Mississipi Million

The Great River Rowed

Gateway to the South…

Gateway to the South…

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014

Cairo, Illinois.

For quite some time now, at least two weeks before we reached St Louis, there has been a great deal of chatter amongst the team about “the South” of the USA and the Mississippi river in particular. We have canvassed opinion everywhere we could – in the locks, in the hotels, on the streets, in the shops and in the restaurants. Whenever we asked, we received a different answer.

Certain elements were always agreed. When we reached Arkansas and Kentucky, we would definitely be in the south. When we were in northern Missouri, that was (probably for most people) the north. The really tricky thing was defining precisely when the north became the south. We had noticed accents changing, but this was inconclusive. We noticed a prevalence of different foods on menus (biscuits and sausage gravy at breakfast anyone?) and lots of barbecue restaurants, but again nothing definitive. For all sorts of perhaps obvious reasons, not the least of which was to define our progress, we wanted to be clear about when we were in the south.

Paddy and John

Paddy and John


Richard and Don

Richard and Don

Yesterday, with me and Paddy rowing together on a gloriously sunny day, we encountered two guys in their kayaks. Richard and Don were old friends, probably in their late 60′s I would guess, who liked to spend time pottering up and down the Mississippi over a 50 mile stretch above and below Cape Girardeau. They were genuinely surprised and happy to see us and loved the boat we were in. They were sad that so few local folk used the river for pleasure as they were all too scared of it’s fearsome reputation. However, this was the perfect time to ask two locals whether we were yet in the south.


Both said that the scene in both southern Illinois and southern Missouri had changed. When they were boys, there was cotton grown to the banks of the river and people loved cajun food and bluegrass music. Folks had time for each other and looked out for each other. So, when pressed, Don (from Illinois) said yes it was the south and Richard (from Missouri) said not yet!

What has therefore become crystal clear is that the south of the US is a state of mind. It is a culture – food, music, art, drama and, without question, a historical perspective – that defines whether someone is southern. It also seems to be that you need a first person connection – either you are born in the south or have “people” in the south. It almost seems like a variant of the Irish grand mother (guilty) connection. What is also clear is a cultural pride in the region and especially in one’s state. A proud Virginian, Louisianan or Texan (joke variant alert – you can tell a Texan. But not much…) is a prevalent an attitude as an association with the south.

Personally, I think that this cultural identity is a laudable trait, notwithstanding decades in which segregation and discrimination ruled. In a country with an extraordinary homogenisation of cities – Starbucks everywhere, identical shops and malls – cultural identity is eroded continually and I happen to believe it to be an important element and generally a force for good.

Suffice to say that tomorrow we will reach Kentucky and will then, unequivocally, be South.

Chris and John

Chris and John

We just waved goodbye to Chris Gate, founding supporter of this project and complete stalwart, who has been with us for the last few days. He stitched in several meetings so he could row with us for two days. A magnificent effort. Because he is a strong rower, we felt able to add to his mileage in an effort to clock up some big days. The four day sequence, ending tomorrow, has been 43 miles (JP and CG), 30 miles (JP and PB), 33 miles (JP and CG) and finally 50 miles (JP and PB).

156 miles in four days is tough, but we have a rest day thereafter.

We are now into the last month, and participants will be arriving every other day as momentum builds towards New Orleans. Although slightly tired, I am truly excited about this last month and what we are achieving. It is huge.


  1. Pritch
    Reading your reports full of admiration and
    can only imagine the pain you must be suffering–
    and that is not pleasant!! Not much further to go,
    so I can see no problem for a strong boy like you!!

    • Dear John,

      It gives me a good feeling that you are close to Ewaut (Edward) while he sails on the Mississippi river.
      I am a proud mother, but though I would really like to have him close to me sometimes.

      Wonderfull what you are doing for Right To Play.

      Feel free to come visit us in Belgium
      Greetings Lieve Boone

  2. Have to comment! it is exciting for us “onlookers” too.
    Thank you both for taking the time to keep us
    —the fans — updated and informed.

  3. Hey, that’s us! It was such a pleasure talking to you 3 Mid-Mississippi. Wished we had more time to talk. Good luck to you. The river changes character at Cairo. The barge traffic doubles or triples.

  4. JP
    Your left leg looks a bit wet in that photo – like you’ve just been splashed – was it:
    1. Spilled your drink at the break
    2. A bit sweaty due to the heat
    3. Stroke had just splashed you with a sloppy catch on bow side
    4. Just been hit by one of those Asian flying carp?
    Do tell us

  5. John, good to catch up on your progress in recent weeks. Sounds as if it has been challenging–no surprise there–but you have been meeting the challenge (no surprise there either!). Lucy, Matt and I think of the two days with you guys as a highlight of the summer. Keep on trucking.

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