Mississippi River travel book

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Gayle Harper

The cover features one of nearly 200 beautiful photographs in Roadtrip with a Raindrop.

 

‘Roadtrip with a Raindrop’ author coming to Prairie du Chien

By Ted Pennekamp

 

When Gayle Harper learned that a raindrop falling into the headwaters of the Mississippi would travel the River for 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico, she knew immediately that her project of a lifetime had appeared. 

Harper made a 90-day road trip along the nearly 2,400-mile course of the Mississippi, while keeping pace with a raindrop called “Serendipity.” She was offered lodging, often in places unique to the heritage of each region. There was a fishermen’s cabin in the north woods, a trendy downtown loft, a tugboat converted to a B&B, a plantation mansion, a sharecropper’s cabin – and even an entire 30-room mansion!

She wandered back roads without plan, meeting people in farm fields, on their porches, in cafés, even while stopped for road construction, who invited her into their lives. She went to dances, birthday parties, a wedding, a powwow, neighborhood barbecues and festivals. She was invited home to dinner, to meet friends and relatives and onto boats of all sizes, from a canoe to a towboat. 

“The people of this journey,” says Harper, “are the soul of it. They were welcoming, inclusive, playful, curious, colorful and authentic. There was two-year-old Hazel, who plopped down beside me to show me her green shoes, and 87-year-old Marshall Bouldin III, who moved me to tears when we talked about art. There was a north woods adventurer, a Southern Belle, a “river rat,” a Delta Blues man and a pixie-like nun. ”  

Harper’s book “Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River” has been out for 10 months and she’s been traveling to cities and villages up and down the river on a promotional tour ever since. 

“It’s been a wild and wonderful year,” said Harper, who will be coming to Prairie du Chien on Sept. 19 for a book signing and presentation from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the AmericInn. The event is sponsored by the Prairie du Chien Main Street program. “It’s been pretty exciting. It’s been wonderful fun. I wanted to give it all of 2015 and visit with all the river communities which are the heart and soul of this project.” 

Roadtrip with a Raindrop has been very well received, and has won the Clarion Award from the National Association of Women in Communication, and the Book of the Year award from INDIEFAB Travel, as well as being named a Gold Medal winner in the Readers’ Favorite International Competition. 

Roadtrip with a Raindrop is a celebration of America and of the simple moments that make life an adventure. In its 240 pages are 55 stories, with nearly 200 full-color photographs. The words and images invite readers to leave their agendas behind, to travel at the pace of a raindrop and to rediscover the fine art of letting life happen. 

The book is “A beautiful, warm and intimate portrait, as stunning to look at as it is to read, that makes us appreciate all that the Mississippi River has meant and continues to mean to America,” said National Geographic Photographer Bob Krist.

“As a travel photographer for the past 23 years, I’ve traveled all over the world and nothing has captured my heart quite like the Mississippi River,” said Harper, who noted that Roadtrip with a Raindrop is her first book. “The Mississippi River is the aorta of our country. It is essential to our ecology and our economy and it is deeply embedded in our history and our very identity.  I watched it grow from a fragile stream into a massive force of nature, yet its essence is always the same.”

Harper, who resides in Springfield, Mo., traveled alone on her 90-day trip to be more accessible to the people. She had no scheduled interviews in preparation for her book. “I left it all to serendipity,” she said. 

Harper, who wondered how she was going to pay for 90 days of lodging, contacted numerous departments of commerce and told them about her project and her website. In turn, the departments of commerce steered her toward local cultural events and points of interest as well as helping to find all types of interesting lodging and people. “It added a dimension to the project that I couldn’t have dreamt up in a million years,” she said. “It allowed me to slide body and soul into each region.”

Along with talking to people and recording sounds such as thunderstorms, drumbeats and spontaneous songs, Harper shot a video as well, which will be part of the presentation at the book signing Oct. 19.

Harper, who is the sister-in-law of Pat Dagnon of Prairie du Chien, said that her trip, writing the book and the promotional tour have all been quite exciting. “The book and the traveling since have been every bit as adventurous as the journey was,” she said. “You never know what each day will bring. The book offers something for everyone.”

Roadtrip with a Raindrop was published by Acclaim Press. It is available at www.gayleharper.com and at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Acclaim Press and independent stores. Harper said people should look for the book trailer on her website.

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