A ride to remember: Bicycling across the Stan Span

February 23, 2014 

"All for a T-shirt."

When asked, that was the only reason I could offer on why someone would choose to ride his bicycle on an early Saturday morning in February on snowy streets in downtown St. Louis.

On Saturday, Feb. 8, my wife, Susan, and I were two of a couple dozen participants in Trailnet's "Conquer Your Fear of Bridges Ride" to commemorate the opening of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

It had warned up to 18 degrees at 8:30 a.m. when we finished our ride.

Fresh snow was blowing in our face. There were islands of ice and snow to try to dodge on the street and new bridge.

We were wearing about four layers of clothes each, limiting our flexibility. We joked that we felt like Ralphie of "The Christmas Story" in the new bunny costume.

All for a T-shirt, right?

Well, sort of.

We were supposed to be in downtown St. Louis for registration at 7 a.m.

But we ran a bit late. Street parking was limited. I also think we were waiting for a reason to not ride. Cancellation. Postponement. Common sense.

Our ride started around 7:45 a.m. We rode by ourselves because other brave bicyclists were on time and long gone. The ride started at Tucker and Washington in downtown St. Louis. We rode slowly north on Tucker, avoiding the growing crowd of runners in the street who were positioning and trying to warm up for the upcoming 6K run.

They say it was about seven miles, from start to finish, across the new bridge and back. It could have been seven blocks. I was too cold to count.

It was called the "Conquer Your Fear of Bridges Ride." They were right on. For the first time in my life, I had no fear of the bridge itself. I stayed in the middle of the bridge and never came close to the side rails.

I never looked down into the water. That usually freaks me out. Besides, my palms were too cold to sweat.

My fear was hitting a patch of ice along the route and not being able to stop. I did not want to be the first pedestrian injury on the first weekend the new Stan Span was open to the public. Too much media around. I could see the headline: "Belleville Knucklehead on Bike Wipes Out on Frozen Stan Span."

In hindsight, it was worth it. It was cool riding my bike east onto the new bridge with only a few other bikers and runners. I was 8 years old when the Poplar Street Bridge opened in 1967. I don't remember it. But I wanted to be part of the new bridge's opening ceremonies, in some way.

Besides, the new bridge carries the name of Stan the Man and I'd do just about anything in Stan's memory.

"Your last Stan the Man column," my wife said. "One last reason to write about him."

"Probably won't be the last," I replied.

The best part of the ride was finishing. There were 101 wise excuses to stay home. The most convincing reasons were the weather, safety and early morning. But we rode anyway.

Someday, maybe, we'll be able to tell our grandkids about Feb. 8, 2014. We rode our bikes across the Stan the Man Veterans Memorial Bridge when it opened. A cold, snowy, wet, icy and very early Saturday morning.

Someday, our grandkids will not believe us. They'll figure we were too old to ride our bikes and too wise to ride a bike on such a miserable Saturday.

"All for a t-shirt," I'll tell them.

Truth is, it really had little to do with the commemorative t-shirt. I've already given mine to my wife. It was white. One-hundred percent polyester. Shiny. Form fitting.

A nice shirt if you're a young, fit jogger. But it just didn't fit right on my 54-year-old form.

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