Road Logs, Travel

Road Log: Love and __ in St. Louis

I’m slowly writing up the road logs from the first leg of my Adventure. The previous log showed the difficult trip to St. Louis. I was long past all my friends and family—all my “islands”—so I had come out of my shell and learn to make new friends. I found new islands.

Days 75 – 80 Overview (September 19 – 24, 2012): Saint Louis

I’d only been to Saint Louis before on a family trip with an ex (her mom & brother lived there). While it wasn’t a bad memory, I didn’t have any special warmth for the Gateway to the West.

Now I do.

When I finally got to Laurie’s house late in the day 9/19 I was beat. Laurie immediately turned that around—a huge homecooked meal, and two amazing other Couchsurfers to meet! Jenn Verrier, a talented photographer, was on a coast-to-coast picture shooting pilgrimage. And Bill, a computer security freelancer and an old friend of Laurie’s, was in between jaunts to Central America.

(Drew’s note: You can see a wonderful portrait of Laurie, shot by Jenn while I was present, right here.)

We all bonded. The first night I was on the couch, as I was last to arrive and the others had been assigned the bedrooms. I was more than comfortable there.

Over my short time at Laurie’s house, I would come to feel very close to her—she’s a travel lover who gets her fix from hosting travelers, and a proud ambassador of Saint Louis and its great culture scene. And she’s an independent business owner, who I could relate to as a struggling freelancer. But I think we really bonded through food.

I try to be self-sufficient and painless for my hosts, but Laurie insists on cooking big meals (always from scratch). She quickly found out that she could trust me at the stove, and we learned not to doubt each other’s zanier cooking tricks. (Hers: blend carrots into a tomato-based sauce for pizza. Amazing.) We went shopping for ingredients together and developed a warm friendship while I was there.

I was originally scheduled to depart the morning of Sunday, September 23 but ended up staying an extra day (at her insistence!) and leaving Monday 9/24. If it was up to Laurie I would’ve stayed much longer.

Laurie’s two-story townhouse (with patio and herb garden in the back) became my headquarters for the week, but since it’s in the suburbs I also ended up bike-commuting into the city and spending nights with two other hosts during this stay.

Our weird little Couchsurfing family. Laurie, Bill, Jenn, and yours truly.

Our weird little Couchsurfing family. Laurie, Bill, Jenn, and yours truly.

Day 76

Laurie was very understanding that I had to work all day, and Bill did the same right alongside me. While we typed on laptops, Laurie did accounts for her business between frequent trips to the kitchen.

After a long hard day of writing, we went to dinner and night life in Saint Louis. Laurie knew of a great blues bar, and one of her favorite bands was playing at a local club. I didn’t know that Saint Louis was a blues capital; in my ignorance I thought that genre was much farther south. I was soon schooled, and although our venue plans ended up changing many times throughout the night, it was a great time.

At one point I got to bail Laurie out from the misplaced attentions of a rather creepy dance partner. This is a service I’ve come to enjoy performing for my female friends.

Ended our night at the landmark Venice Cafe, one of the funkiest and most visually stunning night spots you’ll ever find. Got some postcards for supporters there; enjoyed mosaics, drinks, sculptures, sitting at the “boat bar” and killer live music.

Very impressed by St. Louis nightlife. Had no idea!

Day 77

Friday. Did more work during the day. Made plans with a couple to come visit for dinner in the evening. I figured I’d bike back to Laurie’s afterward, but as they’re Couchsurfing hosts they assumed I would spend the night, which I did.

Bethany, a piano teacher, and Britta, a scholar, were great hosts. I showed up with a bottle of wine (which was worth being late for). We met at their house and then walked to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. They live on a peaceful street in the Tower Grove East neighborhood, one of St Louis’ most thriving scenes. Afterward we went back to their place to drink wine and chat.

While I hit it off with both of them, Britta’s work in particular really fascinated me. She studies Spanish Literature. After they went to bed I grabbed one of her books on the topic—I had asked which she recommended for starting out—and learned about different movements in Latin, but especially Mexican, literature in the 20th century. I was struck by how socially-driven Latin literature is: not just written as art, but intentionally as art in a context of driving social change. All the great Latin novelists were revolutionaries of one kind or another. Their passion infuses their writing.

I left with a new motive to perfect my Spanish, and a short list of titles to look for once I’m ready.

Day 78

Saturday. In the morning we had a quick and easy breakfast and then I departed from Bethany and Brittas’, heading back to Laurie’s house for the day. A little bit of work and a lot of socializing. But I had evening plans again.

Zoe is a young writer, an online entrepreneur and an occasional model. She had welcomed me to come stay with her during my time in St. Louis, and even though I had decided to stay primarily with Laurie I definitely wanted to meet a fellow writer. Zoe was making dinner at a friend’s house Saturday, and said I should come along and then crash on her couch.

I showed up with a bottle of wine, on time (now that I knew where to find a good wine shop) and found that I was just about the only person on time—which was nice. It gave me a chance to really get to meet Zoe and her friend, who was lending her his kitchen while she cooked (expertly). One by one, more of their friends showed up—almost all Couchsurfing hosts—and it became a sort of dinner party held on three sofas around a central coffee table. Some of us sat on the floor. Most had brought libations, as well, and we all reached that pleasant state of soft, warm drunkness that doesn’t yet involve fatigue or discombobulation.

I have to say that Zoe’s culinary skills are among the best I’ve ever sampled.

Meanwhile, I developed a crush on a sweet young woman named Katie. Just a good, warm connection.

Afterward most of us migrated to the Van Gogh Bar for drinks. It was only a couple blocks away, and exactly as chill inside as the name suggests. Got worried about money but didn’t say anything. Turns out I didn’t have to worry: a jovial, shock-blond unemployed animator ended up buying me a gin, which I thought was a great gesture.

Really hit it off with Katie. Even though I know it can’t really go anywhere, I told her Laurie and I are having friends over tomorrow for home-made curry, and invited her to come. She said yes!

Afterward, Zoe and I went to her apartment (and I met her cute dog) where I crashed on the couch.

Day 79

Sunday. I had a loose plan to meet Laurie at an Asian market for ingredients at 10 am, but thankfully she wasn’t up for it. Instead I had breakfast and a great talk with Zoe over her kitchen table. I had expected to leave a little early because she had church, but instead she was hell bent on writing, so I did the same. We co-worked in her kitchen for a couple of blissful hours—blissful because she really is a working writer and understands that “working” doesn’t mean chatting while the laptop is open.

One thing she said stayed with me a long time. I was expressing difficulty making time for my client writing when hosts have so many exciting and fun things they want me to do. To her it was no decision: “That’s you’re money,” she said about client work.

Right.

I’ve reminded myself of this many times since then. Thanks, Zoe.

[Drew’s note: Zoe ended up being the professional editor for my book, Lúnasa Days.]

I biked around the trendy part of town for a bit, picked up postcards to send to supporters, and got the much-needed curry ingredients, then back to Laurie’s. I’m now caught up completely on client work, and that fact alone more than justifies staying the extra day. A good feeling.

Jenn is gone now, so I have a room of my own—actually the room of Laurie’s grown daughter, whenever she’s in town—and we even saw Bill off, so I was the last of the current crop of surfers. Laurie and I had a blast cooking.

Laurie’s friend Wanda and my crush Katie came over for dinner. We had a good time. Laurie pulled me in the kitchen to discreetly tell me how cute Katie is—and how we’re “perfect together!” Wanda said the same thing. Okay, but I’m about to leave forever via bicycle. I wasn’t sure where they thought this might go, but then, there was a reason I invited her over, right?

I’d like to think Katie seemed to feel the same way I did. I’ll never know. After dinner I walked her out to her car but I didn’t make a move. I preferred to leave it a mystery, the way it should be, and just continue with my pilgrimage.

If you want to read more of my stories, you might like my novella Lúnasa Days about a young man who travels—and casts spells. Get it on Kindle today!

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Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Dubuque to St. Louis

The Giant and me on the lift in Dubuque. (I also pedaled up this hill.)

The Giant and me on the lift in Dubuque. (I also pedaled up this hill.)

Since I’m getting back on the road, it’s long past time to finish the road logs from the first leg of my journey. This one covers the period from limping into Dubuque to reaching St. Louis.

(The Adventure Log last saw our young writer bicycling into Dubuque, Iowa with a damaged brake. That was over a year ago—the dates below are 2012.)

Day 66 – 70 (September 10-14, 2012)

Stayed at Jack’s beautiful house overlooking the Country Club on top of the hill in Dubuque. I found Jack through Couchsurfing but he turned out the be an old friend of Urban Haas. When I arrived he was conducting a board meeting for the art museum in his living room. Once I showered up I joined right in. Jack also introduced me to many great new friends, and I met a stunning woman named Lauren. Pushed out my stay here to get writing done.

I could picture myself living here. Dubuque is a great town and Jack is a wonderful friend. “Reclusive Dubuque author” is now my backup plan.

A man named David repaired the Giant. Brand new front brake. If there’s such a thing as a Bicycle Monk, David is it.

Nights are cold! Jack wanted me to stay the weekend to attend an art event, but I want to push on.

Day 70 (September 14)

Headed out bright and early (ha) with a plan of using a freeway for the first time. When I entered the freeway I was overwhelmed (even though it was light traffic). It was very uncomfortable being out there, and I sought a way out—but there’s no parallel route. But I ended up liking the freeway. I stayed on even after there was a parallel. Smooth, flat road and I had a tailwind!

I wrote: “[These] 80 miles were some of the most pleasant biking I’ve ever done. Being on the freeway was meditative.”

Arrived Davenport to stay with Dustin, who lives on the entire top floor of a former apartment building, converted into his print shop and home. He gave me my own studio apartment! We had a great time out over beers and I got to see giant bus decals printing out on his machines. Got very drunk off just two pints. 71.0 miles.

Map

My host, Jack, in Dubuque.

My host, Jack, in Dubuque.

Day 71

Departed a little reluctantly. Not recovered from yesterday’s bike ride, beer really hit me, and the thought of Jack’s great house is still a tempting memory. Plus, Davenport & the Quad Cities seem like a fun little metro (twice as much fun as the Twin Cities, Jack!). I wish I could explore. But headed south, still seeking to beat the cold nights.

Just a block from Dustin’s studio is an artist’s house with amazing metal sculptures out front.

Long ride, lots of odd turns to get around natural features. Mostly country, but started off with spectacular view on the bridge over the river in the Quad Cities.

Arrived Monmouth, Illinois just after suppertime. Cruised nicer neighborhoods in hopes of finding someone who would suggest a place to stay. A woman walking her dog ended up putting me in touch with her Methodist church, leading to one of the single best experiences of the trip (see below).

Really intrigued that towns in this area of Illinois all have a central plaza, often with a roundabout! Great Mexican restaurant near this one (they doted after I ordered tacos with onion, cilantro and lime instead of tomato, lettuce and cheese) and a local Mexican market too. Could buy quality hot sauce if needed. 69.4 miles.

Map

Day 72

I stayed for the Sunday service. The pastor, John, is a great guy. All my hosts here have been amazing—it was truly uplifting to meet such supportive and open minded people.

Eventually I headed out, and Pastor John promised to put me in touch with a Methodist minister in the next town who might put me up.

I blessed the Church and its people before I left.

High spirits gave way to a tough day (first one since Dubuque). My first flat tire of the trip. Took forever to change, practically forgot how. Fellow cyclist in a pickup truck pulled up and offered help, but I’d already knocked on a door and begged use of an air compressor (having troubles with portable pump). He informed me this section of Highway 67 chews up bikes. Really rough pavement.

(Drew’s note: Although this was my first flat tire, it would not be my last—from here out they were incredibly common, often one a day or more.)

Approaching Beardstown quite a vista. Crest a hill and below is a river then the town. There was a magical moment, on top of the hill in a wooded area, where I “caught up to summer” heading south: the temperature of the air abruptly changed, and it smelled like summer flowers again, not autumn. Catching up to summer on a bike! I stopped and thanked the gods, the living universe for such a moment.

Arrived evening in Beardstown, IL. Mosquitoes just coming out as I arrived.  Pastor Bob offered to put me up at a motel(!). He checked me in and said he’s going to meet me for breakfast in the morning. 72.9 miles.

Map.

Day 73

Today’s weather promised thunderstorms, and I wanted to stay another day. Didn’t want to burden Pastor Bob’s congregation—offered to camp out, or do chores and stay in his garage. He insisted to put me up another night at the motel. Very generous.

At breakfast he made clear the reason he’s being kind is to convert me to following Christ.

Accomplished a great deal of writing. There were some thunderstorms, but not bad. Had lunch at a cafe around the town square, explored town a bit.

Went to a hardware store as well. As I left, someone shouted at me. It was a young woman on her break from Pizza Hut. She saw my bike and wanted to know about my trip. She invited me to have dinner with her and her fiancé.

Bri and Phil were amazing hosts. We had a delicious home-cooked dinner at their trailer home outside Beardstown (they gave me a ride, which I appreciated between the rain & coming home late at night). Bri is quite a chef and made chocolate lava cakes for desert! They’re great music fans and travel everywhere for music festivals. They organized their own music festival near Beardstown & it made money in its first year.

They also explained to me the tension in Beardstown between longtime white residents and a growing Mexican immigrant population.

Day 74 (September 18)

Headed out a little wistful, but well rested & full of happy feelings. Also excited about getting close to St. Louis. Decided to do a 100 mile day to reach a Couchsurfing host family just outside the city. Was extra excited because this was the first time I’d be staying with a family with kids.

Really liked the town of Jacksonville, Illinois. Another central square/park, and there was even music playing over public loudspeakers in the town center. Stopped at a diner, Norma’s North Star Diner—first sighting of hot sauce out on every table in a (white-owned) restaurant. Welcome to the South! Also stopped at a bookstore, Our Town Books.

(Drew’s note: sadly I no longer remember what book I got there, though it may have been the Nietzsche book I regretted buying for a long, long time. Or the Søren Kierkegaard book that I’d wanted to read ever since hearing a podcast reading of The Expectation of Faith from my hammock in Wisconsin.)

Also found out there are two bicycle shops (!) in Jacksonville, couldn’t find one but stopped at the Village Cyclery which was right on my way. Very helpful staff, got my tubes and learned more about how different size tubes can fit the same tire (within reason). Also straightened out my portable pump, though it never did end up being very good.

Then a long, trance-like afternoon of biking that was just delightful. Had some fun with my shadow on Seiler Road just outside Godfrey, IL and enjoyed the casual pre-sunset ride that comes with being on time for once.

Somewhere around there I biked my 1000th mile!

My hosts in Bethalto, IL are an amazing family. The two teen daughters are “unschooled” and as far as I can tell it worked. Two bright, innovative socially-adjusted kids and two proud parents. They put me up in a den/guest bedroom and fed me an amazing spaghetti dinner that I was more than ready for after (almost) a hundred mile ride.

Really wish I could’ve spent more time with them. 95.3 miles.

Map.

My shadow.

My shadow.

Day 75 (September 19) – Arrival in St. Louis

Started off extremely excited about today’s trip. Should have been easy—mere 40 miles—and I was enticed onward by a beautiful vision: arriving early afternoon to a house where my host was preparing a big gourmet meal, plus wine, for me and two other new Couchsurfing arrivals. I couldn’t wait!

But this became one of my most hated days. What could’ve taken 5 hours or less turned into a long, frustrating day thanks to a 14 mph headwind, bad trails and getting lost.

To start with I accepted directions from non-cyclists without double checking them. I was eager to get started and it seemed like an easy trip. This cost me.

The wind was so strong, and the commuter traffic so heavy, that I was exhausted in the first 2 miles and stopped to rest outside a church.

I passed what I’m told is one of the best local burger joints in the St. Louis area. I didn’t go in because of the great meal awaiting me. Later I regretted this, but I guess if I had wasted any more time I might still be out there.

When I eventually found my trail I had gone miles out my way, but figured that at least with an actual bike trail the rest would be easy. I was wrong.

I spent most of the day fantasizing about a scathing public letter I could write to the idiot(s) who designed the Confluence Trail. If you’re reading this go eat broken glass.

Here are some thoughts on the trail:

  • It’s a levee top trail. For some reason urban planners love putting bike trails on top of levees which means most urban planners don’t ride bikes. When you’re on top of a levee it means the biking is hard no matter which direction the wind is coming from. Put the trail below the levee on the river side for a prettier view, an automatic windbreak and less noise.
  • The Confluence Trail is paved, like all good urban bike trails. (Road bikes can’t use gravel trails, and road bikes loaded with gear—like mine—get flat tires quickly on gravel.) Unfortunately, the paved trail suddenly turns to gravel-only once it reaches (of course) a secluded stretch with no side-roads to turn on. You guys are assholes.
  • There are signs with about 40 “rules of the bike trail” in 12-point font every quarter mile or so. Really? Could we have spent that money on pavement?
  • At one point, without signage to guide cyclists, the bicycle trail just disappears into an industrial park. Seriously, look at the map link—it’s the part a little ways north of where I cross the river, where my route literally makes a loop around some giant warehouse. On top of the lack of signs to guide you through/around this, the whole area is covered in NO TRESPASSING signs and dire corporate warnings of what happens to people who go there without a tanker truck. I for real yelled curses.
  • A section of the Confluence Trail has serious, scary-looking potholes. The Transit authority was kind enough to put out orange cones to mark them—except they didn’t use weighted cones, so in the strong wind I was stuck weaving around sink holes while dodging mobile cones.

Did it all fighting that headwind, but when it takes an hour to advance just 2 miles on an urban bike trail, the wind’s not the only thing wrong.

One nice thing about today was reuniting with the Mississippi River. Since Davenport my route cut away from her slightly, the main road being straighter than the winding river. (This had troubled me at one point and I considered taking winding roads to stay closer to her shore, but glad I went the way I did.) I made offerings when I reached her.

It was neat to see the Confluence, where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. At this point I’ve seen the Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri Rivers (and crossed two of them) as well as the Mississip.

Once across, the trail remained poorly marked in the city, more getting lost. It was great though to bike right past downtown St. Louis and the Arch. I’ve been up the Arch but never got to admire the city from bicycle before.

Finally, more than 5 hours late, I reached Laurie’s house after 6 pm. I’d been calling her throughout the day to update her and she was very understanding. She said this has happened to other bicyclists who have come to stay with her.

We had a terrific meal that began one of the best experiences of my trip, but that’s a story for next time…

49.3 miles (nine of them unnecessary).

Map.

Total traveled this leg: 357.9

Total traveled since Day 1: 1067.0

The miles I count include all biking intended to carry me forward on the trip (including longcuts and getting lost) but excludes lots of local biking around the areas where I stay. I try to make the maps match the exact, actual route I took but sometimes Google doesn’t cooperate. The result is that sometimes I conservatively adjust the mileage from what Google says.

You can also see the other road logs:

Minnesota Log

Wisconsin Edition

More coming soon.

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