East Mound City

Our “big” weekend bicycle ride occurred on Saturday morning. We drove across the river to the Cahokia Mounds National Historic Landmark. From there we bicycled Trailnet’s Mounds Trail Interpretive Bike Ride. This ride featured a mass start of about 50 cyclists and everyone stayed together throughout the ride. Harold, our interpretive guide set the pace and one of Trailnet’s vans guarded our tail end. We rode from Cahokia Mounds to the East Saint Louis riverfront. It was a 20 miles roundtrip. The pace was slow, probably 12 MPH, and there were frequent stops for interpretation. It was a real ‘three-hour tour’. 😉

Anne Cycling Past Monks Mound

One of Saint Louis’s nicknames is Mound City. At one time there were 50 Native American mounds in the City of Saint Louis, now there is only one. While our ride on Saturday did not cross the river, the Mounds Heritage Trail spans both sides. Most of the mounds are within the Cahokia Mounds Historic Site, but one outside this site was pointed out along our ride, the Sam Chucalo Mound. Story has it that a road construction crew wanted to dismantle this mound for fill dirt, but Mr. Chucalo, the landowner wouldn’t allow it.

The ruins of an ancient lost civilization were only half the story of this ride. The other half of the tour was mostly in ruins too. That would be East Saint Louis. Once dubbed the Pittsburgh of the West, because of its concentration of heavy industry, our guide joked that it is now one of the greenest cities in America. What he meant was that the natural undergrowth is reclaiming large tracts of the city as much of it slides into decay. There are a few notable exceptions to the debilitation of this once proud and wealthy city. The Federal Courthouse, the Ainad Temple and the Katherine Dunham house are a few choice examples of what has survived. While the Spivey Building, the Majestic and the Murphy Building with their once beautiful facades tell of what has been lost.

East Saint Louis is an African-American community. Fifty white bicyclists parading around town on a Saturday morning was obviously not a normal sight. Universally though everyone was very friendly to us. People would wave and call out. Motorists would toot their horns, in the nice sort of way. A Bi-state bus even tooted us a salute. A fellow rider remarked on how much more friendly the drivers were here than in Saint Louis proper. A local woman cyclist joined our procession for a while. She was full of questions, “Where did you come from?” “Where are you going?” Etc. We tried to get her to accompany us down to the riverfront, but she begged off saying, “I’ve got to get one of those Mercedes bicycles that you all have.”

The Birdman Tablet

This was one of the most interesting and moving bicycle rides that I have ever ridden. After the ride, one of the other cyclists thanked our guide and sponsors saying, “I’ve lived in Saint Louis all of my life and I had never been to East Saint Louis before. It is a part of our community that I had never seen. Thank you.” H.G. Wells once quipped, “Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.” I think that his quote sells the human race short, for the adult on the bicycle sees the rest of the world more clearly too.

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