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Book Review: Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail

The Only Guidebook for the Mississippi River Trail

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Cover - Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail
When cyclists think of crossing the country on bike, perhaps one of the major east-west touring routes comes to mind first. However, it would be a big mistake to overlook the Mississippi River trail, a marked bike route that follows the historic river on its 2,000 mile course from Itasca State Park, where the river's headwaters are found in northern Minnesota all the way down to where the Mississipi enters the Gulf of Mexico at the southernmost point in Louisiana. To help guide fellow travelers on their own version of this epic trip, author and cyclist Bob Robinson has compiled the Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail.

A Wonderful Guide and Companion

When you think about the right kind of traveling companion, it's somebody who knows when to offer and opinion and suggestions, and when it's best to be quiet and just let you figure it out on your own. With this book, author Bob Robinson provides just this type of help. The Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail takes you along the designated route of the Mississippi River Trail, turn by turn, with route directions and maps, plus information on bike shops and other services that you need to get you along the way. That's truly the specific facts and information that you need.

However, Robinson offers terrific additional narrative in each section of the guide book, including information on points of interest and the history of the area. These aren't the directives that one often finds in guidebooks, the types of commands that one feels that they must obey to get the "authentic" experience. Rather, Robinson's snippets and suggestions about local color to check out allow a person to pursue side treasures, to explore and learn and discover, and to make the trip one's own. And that's exactly the type of thing that often leads to the magic of a bike tour: encountering an unexpected view or monument or person, the memory of which will stay with you long after the trip.

Related article: Bike Tour Packing List

Organization of the Book

MRT map mississippi river trail
Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail is laid out in linear fashion, rolling through the ten states the route follows along the Mississippi River in a north to south progression. Beginning at the Minnesota headwaters, the trail (and Robinson's book) traverses in order:
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
While not broken down into specific suggestions of daily ride segments (a smart recognition of the differences between touring cyclists and their desired daily mileage and agenda), each segment is generally between 60-100 miles. With a listing of distances, services and attractions in that segment, contains all the information neededed for a cyclist to create their own itinerary using that and adjacent segments.

In addition to the helpful narrative that contains a general overview of the area, plus a look at most prominent attractions and features, Robinson includes a very helpful array of specific data on each section, including mileage for that segment for both north-south travel and vice-versa; information on traffic volume and shoulder width, plus specific direction on services and sites of interest.

Related article: Bike Tours of Battlefields and Historic Sites

Challenges in a Guidebook

Of course, one of the main challenges inherent in a guidebook like this is in keeping it current. Gas stations, restaurants, bike shops, camp grounds and motels can all close or change names over time. New ones open. Sometimes there are changes in route. The book was published in 2008, so it's still fairly current, and Robinson notes updates and changes in a section of his website specifically used for these things. However, it would be nice for the long-term reliability of this book for there to be a mechanism (website, email address, etc.) that riders on the trail can use for reporting updates or conflicting information. Such details could go to either Robinson or Mississippi River Trail, Inc., whose executive director wrote the forward to this book and which has a natural interest in these the information out there on the trail being as current and accurate as possible.

Additionally, the photos in this book are nicely paired with the text, showing points of interest along the way. Maps and other graphics are good, too, and do a nice job of visually presenting route segments being discussed in each section.

Summary: A Terrific Resource

So, for cyclists looking to follow the nation's legendary and historic Mississippi River by using the Mississippi River Trail, the Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail is going to be an indispensable friend. This is a book that should be in the panniers of any cyclist who wants helpful information about the attractions and services along the trail -- specific detail to make the trip as easy as possible, plus suggestions of attractions and features to explore along the way to make the trip one's own.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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