Author shares tales from 90-day trip along the Mississippi

When Gayle Harper discovered it took a raindrop 90 days to travel the full length of the Mississippi, she felt compelled to embark on a journey of her own along the roughly 2,400-mile river.

“It’s been a wonderful ride since the moment I first read that sentence on the National Park Service website,” she said during a recent interview. “It felt like every cell in my body came to full attention and in that moment, the whole thing was absolutely clear to me. I knew I would make a 90-day road trip and that I would follow the whole river and I would keep pace with a raindrop and I would call her serendipity.”

Harper will be sharing stories from her book, “Roadtrip with a Raindrop,” at the Mill City Museum on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.

She traveled along the Mississippi in 2010, starting with the headwaters at Lake Itasca in August and arriving at the Gulf of Mexico two days before Thanksgiving. She was offered lodging in a wide variety of places along the river, including a 30-room mansion, a tugboat converted to a B&B and a fisherman’s cabin.

While in Minneapolis on day 18 of her trip, she stayed in the Aloft Hotel. One of her most memorable moments in the city was meeting Hazel, 2, at the Mill City Farmers Market. The little girl greeted her and proudly showed off her green shoes and announced her age by holding up two fingers with both hands.

“Moments like this are like luminous pearls that shine forever in the heart of every traveler, reminding us that innocence and open-heartedness see no boundaries,” Harper wrote in her book. “Shine on, little Hazel!”

She met several other engaging characters on her journey, including Captain Jack, who took her on an eco-tour cruise of the river near Guttenberg, Iowa; Sister Janette, a nun in Sinsinawa, Wisc.; and Pat Thomas, a Delta Blues man.

“The people of this journey are the soul of it,” Harper said. “They are welcoming, inclusive, playful, curious, colorful and authentic.”

She also reflected on the river’s many transformations she observed while on the road trip.

“Its appearance changes dramatically, from tiny, wild and pristine to vast and muddy, but even when girdled, fouled and profoundly altered, its unchanging essence is instantly recognized,” she wrote. “The charms of the Great River Road are often subtle gems. For the most part, these River towns are not tourist destinations with billboards and attractions clamoring for your attention. Instead, you are invited, if you like, to slide into life as it is being lived. Then, in whatever way is natural, the place may begin to tell its stories.”

As for key insights from her trip, she said it would be wise for all of us to live as the river does.

“Life is meant to be easy. We tend to make it much harder than it needs to be with all of our requirements that it go the way we think it ought to go,” she said. “When we can just go with it, like the river does, than we find out usually that the way life unfolds is much better than the way we imagined that it should. That’s really how life is meant to be — just put your feet up and go with the flow.”


FYI … To learn more about Gayle Harper’s book, “Roadtrip with a Raindrop,” go to