St Louis to Lonedell - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 26, 2014

St Louis to Lonedell

Why? No idea
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IT'S a national holiday here: Memorial Day. It celebrates everything that November 11 commemorates in Europe but with the pizazz of the Fourth of July. I could roll through the rising and falling roads of the St Louis suburbs with the road largely to myself.

I'd almost cleared the city when, in a place that doubtless didn't consider itself Outer St Louis, I came across a road crash. Or, that's what I thought it was. There were police cars and fire trucks and blue flashing lights and people standing about in the way they do when there's a chance to see bent metal and broken glass.

But there was no urgency, no distress. As I neared the junction, I spotted motorbikes: dozens of them, in several rows, each polished to showroom gleam. To one side, in the shade of low buildings, stood hairy men in denim and black T-shirts and lots of vaguely menacing badges and a fair bit of long straggly hair, moustaches and bulging bellies. They were talking, drinking water from bottles, laughing and joking, sometimes carrying American flags.

Across the road, people sat on the grass on folding chairs and Scouts served water in plastic cups and a woman with an eagle explained that it was peaceful until a passing truck driver sounded his horn in salute.

A man dressed as an admiral took a microphone and urged anyone in the audience suffering from the heat, which frankly hadn't yet started, to go and see the firemen. "We've already had one lady in distress this morning," he announced from behind a table, "so if you feel bad, see the firemen and they'll help you out."

Behind him, a high-school band stood in two long lines with, behind them, an array of drummers. They were on a line of raised grass with trees and, to a signal I didn't see, they began to play America, the Beautiful. It's a pretty tune and the reverence it induced in the crowd was palpable. I could sense the emotion and, even though I'm not American and I don't know the words, I began to choke up a bit.

I stood a little longer and then rolled on as the band went into a medley of Roy Orbison songs, three oompah-players now dodging and swaying through the crowd.

"You got anything like this back home?" one of the motorcyclists asked me. I said we didn't. It was that sort of small-town celebration that America does so well.

Here, I am in the lower Ozarks. They are an annoying row of hills that never grew to be mountains and show their frustration by repeatedly standing up and sitting down again. The road went up, it went back down. There was nothing in between. I looked for an alternative to the main highway but nothing looked better and, accepting that the best way to deal with hills and a headwind was to get on with the job, I stuck to the main road west.

It got better. For a while it was a junior autoroute. But then some turning must have taken half the traffic somewhere more important and, while the air was rarely pure and the silence unbroken, things did become more reasonable.

I rolled into Lonedell, rode for another half hour on country roads to the south, found the campground I wanted and settled down for a day off. A deserved one, I think.

Ulysses Grant, big name in American history, lived here just outside St Louis. Being the morning of a national holiday, the gates were closed
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At first I thought there'd been an accident, then that there was a motorbike rally
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Flags, flags everywhere
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"Sure, take our picture," they said. "We love to show off!"
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Today's ride: 92 km (57 miles)
Total: 1,989 km (1,235 miles)

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