Bicycling in Saint Louis: Team Sixcycle-RK&O journeyed far and wide for the Thanksgiving weekend with team rider Matthew Vandivort posting this report from his hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri.
The Lou: Bicycling in Saint Louis by Team Sixcycle-RK&O’s Matthew Vandivort
There is something special about going home – and after many years the journey from LGA to STL feels like second nature. However despite first discovering the joy of cycling while living in Saint Louis, I have not seen the gateway city by bike since moving to New York City the better part of a decade ago.
My most recent pilgrimage home broke this streak – my wife and I were fortunate enough to obtain a pair of bikes from our friends at Big Shark Bicycling Company and shortly thereafter we set out across the city of my upbringing.
Whereas in most urban environments (including our own NYC) cyclists flow outward towards suburbs and open roads, Saint Louis plays host to a small stretch of the 3,000 mile Mississippi River Trail, allowing cyclists willing to venture downtown the opportunity to experience the gateway city waterfront on two wheels.
Our journey started at Big Shark Bicycling Company in the Central West End and headed east through North Saint Louis – a neighborhood comprised of historic townhouses that in many cases have seen better days – a neighborhood beautifully, and unfortunately accurately, captured in Demond Meek’s #slumbeautiful. A piece of street art in the neighborhood – “the land that time forgot” – appropriately captures the sentiment of abandoned and derelict buildings, interspaced with some optimistic but sparse signs of urban rebirth.
As we approached downtown – passing the Edward Jones Dome (originally christened the TWA dome, when TWA existed and St Louis was home to an airline hub) – we got our first full glimpse of the Gateway Arch, the icon that Saint Louis is perhaps best known for (Saint Louis mythology suggests that the city was also home to the invention of the ice cream cone at the 1904 Worlds Fair, but this may be more urban legend than reality).
We paused beneath the Gateway Arch for a few minutes to ponder the view – the muddy Mississippi and the numerous bridge crossings connecting East with West – before turning North, in and out of the shade of the large floodwall separating the city from the Mississippi. When the flood wall was original built in the 1950’s it presumably protected significant industrial properties, but on our ride the view was more industrial wasteland than anything else – scrap yards, automotive junk yards and the like establishing a stark contrast to the untamed natural beauty of the river on our right.
Continuing North the scenery rapidly transitioned from Mad Max-esque to suburban and ultimately rural – the landscape transitioning to open fields and wide expanses of barges trolling the Mississippi River.
Eventually we reached our destination – the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Originally built in 1929 this span was closed in 1970’s and sat unused for nearly three decades – preserved only by the high cost of demolition. Thankfully after years of disuse (and an appearance in Escape from New York) the bridge found a new use as a pedestrian bridge providing magnificent views of of the river and St Louis in the distance.
After a few pictures and a quick snack we reversed direction and retraced our steps, heading South and back to the urban landscape of downtown Saint Louis, a tailwind allowing us to make quick work of Saint Louis’ industrial past.