Finished the Katy Trail.
So here we are in St Louis, or “San loo-EE” as the locals call it, if they spoke French, and if they felt like it. We have spent the Saturday Zero Mile ritual with Robert “Buddy” Paulette (et famille), an old friend from grad school, a Rich Neck Alumnus, and as Sarah claims, one of the two or three funniest commentors on my Facebook feed–high praise given the level of the completion and the standards of the judge. She is right through–Buddy’s quick wit has given us all some true gems over the years. Buddy also is an accomplished scholar with a dynamic research agenda and some upcoming support from one of my favorite George Washington inflected institutions–ahem….
To get here, Xander and I finished off the Katy Trail in three days–two of them long ones. We hit the edge of some weather on the last day, but any delays were more due to my perennial quasi-rational fear of rain. All but one of my crashes have been rain-related and I am scarred. Again, Xander kindly indulged my hesitance once I felt a rain drop and saw a puddle, but in the end we still made 108 miles and slept in a nice Warm Showers home when done. We miscounted miles though and made the last 10 miles in the dark. The Katy is sort of hypnotizing already but under cover of darkness it is positively meditative. The next day was the ride into central San loo-EE–an urban ride with some fun hills and traffic dodging. Jews too! We passed a cemetery and a small party starting a burial. I stopped and hung at the back of the group to offer amens and wish the woman’s neshama an aliah in heaven. Having had to miss Gordon’s funeral, I was glad of the chance to pay some small set of respects here. The next Jew stop was a deli with a big blue and white star in the window. This was the first Jewish business I had seen in ages and in could not let it pass. Death and food–it sounds like a Woody Allen movie.
Once in town, we found our way to Big Shark–the bike store which everyone directed us to. Xander needed a new tire and a small esoteric recumbent part problem addressed. Luck on the former and failure on the later. Recumbents are tricky beast and eventually Xander had to find a specializing shop and even they lacked the part but had a work around. While at Big Shark though, I also took the chance to replace my shoes–three tours seems to be the limit for a pair and my bad habit of unclipping heel inward have left a mark. But that is in the past–I now have a new pair of tourable shoes. Now I need to learn to clip outward.
After Big Shark, we rode a few more streets and we were in the Shaw neighborhood where Buddy and Bridget raise their son Mack in a really nicely redone home in a neck of town filled with other great looking homes. It was then that Xander faced his biggest test thus far–even though unsuspecting callow youth that he is, he had no idea what lay in store. The question was can he survive a day in the company of two historians. That is no small challenge and one that has withered many weaker souls. All signs though point to Xander having made it through with only an acceptable level of recontextualization.
Looking back from the banks of the Mighty Mrs. Ip, The Katy Trail itself is something of a blur to me. It was largely a species of green tunnel as I had expected and although there some trulylovely parts, a lot of it is just passing trees and a sandy white path. It was level level level and an easy ride– a great trail and a particularly good one for new cycle tourists. Camping was a bit unclear–so one area for improvement might be campsites along the way. The towns are a mixed bag and they get nicer and nicer as one moves east. And by nicer I mean they start to look more like Virginia towns–really, there were a few that were indistinguishable from Virginia counterparts. In one we talked with a local business owner who explained that the residents worked very hard to maintain the genuine charm of the town. Some of that included keeping out more “probelematic people”–an assessment around which she danced very carefully. I took her meaning though, and given the post-industrial meth and pitbull devastation we saw westward. She said they fought off a Missouri River tourist fish camp plan for the shoreline fearing that they would have no way to move people along when the fishes stopped biting. The issue as she presented it was the balance between possible income sources weighed against fears to maintain property values. Stranger danger vs stranger resources. Many towns with trails face this and there are many responses. I am not sure though this is the best one. Trails represent real sources of income and energy and the Katy in particular has some real state money behind it. Each trail head has a similarly designed information station and bathroom set–though not all have water. One level understands the value of these trails but as we saw in Cute Name Left Omitted Town, Missouri, there is still a strong fear of strangers–a fear strong enough to turn away their money. The irony of course is that each and every town along the Katy was a rail town, and as such its livelihood was dependent on the movement of goods and people up and down those now removed tracks. The original residents were themselves mostly strangers who relocated to be near the rails and in some cases the shells of their businesses are still there to be seen as well as ghost signs on the brick and the carved names of long-gone entrepreneurs. It is a bit late to go all xenophobic now–or at least it represents a curious case of amnesia.
We paused for a quick swim in the Missouri to break the heat on our long day–making the day longer, but well worth it. The current was very strong and a big whirlpool carried a log around and around so that it looked like a sort of Loch Ness monster or renegade Twainian raft. The river is wide and the banks muddy and wild looking–nothing like an eastern river. The Corps of Discovery passed this way in the spring of 1804 and I don’t think the river looked all that different. These men were strangers then too–and bearing wallets in their own way. The locals were of mixed minds about the strangers then too. Some saw advantage, others saw trouble. Both views were right then, and I guess both views are still right today. The more things change….