Monday, June 29, 2009

The heat, the rain, the crossing.

Few times in my life have I...

Let me begin again...

At no time in my life have I put myself through such as in the past few days. When we walked to Pennsylvania in "ought seven," we experienced heat and rain but not to the extreme that Saturday and Sunday held for us.

The weekend began with me waking cold in the shade of a small park tucked at the edge of a neighborhood. I had lightened my load the previous day and left the side-saddle of Nice (the dog) at the supply van to reduce the strain from the heat on us. Fate had a different plan for me. So, by the end of the day I had received food, water, a blanket, and a plastic tarp to sleep with, thus replacing the tent and bag I took out, which were too warm at night if I found myself camping. They weighed my pack down to more than before I had cleared it out. I packed up and we walked on into the hottest day of the year.

As the morning progressed we were stopped by many for pictures and our story. Some gave to the cause generously. In this economy any giving I label as generous. Occasionally I talk to an individual who is diabetic and through the miracle of diet and exercise have greatly reduced or even eliminated their dependence on medication. This supports my message and encourages me to keep rolling.

As I went I asked the' locals' their opinion of the shortest route to the Chain of Rocks Bridge , the historic old Route66 that has now been retired to pedestrian traffic and marks the northern most point of the St Louis Pedestrian and Bike path system. With each new recommendation I shaved miles from the long detour around East St. Louis Illinois. ( I don't want to believe it is as bad and dangerous, but found no one out of hundreds who thought otherwise.) Then the heat of the day set in and we were travelling from shade to shade in short spurts until we just had to remain under the protection of one tree as the heat grew unbearable. We drank our now hot water and swatted the after noon flies.

We were on a bike path that paralleled the roadway but I found that the side of the road is easier on Nice (the dog)s' pads because he walks the white line that reflects the heat of the sun. (I have tried dog shoes but he just pulls them off... I will try again.) When the pavement is too hot we stop walking till he can walk on it.

Allow me to jump ahead to the night, to Sunday morning after the storm that found us huddled by the gas pumps in Pontoon Beach, Illinois. The wind was not quite as calm as I'd like to continue, but as it was around three in the morning we had to push on. Just as we got up on the highway, the rain began again. Yet we went on. The traffic was very light and the early morning drunk drivers are more cautious than most. We did stop again to cover my pack with its rain repellent cover, and I must admit to wanting to give up my goal of making Missouri in the morning and taking another day to reach "the west". The rain is more tolerable than the thought of the sweltering heat. The wind against a two hundred pound wet ball is surprisingly easy to push against than a dry eighty pound ball, so we made good progress in the dark, windy, rainy, drunk driving, early morning.

The map and instructions I got from Lt. Dan of the P. B. police were very good and he was specific and detailed when he explained the route. He however left out that the road at one point made a marked ninety degree turn and passed back under the expressway that I had walked over a mile to pass the first time. The road also changed names, adding to my confusion as I had only slept forty-five minutes in a "power nap". In desperation I called the station for clarification. Soon Lt. Dan was there (about to go home after his shift) and Officer Jerry from the neighboring city were there to advise. We laughed about the specific map and instructions and the lack of a ninety-degree turn, or mention of the second underpass, and the officer from Mitchell shadowed me for support as the dawn broke and the roads came alive with morning traffickers. He followed me to the entrance of the canal bridge and I was alone again as the sun broke above the horizon.

I stopped many times to document my traverse over the bridges and even spoke to a man (a trucker) who was getting his morning walk in. He shared his diabetic tale of loosing seventy lbs and reducing his sugar levels significantly. He has a new grandchild and one on the way as his inspiration (MY MESSAGE.) I was spurred on!

As I crossed the canal bridge a barge passed under and I watched through the steel grate roadway of the bridge, a voice came from the P.A. system of the tug boat below, "What do you represent?" I yelled Diabetes. "Oh, okay." It takes a little more than one word to explain. I could tell by the tone of the captains voice. My use of the world was the inspiration of hundreds who suggested I go on some humanitarian journey years ago while my son and I played in the park back home with our giant toy ball. We especially enjoyed "bowling for people" down the big hill where dog owners walked their pets. (The pins always move).

We made it to the island and then finally to the mouth of the old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The gates had been opened and a few early morning cyclists were unloading for a morning ride. As I traversed the bridge I stopped and talked to some of the few pedestrians who asked what I was doing and took more pictures and loaded them to my face book picture album collection. Erik Bendl@ facebook.(June298/09)

As I went further a bike rider called out, "You're not gonna believe what's coming at you!" And quite literally hundreds of cyclists passed me as I went over the bridge. I was crossing at the early morning start of a bike event put on by Trailnet, an organization whose slogan is "promoting active living" (How appropriate' is that!?) When I came to the Missouri end of the bridge I found Trailnet was having a day-long event with a band and refreshment for their three different length bike runs.

As I am promoting health through exercise, and plan to make use of the bike and pedestrian system while in St. Louis and Missouri, and I was not able to walk further that day, I signed-up as a member, paid my membership fee, and received a (much needed) t shirt! I enjoyed the day and waited for the young couple from Friday to come fetch me up and take us back to the supply van past Bellville, Illinois. I also called a friend in the St. Louis area who has put me up while I recover from last week's heat. I also am taking today to do maintenance on the road-worn world. Paint acts as a tread and also spruces it up. I am short of paint for a total coat, and we are looking for a local place to get more of the same product (Difficult task.) The world will not survive without care...

Tomorrow I should be able to return to the bridge entrance and begin my walk down into the city of St. Louis for a rolling tour of it's sights. I am sure it will be memorable.

I want to take a moment to thank the great state of Illinois, it's law enforcement, and citizens for all the help they gave while I traveled through. My task would have been so much harder without their love (and prayers) and support. I am ever in their debt.

Humbly yours, WG.

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