Days 64-69: Seattle, WA & St. Louis, MO - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 15, 2011 to June 20, 2011

Days 64-69: Seattle, WA & St. Louis, MO

The airport in St. Louis is an alternate universe of boarding announcements, Dunkin Donuts kiosks, business travelers desperately seeking a power outlet for their laptop, and pilots who think a short-sleeved shirt and tie worn together makes a strong fashion statement. At 35,000 feet the Midwest spreads out below, not in tens of miles like I'm used to, but in hundreds. The roads that have been my life for the last nine weeks help divide the land into squares and rectangles that break from the pattern only when a river gets in the way. It's beautiful, but in a way that feels completely unfamiliar. I hesitate to look out the window because it feels like cheating, like a peek ahead into my future.

My two days in Seattle turn out better than I ever could have hoped. I always knew that my family and friends completely supported my obsession with this trip, but back at home I see it come out in a steady stream of smiles and hugs and good jobs wrapped around one delicious meal after another. There's nothing greater than finding out how proud people are of what I've accomplished while pounding through giant tacos, chocolate chip pancakes, pork carnitas, pizzas, margaritas, home-brewed beer, and Slurpees. Anxiety about the meeting hangs over my head, and the fact that I have to wear pants for the first time in nine weeks doesn't help. But I'm well prepared, I impress my client, and I go a long way toward locking down an important piece of business. It's a mental break from bike touring that I wish I didn't have to make, but as much as I try to fight it, sometimes I have to accept the fact that I'm a grown-up.

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I fly through Minneapolis and Desiree makes a connection in Cincinnati, but by Saturday morning we meet up again in St. Louis. For the first time since Asheville, North Carolina I have no miles to ride, no pictures to take, no journal to write, and nothing on the bike to fix. And instead of passing the time in a crowded coffee shop, a cheap motel, or a shared hostel bedroom, we relax in cool and stylish comfort on the ninth story of the Hyatt Regency, across the street from the Gateway Arch. From the amazingly soft bed or the thousand-dollar Herman Miller desk chair we look out on the downtown highrises, into Busch Stadium, and watch the cars and buses and horse-drawn carriages pass on the one-way streets far below. It couldn't be farther from my disgusting air mattress and funky-smelling tent and I'm totally fine with it.

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My ridiculous appetite sticks with me long after I stop riding, but St. Louis is a much better place to deal with it than Patterson, Georgia or Lookout, Kentucky. From a chicken burrito to deep dish pizza, Blizzards from Dairy Queen, and the best pulled pork sandwich I've ever had, it's an orgy of delicious food and I love every bite. Desiree and I play tourists in between rounds of eating, driving all over the city, touring the Budweiser factory, going to a movie, bowling, walking the streets of downtown, and watching awful cable television. But none of what we do turns out to be as important as the fact that we do it together. After spending nine weeks apart from my best friend it's a wonderful reunion. I'm happy every minute we're together.

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Our last evening in town takes us up to the top of the Gateway Arch. To get there we cram into a tiny, windowless, egg-shaped thing that's painted bright white and seats five people uncomfortably in hard plastic chairs. It's a claustrophobe's worst nightmare, but we hardly notice because we're distracted by the two old women sitting six inches away from us. In the span of three minutes they manage to talk about where they're from, why they're in town, what kind of food they like, why they alternately love and hate Portland, ask us how we ended up in St. Louis, and run through several theories as to why we aren't yet married. We manage to get in ten words.

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Back on solid ground we walk past helicopters, Humvees, and dozens of banners splashed with the logo of the United States Marine Corps, all set up around the Arch as part of something called Marine Week. At a section of the park overlooking the Mississippi River, kids and adults alike can pick up, hold, and pretend to fire the rifles, machine guns, cannons, and rocket launchers that the Corps uses in battle. A bald-headed Marine explains the technical specs. Young boys smile wide. Parents take pictures. No one seems concerned with the fact that all of this heavy machinery and firepower exists for one reason: to kill. It feels almost surreal, but at the same time completely American.

Channeling Sarah Palin and scaring young children.
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I head to sleep on Monday night not wanting Tuesday to come.

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