September 9, 2016 – Rain, 70 degrees
Miles Today: 33
Miles to Date: 15,999
States to Date: 44
It’s hard not to love a place that embraces you. I sent out four conversation requests in metro Saint Louis, thinking I might get two invites. I got four. I sent out a handful of warmshowers and couchsurfing requests over four nights. I got so many invites I had to turn some down.
I met heavy rain this morning riding through East Saint Louis; a city so poor and empty there is no traffic to splash a cyclist. The sky brightened when I arrived at Cahokia State Historic Park, the World Heritage Site that preserves the largest city north of Mexico circa 1200 A.D. This is a fascinating place, packed with school children and tourists. The introductory film is excellent and the exhibits informative. Walking up Monk Mound – one hundred feet high and 22 million cubic yards of hand carried earth that took 300 years to build – gives a greater appreciation for the capabilities of our native people.
At the top, the sight of the Gateway Arch in the distance creates a link between the symbolic structures of two cultures that inhabit the same broad valley 1,000 years apart.
After visiting our efforts to preserve an ancient culture, it was dispiriting to ride through East St. Louis and witness how quickly we abandon our own cities. The vacant theater on Broadway has one of the most beautiful terra cotta facades I’ve ever seen, left to spall and peel.
I often call Tom ‘the Crown Victoria of bicycles:” sturdy and heavy but reliable in rough conditions. I may have to reevaluate that analogy after seeing this souped-up Crown Victoria in East St. Louis. This car is light years apart from its police cruiser cousins.
I crossed the Mississippi on the Eads Bridge and rode around the Gateway Arch from all directions. It is stately when viewed from the river, quirky when glimpsed from the aging industrial buildings south of downtown, and surprisingly fresh when viewed from the west, where it pops through the rectangular skyline in unexpected ways.
Spent the afternoon at City Museum, one of the most innovative ‘museums’ anywhere. It is educational and informative, but the learning always comes in the service of play. City Museum is also a fascinating study of a failing non-profit turned itself into a profitable asset for the entire city.
In late afternoon I rode to my hosts in the Southwest Garden neighborhood. Saint Louis is on the rebound – the population of 25-34 year olds is on the rise for the first time in decades. It’s got a cool vibe with lots of local shops, eateries and bars. The city grew bonkers just over a century ago, when it hosted the 1904 Word’s Fair and popularized ice cream in a cone. Miles of stately brick homes on generous streets form the core of neighborhoods, most of which appear to be bouncing back from their low points. The city was sliced with too many interstate highways, but it seems the wounds are finally healing, the neighborhoods finding new centers after being ripped apart.
Not all neighborhoods are rising equally. Rich and poor live cheek by jowl in St. Louis. The gatehouses of private streets are often larger than the burned out shells of derelict buildings only a few blocks away.
The city has terrific bike paths, including one feature I’ve never seen: a two-foot zone striped between parked cars and bicycles so that cyclists don’t get car-doored. There are so many reasons to love Saint Louis!