written April 29, 2012
Time to fly.
The best thing about Edwardsville–what I will miss most of all–is its wide-ranging web of old rail lines converted to concrete bike paths. The Giant gets a workout several times a week. For most rides I like to have a destination, as both a marker of progress and a goal, whether to sprint the 16 miles to Horseshoe Lake, where the St. Louis skyline beings to loom just beyond, a straight northern shot through the rolling country to Staunton, Illinois, or my favorite and Madison County Trail’s longest loop: a 37-mile circuit that eventually arches down and through Collinsville. Snapping stress and buoyant prospects had been the story of the past several days. I was excited of my burgeoning steps toward a new St. Louis existence, but today it was time to simply saddle up and see where the hours would take me.
Late in the morning I strapped on my helmet and readied my Ipod. Could be gone awhile. Most of all I love long distance rides–thirty, forty miles or more, cutting through the thickets and fields of the country’s agricultural wilds. Another plus is that with a few pedal pumps I’m suddenly faster than any runner, wind whipping at my face. Biking lends itself to adventure, looking over that next hill that you’ll soon meet, while quickly getting away from it all. I was in such a mood.
The very large, full-sized map can be found here.
Several distinct paths jut out from Edwardsville in different directions. I chose a north-easterly route. Soon all of Metro East civilization was left behind, the land opening up yet again, past dwindling homes and businesses on the town’s furthest fringes, replaced by corn stalks, blowing wind, and circling hawks. Get far enough out and you’ll cease to see people. And then you can imagine yourself a cycling Omega Man. No one in the world knew where I was that moment, temporarily untraceable and unbounded by technology, reliant only on the thrust of my muscles and will. Zooming past another mile marker the path gave way to gravel.
It rained yesterday. The downpour had transformed the normally reliable dirt path underneath me to a cakey, slow morass. Extra effort was required on every downward stab of my thighs, shifting now my weight side-to-side for extra power. Pushing east, in time I met and passed underneath the north-south boundary of Interstate 55. Now I was in undisputed country. The path’s eastern extension was one of MCT’s newest projects, lenghting the way that once ending at a rural golf course not far from the divided highway. Part of my goal, my reason for choosing this route, was to inspect their work. I found, happily, they had made impressive progress, perhaps two miles or more. Each new segment eventually curved slightly to the left or right, yet a further wooded length would be revealed. In time I began to wonder if the crews had finally connected to the distant village of Alhambra. Finally I reached a posted map that confirmed they had. With a quick, satisfied glance back over the terrain I had covered I pushed myself further northeast, towards this small outpost. And hopefully a fountain somewhere, now being out of water.
Even as my revolving legs began to tire I still had unexpressed energy to burn. I was anxious and exciting to move to a strange, vibrant city of ominous report. It would be an entirely solo landing too. My mind began to drift, sketching scenes of my future St. Louis life; I envisioned an expansive, enriched life of culture and community in Tower Grove East. Yet what would I do, exactly? Will I indeed be a summer civics instructor, or without a classroom to call my own, be left to perhaps wait tables on South Grand? It was too bad the curtain would close on everything I knew in Edwardsville. Pieces of it would be missed and remembered, like these rides. If that is not usually the way of things for most people–and I wasn’t sure of this–it is often the way with me. In truth, compared to most others I had known along this expiring five-year span of my life, I myself was probably last to leave. If the standard plan by all was to eventually set sail from here I was actually the last dingy in the harbor. In that moment I wished everyone well. I was casting off for St. Louis, to perhaps latch onto one of its unaccredited city schools, or a district in the western suburbs. I wondered, again, if this was the right thing to do, before another voice reminded me of many other scattered past challenges. Sweat came down my face, with the sun now high overhead as I pedaled on. In part I was going on the faith that I cared enough about the value of egalitarian education to persevere. But I am getting ahead of myself. Is the great state of Missouri ever going to get around to certifying me? That would be nice.
Sooner or later I came to an intersecting, north-south country lane. Wow, I’ve been out here awhile now. I peered further down the bike trial. Nothing. Was Alhambra playing a coy Gebel to this biking, wandering, seeking Ibn Fattouma? Thankfully the day was cool and becoming overcast, or I would have been in increasingly appalling shape. Alright, change of plans. I guessed this road would eventually lead to the hamlet of Marine after six or seven miles to the south. From there I could return to Edwardsville along their shared trail corridor.
Phase two of this elongating trek was an entirely new adventure, traveling over an unfamiliar paved road. I avoid this naturally, having the safety and serenity of the paths to always ride, yet this has kept me by and large inexperienced and a bit spooked with surprise when confornted with the whooshing from behind of commuters
The winds were whipping strong and low over the arrested prairie fields. I leaned harder upon the grips, standing and leveraging against the work of the pedals. Breathe. I seemed to inch along, toward a barely growing bluff that hid the town on its other side. Is that a storm coming up from the west? Yard by yard I gradually entered Marine from the north. Gathering what strength I could after finally getting shelter from the gusts, I toured through the few blocks of town. Marines, famously, do not leave their comrades behind, but someone assuredly abandoned this community. Perhaps it had been a bit more lively, with a tad more paint as recently as 2008. Still, all was placid and green, a sunny sleepy non-spectacle, with little otherwise to note. Cycling two blocks to the northwest edge of town, I stopped a moment at Silver Lake Park before the final segment home. A father was fishing with his son a ways off at the end of a pond, Andy Griffith-style. The water fountain at the side of a tiny, disused shelter was dead. Oh well. Time to return to Edwardsville ten miles on. I’m sure there’s some packing I could do.