Angle to Key West: The Arch (11/5)

St. Louis, MO – November 5, 2012

Rain began falling early, a slow, grey mist that soaked me as I packed the boat. I slid into the water with numb fingers and began to paddle, the warmth of movement fighting against the cold.

A mile or two later, the Missouri River, the winding western branch of the Mississippi, added her muddy water to the flow, doubling a river that had built itself for a thousand miles. I drifted across the mingling water, spinning in swirling whirlpools as the river’s current gripped the hull for the first time in 700 miles.

I heard the Chain of Rocks before I saw it. The whole river drops over them, stepping down over a jumble of boulders and splashing water. I stared at it then ran a shallow channel along the right bank, slicing through waves, scraping rocks, the excitement pushing off the cold until I spun away, safe below the whitewater.

Beyond the Chain of Rocks, the city began to build. Industrial docks, factories, and levee walls rose to fill the shoreline, making me feel small again, tiny against the tugboats and barges that lit the radio with chatter.

A giant bridge rose, half-built in front of me, two towers with a roadway strung beneath each. They reached across the river for each other, unable to touch, ending mid-air like giant diving boards.

Then I saw it, a silver knife though the grey mist of rain, the arch rising in the distance, elegant and beautiful, pulled from my imagination and made real.

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