A shaft of light
St Louis, 20th September.
First of all, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all who have contacted me, directly or indirectly, following my last blog. I know that it stirred some concerns about my state of health and psychological well-being. I received dozens of supportive emails, all of which counted and two or three were pivotal. I was feeling especially low at that point, but I woke the following day in the knowledge that if I could get through one last effort, I would have two rest days to recover.
We completed the day in bright warm sunshine, our progress only slowed by the final two locks on the river. From now on, helped by the mighty Missouri river pouring in, we should have unchecked river flow to help us. We docked, loaded the boats on the trailer in a truly industrial wharf in St Louis, grinned for the camera and then Paddy and I had a big old man hug, appreciating that we had passed first 1,000 miles, then halfway and now made it to the gateway to the south. The fatigue and concerns of the last couple of days ebbed and the team – Alex, Graeme, Gillian, Paddy and Mel, plus the boat team James Whitworth and Stephen Gillespie and the coxes Maeve and Olivia, prepared for a long awaited evening out. Stephen (four days and 130 miles!) bought us all dinner at a french brasserie (Brasserie by niche) and it was an absolute delight. I will not list the menu but suffice to say that the quality of the bread alone made Alex, our french physio and general star, weep…. When the Hermitage arrived, I thought he would kiss Stephen (not an image I wish to carry with me…)
Yesterday, the glorious rest day, I went to a laundromat in an area called Soulard. It reminded me architecturally of Beacon Hill in Boston, but it was much grittier, with a farmers’ market and some great blues bars. The sun shone and my spirits soared. I was listening to a playlist I had put together, inspired by Niall Murphy, who continues to suggest appropriate tracks for the Mississippi. So, listening to “Walking in Memphis”, the mis-perceived load I had felt began to properly evaporate. If you are ever in St Louis, go to Soulard and visit the 1860 saloon. You would need a heart of stone not to feel at home.
That evening we visited a St Louis Cardinals game as guests of the Cardinals organisation. The scene was wonderful. 45,000 ticket holders and probably a similar number at the many bars surrounding Busch stadium, enjoying (believe me, enjoying!) the local equivalent of the Craic. Everyone in our group in great heart and I realised I was surrounded, helped, buoyed and protected by a truly great group of people. I felt slightly embarrassed at my complaining at my own weakness. We are four square in this together and will triumph.
And then, just as I thought this could get no better, it did. To my utter shock, amazement and delirious delight, into our bar walked Julie. She had flown 13 hours via JFK, to St Louis, then taxi to be with me for two precious days before scurrying back on Sunday. For once, I was without words – certainly adequate words. As appropriate, everyone else knew except me. To say that it rounded off a perfect day does a disservice to perfection. We enjoyed an evening of laughter, beer, hot dogs and local “characters”. Graeme showed his undivided interest by sleeping through a large portion, woken only by fireworks.
Today, glorious sunshine and 85 degrees of heat. Dan Adams joins us for a day from Minneapolis. We are at a local jazz and blues festival this afternoon before the best barbecue in St Louis – Big Pappy’s. This, my friends, is a great city and I am privileged to be here.
Tomorrow, screaming tailwind and a huge stream. Hardly worth putting on rowing kit.
Onwards to Memphis is the cry and the true South.