portfolio > gone on the river

Day 49, July 17
Measurements: turbidity just downstream of lock and dam 26, which itself is just downstream of Alton, IL: 15cm. Again, I wonder if this might be an outlier - a tow had just passed, churning things up, and it was pretty close to the dam. We'll see. Nitrate at the same location (giving the Illinois time to mix in from yesterday): a good solid 5ppm.

What an interesting day.

I woke in that terrible motel room up on the bluff in Alton, IL, at around 9am. I went to bed around midnight; it's fascinating how much sleep I'm needing on this trip.

I did some updates while eating the... paltry offerings of this particular Super 8's continental breakfast. In keeping with the theme of the place, the breakfast was comically awful, as was the place where one could theoretically eat it. I ended up staying after 11am, in that space, continuing to work on updates and also trying to find a place to stay in St. Louis tonight, and also trying to wait out the rain. I ended up biking about a block to - where else? - Burger King, for an Impossible Whopper.

And then I couldn't put it off any more, and I biked back down the hill. It was better than biking up, by a lot, but still not what I'd describe as particularly fun. The best part was the reactions I got from folks, especially in what seemed to be the majority-Black part of town. A few guys said versions of the same thing: "I've never seen something like THAT" or "I was 34 years old before I saw someone pull a canoe behind a bike! Today is that day!" Another guy called out "lonnnngggg haauuulll TRUCKER!" Two women pulled up next to me in a car and the driver said she'd seen me last night, and we talked about what I'm up to. The passenger lived for awhile in Apple Valley, MN. They urged me to be careful out on the water, which they seemed to regard as a mortal threat.

I should note that it was raining off and on all through all of this. It was raining basically all day.

I biked down to a pretty great bike trail that goes along the top of the levee on the downstream side of town, past the dam. One interesting landform I passed was a place where the land itself was literally growing atop old barges. I stopped briefly at the public restroom associated with the dam, which also included a very nice water fountain.

Unfortunately, there was no easy way down to the water. I biked to the Army Corps' little Mississippi River museum, which includes a road that goes down to a spot... close to the river. (This road was closed. I rode down it anyway.) At the bottom of the road, I found a riprap wall about fifteen feet tall down to the level of the water. I didn't really have another option, and (carefully, slowly) portaged everything down to it. I paused to take a picture flipping the bird to not only Lock and Dam 26, but all of its brethren. They would've been double middles, but I needed the other hand to hold the phone.

I put in right after a tow passed with something like 15 barges, and immediately crossed the river to something my map labels Maple Island. I took my sample in midstream, and the water for the turbidity measurement. It rained on me harder and harder as I crossed, and even though I had literally just dumped all of the water out of the boat before putting in, I pulled to shore to bail out. I did this with the bottom of the lifestraw water bottle, cleaning up the dregs with a towel.

The area downstream of Lock 26/Alton is the most Industrial part of the river so far. The entire shore of the left bank was crowded with tows, most of them sitting there, off and unmoving. One tow moved around, of the multitude. The right bank was crowded with barges, especially barges labeled with very serious warnings about how their cargo was benzene, and if you smoked, lit anything on fire, or looked at them funny, you would certainly die, and many other people probably would too.

All of this eventually faded to a natural-ish state on the right bank, because something important was about to happen: the confluence with the Missouri River. More on that later.

I followed the Miss-and-Miss-commingled down past something called Duck Island (though I only saw geese). A tow passed by on my left with no barges at all. It took a left down the ship channel to Lock 27, and good riddance. I stayed on the main river, down to the Chain of Rocks. But first, I had to pull over to the shore to bail out again. A few notable things about that: the ground was a very fine sand, but definitely not silt. And the dropoff was quite steep, which to me indicates current.

I crossed from the right to the left bank after the ship channel, and it rained on me pretty hard as I crossed, of course. Thereafter I stuck to the left bank, under the I-270 bridge (also known as the "New Chain of Rocks Bridge") and the "Old Chain of Rocks Bridge," and then I put in, to avoid going over the much-alluded-to Chain of Rocks. It's a low-water dam which is canoeable in some water conditions, but certainly not water as low as it is at this moment.

On the way, a guy on the left bank who was clearly fishing with a couple of buddies asked if I'd caught anything. I said I'm not fishing, and paddled on. But as I unloaded the boat above the Chain, these three guys came down the trail. Two of them carried a stick over their shoulders, and suspended between them was a giant fish. I was... starstruck? I asked if I could take their picture with the fish. The guy who'd called out to me earlier posed with it, then asked if I'd like to pose with it, and he could take the picture, and I could pretend I'd caught it. I laughed and said no, thank you. They took off, and I got everything converted to road mode.

I rode up the little road from the Chain of Rocks fishing spot (that seems to be its main use?), moving to the far left of the road to avoid the speed bumps. This led me to a parking lot at the east end of the Old Chain of Rocks bridge, and then onto that bridge.

Oh my, it's so cool. It's just for peds and bikes at this point, and doesn't seem to really lead to anything much on the east side. But as just an experience, it's amazing. It's narrow, for a bridge that used to carry cars. The steel trellis is really lovely. And it gives a truly awesome view of the old water intake buildings in the middle of the river. More on that later.

From there, I took a longish bike ride down into St. Louis. Most of it was great. Some was on top of a berm levy, some was on the outside of a flood wall, some was on the inside of a flood wall. That meant that I crossed through a few giant blue flood doors. I was amidst Industry for quite awhile, catwalks crossing above me, piles of coal on one side and weird conveyer-belt ridden facilities on the other.

Eventually this bike trail lost the thread, right in downtown. Minneapolis does some things well, bike-wise, and one of them is giving people using trails any fucking idea what is going on. In a dead zone of old, abandoned, boarded and vacant multi-story warehouses that seemed stolen from a 1980s vision of The American City (think Robocop), it finally ended completely, with no guidance. I biked/walked up a couple of hills, then rode down into a weird space that seemed to have been privatized, complete with yellow metal gates across what had clearly been city streets. My whole rig could sneak under them, at the centerline, so that's what I did.

I made it to a part of town that has kept its old, awful, unbikeable cobblestones, in a failing bid for 'authenticity.' I grit and bore it through a few jostling blocks, and finally made it to the park associated with the Arch. Anti-vehicle (and bike trailer) bollards forced me back down to the river, where the bike trail existed again. I took this picture of the Arch from down by the river, on the trail.

Google chose a very interesting, somewhat threatening-seeming but in the end uneventful route to the airbnb. I rode under a confluence of railroad tracks, all snaking around on bridges of various heights above me. I rode under a freeway. I rode beside what seemed like a little parade of guys who like to drive their cars around. And I rode, alone, down a street that reminded me of 2nd Street North in Minneapolis, in that it's Industrial and close to the water, and relatively dead at night.

Eventually I made it to the airbnb, the bottom floor of an old townhouse in the Soulard neighborhood. It was maybe 8:45, well dark. I gratefully moved everything but the canoe inside, and took off quickly to get a burrito at a place called Mission Tacos. I'm writing this from a bar just around the corner.

Tomorrow, I plan to stay in St. Louis all day. Partly to see the town, partly to rest, partly to do some errands that I haven't had been able to do in smaller towns, and partly to hang out with my old friend Juliet, her husband and kids.