I departed Edwardsville en route to St. Charles, a town just North of St. Louis where the Turners, a family friend, lived. This 50-mile ride got off to a pretty unpleasant start. Google guided me through some odd terrain, including an enormous oil refinery. When I arrived at its gates, I was quickly told by the security guards to get lost. I was also told that I wasn't allowed to take any pictures, so here's the picture I took.
I had mixed feelings crossing over the Mississippi river into Missouri. On one hand, I was thrilled to be entering Missouri for the first time in my life. This was the ninth state I had ventured to through the first 1,400 miles of my journey. Plus, I had arrived at the historic Mississippi River. A part of me felt like I was back in the bayou, listening as old captain Natchez blows his steamboat's horn. On the other hand, I was terribly uncomfortable crossing over the river via the bridge at Alton. There was no protected pedestrian path, so I had to ride the shoulder across the bridge. I was again reminded of a thought I've had, not just on this trip but before, which is that it is near impossible to enjoy anything when you feel like your physical safety is jeopardized.
The ride lightened up once I arrived at the KATY trail. I got on at the very beginning of the trail in Machens. The first few miles of the trail were rugged. I had to dismount my bike to push it over a downed tree, then I nearly wiped out riding through some sandy stretches. The trail did get progressively better as I neared St. Charles.
Around 2:00 I arrived in the home of Brian and Wendy. As soon as I arrived, Brian informed me that we had plans to watch the US Men's National Team play Paraguay in a pivotal game of the Copa America. RIGHT ON! I cleaned up, then headed downtown with Brian. The ride really helped orient me to St. Louis. It was a city of neighborhoods. The downtown area and waterfront hadn't been as successfully developed as other cities, such as Baltimore or Pittsburgh, so life in St. Louis really took place amongst its many distinct, low-to-the-ground neighborhoods. Of the many things that St. Louans were proud of, the Cardinals and its world-class botanical garden were near the top of the list. The Rams, which had just abandoned the city for LA, weren't quite as high on that list.
We met Ed, Brian's son, and his friends at the Amsterdam Tavern. We claimed a table out back before the crowds arrived. Just after we settled, I noticed Brian sneak out the back door. Fifteen minutes later he returned with a case of bottled waters. What a veteran/boss move! He knew that the only way we were going to power through this long, hot day of boozing was if we hydrated...profusely. Well played, sir.
The game was excellent. The US beat Paraguay to advance to the elimination rounds. During the game I got familiar with Ed and his friends. They gave me a better sense of what life's like in St. Lou. It, much like Baltimore, was the kind of place where people are more concerned about where you went to high school rather than where you went to college. People seemed really proud of their city and were content to be there. At one point I mentioned "Cardinals fever" to Ashley, one of the young ladies in the group. Her face turned stern. "The Cardinals aren't some passing fever. The Cardinals are a lifestyle." Nice. I could definitely appreciate these people's dedication to the home team. I didn't speak quite as much with Brian and Ed during the game because, well, they were really into it.
That evening a group of about ten of us got a bite at Three Monkeys, a great restaurant in the neighborhood. After the meal we chatted out front. Suong, one of Ed's friends, noticed that the restaurant's delivery chute had been left wide open. Motivated by the allure of snapchat fame, he asked someone to film as he dove, head first, down the chute to the restaurant's basement. When he looked up he found one of the restaurant's staff staring with an oblivious look on his face, so Suong turned around and charged back up the chute. Halfway up he banged his head so hard on the chute's cover that he nearly fell back down into the basement. Luckily, he was able to free himself from the restaurant's cellar and achieve the snapchat notoriety that he was so deserving of. In the process he almost gave himself a concussion and got yelled at by some guy at the restaurant, but hey, it was worth it. I personally was laughing about the incident for the rest of the night.
That night a few of us headed out to get drinks at some local watering hole. It was a fun night. The place we went to played good music, had a cool, bourbon street-esque balcony and was pretty unpretentious. Everyone just sort of got along and it was all good. I had a nice talk with Zack who was happy to share some of St. Louis' history with me. He told me about how the city was actually founded by French fur traders from New Orleans, hence the French creole influence. Due to is creole roots, to this day the St. Louis Mardi Gras celebration is the second largest in the country.
The music they played at the bar felt reflective of all the different influences on St. Louis, including New Orleans to the South, Chicago to the North and the expansive farmland to the West. The tunes were really varied, helping me understand what it meant when people called this place "Middle America". It indicated that St. Louis was an amalgamation of different elements of US culture. Then, "Air Force Ones" by Nelly came on, reminding me that, in addition to gathering key elements from other areas, St. Louis certainly had cultural expressions that were distinctive.
I won't lie, Ed and his friends made me feel right at home. I got a great vibe from these fun, down-to-earth St. Louans. I mean, we didn't really do anything besides watch the game, drink a few beers, listen to some music and get turned down by one or two girls at the bar. But, that's exactly what I do at home in DC, and that's exactly what good times are made of. So, yeah, I had a good time in St. Lou.
I would spend the next couple of days getting ready for my adventure on the KATY trail.