Walking Across the Mississippi River

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A couple of months ago, on a dreary looking Sunday like today, my dad and I took our first trip across the Harahan bridge, a recently opened bridge spanning the Mississippi river, open only to pedestrians or cyclists. Overcast cloudy days are my favorite, so it was the perfect day to get outside and enjoy the great weather. We walked high above the tumultuous river below, a dense fog all around, hiding the Memphis skyline. We walked and walked, hoping that the railroad tracks just to our left was out of service, not looking forward to a speeding train going past us surely causing our bridge to shake, our lives flashing before our eyes as we contemplated the likelihood of a plummet into the cold water below. We made it to Arkansas and back with no such incident, and overall it was a fantastic experience. The only downfall of the weather was the obstruction of what was sure to be fantastic views of the city as we walked back towards it. Looking down it seemed unlikely that I had walked through that river just a few months prior, because surely attempting to do so now would result in me being pulled under by the swirling current of the mighty Mississippi.

In July at the end of our family vacation in Minnesota we stopped in Itasca State Park, our last stop on our journey, to see where the Mississippi river begins. We walked along a densely wooded path and emerged from the trees in a beautiful opening at what appeared to be a babbling creek. These were the headwaters of a river that flows from Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans, the largest river in the United States. We posed for pictures and walked across a bridge made of a log that had been cut in half to accommodate tourists, a twenty second walk that was much more brief than the half hour or so it would take to cross this same river further to the south in Memphis. It was neat, but the moment needed to be bigger than just walking across a bridge, I wanted to walk through the river. So I did.

I stepped into the cool water of the flowing river, which was about ankle deep, and made my way across the rocky river bottom to the other side. I slipped briefly, but my agility won out and I stayed upright. How many people have walked through these mighty waters and survived to emerge on the other side? I considered telling my family that I was going to go the way of Huckleberry Finn and hop on a raft for the journey home, meeting them back in Memphis, but my sanity won out and I opted for the more convenient car ride. When we crossed that same river on a bridge driving back into the city, I marveled at the wonder of it all; the very tame water I had walked through the day before was now rushing below, passing by at a frightening speed. I will always respect the power of that great river and at the back of my mind I will always know that I once conquered it as well.

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