Walking or cycling on the Louisville Loop west from Waterfront Park, it’s easy to time trip. You can almost see the ghosts wandering the riverbank, striving for greatness. There’s John James Audubon at the Falls, blasting a black-crowned night heron out of the sky so it would hold still long enough to paint. Just downriver, there’s the ghost of George Rogers Clark, passed out in a fitful whisky dream about being forced by Tecumseh to play spin-the-demijohn with William Henry Harrison. Further downriver, there are your love-struck grandparents, canoodling in the Sugar Bowl at Fontaine Ferry Park, blissfully unaware that they’re actually cousins.
The Loop will eventually circle Louisville for a whopping 110 miles, but for now you’re riding the first 25, which are pure urban genius: gorgeous river views, dense forests and delightful chance encounters with kids, lawyers, golfers, rednecks, X-ray techs, stoners, junkyard dogs, and the occasional man-boobied sunbather.
You’re a little giddy on a trail that’s closed to cars, knowing you won’t get honked at, car-doored or trash-compacted. After a few miles on the mostly level trail, you feel like you could ride forever. You’re 6 years old again, riding without training wheels, ready to go, go, go.
West of downtown you find the perfect mix of natural beauty and industrialization, and when you witness someone hauling off metal in a rusty Winn-Dixie grocery cart, you give him an air high-five. After a groovy section of Portland, the path becomes spectacularly wooded, offering a cooling canopy of old-growth trees you thought had vanished forever. Emerging from the forest, you wind along Shawnee Golf Course under the double-decker I-64 bridge and think, how could a man named Sherman Minton not become an over-achiever?
Soon you’re at Shawnee Park, after which the Loop unceremoniously dumps you onto Southwestern Parkway. You’re back in the real world, but you don’t mind. The road is wide and the trail is marked and you are an insatiable urban beast. You glide past Chickasaw Park and eventually reach Algonquin Parkway, named for a people who might have been the first to discover quantum theory (without calculus of course).
At this point an unsettling odor wafts past and you think such a stench just might be causing retardation, sterility or carcinoma. But like all urban landscapes, the Louisville Loop isn’t for pussies. Sucking in the petroleum offal, you realize that “light sweet crude” isn’t just what the girls at the dancehall call you, it’s also what you’re not burning as you float past the hubcap and cardboard cityscape, one with all that breathes.
On Campground Road, you ride with the 18-wheelers, admiring their drivers’ truck-stop gullets, voracious consumption of vending-machine French ticklers and bumper-sticker acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal savior. At Lees Lane, you speed past a red-eyed man screaming at a second-story window (which doesn’t answer). You cross a stream where a woman and child are releasing a possum from a cage and your heart soars at the sight of all that beautiful humanity. You ride up the levee and there it is again: the river, where Whitman and Twain passed, where a man’s thoughts turn to sauger and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Salivating, you’re tempted to stop off for a cold one at The Swamp (a biker bar, right on the Loop), but you’re holding out for a few more miles.
After another oxymoronic rural/urban stretch — including the sand-mountain backdrop of River Valley Cemetery — you end up on Cane Run Road, marveling at corporations you never knew existed.
Just past Riverview Park, you startle two deer and they you. You spy a tiny girl pushing a doll in a toy carriage and you choose a greeting carefully. You don’t want to suffer the same fate as Steve Miller, who sang, Shoe the children with no shoes on their feet, never imagining that a generation of Republicans would hear “shoo the children with no shoes on their feet” and act accordingly for decades. You simply decide to say hey as you pass, and the girl says hey back.
At this point you’re parched and hungry, and that’s when you spot it up ahead: Mike Linnig’s. You tie your bike to a tree and head inside the white-painted bar to buy a Newcastle. As for what fare to feast on, you can’t decide: clams, oysters, scallops, alligator. Wait, alligator? You order the alligator.
You sip on a Newcastle and munch on gator nuggets, quickly deciding once is enough for alligator. Hunger satisfied and thirst quenched, you soon are back up on the levee and it’s just a skip to where the Loop ends at Farnsley-Morman. You watch the river spill past and you reckon that the Loop isn’t just a nice city amenity. It’s the greatest moving sidewalk in the best town in the world.
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