By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 13, 2004]

Hello again. I'm having such a good time in St. Louis that I decided to stay an extra day! That and the weather is a little rainy for riding the (packed-dirt) Katy trail, and I've decided to bypass Kansas City and Lawrence, KS on my way to Oklahoma. Like Madison and Chicago (both of which I bypassed earlier), Kansas City is just a short bus ride from Minneapolis. St. Louis is not. Visiting St. Louis is a rare treat.

On Monday I biked into downtown and ran a bunch of errands. A number of people had warned me that St Louis is not very bike-friendly, but I've noticed that the locals say that everywhere I go, and it turned out not to be true, at least in comparison to Cincinnati or Muskegon! There were actually marked bike lanes on the road most of the way, and no one gave me any trouble. I love the beautiful old buildings surrounding downtown, many of them with elaborate capital-M Masonry.

One of my errands was to pay my respects to the Gateway Memorial Arch, this being its biggest year since its construction: 200 years since Lewis and Clark started their journey here, and 100 years since the biggest of the Worlds Fairs was held at Forest Park (which itself is larger than Central Park in NYC). All the centennial hoopla was this summer, but the signs and banners are still up. I've ridden up to the top of the Arch twice before, so I refrained this time.

St. Louis has a light rail line now, new since my last visit. Unlike Minneapolis, they decided to build it down in a trench, away from other traffic. It's been successful enough that they're already building a second line. Maybe I'll get a chance to ride it today so I can compare it to Minneapolis's Hiawatha Line [which had opened just before I left Minneapolis].

Yesterday I accompanied my friend Malinda to work at the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center, which is a private suburban home and grounds that were given, under the watchful eye of a wealthy foundation, into the care of the Missouri Botanical Center. The botanists and neighbors have worked out a complex and fascinating compromise whereby the grounds can be restored to native prairie and used for education, but only of 30 people at a time, and there can be no signs or cars parked on the road, and staff and volunteers must wear orange so that the neighbors can see them. I helped to "clean seeds" (separating seeds from chaff) that had been gathered at another local prairie plot, and earned myself an orange T-shirt with the center's logo. The experience of working around a table with the other volunteers -- older ladies -- brought back memories of my two years at the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library. Good times.

Thank you all for your questions! This one is worth a whole sermon on its own...

Q: My impression is that you've spent more time bicycling than seeing the places and people where you've been. If I travel I like to make it "worthwhile" by having time at the destination i.e. reduce the travel-time/destination-time ratio.

A: So do I, when travel is not the point of the trip. For instance, if it takes Greyhound three days to get me to the Grand Canyon and three days to get me back, I'd better be there at least five days. But on this trip the road is the real destination, and the "destinations" I've described, the dots on my map, are just stops along the way. There are several reasons why I think this is important:

  1. I think a lot of harm has been done by the desire to get places as quickly as possible. If you drive through any of these Midwestern states on an Interstate highway, it will look "empty," just a bunch of featureless farmland punctuated by highway exits leading to truck stops and an occasional godforsaken town. That's the impression a lot of city-dwellers have of the country. They don't understand country music or politics because they don't see any of the lifestyle behind it. But if you travel the same states by bicycle, taking the back roads, you see that there are houses every quarter mile and towns every five miles or so, with real people living lives as real as your own. I can't blame them for feeling alienated from the people who speed past them without stopping, and I can't blame them from feeling reactionary against social changes that have passed them by just as indifferently. I don't want to be indifferent. These people are part of the world I live in, and the roads they live on are not just a means toward my end. OK, I'm done channeling William Least Heat Moon now.
  2. If I spent as much time stopped as I do traveling, I'd need at least another year to complete this same trip. Not only wouldn't that work out with the change of seasons, but I'd also have to find employment all along the way, which I'm sure would build character, but it's not the experience I'm looking for.
  3. I don't want to outstay my welcome. Most of the red dots on my map [friends and family] had offered me open-ended invitations to "come visit sometime," and I only specified the time a few days in advance because that's as far ahead as I could predict. Two nights seemed a reasonable length of stay in most cases.
  4. When I stop, I get out of shape. Each day I'm not pedaling decreases the distance I can travel the first two days out. Unless I have a lot of flexibility about where to stay those first two nights, I can't afford to diminish my range by sitting idle two or three days a week. That said, I can't go too fast, either. When I "cut a burning trail across Illinois" into Peoria, I could only keep it up for three days, and I was glad to slow down again.

Q: I can see how weather would be a factor... How'd you decide to leave so late in the season?

A: Well, the deciding factor was that my roommate was leaving in early August, and if I left earlier one of us would have had to pay my share of the rent. But I chose this route -- detour to Ohio and all -- with the August departure date in mind. If I had started earlier or headed south sooner, I would have had a lot more uncomfortably hot traveling days. As it is, I think it's worked out well; the approach of autumn just spurs me on, which is kind of nice. Besides, who ever heard of a migration starting in July? :-)

Thanks for the feedback. Keep in touch! --Ben