In April 2023, Mike is tracing the raft journey of Huckleberry Finn, using the effort to raise money for cancer research at Dana-Farber as a supplement to his regular Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) fundraising. Donations, large and small, are welcomed and can be made via this link.
Mike's route will take him from Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain's hometown) 900 miles through seven states, finishing in Vicksburg, MS. A 10-day trip down "Old Man River", taking in the sights and the history along the way.
"We blowed out a cylinder head" (on a steamboat)
"Good gracious! Anybody hurt?"
"No'm. Killed a n****r."
-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Welcome to Hannibal! -- Where the local time is: 1840! Hometown of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.
You can tell when the high water mark was for a city by when most of its "nice" buildings date from. For Hannibal, that's roughly 1840. 400 steamboats plied the Mississippi, making regular stops here. New Orleans was the 2nd largest port in the US and 4th largest in the world -- the entire rapidly growing output of the Midwest flowed South down the river and out to the world. Mark Twain's family moved to Hannibal in 1839 when he was 4 -- just in time for them to catch the crest of the wave.
Two things brought that to a halt: first, the rapid development of the railroad, and then the Civil War. After the war ended, trade and passenger traffic moved to rail and the riverboats largely disappeared.
The wonderful serendipity -- the Hannibal that Mark Twain grew up in still exists today. Downtown is one big museum -- here's the fence Tom Sawyer persuaded the neighborhood to whitewash for him. Here is the house that the boy Twain modeled Huckleberry Finn on grew up in -- right next door. Becky Thatcher's house across the street. Tom and Huck's world was closely modeled on Twain's own.
Missouri was a slave state, and like every respectable family in town, the Clemens family owned slaves -- the character Jim modeled on one of those. I appreciated how the museum made clear the historical context Twain grew up in and that the power of Huck Finn's travels with Jim are because of the taboos the story challenged. Attitudes like my opening quote, where the death of a black slave didn't count as anyone getting hurt. I couldn't help but note, though, that while the museum had annual photos of the locals who were chosen as "Tom and Becky for 19xx", Jim and Huck get no such treatment.
Today's ride through the very rural farm country between Hannibal and St. Louis felt like an extension of that "frozen in time". I saw things I hadn't seen in forever: paper maps sold in stores, spinning analog dials on gas pumps. It was good riding, but not much chance to interact with the locals. There will be more opportunities for that. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the support of my "Jim" -- my partner Sarah came out to share the first half of the ride and is serving as road crew -- saving me the effort of hauling gear. Thank you Sarah!