Freedom on the River | Paddle, Bike, and Explore
During our time in St. Louis, we experienced many different activities related to freedom. We paddled the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, learned about the remains of the Cahokia Mounds, biked a 28-mile stretch of the Katy Trail, explored the French town of St. Charles, Missouri, and visited the Gateway Arch.
Paddling the confluence was our introduction to life on the river; it helped us better understand the connection it creates between cities and between diverse groups of people. It was incredible to know that we were canoeing the same river traveled and used by so many groups including early Mississippians and the Corps of Discovery. The Mississippians inhabited a temple town called Cahokia from 900 AD to around 1300 AD. This city, characterized by giant earth mounds, functioned as a center of trade and communication. While standing atop the very mounds citizens of the largest pre-European American city stood upon, we identified the significance of freedom for these ancient people. The Cahokia civilization represents both freedom and un-freedom. Its sheer magnitude, authenticity, and location allowed generations to not only survive but to prosper for many years. However, its city limitations, lack of written records, and eventual demise detract from the freedoms it generated. Cahokia depended on the river for food, fertile soil, trade, and much more.
The Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark, also depended on the river. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition to the west after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. His goal was to explore the newly bought territory, find an ideal route to the west, and establish an American presence there. Lewis and Clark started their journey on the Missouri River, visiting a small French town called St. Charles. This town was founded by French fur trader Louis Blanchette in 1769. It served as the first Missouri State Capitol and had the first free school west of the Mississippi River. St. Charles is full of rich culture, influenced by France, Spain, and Germany. It is a great example of the freedom Americans have to start anew and create their own American Dream. For many, this dream involved westward expansion.
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, also known as the Gateway to the West, represents this opportunity to begin a new life. During our first trip on the river, we paddled for 6 hours to reach St. Louis, Missouri. Just as our arms were about to give out, we approached the great Gateway Arch. Seeing the tallest manmade monument in the United States reminded us of our freedom to make a significant impact on the world, no matter how small we seem. The Gateway Arch serves as a memorial to President Thomas Jefferson, which reminds us of the actions he took to expand our definition of freedom. The arch is located directly adjacent to the Mississippi River. This connects the idea of freedom with the river. Overall, our time in St. Louis was enriched by the significance of freedom linked to each experience we had.