The people in Missouri have been giving Kansans a run for their money! We didn't think people could get any nicer or more personable to four fools crossing the country on bicycles. But then there was Missoura.
We left from Sedalia just before dawn and rode to Jefferson City (Jeff City) to catch the Katy Trail, the longest rails to trails project in the country and an awesome, shady, quiet (but insanely humid) break from the roads. The surface is packed gravel, and knowing this and the fact we wouldn't go as fast as possible we came in a little skeptical, but the trail was no problem, only one tire exploded (gunshots on the Katy Trail??), and we made it to just outside St. Louis, with a overnight stop in the German town of Hermann. We camped in the town park and were dripping with sweat all night. You do not know humidity, it's been the worst in a lot of people's memories. The next day we headed to Chesterfield, Missouri, a western suburb of St. Louis 20 miles from downtown. Patti O'Mally (remember the Wells Fargo regional VP?) called the St. Louis branch asking for one of the branch managers to see if we could get a place to stay. When Elizabeth Mannen, a financial analyst taking his calls told her he was out of town, Patti O'Mally proceeded to spew our story in a convoluted arc, at the end of which Elizabeth simply said, "well, he's not here, but I'll take them." This is how we met Elizabeth.
The surface is packed gravel, and knowing this and the fact we wouldn't go as fast as possible we came in a little skeptical, but the trail was no problem, only one tire exploded (gunshots on the Katy Trail??), and we made it to just outside St. Louis, with a overnight stop in the German town of Hermann. We camped in the town park and were dripping with sweat all night. You do not know humidity, it's been the worst in a lot of people's memories. You can see what it's done to my camera, so my apologies, it needs a cleaning.
Hermann on the Missouri River as we headed out around dawn.
The next day we headed to Chesterfield, Missouri, a western suburb of St. Louis 20 miles from downtown. Patti O'Mally (remember the Wells Fargo regional VP?) called the St. Louis branch asking for one of the branch managers to see if we could get a place to stay. When Elizabeth Mannen, a financial analyst taking his calls told her he was out of town, Patti O'Mally proceeded to spew our story in a convoluted arc, at the end of which Elizabeth simply said, "well, he's not in town, but I'll take them." Patti was stunned, and this is how we met Elizabeth.
So beyond awesome, she made us amazing salmon with orzo, gave us beers and took us to eat frozen custard, Missouri's delicious obsession. We talked with Elizabeth all afternoon and night and had a great time, it's just incredible the people we meet and what they want to do for us. She also made us a giant breakfast, and said we ate 4 pounds of salmon and then a dozen eggs plus bagels and so many potatoes. She said she wishes she could follow us and cook for us the rest of the way. Trust us, we do too. If you're reading Elizabeth, we're doing great and promise we definitely haven't been eating gas station hot pockets, pop tarts, beef jerky and taco bell (lies).
The next morning we finally headed out around 7, having gotten to sleep around 10:30 (crazy late for us), and made it to downtown as a downpour began. Still, we got to enjoy the Gateway Arch for a little while at least. Stand on your head, hold a chain is both hands, let it hang and you have yourself a little Gateway Arch! Look you didn't even have to come to St. Louis. Actually it really is amazing, one of those things that changes the character of a city so much that people at the time must have said "what??" (to put it politely) but now is so simple in its form that it's iconic. As the torrent came, we had to make it north along the Mississippi, and while on a map it looks pretty straightforward... The Mississippi had other ideas. The street running along the riverfront was on and off flooded by the river, we discovered this after walking our loaded bikes down about 80 steps from the hill where the arch and the rest of the city is located. Arturo thought it might be a good idea to just ride across the river. It wasn't. But he didn't get much wetter than we already were.
Finally after winding through abandoned warehouses north of downtown and talking to workers at the loading docks, the managed to make our way across the river to Illinois, avoiding East St. Louis proper. While it would have been great to include a place that is definitely extremely American, especially in recognition of the extent to which leukemia and other cancers disproportionately affect many impoverished and industrially exposed communities, anyone we told we might head through East St. Louis would literally always say "do you want to die?". East St. Louis is infamous as one of the roughest cities in the country, a place where daytime muggings, carjackings and murders are common. This ride is absolutely for its citizens too, but crossing on bikes may have been, well who knows.
Anyway, just north of East St. Louis we entered an industrial waste zone, and the best way for me to describe what it looked like is a hellish landscape.
But having seen the farms, we had to see the industry, and the workers in these places do incredibly dangerous things in the roughest conditions to support their families. It was definitely a chang of scenery. Of course once past that, Illinois is a lot of corn...
That's the story so far, but we didn't mention that during the entire ride from Elizabeth's house west of St. Louis to Vandalia, Illinois, the day was filled with a huge series of misfortunes and near-disasters, which we figure were just balancing how amazingly we were treated by Elizabeth. Let's summarize: As we were entering downtown, Loreen wanted to use the bathroom at a Del Taco, but going over a grate into the parking lot Loreen punctured her tire with glass AND got a pinch flat. While fixing it, the rain came. Fortunately it was a quick shower. At the Arch, the real rain came, and that one was not a joke. As mentioned, we couldn't find a way to get down to the river except an extremely long cascade of steps, and halfway down Alex's pannier (saddle bag) snapped off, one of the clips already having broken in a crash. We secured it with zip ties and tried to continue along the river, were thwarted by its waters, and had to ask around to find an alternate route to the McKinley Bridge. On the otherside of the bridge, riding on the highway by Venice, Illinois, Arturo's tire exploded hitting a nail or something, ripping his tire up something aweful. We replaced it with one of the foldable tires we've been carrying and continued. A good while later, a sudden stop was made, and since we were all close together our train crashed into itself, and Alex went flying with the supporting struts for Stacy's rear fender getting sheared off and Alex's pannier once again snapping off. Alex hit his knee in the fall but was more shaken up than really hurt thankfully. We zip tied Stacy's fender clamps on and re-zip tied Alex's pannier. The zip ties did not fit on his knees. We should have tried duct tape. Continuing on, Loreen's brakes were constantly rubbing, and at one point heading up a ramp she almost completely stopped, lost her balance and fell, banging up HER knee. We released the rear brakes entirely after repeated attempts to reset the tire and loosen the brakes so we could just deal with it later. It was about 5 pm by this point and we still had more than 30 miles to go. Fortunately the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful, just full of corn. We came into Vandalia after dark, finding a Holiday Inn Express. Unfortunately the manager said they weren't able to donate at that time, but just as we were leaving, Jeff, who we'd been talking to in the lobby for a while as we were waiting, said he'd spring for a room for us because of what we're doing and so we didn't have to ride in the dark any more!
An awesome guy, booming and towering over all of us, heading from Phoenix where he's been doing contract work back home to Michigan. He's a lot of fun to talk to. So at the end of that ridiculously miserable day, we got an amazing room and managed to get a good night's sleep. The balance is maintained and next stop Indiana!