It was no luxury vacation for NIEHS extramural program analyst
Jerry Phelps this past summer.
Instead, he packed up the bare essentials — which in this
case included his bicycle — and headed for St. Paul, Minn.,
where he met up with a group of 31 people to embark on the Great
Mississippi River Ride.
Members of the group made their way south from St. Paul, following
a path along the mighty Mississippi that took them through small
towns virtually invisible from the interstate. Total distance:
1,201 miles, weaving through 17 cities in eight states over 16
days. That's an average of 75 miles each day.
||Jerry Phelps at the official
halfway marker between St. Paul, Minn., and New Orleans. The
trip, however, was cut short by Hurricane Katrina and ended
500 miles north in Hernando, Miss.
Besides the changing landscape they witnessed, which ranged from
heavy foliage and trees to corn and soybean fields, riders encountered
a variety of wildlife and met local residents. "The beauty and
diversity of this country and its people are best seen on the back
roads at 20 miles per hour," Phelps said.
The route was planned to meander along the Mississippi to New
Orleans. But, it seems, Mother Nature had other plans. Hotel rooms
along the southern part of the route were in big demand by Hurricane
Katrina evacuees, and most riders decided to end the trip 500 miles
shy of New Orleans rather than take up valuable resources, Phelps
Phelps' wife, Beth Anderson, an extramural program analyst at
NIEHS, grew up in the Midwest. She describes her husband as a very
active person who sets arduous goals and pursues them with commitment.
Anderson and Phelps' daughter, Emily, drove along the route, meeting
up with Phelps each evening and at rest stops. They, too, enjoyed
the sights in America's heartland. "The views on back roads, through
the rolling farmland, are spectacular in a wholesome way," Anderson
Phelps said he enjoyed talking to the local people, who were always
curious about the trip. He and another rider appeared on the cover
of the Sun Times Aug. 26 in Ozora, Mo. Anderson said she
has no doubt her husband was asking as many questions as he was
"Jer's very social nature turns something like this into an opportunity
to expand his horizons for meeting people out of our everyday sphere.
Not only did he meet people on the tour, but almost every day he
had some interesting encounter with someone along the road — frequently
local cyclists," Anderson said.