Not Dead Yet II: Still Not Dead!

September 7, 2000

I leave at a decent time, and I glide through the rolling green hills of Western Kentucky before lunch. I amuse myself by taking pictures of the hills while riding. I tried this a few days ago with my digital camera, but this time I use the disposable camera my friends Shelley and Vivian gave me before I left. Much easier. I take a small detour that is absolutely delightful, but I am troubled by a skip in my motorcycle engine. It is intermittant, and at lunch I pull the spark plugs. One is running hotter than the rest, and although two plugs require some cleaning, I don't see anything amiss. I get lunch and gas up. The miss is gone, but I decide to leave the Great River Road for a more direct route into St. Louis. The first sight of the Great Arch is thrilling. I arrive in downtown StL around 4:30, with hopes of finding a tourist information center. Because of the route I took, I did not pass into Missouri over a road that had a welcome center. As my luck is nothing if not consistent, I arrive fifteen minutes after the info center has closed. Not knowing what else to do, I decide to try my psychic abilities to help me locate the hostel I hope to stay at that night. I ride through downtown StL several times, but I do not find the road I am looking for. OK, I'll look for a gas station to get a map, and this is the start of an interesting few hours. There are no gas stations downtown StL. I find the interstate (I-70) and ride a few exits west. This brings me into the same neighborhood I saw downtown, where whole blocks are abandoned and buildings that are ten and fifteen stories tall have windows broken out all the way on the top floors. I stop at a gas station and go in. I get some looks from individuals of the "African-American" persuasion, and I notice the cashier is behind bulletproof glass. I don't see any maps so I leave. Real casual and cool, like I knew what I was doing. I get back on the interstate and ride further west. The next exit I get off at has better condition buildings but still has the bullet proof glass protecting the cashiers. I get less looks, and I ask one bandana-wearing individual if he knew where the road I was looking for was. He shook his head, and didn't volunteer any help. I asked the cashier if they sell maps and he said less, turning around behind him and getting one off the shelf. I go outside and read the map on my bike. Not that I would want to be there after dark, but I didn't feel threatened, even though I was clearly on a side of town where I was a definate minority. I can say without hesitation, and later conversations with residents confirmed this, stay away from the northeast side of StL. In general, stay south of I-70, and if possible , stay in the southwest side of town between I-55 and I-44.

And that's where my hostel is, thankfully. Except for one problem - it is on the campus of Webster University, and school is in session. I realize that the odds are the hostel is closed, as frequently universities will open dorms to travelers during the summer but close them during the school year. I stop in at a flower shop and use their phone to call the number I have for the hostel, but it is a business office and closed. As I am rathered tired, I ask for the nearest motel. There aren't any. I have to go back several miles toward the way I came into town, and the first exit I take doesn't have any affordable motels so I have to travel further westward. I am literally shaking from exhaustion when I finally find a motel and unload. It is now three hours since I rolled into town, and I was tired when I left the motel this morning. I go out for a meal, which requires me to go back up the interstate, and I am quite puzzled when as I am pulling off the interstate my bike sputters and coughs. I quickly pull into a gas station, even though I have half a tank. I top off, and head for a Denny's. I get some ridiculously small portions, but it'll have to do. Exhausted, I collapse into bed with all my clothes on and sleep until morning.

September 8, 2000

I look in the phone book and find both a campground. I pack up and relocate, setting up my tent for only the second time in eight days. I am in town for the B.B. King Blues Festival, as I am a big fan of Susan Tedeschi, who is on the bill. In fact, as I was planning my itinerary, I looked up her tour dates and as she was moving east and I was headed west, this was the only place where our paths crossed. I nap for a bit and then head back downtown. I do the tourist thing, going to the Great Arch and taking the tram to the top. That was interesting. They cram five adults into a 3 by 3 foot pod, with the tram having eight or ten pods. Then the tram is tog wheeled and chain pulled to the top, with the sensation akin to a ride that is preparing one for a zero g drop. As the Arch is, well, arched, it isn't a direct path so the tram has a few unsettling shifts and changes in directions. As the door has windows, we also get to see the internal structure of the Arch, complete with the cables holding us up, and we are reminded that the top of the Arch is 675 feet above the ground, and we are dangling over the hollow center of it.

But once we get to the top, the view is enough to erase those thoughts. I can see East St. Louis, which I will point out should be avoided altogether when one is traveling. It's kind of like looking across a border into a country that isn't part of the free world, with the Mississippi River providing protection against the barbarians. I take a picture of it, just to show I once got that close and lived. Then I go to the other side of the Arch and takes lots of pictures of downtown StL. One can easily see the stadium where Mark Mcguire knocked his 70th home run (I think he did it at home) and see the dome where the NFL champions StL Rams play. Of special interest to me is the Kiel Center, where the NHL StL Blues play. I enjoyed the time at the top. I find the trip down in the pod quite a bit quicker.

I get a ticket for tomorrow night's show and return to my tent. My bike is sputtering and coughing more frequently. I am growing concerned, but I believe the problem is fuel starvation. It seems to act up at the same point of fuel level in the gas tank. Tomorrow I will look for parts to rebuild the fuel petcock. In spite of the growing problems with my bike, I am determined to continue. As I am falling behind in my journal, I spend some time updating it this evening. Night settles in, and I am looking forward to a good night's sleep at a quiet and well occupied campground. I get into bed and am drifting off when I hear a chittering sound. It seems to be off in the woods some, so I ignore it and drift off to sleep. In my dreams the chittering creeps in, and I awake with a start to realize that the chittering sound is right outside my tent and SOMETHING IS TUGGING ON THE TENT WALL!!! I run from the tent screaming, stopping only briefly to pick up my camera, turn it on, and film my terror as I run away. Actually, I don't. I calmly put some more clothes on, find the flashlight, and go outside to look around. I guess I scared it off, because there is nothing around. I am a bit nervous, but I think the chittering is the sound a raccoon makes, so I drift back off to sleep when SOMETHING SHOVES MY AIR MATTRESS FROM OUTSIDE THE TENT!!!!! I run from the tent screaming, stopping only briefly to pick up my camera, turn it on, and film my terror as I run away. Actually, I don't. I am actually starting to get annoyed at this point. I think about the action that something just took upon me, and I realize that the shove came from underneath the mattress, and it hasn't been repeated. Applying some rational thought, I feel around on the bottom of the tent until I find the large frog that has crawled underneath and firmly but gently escort it out from under the tent. I then take a couple Tylenol and put in earplugs, and yes, sleep until morning without anymore interruptions.

September 9, 2000

I need to point out that the campsite is 25 miles from downtown StL. I am having more and more trouble with my bike. I spend the morning hunting down the parts I need, and each trip I take is worse than the previous one. At one point I push it too far and stall out completely. I have to push the bike to the top of the hill and coast into the gas station at the bottom of the hill. Even though I have a quarter tank of gas, it's not getting to the carburetors. I have to top off the tank and bleed the carbs of air before the bike starts again. I didn't want to top off because tomorrow I will have to take the gas tank off to rebuild the fuel petcock, and if it is too full I will spill gas and make a mess. I find one of the two parts I need quickly, but it is several phone calls before I find the other part, amazingly enough only seven miles away and away from town. Having found all my parts, I rest for a bit before going to the Fox Theatre for the show.

After finding the Fox, I go across the street for dinner, at a place called "The Old Steak House." It is an odd place, where one waits in line and yells out what their order is to the cook and by the time the line has moved enough that one is near the cook, the order is ready. Seeing the place offers gyros, I yell out "Chicken Gyro", which I get regularly back in Columbia. Of course, when I get to pick up my order, I get a gyro, an official "gyro" with beef and lamb. I tell them I wanted chicken, and the cook starts saying (very loudly) "We don't have chicken gyros. Gyros are made with lamb. You wanted a gyro, you got a gyro." All fine and good, but I don't want lamb and beef. The owner gets involved at this point, and he's saying (loudly) "That's a gyro, there's no chicken in gyros" at which point I just say, "OK, give me a grilled chicken breast with pita bread". I don't see the problem, but apparently it was mind blowing to them. After eating (ignoring the cook who is still carrying on loudly about "never heard of chicken gyros, who ever heard of such a thing"), I went and got ready for a great show.

Well, Buddy Guy rocked the house but Susan Tedeschi stole the show (and my heart). I didn't have that great of a seat, and during the first intermission I wandered around the building. The architecture is magnificent. It reminds me of the Biltmore Estate, only more elaborate and more gaudy, which is fitting since it is a place of entertainment. Just going inside is a treat. I was so entranced by looking at the building that I was way out of place when the lights went down for Susan Tedeschi's set. Since I was near the stage, maybe thirty feet from it, and somewhat out of sight behind a pillar, I decided to stay in place until someone tells me I have to move. No one does, and I have a great view of her set. I can see her facial expressions and see her communicating to band members. The sound is very clear. During one of the breaks between songs, when it was quiet, I yelled "Marry me!" which made her laugh. After a great set, I went to one of the security people and told her that I had traveled 1500 miles to see Susan Tedeschi and was there any chance I could meet her? The security person pointed out that she was just offstage (which she was, just on the other side of the stage), and that if I went through the door right near the stage and went left, it would put me right where she was standing. Of course, the security person pointed out, I'd have to get past the guard. If I didn't want to go that way, I could go out the exit directly behind us and walk around the building to the stage door entrance and they weren't checking badges very closely. I thanked her, and decided to try my luck with the security guard. That got nowhere. I thought about it, and in a lapse of intelligence, decided to try to exit the building on that same side, which got the guard's attention and she yelled at me about going out meant I couldn't get back in. I wandered back over to the other side and talked to the security person again. She had been trying to get Susan Tedeschi's attention but was unsuccessful. If it had been up to the person, she would have taken me back there herself. Unfortunately the stage door wasn't her post that night and there wasn't anything she could do. Ah well. I didn't want to try the outside door because if I was unsuccessful it could mean I didn't meet Susan and I also didn't get back in to see Buddy Guy. I was able to watch her some, and she was pretty normal acting, and only talked to one stage hand the whole time, and she went up to him. I felt like she would have been really approachable, and I would like to know what she is like in person. So close, yet so far.

I leave the show a little before midnight, some four and a half hours after the show started. I'm exhausted and have 25 miles on a struggling bike to go. I am running the gas low to minimize the mess tomorrow, and it is risky because I could get stranded again like I did this morning. I actually brought the tools and parts with me, so if the worst happened I could do the rebuild on the side of the road. I stop at a Waffle House, some ten miles from the campground. The bike is making it, but I don't know if I should put some more gas in or risk it. I decide to risk it, and even though it sure felt like I was going to get stuck, I make it back without incident. I don't even wait to be woken up - I put the earplugs in and fall fast asleep.

Email me gtkelly domain
Back to the main trip page
Back to