Sikeston, MO to Jackson, MS
Day 5 March 22nd
It was grey and rainy when we checked out of our hotel (Days Inn). Temperature was a cool 54F (Yay). We took some roads (not on the bike route) down to New Madrid (MAdrid) past fields with standing water. Don’t know if they are rice or cotton or sorghum fields. There was stubble – but not corn and it looked as if it had been burned.
Mike has always wanted to come here because of its historic geologic importance. This is where the mid-continent earthquake occurred in 1811; a massive quake that reshaped the Mississippi River, creating Reelsfoot Lake, which we would drive past (it is on the bike route). First we needed to get to Dorena in order to take a ferry across the Mississippi and we couldn’t figure out a good route, without backtracking almost back to Sikeston. At a gas station, Mike started chatting with the guy pumping next to us, who sounded like Bill Clinton. Finally, Mike asked if he knew how to get to Dorena. He assured us he did and could give us better directions than others, that would be more direct. First he recited them (and I took notes) then Mike asked him to write them down, which he did. Very helpful chap. But like many people we met on our walk around the lake – they want to be helpful and they know their area, but they don’t always know the current conditions or possible changes that have occurred.
So this guy directed us to drive into town and out to the levee where there was a tourist viewing platform. Then we should drive up onto the levee (drove our Prius to the levee and the levee was wet - it was raining) and it would be gravel (it was). Take a right and go about 4 miles til we get to a spillway (which we never found) take another right onto a paved road to another levee and then left into Dorena. Unfortunately the first right paved road was closed to all, except local traffic. So we just kept on driving on the levee looking at our gps, which showed the road continuing on. We kept following it as it curved around more fields and came to other county roads which we took, blindly aiming for where we thought Dorena should be. This included Co. Rd 00 which ended at the edge of some farm fields. Good thing we didn’t have a timeline to meet.
Along the way we saw our first purple wisteria draped lushly over a lamp pole or something in front of a yard. These remind me of a cross between sweet pea flowers and lilacs. Truly a southern flower in my mind. Mike caught sight of a barred owl on the other side of the road with a freshly caught mouse in its talons. An eastern meadowlark flew off of a power line near us and coasted down to the other side of the road. Another first on the trip. Near one little pond a soggy looking immature bald eagle perched on a snag. It showed none of an adult’s regal haughtiness. At this same spot, four lesser yellowlegs (our first shorebirds) flapped across the road and landed in the wet field to our left. This should be a good trip for shorebirds, based on the time of year and habitat we’ll be in. The question is whether the odd weather has already pushed them further north.
We spent at least an extra hour wandering about until we finally found Dorena and our route to the ferry landing. It was abandoned looking and we scanned the river in front of us, hoping to see some sign of activity. A sign on a post told us the times of day that the ferry operated and there had been signs along the way saying it was open, but it sure looked deserted now. On the back side of the post there was a big red button to push to call for service. Mike pushed it and then looked up to see another sign that said ‘the call button is not working, please call…..” and a number that had been partially washed away in the rain. We had seen a tug type boat and what looked like a ferry across and further up the river, but it disappeared behind an island. Mike tried calling another number listed on the metallic sign, but got a recording about the times of service. Trying again, he finally reached a live human who said they would send a ferry for us and it would take about 20 minutes. Belatedly I read in the guidebook that the author had heard subsequently to his bike trip that the ferry wasn’t operating due to budget cuts. It wasn’t too bad being stuck there in a car, knowing we could drive away if need be, but if you had ridden all these back roads to reach the ferry and found it inoperable, it would be a very discouraging and long ride backtracking.
The same tug and ferry boat that had gone behind the island now began to cross the river towards us. It had started to rain lightly so I took refuge in the car while Mike took some video footage of it arriving. There is a fee (now) for the service. We couldn’t imagine how it could pay for itself however, since we were the only car going to the Kentucky side and it cost us $14. Pedestrians pay $1 (who would ever walk across here?) and bikes cost $2 @.
We stood on the deck of the ferry in the wind and mist and looked down at the chocolate milk colored water and the numerous logs bobbing up and down in front of and to the sides of the ferry.
Once we got off and back onto the road, we found ourselves in a very rural area and the first home we passed had the good ole’ Confederate flag flying at half mast. Welcome to the south.
Low lying fields on either side were either covered in dark green vegetation or standing water. A short ways on we encountered a small box turtle resting in the middle of our lane. “Stop” I said to Mike. I will never pass by a turtle in the road if it is at all possible to move them. Since this was a very quiet road, we backed up and I hopped out to move the little reptile. It saw me coming and immediately pulled its head inside its high domed shell, hissing for good measure. Then it closed the bottom plastron and sealed it self away from danger. Mike had hoped to get a photograph of its head, but had to settle for the brown and yellow marked shell. I carried it over to the side of the road it had been pointed at and hoped it would continue on into the safe looking shrubbery. On the other side of the road a small white dog on a line ran back and forth yapping loudly at we intruders.
Overhead our first black vulture cruised by. Not long after we came to Reelfoot Lake, with its forest of semi aquatic cypress trees. It was a moody scene of grey mist and rain over dark water and silent bass boats drifting across the surface. I love cypress trees. They are so different from what we are used to, with their deeply flanged trunks that disappear into the dark water and their moss draped upper branches.
Near the lake purple irises bloomed in people’s gardens. This is a highly desirable vacation home area and the state park is also a resort.
It was lunch time by now and in Tiptonville, TN Mike pulled into a Quick Stop kind of gas station and went in to find some grub. He came back out with a white bag and pulled out a foil wrapped sandwhich for me. On it was written ‘fried bologna and cheese’. I laughed outloud. This is sort of an inside joke related to our walk around Lake Superior where in Michigan I was inspired by a rural restaurant menu that offered bologna sandwich on white bread – a childhood staple. For the rest of the trip I often had just that. And when I saw this version I thought I could remember my mom actually frying thick bologna pieces too – or maybe that was SPAM. At any rate this meat and cheese sandwich on pure white, soft bread satisfied my hunger (as much as it may turn your stomach).
After passing Ridgely, the route took us past more levees and low fields. It one spot called Porter Gap, we dropped down into a low spot that had eroding hills completely covered in brown (last year’s) Kudzu, another icon of the south (for northerners). But the flowering trees continued to wow us with their multiple shades of pastel pink flowers.
The sky had begun to clear a bit and was completely sunny by 1:45, at which point we decided to make up for lost time in order to reach Jackson for the evening. Following the bike route had us averaging 40 mph and taking a lot of wrong turns.
It was 72F when we left Kentucky behind and entered Mississippi. Then it was onto I55 and high speed freeway driving. Like the last time I was on this route (1991) I was astounded by the amount of forest (seemingly spared of development) along the freeway. These were a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees. I'm not sure what I expected Mississippi to look like, but it wasn't this. We have always prided ourselves on our great north woods, but nearly the entire way down the state to Jackson we had these big, beautiful forests beside us. Maybe just beyond there are cleared to fields, but the trees form a solid green corridor along this highway. And even better, billboards are almost nonexistent.
Once in Jackson we started seeing bright pink, fully flowered azalea shrubs. So glorious. We have the northern version at our house and I dream of having them bloom as profusely as these southern beauties.