I dragged myself out of Madison 8:06 AM, Central Time, and it was overcast. I shouldn’t have gone to IHOP just before midnight, the pancakes were weighing me down and I felt sluggish so I didn’t feel like eating. I just drove and worried about eating later. I had NFL talk on so I heard about Chad Ochocinco’s arrest for head-butting his wife, who had apparently found a receipt for condoms. I switched over to a local radio station that was broadcasting the Men’s gold medal basketball game between the USA and Spain. I only half-listened as I was passing through some cool places in western Wisconsin. Sparta claims to be the -Bicycling Capital of America and Bangor is a beautiful and scenic town. Western Wisconsin literally has the smoothest roads.

I got excited and the anticipation was building as I approached the mighty Mississippi River at the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. I crossed the river and into Minnesota. It felt good, I felt like I had accomplished something significant. I pulled over in Minnesota to figured out the best route to St. Louis. It turned out that back into Wisconsin and south along the Mississippi was the best way, so I only spent about ten minutes in Minnesota.

Since I was excited for the Minnesota playlist I put it on even though I was on my way back into Wisconsin. Bob Dylan enlightened me by noting that –When something’s not right, it’s wrong – as I acquainted myself with the great river while driving along the bluffs on the Wisconsin side. If you have a decent sound system it’s like you can hear his fingers on every guitar pick in Buckets of Rain.

After a while I noticed that the bluffs on the Minnesota side looked at me longingly. I looked back, over the Mississippi, apologetically and said –I’m sorry, I only had eleven minutes, for you, I’m listening to your music – Prince, Bob Dylan, and The Replacements. With that, things between us were settled and squared, the resentment subsided, and everything was right again.

You have to trust your instincts on the road. I though it would be cool to lunch along the Mississippi, and hopefully have a view of it while I did. After I whipped past The Great River View Restaurant I had the feeling I should turn around. It was like my mind was telling my body to –stop and go back, but my body resisted and drove on. That place was probably nice but when I saw The Dawghouse I knew that that is where I had to stop. I got a Chicago-style hot dog. I ate out back looking at the Mississippi, and made a complete mess of myself, and the table. I went to snap a few pics, and as I walked to get a good angle I noticed the woman come out to clean up after me. I did the best I could with the napkins I had, but there’s so much stuff on a Chicago dog that it was impossible. I got in my car and she waved and said thank you. I waved back, and things were right again, so I rolled on.

I crossed the Mississippi again into Iowa. I would cross again later in Missouri. Iowa was a lovely drive. I filled up at a gas station where you pump then pay. I drove through the second biggest city, Cedar Rapids, and it wasn’t very big. It’s mostly cornfields. I drove Iowa from top to bottom and I’d say it was the best-looking state overall. There was a stretch in the Coulee Valley of Wisconsin that was really spectacular. That is probably the nicest short stretch. I saw lots of hawks in Iowa watching over the cornfields. I liked that because I like big birds. I drove most of the Avenue of the Saints. I finally saw the sun when it peeked through the passenger side windows at 5:30 in Missouri.

As the evening set in I became restless in America’s Heartland. I was on my way to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and I needed to see it before sunset. I was near Hannibal, Missouri. It was then that I realized – this would be a race against the sun. With 114 miles to St. Louis, no riverboat gambler, dead or alive, would be crazy enough to bet on me. Suddenly, a surge of energy electrified my body, so I slammed the gas. I zipped and I zoomed while I kept an eye on the sun in the mirror. I was soaring like a hawk over the cornfields, but no matter how fast I went the sun inched closer to the horizon. It was going to be close.

I was going too fast, but I didn’t care, and nobody else seemed to mind. I hadn’t seen a cop for three states, and even if I did I would have wrote the ticket myself. It was Sunday, so people in the Heartland were with Jesus, and those who weren’t yielded to me in a wave of fear. As the cornfields wept and children in backseats peeked then quickly hid their faces, I charged mercilessly towards St. Louis.

I grunted and I growled as the sun continued to fall from the sky. I crossed the Missouri River with such a fury that the flow was reversed, and the highway on the other side opened to ten lanes when it heard the thunder of my Chevy, but there was nothing I could do to slow the sun.

I stormed St. Louis with little time left. I thought -Have I flown down the Avenue of the Saints only to barely miss the last light of the sun. Then I saw it, the Gateway Arch that sits on the bank of the Mississippi River. The race started in the hometown of Missouri’s most famous citizen, Mark Twain, and now it was over. I had won, a ray of sunlight lit part the southern leg. I was driving but I wanted to stand under it and bask in the glory, so I veered off the highway.

I pulled up, jumped out, and ran for the steps. At the top I stood under the arch and the sun still hadn’t set, but was hiding it’s cowardly face behind the St. Louis skyline. I was breathless from running up the steps, but, in that moment, I felt like the dusty bones of Mark Twain were kneeling before me. I sat down to rest and looked out onto the Mississippi River. I learned to live a little harder today. It was the greatest drive of my life. I cut through the Heartland and tore out its guts.

Today’s index:

Miles driven today: 614

Miles total: 1,769

States today: 4

States total: 14

Tolls paid today: 0

Cups of coffee today: 2

Cups of coffee total: 9

More billboards for fireworks superstores or adult superstores in the Heartland: tie

Anti-abortion signs sitting proudly among the cornfields in Iowa: 9

Miles driven before buying Sour Patch Kids: 1363

Miles driven after that before I ate some: 386

Money spent on lottery tickets to even out gas purchase: $2

Winnings: $1

# of times I got the creeps in St. Louis: More than I can count

# of White Castle Burgers in a #1: 4

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The Mississippi from Minnesota

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