Leaving St. Louis

Six fabulous days packed with sightseeing and social activities make it hard to leave St. Louis. Before setting out from New York in August, I didn’t plan past the Mississippi River because I never expected to make it this far.

Were I to defy the odds and reach the Midwest on a Citi Bike, I’d take Bike Route 66 from Chicago to LA. Simply follow the Mother Road from Windy City skyscrapers to the shining sea off the Santa Monica Pier. Itinerary done!

Chicago to the north proved out of my way, so since Route 66 also passes through St. Louis, I recalculated to join it there; however, I quickly abandoned that idea after Trailnet staff shared great things about the Katy Trail.

The Katy Trail offers smooth, scenic and car-free riding across most of Missouri. Win-win-win. Yet Adventure Cycling promotes the TransAmerica Trail or Bike Route 66, both of which would have dragged me through the up-and-down Ozarks that cyclists agree are worse than the Rocky or Appalachian Mountains.

Geologically speaking the Ozarks aren’t mountains, but rather a “dissected plateau” so sharply eroded that nature’s version of a roller coaster should be signed Route 666 for cyclists. On a monolithic shared bike, I’d rather ride straight downhill to hell.

The next post will explain all about the Katy Trail, but for now just know that it doesn’t start in St. Louis. I’ve got to bike about 25 miles west to a trailhead in St. Charles.

Bye-bye, St. Louie
I calmly cycle through the city, riding through Forest Park one last time before turning onto tree-lined Wydown Boulevard in the classy suburb of Clayton with its stately brick homes. If I move to St. Louis, someone get me a house in Clayton.

Gliding through affluent suburbs west of St. Louis proves far more pleasant than picking my way through the run-down outskirts of Pittsburgh and Columbus. Google Maps weaves me along residential streets to the Centennial Greenway, which despite its grandiose name offers a mere two miles of car-free riding. But every mile helps.

I turn onto Old Bonhomme Road and then Olive Boulevard, which is a suburban strip mall. Being surrounded by so many brands makes me giddy. I don’t need anything fancy, yet find comfort knowing they are so close after days of riding through fields in Illinois where a gas station convenience store was a big deal.

I stop for a salad lunch (trying to eat healthy!) at Granite City Brewery, which to my disappointment is just a chain restaurant. However, nearby is Trader Joe’s where I can stock up on bananas, protein bars, tortilla chips and trail mix that I’ll need to fuel me along the Katy Trail where services can be sparse.

When living in Brooklyn I’d make a weekly pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s in the old bank building on Atlantic and Court. I’d ride a Citi Bike there and then walk a slow mile back to my apartment loaded with groceries. If only I had Travoy for my past shopping trips!


Jeff meets Jeffrey
The Creve Coeur Connecter is a flat car-free warmup leading into the Katy Trail. Crossing the Paige Bridge over the Missouri River, I’m almost there. I see the Katy Trail on the far bank below, but a lot happens before I can get there. First, I pause for this photo with chained locks.

Next, I’m stopped by Jeff who is also a bike commuter. This Jeff logs 46 miles a day round-trip. My 10-mile Brooklyn-Manhattan-Brooklyn commute seems like child’s play. Curiosity at my New York license plate is enough for him to abandon pursuit of a personal best time home. We start talking. Jeff has ridden cross country five times and does the Paris-Brest-Paris ride every four years.

That’s impressive, but even more so is that he stops for unusual sights. For a cyclist of his stature, stopping is a weakness. I remember Deborah from Annapolis told me there are two kinds of cyclists: those who stop to read historical signs and those who don’t. Racer cyclists don’t stop. Leisure riders and bike commuters do stop. Jeff is a racer cyclist/bike commuter who does stop… a rare hybrid!

Jeff tells me his most memorable encounter was with two college guys from Indiana hauling garbage bags strapped to their bikes. Apparently one guy told his buddy that he had never been to San Francisco and they impulsively took off. Throw stuff in a bag, ride a bike, wake up in SF… easy 1, 2, 3. He’s not sure how far they went, but given their lack of planning and sad baggage situation, getting beyond the Katy Trail seems improbable.

I thank Jeff for taking time out to learn about my ride.

“It’s OK,” he says. “There should be a good tailwind tomorrow, good luck!” With a nod and a smile he pedals off in the opposite direction.

Friend or foe?
As I’m typing this conversation into iPhone notes, a kid in his early 20s on a bike passes me and then turns around. Another fan! Maybe he wants a picture. He's got a pale face and curly black hair. He looks shaken and nervous. He’s OK but his friend is not.

She is hyperglycemic and suffering from low blood sugar. He asks if I have any Gatorade, but I only have water. I offer a banana or Trader Joe’s chocolate covered pretzels, unsure if that would help in this situation. He turns me down to find Gatorade at a gas station up ahead. He doesn’t go far before circling back to me.

“Actually, I was thinking, maybe a banana and a water bottle would help. I’m sorry to ask. If you don’t mind, can you follow me back to my friend?”

I’m a little shocked at what’s going on. My first instinct is that he’s going to ambush me and take my valuables. Even after 1,200+ miles the suspicious New Yorker in me hasn’t quite relaxed. But if he is telling the truth, I’d be an asshole for turning a cold shoulder.

A girl is crumpled up on the bridge bike lane looking ready to pass out. Black glasses contrast with her pale skin yet complement her straight black hair. I noticed her earlier when she rode by in the opposite direction because I thought she was pretty.

She accepts a banana and takes a few sips of water. Other bikers zoom by on their after-work rides. Before we can start chatting her iPhone rings and she hands back my water. I flash a thumbs up sign and she reciprocates. My good deed is done and I move on to meet Katy.

Stay tuned for an amazing six days on the Katy Trail.