Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Biking on Katy Trail

This is a memoir of Francesca, Dorota and my bike ride on Katy Trail which runs through Missouri, noteworthy for the blog because this was the only time I ventured on anything outdoorsy for longer than a day in the United States. Cesca and Dorota, enthu cutlets and avid ‘act’ivists (the literal type) had biked on a different part of the trail before, and Cesca chose a stretch closer to St. Louis for our ride. The trail is flat and winds along hills, fields and through villages, so you get a feel of the rural Midwest, especially if you stop enough. The first thing that strikes one is how bad the water situation is (stinky and rationed), and both ice and refrigerators are luxuries.

Cesca and I rented ‘ladies’ bikes with high handlebars, cushiony seats and uncomplicated gears, the kind I’m used to in India. The patch we rode on was known for Neolithic(?) hieroglyphs high up on cliff walls etched with a red substance, still dark and fast, and a 100-year old oak tree where we took lots of pics and scampered lest we get shot by a gun-toting farmer.

The first place we stopped was at this landing dock. We were sitting in the grass, taking in the view of the Missouri rolling by, and I glanced around casually and saw a fine specimen of the quintessential country man with long hair, faded jeans and a cowboy hat. I stared curiously, giving the specimen an all-over, and he began staring back. And didn’t stop. And I was reminded of India and Indian men, and the birthright Indian men think they have to lech at women. Except this wasn’t India, I was just a few miles out of St. Louis.

When it got too hot we stopped again for beer at a store-cum-café. What we saw inside was priceless, this group of men, friends who’d come together with their acoustic guitars to make music, singing country songs, applauding one another, the women sitting behind them, wistful and admiring. The music was spontaneous, lively and conversational, and the words set solidly in rural American life.

We slept the night at a quaint, clean and warm bed and breakfast with a very unobtrusive hostess. No fancy steps leading to a porch leading to a house like in St. Louis. One step from the grass and we were on the porch and another step and we were inside the house. The walls were framed with cross stitch patches with ‘Home Sweet Home’ and other such comforting aphorisms. We showered with rationed water and strolled through the village the next morning, past vegetable gardens, church, post office, school.

What I just couldn’t identify with was the level of mechanization of even small-scale farming- tractors, dairy plants, gigantic threshers, and goats the size of Indian calves. Stared hard to make sure they were goats and not calves….

All in all, very endearing, more real than St. Louis where you can’t walk past people and make up stories about their life in your head…