riparian rap

Mississippi levees on a bicycle.

We’ve had some beautiful clear, dry-air mornings here the past few days–which is why you’re seeing all those spectacular blue-sky aerials of the Mississippi flooding in the news.

Kate had the great idea of heading over to the Mississippi levee roads for a long bike ride this morning. We did a 30-mile out and back on the Mississippi floodplain starting at Gorham (about 15 miles west of Carbondale). The sky was spectacular, it was a perfect day to be out on that vast (four miles wide) floodplain. Here’s a map. It’s part of the TransAmerica Trail – a well-used cross continent route.

The flooding there, which will peak over the next couple of days, is nothing like that farther north. But much of this floodplain was underwater in 1993. Some of the big diesel pumps were laboring, though, our local rainfall has been high, and the tributaries have to be pumped through the levee into the high Mississippi.

I’m never been able to comprehend the magnitude of human effort expended to clear the bottomland forests and build the thousands of miles of levees that converted these vast floodplains into farmland.

The levees we rode must be 40 feet tall and 200 wide at the base (I’m estimating). That cross section gives 8,000 cubic feet of dirt per linear foot of levee, or 1.5 million cubic yards per mile. And there are thousands of miles of this levee along the Mississippi, counting all the tributary levees.

It hardly seems possible. You’re an ant pedaling the levee crest on a bike. These things are man-made mountains. And they have to be mowed and maintained, along with the pumps and control structures. I can’t imagine the cost, an issue I’ll leave alone in this post.

We saw a juvenile bald eagle in the USFWS area towards the end of the ride. And had a Coke in the cool little family bar/grill in Neunert. The woman who served us said she’d taken care of a lot of TransAmerica riders from the Netherlands this year.