In the course of bicycling the length of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to Venice, Louisiana on the delta out in the Gulf of Mexico my friend Gary Schmidt and I will see a lot of the United States. We will cross all or part of ten states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and, finally, Louisiana. The river is officially 2,320 miles/3,734 kilometers in length according to the United States Geological Survey [link]. Our route along the river is, because the roads aren’t right alongside its banks, a somewhat longer distance. The route, as it stands today, is 2,416.4 miles/3,888.2 kilometers long [link].
We asked a couple of days ago which, looking at the above map, states are entirely on the left (west) bank of the river; which states are on the right (east) bank; and which have land area on both sides. Nobody took us up on our little quiz, so here’s the answer. We’ll start with the easy ones.
Our beginning and end states: Minnesota and Louisiana, are easy to spot as being “both sides” places. The river flows for its first 440 miles/708 kilometers or so entirely within the State of Minnesota and for its last 275 miles/443 kilometers more or less with the State of Louisiana on both banks. Between those two states the Mississippi would appear to form a natural north to south boundary between the remaining states, with Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana lining up to the right (east) of the river and Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas to the left (west). Careful reference to a map, though, shows that this is not near so simple as it appears. In fact, it looks like there is only one state: Wisconsin, that lies entirely to one side of the Mississippi River. The remaining seven states have land area, albeit in very tiny amounts, on both banks. This has occurred due to shifts in the main channel of the Mississippi over the close to 200 years that states have been established along it. In some places, particularly south of Cairo, Illinois, these changes have been pretty dramatic.
As Gary and I ride down the river and pass by and sometimes even through some of these state boundary anomalies, we’ll call them to your attention.