Day 16 and 17  - April 2 & 3

St.Louis, MO

Our first full day in St. Louis dawned clear, but hazy with humidity and the promise of heat. It reached a record breaking 90F by 2:45.  Our hope was to rent bikes down by the riverfront, but when we reached the vendor’s building we discovered that it was only open on Fri-Sunday.  Foiled again.

The Arch was overhead in all of its reflective glory as we walked up the steep steps back to our hotel.  I couldn’t help but think about this massive monument covered in solar panels.  Just like the Pyramid in Memphis, it could be creating so much energy, symbolizing another kind of gateway to the future. 

We decided to find the bike shop where we had a Groupon for a tune-up.  We had bought it thinking we’d have our bikes with us. Our hope was to to rent bikes and use the Groupon in exchange.  Negative to both. 

Our next goal was to find a Laundromat, so we turned down a side street and in the process discovered the Billy Goat Chip Company.  It was a small brick building on a corner and our curiosity was piqued by the name.  We parked the car and walked in the door wondering what kinds of chips they made – computer, chocolate?  As soon as we stepped inside we saw the potato chips in bags and in bins.  It’s an interesting story of entrepreneurship and local products.  The chips were originally made and served in a St.Louis restauarant, but became so popular that the owner closed the restaurant and opened this mini-factory and began selling the chips all over the city.  We didn’t sell them at this location but a worker told us there was a deli ‘within walking distance’ where we could.  He gave us directions and we started out.  After five blocks and no deli in sight we began to wonder what his idea of 'walking distance' was.  Obviously we have no reservations about walking, but the air was heating up and we didn’t know how far we might have to go, so we decided to turn back to the car. 

On the way we passed a building that said Link Chiropractic.  Mike couldn’t resist and went inside and explained to the receptionist his reason for coming in.  One branch of his Link ancestors settled in and around St.Louis.  Mike wondered whether he could talk to the Dr.  I went on to get the car and when I returned, Mike was sitting in the lobby talking to another man.   A bike enthusiast, Dr. Daniel Link gave Mike some brochures about biking in the St. Louis area.  It was a fortuitous meeting and who knows – it could potentially add some more information to Mike’s family history.

We drove on still looking for the deli. Neither Mike nor I had ever driven through the neighborhoods of St. Louis, but on this trip we were amazed to find that nearly every house in the town (at least the older neighborhoods) were made of brick.   

We found a Laundromat and Mike dropped me off. A half hour later he returned, triumphant and excited, having found the Macklind Ave. Deli. I finished up the laundry and we went back to the store so he could show me why he was so impressed.  It was filled with a variety of beer, wines and sodas.  It did have a display case filled with more traditional deli foods, as well as the Billy Goat chips, but it was the beverages Mike was most happy to find. The trunk of our car was filling up with an assortment of liquid treats Mike intended to sample with his buddies Bill and Dick.  They enjoy tasting and comparing the flavors of spirits from different regions of the country. 

We went back to the hotel and I worked on the computer, while Mike went out in search of a Bike Station.  Downtown St.Louis has done much to promote and help foster bike commuting by creating ‘stations’ where people can park their bikes while at work.  They even have showers for bikers to use.  The one he found was connected to a bike shop that sold and rented bikes.   

Later we drove to the Dogtown neighborhood where we had an early dinner at Las Gras Italian Tapas and Wine Bar.  Another Groupon find.  We shared a plate of bruschetta and a sampler plate of tapas.  Sitting at a table out on the sidewalk we listened, but didn’t understand the conversation of three Russian girls. Laughter and excited chatter are the universal language of young adulthood.

The next day the sky was overcast and thunderstorms were forecast.  It was already 78F when we left our hotel to walk to the Big Shark bike shop/bike station eight blocks away.  Downtown St. Louis is a lively place during the daytime hours.  It is a mix of new and old skyscrapers and we enjoyed gawking at the architectural details on the older buildings. 

We rented two hybrid commuting style bikes and set off on our exploration of the River Trail that the City has paved close to the river’s edge.  However, the river just north of the downtown area is highly industrialized, so it wasn’t exactly a bucolic ride.  One of the sites we passed was Loraxian looking with huge piles of scrap metal, including whole, crushed cars – tires and all.  Clanking cranes grabbed pieces in their metal claws and dropped them onto a conveyor belt that emptied into an enclosed structure.  At the other end a pile of brown material grew into a cone.  Smoke rose from stacks, grinding and crashing sounds filled the air.  On the other side of the trail, barges disgorged materials into pipes that crossed overhead, trucks rumbled in and out of walled off work sites.  Dust swirled behind them. Freight trains filled two or three tracks to our left.  A tent and lean to camp of the homeless was built next to one of the work area. 

And yet, close to the river where trees, shrubs and grass were allowed to grow, wildlife flourished.  We saw a wild tom turkey displaying proudly to three uninterested hens who picked their way through the grass.  A red tail hawk circled down and landed on the cross bars of a transmission tower.  Red wing blackbirds called to one another from either side; robins flew into the undergrowth; and a killdeer swooped up suddenly from a rocky bit of ground that could well have held its nest.  Nature is tenacious, but we couldn’t help but wonder just how much waste, toxic or otherwise was ending up in the river that continued to flow with determination to the south.  We rode for an hour and then turned back to retrace our route, going further past the Arch and looping through the streets of the business district back to the Big Shark bike shop. 

Hungry after our ride we stopped at a very busy and popular grocery store right in the center of the downtown.  Called Schnuks Market/Culinaria it was a delightful oasis of fresh produce, and a wide selection of deli food, both hot and cold.  Every city should be so lucky to have such a quality grocery store for people living in the heart of the city, or even those who work there.  We found people of all economic levels enjoying the shopping and eating al fresco at the sidewalk tables out front.  Mike bought pizza and I had a delicious ‘handmade’ salad.

We had a 2 p.m. appointment scheduled a the Riverlands Audubon Center north of the city.  Patty Hagen is the Director of the Center, which is leased from the Army Corps of Engineers.  The building has some great displays of wetland ecology and they are working to provide programs for the public focused on the river and its environs.  We met with Patty to discuss our planned bike trip and to see how we might work together in teaching people about the Flyway.  

This Center is located very close to the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Missouri.  A State Park protects this nationally significant location and we couldn't leave without seeing it.  A mostly dirt/gravel path wound up from a parking lot and we walked beside the fast moving Missouri River on our right.  Unseen blackbirds filled the nearby forest with raucous calls, otherwise we only heard the sound of the wind through the trees and the water moving against the shoreline.  The path comes to an end at the point (literally) where the two great rivers merge. 

At ground level we could not see the mixing of the waters – one typically brown and the other navy blue by comparison.  I took off my sandals and stood in some shallow water, effectively baptizing them in this ancient mixture.  A silty, muddy layer coated the bottom of my feet when I stepped out – a graphic example of what is being carried by these rivers as they go south to the Gulf. 

There was a marker on the point that read 406 feet.  Further up the path we encountered a tall pole with the information that high water of 38 feet above normal was reached in 1993.  Bending our necks back we looked up to the upper branches of the trees and imagined water filling all that space.  I have to admit it was hard to comprehend such a flood, but there is no question it has happened in the past and will happen again in the future.  It’s hard for us humans to believe something so elemental, something so critical for our survival as water could also have so much power that we are powerless in the face of its ferocity.  Humbling to say the least. 

As we left the Park we encountered a slider (turtle) and though it was probably OK on this nearly deserted gravel road, habit made us stop, get out and move it to the side, after Mike took its picture.

That night we found one of the best restaurants of the trip.  Square One Brewery and Distillery.  It was in the LaFayette Square neighborhood of St. Louis - an area that seems to be a mix of gentrification and decay.  We hope rehabilitation will include people of all economic levels.  

Mike was in heaven at Square One - they distill their own whiskey, vodka, tequila, absinthe, rum and make great beers and burgers too.  It was burger night, so what else could we order.  


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