We got up early and took our breakfast to go.

Today was a long day on the road and we had a group waiting for us in Greenville, Mississippi. James at the front desk wished us well and congratulated us on our recent marriage. He had learned about it yesterday evening as we renewed our reservation—he referred to me as Mr. Tom Bradford.

On our way into Rosedale, Mississippi we dropped off a thank you at the Rosedale Freedom Project—a note along with some water we collected from the Mississippi’s headwaters at Lake Itasca. Their stories continue to inspire us as we journeyed south today. The weather, however, did not inspire us—it was another day brushing up against 100 degrees.

Victoria was on bike around midway through the journey upon reaching a service station in Scott, Mississippi, so she hopped off for a pit stop. While we were parked, a group of local Benoit, Mississippi residents pulled up alongside us, interested in the sticker-adorned van and two skinny white folks who darted in and out of the gas station. We assured them that we weren’t crazy and I think they mostly believed it.

At the end of today’s long journey was the City of Greenville, Mississippi—a community of about 30,000 in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. We met up with the first residents of this city, and so much of its heart, at the Dollar General about three miles outside of town. Fire Chief Lonagcio “Lonnie” Smith had said he’d meet us there and run in along the levee With Victoria. What we didn’t know is that he was bringing the actual fire truck along with four more fire and police escort vehicles to make the journey along with.

As Lonnie and Victoria started up their Garmin’s, planning to head out of the parking lot down Abide Road toward the levee, Greenville PD squad cars pulled into place and escorted the two of them, blocking the traffic on Highway 1 for safe crossing. After all the hills north of the Delta, Victoria was ready for the ups and downs of mounting the levee, but this was a training run for Lonnie(!). The heat also slowed these two athletes down a bit, fortunately giving them wind to keep up a conversation and learn about Lonnie’s upbringing in Leland, Mississippi where he still resides—maybe if the fire department didn’t keep him so busy, he’d run for mayor out there one day, he laughs!

Victoria ran the next few miles encouraging him in that sentiment, especially after learning about the failing infrastructure in Leland with buildings crumbling and a lack of leadership to move development and change. Eventually, the heat overwhelmed the progress—both of socially conscious conversation and running—and Victoria and Lonnie stopped for a selfie. Mind you, the squad cars are cushioning them this whole way along the levee… As the two runners finally made their descent onto paved surfaces AND a downhill, their pace picked up for the last leg down Main Street. Up ahead, Mayor Errick Simmons and members of the fire department were waiting at City Hall as Lonnie and Victoria made their final sprint down Main Street to the finish. What a reception!!

After a brief cool-down, we stepped inside and sat in the council chambers for a welcome and introductory chat with Mayor Errick Simmons who is closing out his first four-year term and will be running unopposed for a second. We quickly learned about the mayor’s family from his newborn baby girl up to his 17 year-old son (star wide-receiver for Greenville High School). He shared with us a recent article in Christian Unity Magazine, spotlighting him as a “Christian man, family man, and community man.” Those traits were validated as we got to know Mayor Errick over the next couple of days. He mentioned a new homeless initiative and some other empowering things his administration was doing for the community—we made sure to schedule additional time with the Mayor to learn more about his life and his administration, but for now we had to run to lunch with Lonnie.

Main Street takes a long curve through this city, and we are not sure of that story, but we went along with it and followed Lonnie down Main Street to Sherman’s Restaurant for lunch. You’ll find all the typical Southern fare at Sherman’s—fried, fried, and more fried, and some gumbo, … along with lots of other tasty things. This presents a challenge to someone like Lonnie, not only a Delta runner, but also a Delta vegan—some might say an anomaly. Finding any dish on a menu that is not made with animal fat or butter or eggs, much less meat itself, is a huge challenge, but Lonnie’s been vegan for several years now after seeing a marked change to his high cholesterol when altering his diet. He figures he’s eaten enough meat in his life, better to have a life to keep living. In the end, he stayed true to his vegan routine with fried mushrooms and BBQ Sauce, but he didn’t mind that Victoria and I tried the local chicken and andouille gumbo and catfish cakes. We all got fries, though . . .

Here’s something you should know—when you get a group of runners together, they talk about running (and food). And that’s what we did. Lonnie is training for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon and the three of us shared our training techniques as well as those war stories when things have gone wrong. We also tried to entice Lonnie to come up north and run a cool-weathered marathon, maybe Twin Cities or Grandma’s, where Victoria can make him her full-vegetarian “green gumbo” (sans bacon) if he’ll come visit us in Stillwater, Minnesota.

We could have talked running (and had a few more beers) into the night, but we had to get back down to the library to meet with Anne Hammett and Park Neff. The conversation started slowly, as they were a bit unsure what we were after. Park thought we might be there to ridicule Delta folks, but we assured him that were there to listen and learn, nothing else. Before long, we were deep into some wonderful river stories and many laughs along the way.

It turns out that Park very recently canoed the entire length of the Mississippi from headwaters to gulf with his friend John Keane. It was the summer of 2016 and they made the voyage in 58 paddling days, enjoying the generosity of many folks along the way. He even passed by the “welcome river paddlers” sign on the property of our new friends Jeff and Sandy Bromenshenkel’s near Deer River. Jeff Bromenschenkel and Sandy Cotant Bromenschenkel‘s hospitality is legendary among Mississippi River paddlers, but unfortunately they weren’t home as he paddled through. He did have another quintessential Minnesota experience coming off the river one day with a hankering for a steak dinner. A couple who invited them in for a home cooked meal said “we’re vegetarian, I hope that’s not a problem.” Turns out it wasn’t—Park and John were treated to a delicious Minnesota Pie, and they left satisfied!

Anne’s connection to the river and region is equally as strong. She spends her days (literally) roaming the river and countryside taking photos and experiencing (in the flesh) the beauty of the Delta region from farmland to riverside. At first you might think Anne is a bit strange, rolling down her windows to breathe in the aroma of manure as she drives through the countryside, or the smell of cotton defoliant drifting in the air at harvest time, but as she talks, you begin to understand her love for the land she calls home. She loves the feel of her bare feet stepping through the “deep sandy loam” of the turn rows, like “hot silk.” She even got caught once out amidst the rows of a cotton field with her camera, a big truck carrying bales of cotton barreling down the gravel road. She was sweating up a storm, and that dust was about to stick to her like a facial mask, but thankfully the driver saw her and came to a stop. She motioned to him down in the dirt, and dropped—he drove on with her now protected by the foliage of the cotton plants. She popped back up and resumed photographing one of the beauties of the Delta.

According to Anne, her “Daddy” built a boat—she showed us a photo of a photo on her phone. It looked like an old black and white of a hybrid pontoon/tow boat docked on shore. Apparently their family took weekly, if not daily river vacations up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers. These adventures on the water always came with a story, like the time a broken steering unit led to Anne at the helm as the boat was spinning “donuts” down the river with daddy sleeping in the bunk. Or the time her mom got stuck at the edge of a sand bar, slowly sinking in quicksand. Fortunately, they tossed her a rope and pulled her to safety!

Anne is not beyond trespassing in pursuit of Delta sights and scenes. She once drove up to a gate leading to a view of the Mississippi she’d never seen before. The gate had a sign saying no entry, but she thought to herself, “they don’t mean me…,” and ducked under and began the hike toward the overlook. After snapping two shots, she saw the headlights beaming out across the landscape at her—they knew she was here! Maybe they DID mean her! She started to run… then she thought better of it—“I can’t outrun a truck!” In the end, the couple who stopped her was more perplexed than angry, and even opened the gate to let her back to her vehicle. After episodes like this, Anne says she may need to slow down a bit with all this gallivanting about in pursuit of the perfect picture. She loves to cook, she says, and she needs to get back to exercising as well. However, from what we’ve heard, she gets plenty of exercise in her Delta pursuits.

From what started as a tentative conversation, we ended up with more to write about than can fit in one post thanks to Park and Anne—from the “Redneck Riviera” to bee keeping in the Delta to the Cajun tow boat captain as comic relief on the River. After our visit, Victoria and I went to check in at the Greenville Inn and Suites, generously provided by the local Greenville-Washington County Mississippi Convention & Visitors Bureau and Wesley Smith, director there. Our room is a fabulous apartment, making a comfortable home for the next two days.

We returned to the library for more Greenville interactions at 6:00pm that evening. What appeared to be the entire Fire Department squad, as well as the Mayor and his wife Temika and their six year-old daughter Eriel. Camille Collins of the Belmont Plantation was also in attendance, as we shared stories from the river to a receptive audience. The best part, as usual, was the sharing back. Several members of the fire department as well as Temika and Camille shared about their relationships to Greenville. Even Eriel answered a few questions very articulately!

Mayor Errick joined us for a drink at the Downtown Grill afterward. He of course got spirited away a few times, needing to do his mayoral duties of meeting and greeting with local citizens there. We had a great time just learning a little bit more about each other, and we also had a great meal of fried grits and pimento cheese plus scallops with a black bean cake! The mayor took home some salads—he says they are on a diet! But the kids were going to eat pizza. We knew we’d see him in the morning early, so we saved the “tough questions” for then. He’s invited us over to the house next time we are in town, and we can’t wait.