day 13: bowling green, ky – frankfort, ky

departed: 10.15, temp, 28c

we knew this would be a much shorter driving day, so we lounged for a bit in our nice clean room before setting off.  then we immediately lost an hour when we crossed back into the eastern time zone just outside of bowling green.  we headed off on the wh natcher parkway, which we had expected to be similar to the natchez trace parkway, but which was really an interstate in disguise.  so we quickly exited to find smaller byways.  much better.  the backroads climbed over rolling hills capped with fields of soy beans and corn stubble, dipped into forested hollows bright with autumn colours, and twisted along winding riverbeds glinting in the sunlight.  it was a beautiful day to be out exploring this countryside.  county road 84 was particularly scenic, and it passes by abraham lincoln’s birthplace and boyhood home – there are dozens of historical plaques marking places touched by the future president.

eventually we made our way to the little town of loretto, home of the maker’s mark distillery.  we took the hour long tour, learned about what makes bourbon different from other whisky (corn, water, location), and what makes maker’s mark different from many other bourbons (wheat instead of rye).  in the tasting room we sampled four of their products:  maker’s white, maker’s mark, maker’s 46, maker’s mark private select.  we bought a bottle of the maker’s 46, which irene was able to hand dip to create the signature red wax seal.

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from loretto we carried on along country lanes until we stumbled upon the springhill winery in bloomfield.  we stopped in to sample a few of their products, and bought their bourbon bordeaux, a blended red wine aged in charred bourbon barrels.

it was getting late, so we hopped onto the ml collins blue grass parkway (which again is not a parkway), merged to highway 60 into frankfort, the state capitol of kentucky (who knew?).  we had booked another best western hotel in advance, this one recommended by friends who visited this area earlier in the summer (wink to andrea and craig – thanks for the tip!).  after checking in, we headed into the historic downtown to find capital cellars (andrea and craig – thanks again!), a wine and spirits store with a tasting bar and menu of small plates.  wish we could have places like this in ontario!  we ordered a bourbon tasting flight, which allowed us to select five different pours from their extensive menu.  we tried: ezra b 12 year old single barrel (99 proof, ezra brooks distilling, bardstown/st louis); willet pot still single barrel (94 proof, willet distillery, bardstown, ky); michter’s small batch (91.4 proof, michter’s, louisville, ky); jefferson’s reserve very small batch (90.2 proof, kentucky artisan distillery, crestwood, ky); wathen’s single barrel (94 proof, old medley distillery, bardstown, ky).  (note to craig:  no, we did not spring the $85 for a shot of the extra special pappy’s!)  we made a dinner of their charcuterie and cheese sampling platter with a tray of mixed olives.  we chatted with staff and patrons (including the mayor) about whisky, music, and travel; and finally,exhausted with sensory overload, we called it a night.


arrived: 17.45, high temp: 32c, traveled: 359km

day 12: new orleans, la – bowling green, ky

departed: 07.35, temp: 26c

we decided that this would be a serious driving day, racing via interstate routes to get to kentucky.  not that we didn’t want to spend time wandering through eastern mississippi and alabama, but we had planned for a couple of days of bourbon sampling before heading home.  so we were up and on the road early.  but two things to do before we hit the interstates. first, we walked back down to the café du monde for the real nola experience of beignets and café au lait.  they were so much better than the ones the day before – and there’s no queue at 06.30!  second, we took a small detour to satisfy my need to drive across lake pontchartrain over the 24 mile causeway bridge.  it was beautiful to see the sun coming up over the lake with new orleans in the far distance.


interstate highways are designed to cut the straightest, flattest routes across the country.  they are extremely convenient for getting quickly from a to b, but this comes at a price.  their grey asphalt ribbons and bland chain-throttled exit loops reduce the country to a sameness that belies the vast diversity of life taking place just beyond the tree-lined curtain.  so it was only with the appearance of each welcome centre that we knew we were crossing from one state into the next.  at some point, the I12 morphed into the I59.

any hope we had of escaping the heat as we headed northward were dashed when we stepped out of the car as we stopped for gas in tuscaloosa, alabama.  it was at least as hot there, though slightly less humid.  we bypassed birmingham, and carried on along I65 into tennessee.  the sameness faded a bit as the landscape changed: the road had a few more hills and corners.  i needed a break from the boredom, so we sidetracked on to a wonderul rolling county road to find the tenn south distillery in lynnville, tn.  we sampled their excellent clayton james whisky, and their high end shine.


we backtracked to the I65, and managed to get to nashville just in time to get stuck in rush hour traffic.  intially we had intended to stay a night in the country music capital, but hotel rooms downtown were impossible to find (there’s a fire convention in town) and there was no show on at the grand ole opry that night, so we decided to save nashville for another trip.  we pushed on north, eventually pulling into the outskirts of bowling green, kentucky (home of the national corvette museum – no, we didn’t visit).  it was already dark, and our hotel was on the brightly lit strip of an exit ramp.  we had a decent but unremarkable dinner at one of the chains that line the strip, and a remarkably decent room at the best western (it was splinter new, as the dutch would say).

arrived: 18.50, high temp: 33c, traveled: 1036km

day 11: new orleans, la

day 11:  new orleans

our one and only car-free day!  and irene’s birthday!  we had the luxury of sleeping in a bit, enjoying the comforts of our charming room at the hotel provincial, then headed out for breakfast at the café du monde – along with every other tourist in town.  the queue was way too long, so we had inferior beignets and coffee elsewhere.  we walked up to the tourist centre on basin street and joined a guided walking tour of st louis cemetary #1.  it has an interesting history, which you can read about here and here.  we saw the grave of the voodoo priestess marie laveau (whose eponymous shop we visited the previous evening), and the tomb where peter fonda sat dropping lsd in easy rider.  our tour guide noted that marie laveau’s grave is the second most visited gravesite in america, right after…  elvis presley’s.  so we’ve seen the top two on this trip!  and after easy rider was released, the archdiocese, which had not viewed the movie in advance, put a ban on all filming in the cemetery (except for educational productions).  even tourists cannot take videos, only photos.

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it was an extremely hot and humid day, unusual for this time of year even in new orleans.  we continued walking, popping into shops and lobbies periodically for a blast of air conditioning and a sip of water.  the warehouse district is full of interesting shops and new boutique hotels, and the wine institute of new orleans (w.i.n.o.) which unfortunately didn’t open until later in the day.  back into the french quarter, we stopped for lunch at pere antoine (not the same as antoine’s restaurant, birthplace of oysters rockefeller, and setting for the novel dinner at antoine’s by frances parkinson keyes, whose house was across the street from our hotel). people here are hugely friendly, and we happily chatted with shopkeepers, locals and tourists throughout the day.

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this town, as you might expect, is really big on halloween, and some residents get right into the spirit…


we headed back to the hotel for a break from the heat and to enjoy another cocktail in the excellent ice house bar; this time, obituary cocktail for me (essentially a gin martini spiked with absinthe), and a sublime bloody mary for irene.  for her birthday dinner, we had a table in the magical courtyard of the court of two sisters.  overhead, twisting vines hundreds of years old twinkle with fairy lights, and huge suspended fans provide a bit of relief from the evening heat.  we tried blackened alligator and had a caesar salad made table-side.  irene had the crawfish napoleon; i had louisiana catfish.  we finished off with bananas foster, a local dessert creation.  we needed some music to digest the meal, and found a great new orleans jazz group playing at the maison bourbon, “dedicated to the preservation of jazz”.  we stayed for a set, then danced our way back to the hotel.  our room looked out onto an inner courtyard with a swimming pool.


high temp: 33c, traveled: 0km in the car, but lots by foot!

day 10: st francisville, la – new orleans, la

departure: 07.48, temp: 22c

it was a foggy morning in northern louisiana as we made our way down the 61 towards baton rouge.  there are dozens of little churches dotted along the roadside, a few towns strewn with small low bungalows.  through the town of scotlandville, the road signs call the 61 the “scenic highway”, seemingly without irony, in what had to be the least scenic part of the grr so far.  down the roads through mississippi and louisiana, you’d be hard pressed to know that a federal election is in full swing.  where roadside election signs were ubiquitous is minnesota and wisconsin, and even through iowa and illinois, they are conspicuously absent in this part of the south.  in the north, local radio call-in shows were election-fueled; in the deep south, barely a mention.  i’m not sure where the change happened – i suspect somewhere in the fields beyond our I50 shortcut through missouri and arkansas – but it is striking.

highway 61’s line of used car lots, side by side with even more repair shops, eventually gave way to new car dealers (lexus, porsche, land rover, jaguar), so we knew we were nearing baton rouge, and there must be some money in that city.  there is a busy port and several huge petrochemical refineries.  as the road bypassed downtown, and the endless string of strip malls and billboards (“villa rosa: your favorite tailgate wine!”) became quite depressing, we opted to escape the 61 for the slower crawl along the river on the last day of our southern route.  we encountered no signs anywhere in louisiana marking the grr, though we were following an acknowledged route.

on highway 70, we crossed the mississippi on the sunshine bridge (named for the “singing governor” jimmie davis’s most famous song, “you are my sunshine”) which provided a stunning view of a vast oil refining complex along the river.  we then switched to highway 18, which meanders along the riverside at the base of the levee, so that while you are aware of the river’s presence you’re unable to actually see it.  this section of the grr is billed as plantation alley:  it’s actually an odd patchwork of new wealth (oil refineries and chemical plants) interspersed with old wealth (sugar cane fields and plantations).  oil pipelines run from the river, are suspended over the roadway, then run buried directly underneath the small towns, cane fields, and grazing cattle.  the juxtaposition is disconcerting.

we stopped to visit the oak alley plantation, named for the 300 year old trees lining the approach from the river to the main house; these trees are expected to live for 300 more years, refineries and nuclear power plants permitting.  the tour of the antebellum house was supplemented with a sort of open air museum with reconstructed slave cabins containing descriptions of their living and working conditions, and a small exhibition with a video providing details on sugar cane refining.  it was an interesting, if thoroughly sanitized, picture of plantation life.

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we continued widing along the levee’s base, past our first above-ground cemetary (sitting right out front the gates to a refinery), then on to the I310 bridge back over the river, zipping across the I10 into the centre of new orleans, to find the hotel and park.  this is a downtown for walking: narrow one-way streets choked with pedestrians and potholes that could swallow my car are effective driving deterrents .  we checked in to the beautiful hotel provincial on the eastern edge of the french quarter (wink to donna: thanks for the recommendation!), showered, headed out to explore the city.  we headed first to the edge of the river, at what will be our terminus of the grr, then wandered the vieux carré, getting our bearings and scouting potential dinner venues.

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the city was heaving with tourists and football fans.  the saints had just won a home game, and fans were thronging the bars and restaurants.  we escaped the madness and returned for happy hour at our excellent hotel bar (new orleans signature cocktails today:  sazarac for me, and hurricane for irene – made from scratch, not with the sticky pre-mix stuff found in most bourbon street establishments).  our first night on the town consisted of dinner at the royal house oyster bar (crawfish étouffée for irene, blackened shrimp with jambalaya for me), and listening to the cacaphony of music emanating from the bars and colliding with the music from the street performers.  we listened to a phenomenal female duo on guitar and violin, and managed to get seats in the crowded fritzel’s european jazz club for a couple of sets with the house band featuring mike fulton and john royen, then popping into marie laveau’s house of voodoo for a quick peek on our stroll across bourbon street back to the hotel.

arrived: 13.40, high temp: 30c, traveled: 226km

no, we’re not lost in the bayou…

just a quick note to let you all know that we arrived in new orleans on sunday.  we’ve had to pack so much fun into our brief time here that i haven’t had a chance yet to write up our adventures.  for now, i’ll just say that we’ve had a great two nights in the big easy, getting our fill of beignets and jambalaya, spooks and sazaracs.  today we jump on interstates and head north east, hopefully getting all the way into kentucky.  i’ll write more tonight.

day 9: clarksdale, ms – st francisville, la

departure: 08.50, temp: 16c

first, fyi, i edited the entry for day 8, as i hadn’t really done justice to the day in my haste to get on the road yesterday morning – so if you’ve already read that one, go back and read it again.

now on with day 9…

clarksdale in the light of a bright morning is a completely different place than it was in the grey dismal rain when we arrived.  initially i had regretted the decision to leave memphis for this unknown entity.  but over the course of the evening, as we settled into the town and got a feel for what was going on, we were comfortable exploring the various music venues and finding our blues feet.  the downtown core is small, with signs dotted everywhere signalling the vast array of blues legends originating in this small corner of the world, including sam cooke, john lee hooker,muddy waters, and ike turner.

there were not a lot of places open for breakfast, but we found a fabulous spot called the blues berry café.  do visit, but don’t be in a hurry.  a few of the tables were already occupied, and everyone nodded greeting as we entered.  there were several scattered round tables with chairs, and some booths with ancient padded seating and formica and chrome tabletops.  a small stage was already set up – there’s live music on weekend mornings – and a tall thin elderly guy was trying to make coffee and singing, mostly to himself.  we settled in a booth.  a regular customer at the next table chatted with us a bit and brought us menus while the other fellow continued his perplexed engagement with the coffee maker. we sat for a few minutes before he finally came over to offer us some coffee.  the cook, a guy with a long grey pony tail, came and sat in the booth with us to take our order (his daughter, the waitress, was still sleeping off the night before).  i ordered the triple stack pancakes.  he said: they’re as big as hubcaps, you’ll never eat all that, i’ll bring you just one.  irene had the spanish omelet and biscuits.  as we waited for the food, we chatted with other customers: a guy from upstate michigan who spends winters in the town; two blokes from scotland; a couple from kitchener who changed travel plans to be at the weekend festival; a guy from elsewhere in mississippi who asked me about the canadian health care system – in all, an eclectic group who had found their way to this unlikely music mecca.  the coffee guy is a musician of some renown (“watermelon slim”, the couple from kitchener had seen him at a festival a couple of years ago; he has played all over north america and across europe), yet seemed so content fidgeting with coffee filters and engaging with locals and visitors.  we ate up, and waved our farewells to our new acquaintances with promises to return some day.  we had intended next to visit the delta blues museum.  the cook had explained that there are two museums:  the delta blues one presents a sanitized but accessible history of the blues in the region; the rock and blues museum is the private collection of a dutch music fan who relocated his treasures to clarksdale and made the unique holdings accessible to all.  in the end, we skipped both museums in favour of checking out all the landmarks, reading the historic signs of the blues trail in the city, and taking photos of the venues we’d visited the previous evening.  then we filled the tank, checked the oil, and slid out onto the blues highway to continue our southward journey.

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it is a long, straight, flat drive south from clarkdale across the delta to vicksburg.  the cotton fields had mostly been harvested and the land had been tilled so that it looked covered in brown corduroy.  the only sign of the crop that had been cleared was the continuous seam of cotton blown like a little snowdrift against the short grass on the shoulder of the highway.  i wanted to stop and pick a couple of branches of the downy cotton from an unharvested field, but could not carry out the theft.  i did pick up a bit of the drift cotton from the road’s margin.  all along the flat unremarkable landscape, my mind wandered into the small clapboard churches and roadside shacks that dotted the way.  this area is poor, materially poor, but holds cultural abundance.

we passed though several small towns, by-passed the larger centre of vicksburg, and at port gibson, switched from highway 61 to the natchez trace parkway.  the parkway is maintained by the national parks service (like the blue ridge parkway), and preserves the route that had historically been used by travellers moving from the southern mississippi region northeast to nashville and the ohio river valley.  the landscape changed dramatically from the delta; the parkway is forested, shaded, with gentle hills and markers for sites of interest.  we cruised along, with a brief stop at the emerald mound historic site, and rolled into downtown natchez, mississippi.

in a study of contrasts, natchez is the polar opposite to clarksdale.  it was the home of plantation owners: all big antebellum estates, wrought iron railings, and ornate architecture.  the city was heaving on this particular saturday: the mississippi balloon festival was on, there were people everywhere, and few parking spaces.  and it was hot – 30c and humid.  we drove around the downtown core and eventually found a parking space.  we walked down to the river for a few photos, but the crowds and the heat made me cranky, and i just wanted to move on.  i had expected to like natchez more – it had been our original intention to spend the night there, but by the time we were trying to book there was not a place to be had – and in the end i was happy to get out quickly.  after clarksdale, the affluence of natchez was oppressive.  it’s hard to reconcile that these places co-exist in the same state.  nearly every building in natchez boasts a sign that it is listed in the national register of historic properties.  in spite of the abundance of talent that eminated from it, clarksdale’s multitude of historic sites hold few such markers.  for me, given the opportunity to spend a weekend in one of the two cities, i’d choose clarksdale every time.  we made a quick stop for ice cream at a local malt shop on our way out of town (what is the difference between a malt and a shake?  we ordered one of each and it was hard to tell) and carried on for another hour south to st francisville.  we had booked a hotel in advance – on a saturday night, the options were already limited with the best places sold out (how were we to know that when LSU plays a football game, every hotel room in a 50 mile radius of baton rouge sells out) and landed at the hotel francis, which was not nearly as attractive as advertised.  the room was not an improvement on the one we had in clarksdale: dated and dingy, and only slightly less dirty.  oh, and no wifi in the room, only in the lobby.  but we did have a surprisingly decent meal and good local brew at the francis southern table and bar.  then back to the room for another night in the sleeping bags, clorox wipes across all surfaces, and no shower in the morning.  thank god we have a great place booked in new orleans tomorrow night…

arrived: 17.00, high temp: 30c, traveled: 475km

day 8: memphis, tn – clarksdale, ms

departure 08.25, temp: 16c

i woke early to the sound of a thunderstorm.  with the torrential downpour, we were unable to make use of the guitar-shaped pool at memory lane, and we had to revise our plan for the day.  though we were next to graceland, we put off that visit to the afternoon, hoping that the rain would let up, and instead headed back into the city to find some breakfast.  we stumbled serendipitously on the arcade restaurant, an authentic old-style diner (which has been used as many a movie set), and had carb-laden and calorific plates of eggs, biscuits with gravy, hashbrowns, grits, and bacon.


fortified, and with the rain slowed to a drizzle, we crossed the short distance to the national civil rights museum (wink to tamara: thanks for the tip to visit here). it is located in the lorraine motel, the site where dr martin luther king jr was assassinated.  the museum has exhibits covering 400 years of black history in america, with a large focus on the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s.  there was also a temporary exhibition, “purchased lives”, documenting the slave trade at the end of the civil war.  it is an incredibly moving and powerful museum.  my knowledge of american history is not great, and these exhibits provided an accessible window and a context for some of the present social justice issues in this country.


we took a few minutes to decompress, and then made the leap, physically and mentally, from one king to another.

graceland was a surprise.  the tour itself, and the commercial hype around the site was a bit much, but the house itself was not the kind of ostentatious tacky i had been expecting, and the ipad tour (narrated by john stamos) with photos, audio clips of elvis, and commentary from both priscilla and lisa marie, was really well done.  our favourite room was the blue and yellow media room, with the multiple tvs, projection screen, record collection, and padded vinyl wet bar.  the jungle room was a close second.  the rain had stopped, and we were herded through the grounds and back onto the shuttle to the “add on” areas featuring elvis’s car collection and archives of his estate.  i have a different appreciation for the king after this experience.

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unfortunately we didn’t have more time in memphis.  it’s somewhere i will come back to.  i want to explore the city’s history, check out sun studio and stax records.  this is the cradle of american music, and still has a lot to offer.

from graceland we picked up highway 61 again and made the short drive south to our next destination, clarksdale, mississippi.  there are no real views of the river along this stretch.  initially, near tunica, a long strip of casinos, and then miles and miles of cotton fields.  it is harvest season, and some of the fields are vast blankets of soft while boll, while others are bare and lined with huge white bales wrapped in bright yellow plastic.

clarksdale is a small city at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49, and is the heartland of the delta blues.  we came to find barbeque and juke joints, and were not disappointed on either front.  there are dozens of festivals throughout the year, and we happened to coincide with the deep blues festival.  venues around town were hosting local and visiting musicians.  we had a beer at levon’s bar and grill, and moved on to abe’s bbq (serving up bbq since 1924) for amazing bbq pork with beans and slaw, and hot tamales.  i need to learn how to make sauce like that.  we headed back into the downtown in search of festival venues for the evening.  we checked out jesse “cotton” stone at the delta blues alley cafe, then wandered back to levon’s for blue mother tupelo and another beer.  we headed back to the cafe for a few songs from local blues group the essentials, and ended the night at ground zero blues club (owned by morgan freeman).

between levons and the delta blues alley cafe, we met up with don, an australian traveling with five mates on an epic american journey of their own.  we share a passion for road trips, blues music, and adventure.  we may encounter them again as we’re all heading down towards new orleans in the coming days.

our room at america’s best value inn and suites was, well, let’s just say icky.  don’t stay here.  (the aussie guys were stuck here too.)  we would give it a negative star rating.  glad we brought our own sleeping bags and towels, along with the clorox towels to wipe all the surfaces.  i can manage dated and dingy, but not dirty as well.  so if you plan a trip to clarksdale, and i strongly encourage that you do, make sure to book a hotel early if you’re in town during a festival.  decent accommodations are limited.

arrived: 16:10, high temp: 22c, traveled: 159km

day 7: quincy, il – memphis, tn

departure: 08.14, temp: 5c

it was a cool but bright start to the day in quincy.  we crossed the bridge back into missouri and took highway 61 south for the short jaunt to hannibal, home of mark twain.  everything in the historic part of hannibal, and i mean everything, is dedicated to the cult of twain.


as it was too early in the day for a beer, we climbed the 244 steps up the bluff to the historic mark twain lighthouse for a view down over the mississippi.


most of the shops were not yet open, and we had the town pretty much to ourselves at that hour of the day.  we picked up coffee in the oldest coffee shop west of the mississippi and walked the main street (mostly antiques and trinket shops, all with names referring to characters in the twain books), then crossed over the two sets of rail tracks to the river’s edge.  the town seems to not make the best use of its waterfront.  there is a picnic area on a patch of grass but it’s wedged between the sets of tracks, a small harbour for a few boats, a garden with few benches, and the dock for the steamboat that takes tourists for short rides on the river.

it was time to beeline for memphis.  as the guidebooks indicate that there are few views of the river from the great river road along this stretch, we carried on down the 61 and connected with the Interstate 55.

let me interrupt here with a word about traveling through the heartland of america at this particular point in time.  there are two things that have dotted the road our whole way down thus far:  election signs and roadkill.  so far, trump signs far outnumber clinton ones.  but we are more amazed at the number of positions up for election at other levels:  senators and governors, commissioners, sheriffs, treasurers and administrators – the list seems endless.  and then there are propositions and amendments covering a diverse range of issues.  ballots must be as long as my arm.  we have seen disappointing little wildlife to date.  well, little that has been live.  but roadkill aplenty.  in the north, raccoons, porcupines, skunk, and as we headed south, possums, wild turkeys, foxes, even something that looked like an armadillo, and lots of deer.  along the I55 in missouri, there must be a deer hit every 5 minutes.  the road was actually littered with them.  radio insurance ads specifically offer coverage for deer collisions.  thankfully, as most deer are bigger than our car, we made it through without incident.

the I55 sped us straight down through missouri and arkansas, to the I40 across the river into tennessee and downtown memphis.  we arrived in the city in the late afternoon, just in time to see the march of the ducks at the peabody hotel.  the lobby was packed for the daily parade.  we ordered cocktails in the bar and secured seats a bit of a distance from the fountain.  it’s a short show – when the ducks are ready to go, they really go.

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we had a great chat with a couple of well-traveled ladies from montana and washington, finished our cocktails (dirty martini for me, mint julep for irene) and headed over to the neon strip that is beale street.  this is the musical heart of memphis – at least for the tourists – with dozens of clubs offering an array of live music.  we had dinner at the blues city cafe (ribs and catfish) and went in search of music.  we caught a bit of a show by a tribute band (mostly johnny cash and buddy holly), picked up some cds of stax records artists, and landed for the rest of the evening in the rum city cafe blues hall juke joint listening to the memphis blues masters featuring queen ann hines (you can find videos of them on youtube).

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we finally called it a night and headed out to find our hotel, the memory lane inn and suites near graceland.  it was a surprisingly good room – a huge space, clean and recently refurbished.  i was asleep before i hit the pillow.

arrived (hotel): 23.00, high temp: 18c, traveled: 692km

day 6: la crosse, wi – quincy, il

departure: 07.40, temp: 11c

i was up at 05.30, did yoga for 45 minutes and wrote the post for yesterday.  we grabbed a quick free breakfast (not good coffee) at the hotel, stopped for a photo of the world’s largest six-pack, and for a better coffee on the highway out of town.


south of la crosse, the grr carried on much as it had the previous afternoon: as a narrow ledge shared with a rail track, wedged between steep treed bluffs and the meandering river, passing through little towns and unincorporated clusters that somehow survive in this precarious margin. (why, in a town like ferryville, “a place for all seasons!”, is the biggest shop the cheapo depot which sells the hazardous combination of beer, booze and fireworks?)

at prairie du chien, we crossed the river – and a state border – into iowa at mcgregor.  just north of here is the effigy mounds national monument, an historic site that preserves native american burial grounds.  we checked out the visitor centre, and learned that the shortest hiking route to see the mounds takes about an hour.  we were starting the climb up the bluff when it started raining.  as we were not exactly prepared for a hike, and even less prepared for a hike in the rain, we decided to forego this adventure and jumped back in the car.  a light rain continued on and off for most of the day.  we carried on the grr south, with the road leaving the rivers edge to climb the iowa bluffs and roll through undulating fields of,  you guessed it, corn.  (those of you who were privy to my journey to the west coast a couple of years ago know how i feel about iowa and corn fields.  at least in this part of the state the fields are not completely flat.)  as the monotony of corn fields is not lost on the locals (at least those with a sense of humour), someone has erected a series of signs along the side of the road which collectively read: “this is not a clever verse, we tried and tried, it just got worse. our iowa.”


we passed through guttenberg, luxembourg, into and out of dubuque, and on to cross the river further again at sabula, a town situated on an island in the middle of the river which, at this point, is a stunning four miles wide.  we entered our third state of the day, illinois, over the bridge at savana where we stopped for gas and stocked up on a few supplies at the local supermarket.


as we have planned to be in memphis by thurs, we decided we had to push on a little more quickly for a while, so at fulton we crossed the river yet again to clinton, back in iowa, and picked up highway 61, bypassing the quad cities (davenport, moline, bettendorf and rock island) and zipping through muscatine and burlington to keokuk.  the sun finally broke through the cloud cover and, having made good time on this stretch, you guessed it, we crossed the river again to illinois and followed the road down to the river’s edge and across a flood plain flat as the netherlands with nothing but corn fields.  it was kind of eerie.


we arrived at our destination for the day, quincy, and found a room at the newly renovated quincy inn and suites, and dinner at kelly’s, a popular local irish restaurant/pub (yummy pot roast stew, best gravy ever).

arrived: 18.15, high temp: 12c, traveled: 692km

day 5: grand rapids, mm – la crosse, wi

departure: 07.42, temp: 11c

finally, our first day following the great river road (grr)!  we were up before the sun, grabbed an early breakfast back at the forest view restaurant, and headed south on highway 169, leaving behind the distinct smell of wood chips from the paper mill.  on the outskirts of grand rapids, across from the strip of big box shops, was a little white house with several signs marking it as the local attraction: judy garland’s birthplace.


as it was early, we didn’t get to visit, but i’m sure it has a trove of memorabilia.  the drive south towards the twin cities is mostly unremarkable.  it passes through dozens of very small towns, with populations in the hundreds.


we passed through the mis-named hill city (it is neither:  population 633, but it has two liquor stores! ), aitken, brainerd (where we lost some time searching for the badly signposted paul bunyan land), st cloud, and into minneapolis.  we had to make a stop at the mini dealership (wink to janice: stop laughing!) to replace a headlight bulb – big thanks to the good people at mini motowerks for getting us sorted so quickly.  but we then had to navigate through the city.  we found our way on to part of the grr that runs through a lovely neighbourhood of big old houses; there is a bike path and walking trails all along the edge overlooking the mississippi.  it looks a bit like the river parkways in ottawa.  a bit of stressful navigating when we missed a turn, but finally we were across the river, heading south on the east side on highway 10, crossing the st croix river into wisconsin at prescott.  we had a short stop at the visitor centre where we picked up a handy map of the entire grr route and took a few photos of the river.  the route follows highway 35 south, first past a purina dog food factory (close the windows!), then through rolling fields of corn, then into high bluffs, and swampy shoreline.  again, many small towns, a few with some sort of claim to fame (pepin: birthplace of laura ingles wilder, author of little house on the prairie).  at alma, we saw our first proper mississippi river boat – it was pulling into the lock station, so we were able to get some good photos as it slowly drifted past.


it was dark by the time we pulled into our destination for the evening at la cross, wisconsin.  we had dinner in the lounge of the rather upscale piggy’s restaurant, with a glass of local beer: spotted cow lager from new glarus brewing. in the pitch dark, unable to see any no-tell motels in the glare of the strip of cheap chain hotels, we landed at the days inn for the night.

arrived: 19.15, high temp: 24c, traveled: 672km