enough to buy it for me, and I was ever so grateful. It would turn out that that gratitude would extend for the next few days as I got lost and got unlost by way of the GPS. I bid her ado with a big hug and Little Wing and I were off, on our way back home, by way off Hannibal Missouri.


I traveled The Great River Road, my head filled with twirling, convoluted, warring emotions. Grandpa Norm weighed heavily on my mind, as he has sinvce I learned thay he was dying in February. During my ride back to Minnesota I felt frustrated and uncertain, as though there wasn’t an answer in the universe that would suffice. My mind felt stable enough to be capped of with a helmet and brought along as a passenger for the ride on Little Wing, but I may have been wrong. Every bug that found its end spattered mercilessly on my visor warranted a gutteral utterance of curse words. The frustration was neatly buried beneath my wide eyes that were being filled with the surrounding  beauty,  but it wasn’t buried deep enough. I thought if I just rode faster through the views of blooming wildflowers, and buding trees, if I just looked at the river more and observed the flying spring birds that the frustration would cease, but it didn’t. I would find that the frustration was misdiagnosed sadness, and I was treating it wrong.

That day, after seeing Hannibal, I decided to ride another 140 miles to a campsite. It was 5:00 pm, I had time before the sunset. I had found a free campsite online and chose that as my destination. A long ride through varied country back roads and stretches of interstate wound me up at the place I wnated to be, with no campsite in sight. The ride had been a complicated ride chosen by my new GPS, apparently it was the fastest route, but it was akso the most confusing. It took me way East to bring me back West. It was a caused a bit of extra frustration too. The air was filled with fog, and though it didn’t rain I could see the road was damp from where it had earlier. The road where the “campsite” was supposed to be was a nice paved driveway. A driveway built at a steep incline leading to a very fancy house. I got halfway up and saw that it was not going to take me to a place to pitch my tent so I tried to turn around. The road was wet, I was on a steep incline trying to push around a a three hundred-some pound bike, so, inevitably, I dropped it. Little Wing proved a pain in the back to get righted again, but I did it. A few sore muscles later, a stop at McDonald’s to ask for directions and order dinner, and a few miles later and I was back on the road, destined for a new campsite. It was dark now. I had a place in mind that the McDonald’s employees had told me about. I entered it into my new GPS, and I was on my way.

My muscles ached from riding and picking up Little Wing on that incline. My mind ached from a long day of long thoughts. I wanted to go to sleep. It was dark, as I said, and when my GPS told me to turn I turned on the first road I saw. I realized right away it was wrong. The center of the road was old, broken up, pavement humped up in the center. Bordering it on both sides was mud and gravel, but it was lower than the pavement so when I decided to turn around it meant I had to get off the pavement. As tired as I was, and as dark as it was with trees on either side blocking the light, I shouldn’t have tried to turn around, but I wasn’t sure what was at the other end of the sketchy road so I trued anyway. Once again, Little Wing bit the dust.

I stood over the bike, utterly exhausted. The emotions were raw by this point and my body wanted to collapse. I resorted to swearing — loudly. I pushed on Little Wing to get him up, but the bike was caught on the rut on one side of the pavement. He was in a ditch of wet dirt and as such did not feel like moving, and my body did not feel like moving him. I felt the tears well up as I strained my arms and legs over and over again, trying to push him up. I took off all the gear and tossed it off to the side. I took a drink of water, I thought rationally. I looked through the trees and saw, for the first time, the lights of a home at the end of the road I was on. I questioned myself, should I have just rode up the road and turned around? I tamped those thoughts down before they brought back the tears and I straightened myself up to go ask for help. I walked up the uneven road, and over the hill,  to a big house. I saw most of the lights were on. I climbed up the porch steps. The first thing I noticed were the pallets of plants packaged and new, as though from a greenhouse. The next thing I saw were the rows of cheap beer can lined up beside the plants. A quick scan of the premises revealed more disposed cans. The Red Toyota truck in the parking spot, with its shiny front grill, seemed to turn menacing as I tried to avoid counting the cans. I looked into the house and saw that it was gutted. More cans were scattered on the floor inside, and I questioned what I was going to do next, but I did it anyway.

Knock, knock, knock. No answer.

I looked around again, “they can’t be bad people,” I thought, “look at all those plants.”

Knock. Knock. Knock. I rapped more firmly this time. I heard noises, like someone moving quickly inside the house. I felt my stomach tie in knots. I reconsidered the thought about the plants, but instead of turning tail I said, very loudly, “He-llow?” No response. I heard more muffled shuffling. Idecides it was timeto turn tail.

I turned around and practically ran back to Little Wing.

I got back to Little Wing, heart practically jumping out of my mouth.  Thump. Thump. Thump. I gave it my all and pushed Little Wing up in one fell swoop. I started packing my belonging back on the bike. I heard the door from the top of the hill bang shut and I heard a low voice say something loud in the yard. Words that sounded triumphant filled the silent space and echoched around in my helmet as I shoved it on my head. I wasn’t sure why that male-like voice sounded so pleased, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. Jacket unzipped, gloves in pocket, I started Little Wing and took off as fast as I dared on the uneven patch of refuse that served as a road.

The campsite turned out to be only a quarter of a mile down on the opposite side of tge road. The address I typed into my new GPS must have been inaccurate. I found a good campsite that belonged to the Corp Of Engineers and payed the ten dollars to stay that night. The camp hosts were lovely people. The man, his name was Frances, even stood by, holding the flashlight, as I set up my tent. It was almost 10:30 pm when I settled into my sleeping bag, and my tired body fell asleep immediately. My mind must of continued with out my body though because it woke me up twice before morning. Once a t 1:45 am and once at 5:00 am.

I woke up in the morning knowing I was going back to Minnesota. My spirits were high, and only heightened when I recalled what I had been told the night before about the free shower that the campsite offered. Ten dollars and a free shower? That is one of the better deals I have found.


I took The Great River Road back to Minnesota.

Turns out Highway 61 is only The Great River Road sometimes. Other wise it is just a great road that’s ten or more miles away from the river, and sometimes it’s not even a Great road it is just a road, and sometimes it’s a dumb freeway, so that is something new I now know.

The Great River Road I took brought me through Wisconsin. I started in Illinois, got on 61 in Iowa, and took an exit onto Hwy 35 which runs along the Mississippi and then up along the St Croix. It took me a lot longer than I wanted to get back to  my home state, but I did it. I got here yesterday, and the ride back was gorgeous.

Home seemed to call to me. It was a ride through rains one of the way and I rode the last hour and half soaked because I hadn’t stopped to put on my rain gear when the rain had started. I knew I had my friend Judy waiting for me though, along with a warm bed, hot meal, and nice shower. I also knew I was close enough to home to be considered home free.

I’m back in Minnesota. Little Wing is back in Minnesota. It was a long ride through 23 different states. I have come back to Minnesota with a head full of knowledge, wonder and awe. I have a head filled with questions about the universe but I also have some answers. It feels like another reality though because I don’t have my Grandpa.

I will be back to me home HOME soon, which means another adventure, which is just really a continuation of the one I have been on. It is all life,  really.

Today it was raining so Judy and I traveled around this area, which is just North of Minneapolis, in her car. We went to a sculpture park, a beautiful area store filled with gorgeous jewlery, and we had the best Pulled Pork sandwich I could ever dream of. We have also shared great conversation which is helping to answer some of the long awaited questions I have held.



Home, it is beckoning. For what reason I’m not sure. I sobbed for the first time in years on May The Fourth, and I have heard that sound sorround me in my helmet on The Great River Road. The tears are waiting in the wings and like to make random appearances regardless of the cues from my brain. The joy is also here though. I feel the pull of the magnet as it Little Wing crawls along, and all I can think is “Northern Minnesota.”

Today I smelt the swampy smell of home. The spring rain of Minnesota carrying with it the smell of peat, leaf buds, and damp pollen. I have been a few places in the last few months, and I have not smelt the smell once. My nose has caught wiffs of scents that were similar, but I’m not sure anything truly  compares to spring in the swampland of Minnesota.

Little Wing and I are back in Minnesota.. for now.