3. Cahokia: Warm-Up

. . . continued from 1.1.b


Lee’s niece had a wedding the weekend after I arrived, lots of guests would be coming from out of town, Tom and Lee had an anniversary on Wednesday the 7th. So it was understandable that I wouldn’t be seeing my brother again right away. But I decided to stay in town until he’d have a bit of an occasion for me again, if only to say good-bye on my way out of town. He let me know when we were together a week ago that this could not be before Tuesday the 13th.


For a number of reasons, Springfield was on my itinerary. It’s a major town on the edge of the Ozark Plateau. It might someday be a staging point for moving into the hinterlands.


When I put “Kirkwood to Springfield” into the bicycle option on google maps, I was surprised to come up with an arc that traces through Jeff City, rather far to the north. It looked scenic and interesting, much of it along a bike trail next to the Missouri River, and the terrain is not too hilly – I’ll be getting enough of that later. The route also takes me pretty close to Lake Saint Louis, providing an opportunity to stop by at Tom’s and Lee’s.


So I could spend a good week here with Mom. She wouldn’t mind. The only drawback is that I don’t want stay too long. It’s mid-September already, with the days getting shorter and the nights chillier. But I ought to be OK. I should still be able to reach home easily by the end of October.


Nevertheless, sitting around Mom’s apartment for a week was not easy. She is nervous, a lot like my grandma used to be, and she’s accustomed to a pace of living that’s way too slow and predictable for me.


I could spend time in the computer room, even indulge in a couple games on the Kisei Go Server. I could make a pilgrimage, for old time’s sake, into Webster, where I suffered through the worst years of my life as a high school inmate, and out to Tilles Park, where Mom used to take us on picnics when were little. I could run a few errands, tweak my gear and prepare for the long haul.


But it got into my head that I needed something more substantial than this, seeing as how I was going to be in St. Louis for well over a week.


I had long thought that someday I’d like to see the mounds at Cahokia. I’d never been there. It turned out to be close enough to Kirkwood that I could make a reasonable trip of it, out there and back in a single day.


This would give me a chance to test the directions on google maps. After all, I couldn’t print an actual map but would have to rely on numbered instructions to turn left or right, here or there, proceed 342 feet or two-tenths of a mile or whatever, on this or that street, avenue, boulevard or lane.


Undoubtedly there is some way to print out suitable maps for a bicycle tour – in different sizes, close-up detail or large scale, as required, two-sided and six to a page. But I couldn’t figure out how to get a legible print of even the large-scale overview at the head of the page. I doubt I could have done it at home in a week on my own Macintosh. There was no way I’d worry myself for very long on an institutional computer hooked up to a printer I didn’t know.


As it turned out, I still had to write in, by hand, hundreds of mostly very short distances beside each numbered “turn left, turn right” because, try as I might, I couldn’t get the gray scale distances to print on either of the pc’s in Bethesda’s 3rd floor computer room.


And that’s only gotten me as far as Lexington. I’d still like to plot my course from there all the way back home. It will be a lot more convenient now than it will when I’m out on the road someplace – if I can find the hours to do this before leaving. There are still a lot of other tasks I have to wrap up before Tuesday morning, not to mention giving some attention to Mom. She says she will miss me “terribly” when I’m gone. I doubt there’s another person in the world who could say that honestly. (Poor Mom.)


This sort of time bind is a constant feature of life for me, as are the little glitches and monkey wrenches that always seem to crop up in the unrolling of my personal agenda.


My  DeLorme Missouri Road Atlas, the southern half of whose pages I’d sliced off and brought along, does not have anywhere near the detail I’ll be needing to follow the hundreds of stages and turns I’d mocked up for myself between here and Lexington, Kentucky. So it seemed like a good idea to make a trial run, with a light load, close to my secure base at Mom’s.


At first I thought I would go to Cahokia on Friday. But I wasn’t too well organized when I got up, and it was pouring rain around 8 a.m., when I would have left. So I put it off one more day. Turns out it was smart to wait. I was better prepared, better rested, and the weather was perfect – neither wet nor very hot.


  • 7571 – Grant’s Trail. Named after a Union general in the War Between the States, later a notoriously alcoholic President, who came from these parts and whose portrait adorns our $50 bill. Starting in Kirkwood, near Mom’s place, it gave me six or so miles of gracious riding before my indicated turn-off … on a soft September Saturday morning. An absolutely gorgeous way to start. 
  • 7584 – Beneath The Arch. Looking northeast towards Eads Bridge (the closer of two). 
  • 7591 – Looking south from Eads Bridge. Old Man River, the Mighty Mississip. Huckleberry Finn and Jim went down this way on their raft … a long time ago. 
  • 7598 – Stonehenge, Mississippi style. Actually they call it “Woodhenge.” The posts were trimmed with stone tools, as the Indians would have done, and set in one of several historic locations. Three white swatches indicate alignment from the center pole with the northern and southern solstices and the equinox. 
  • 7601 – Inside the gorgeous “interpretive center.” I locked up my vehicle out front, using the thick-as-your-wrist, 10-pound, New York style bicycle chain and lock I’d felt was worth bringing along. This is the first time I’ve gone touring with more than a lightweight chain and lock. Normally I don’t stray far from my bicycle or visit areas where theft would be likely. When I’m around people, the bicycle is almost always heavily loaded, and few people, even an able-bodied professional bicycle thief, would know how to handle it. But on this tour I thought I’d be grateful for the added protection. I’ve had recurring nightmares about this bicycle getting stolen. 
  • 7610 – The park at Cahokia Mounds is marvelously spacious and serene. There are many miles of trails for walking and cycling … but even on a Saturday, no crowds, plenty of solitude. This was the site of an extensive settlement. At its zenith, about a thousand years ago, it numbered between ten and twenty thousand inhabitants, larger than the city of London. Other, smaller settlements were all around. Trade items have been dug up here – sea shells, sharks’ teeth, volcanic stone – that attest to an extensive trading network. 
  • 7612 – Woodlands like I remember from my childhood. The very smells are familiar, but not something I would know how to name or describe. When my parents built our house, around 1953, it was at the outskirts of St. Louis County. For half a dozen years I enjoyed an extensive woods, much like this, before they replaced it with Forest Green Estates (yuck). Were it not for this serendipity, I might never have been the lover of solitude that I am, and of long, impractical rambles through natural settings. 
  • 7613 – Can you make out the deer towards the end of this field? A couple to the left, and three or four to the right. White tailed deer were all over this place. I also saw several large turkeys. If I came here again, I would spend the night in one of these patches of forest. There is an abundance of lovely sites. Who would ever know I was there. There is nothing spectacular on the grounds. The mounds are important, but what else can you do after you’ve given them a look? I would, however, gladly spend another half day exploring the Interpretive Center. 
  • 7618 – Scenes like this made me think of Elizabeth, who loves flowers. A digital photo can’t really do them justice. 


To be continued – on September Cruise 1.1.d

. . . continued from 1.1.c


  • 7623 – Smart ass. At the foot of Monk’s Mound, on busy Collinsville Road. The sign is meant for cars, of course. But it was the only good place to lock up my bike. 
  • 7625 – Looking south from Monk’s Mound, with the Interpretative Center off to the left. Monk’s Mound is the largest pre-Columbian earthen structure north of Mexico. It was raised, basket by basketful of earth, in three stages, with a generous accretion of topsoil over the subsequent centuries. The Mississippian people built stockades with logs weighing tons. No one knows how they brought them here. There are other mysteries, such as why their civilization declined and vanished. 
  • 7628 – Downtown St. Louis on the horizon, looking to the south and west. Again, from the field at the top of Monk’s Mound. This is in Collinsville, Illinois, just south of Interstate 70, which is how I arrived on the Greyhound bus, via Indianapolis, Columbus, and points east. 
  • 7634 – Riding back along Collinsville Avenue. East St. Louis is reputed to be one of the toughest towns in North America, right up there with Mexico City and Paterson, New Jersey. It’s not the kind of place I’d want to stop and fix a punctured tire. I took care to ride back through here well before it got dark on a Saturday night. 
  • 7645 – A sense of scale. Under the Arch. Lots of folks were about. I spoke with people from as far away as Virginia, Idaho and Germany. There was a large wedding party, taking pictures here. 
  • 7649 – Yes, it’s corny, but still beautiful. Elegant in its simplicity. And it is my hometown. There’s an elevator to the top, and windows to peer out from, where I’ve never gone. There’s a fine museum underground, celebrating the Louis and Clark expedition, after Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. 
  • 7652 – There is quite a scenic park, on the high ground above the river, extending both north and south of the monument. The gas lights, now electrified, evoke the city’s past, when it was more important than it’s been for many years, occupying strategic ground just below the confluence of North America’s two most lengthy streams. In all the times I’ve revisited St. Louis since I so eagerly left in June of 1967 – on a Greyhound bus, bound for Wichita, Kansas, the very morning when my high school class would be graduating in Webster Groves – my hometown has never looked as attractive to me as it does at this time. 
  • 7654 – I love decay. Scenes like this fascinate me. They also perfectly encapsulate what’s happened to America’s industrial preeminence. 
  • 7655 – Continuing south along 2nd Avenue, still close to the river. The buildings are not completely derelict. I saw a light in at least one of the lower windows – squatters perhaps, or some vestige of commercial activity? 
  • 7656 – Another looming hulk, good set for a futuristic science fiction film. 
  • 7657 – Here’s a proper screen saver, for my 6-year-old desktop Mac … maybe when I get back home. This about sums up how it feels when the thing waxes glitchy and slow, which is just about always anymore. 


I made the whole trip out to Cahokia and back, 64.3 miles – packing my lunch and a couple jugs of water, visiting an extraordinary historic site, passing through lovely and interesting locations – without spending a nickel on the trip. This is one of the beauties of bicycle travel. Once you’ve acquired and grown familiar with your outfit, you can do almost anything for little more than it costs to feed yourself.


The google maps worked fairly well. Nearly everywhere they were on the mark.


In several places, however, the route from Kirkwood to Cahokia Mounds was wrong, in several different ways – distances, connections, how to turn. But plotting my course in this manner is worth the risk of getting lost from time to time and floundering around a bit.


Using my large-scale atlas, I would have no choice but to travel on busy major streets and highways. The google map system puts me on quiet back roads and much safer, more comfortable, and generally more scenic designated bicycle routes.


So this will probably constitute a big improvement in my routine, over the long haul. With every tour, in some way or another, I upgrade my rig or learn some new trick. I plan to carry the DeLorme Atlas pages for side trips, or in case I get significantly lost.


To be continued … at some future date.

Perhaps from a wifi coffee shop in Springfield, MO.


(Please let me know if you don’t wish to receive any further postings.)





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