It is a distinct privilege to be able to ride along the banks of the Father of Waters on my cycling outings. I see tows that move with the current, carrying coal or grain; but mostly what gets carried from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico is water. A lot of water. Exhaustive research (I Googled "Mississippi River flow rate") reveals that well over 1 million gallons per second flow along this stretch of the Mississippi. Let me repeat. One MILLION. GALLONS. Per SECOND.
Due to road construction on one of my usual routes, I have spent more time going south along the river. And on most rides, I am taken by the beauty of this part of the country. On many days there are blue skies over dark green trees, both then reflected in the blue-green-gray waters of the river. The other day I spied my first flock of dazzlingly white Tundra Swans. "Spectacular," I think as I travel on.
But I haven’t thought much about the sheer magnitude of what the river is actually DOING, carrying all of that water from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. Until the other day.
We have had glorious weather these last ten days or so and I have been able to get out on most of them. On Sunday afternoon, I was on my way out of town when my rear tire went flat. As I was in the process of replacing the tube, a lady rode up on one of those sturdy bikes with panniers over the rear wheels and a route sheet in a holder on the handlebars. She asked if she could help, but I was well into the fix and had what I needed to finish up and get back to the ride. I asked about her ride. Turns out it wasn't any big deal. She was only going as far as THE GULF OF MEXICO!
In early September, she and her husband had started out on the long ride from one end of the Mississippi to the other. They stopped in La Crosse, as they were originally from here. The stop ended up being about a week as her husband had had some health issues. Not terribly serious, but enough to knock him out of the ride and into the position of full time support.
As I finished up fixing my flat, she told me that she was carrying a small bottle with her on the trip. She had filled it with water from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, and planned to pour it out in the Gulf of Mexico. And that is what impressed me. Not the ginormous amount of water that the river pushed south every day, but the little bottle that she would personally deliver to the Gulf.
Time and world events and life in general move along on a grand scale, sort of like draining the watershed west of the Rocky Mountains into the Gulf of Mexico. We can't match that. We can't compete with it. But as Edmund Burke said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do little." I'm thinking, my bottle may be small and my pace may be slow. But I guess I should fill the thing up and get going.