Editor's Bike Ride Across Missouri
Riding the Katy: Local ladies pedal the 225 mile trail
In 1996 I rode my first section of the KATY trail, a rail-to-trails biking/walking path converted from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. From that time on I have itched to ride the 225 mile path from end to end. I rode sections of her three more times before I finally was able to bring my dream to reality. Last week my biking buddy and I rode the entire trail from Clinton, Mo. to St. Charles, Mo.
Debbie White and I have been riding together for a few years and enjoy a nice 30-40 mile ride whenever we can make time to work one in. On our own we ride quite often, and we participate in a variety of group rides hosted by area bicycle clubs. In August we took our longest one day ride of 66 miles. We decided earlier this summer it was time to ride the Katy.
We planned our trip by the number of miles we knew we could ride in a day, then subtracted for time we would be off our bicycles taking photos. Debbie and I are both photo buffs so we knew there would be a lot of "off the bike" time to photograph the entire 225 miles of trails! We booked bed-and-breakfast lodging the first four nights. Our husbands thought it sounded like a fun trip, too, so they were willing to be shuttle drivers. They would pick us up each evening and drop us off the next morning where we had stopped. That way if we fell short of our destination, we could still easily get to the town of our lodging.
We got a late start the first day after a 10 hour trip to the western-most end of the trail and only rode 25 miles. Day one of the ride took us from Clinton, through Calhoun, Windsor and Green Ridge trailheads. We were at the highest point of the trail at 955 feet above sea level near Bryson. Much of this section was through open fields of the Osage Plains and looked much like Illinois prairie.
The first 72 miles of the trail, coming from the west, gradually climbs uphill. The great thing about riding rail-to-trails is that the railroad tracks were laid out with inclines rarely going over a three or four percent grade. But stretching a two percent grade over 72 miles is easy to feel in your legs. The first 25 miles gave my legs some real burn even though I had been riding a lot to prepare for this trip. Our flat prairies just don't condition you for any kind of grade.
As the shadows of the first day stretched long across the pea gravel path, we decided to end our ride 10 miles short of our destination in Green Ridge. The Katy, part of the Missouri Parks System, is open only dusk till dawn.
We spent the first night at Sedalia at Maxine's Rooms for Rent, a comfortable old farm house where Pete and Maxine Wheeler were our gracious hosts. The next morning we pedaled into Sedalia and spent some time at the elegantly restored 1896 Victorian-style depot. Of the 225 miles of Katy, the Sedalia Depot is the stop for cyclist as it is the only official Katy Trail gift shop where you can take home a variety of commemorative souvenirs of your Katy trip.
On day two we traveled through Beaman, Clifton City, and Pilot Grove. Although we had a full day on the bicycles, we only crossed off another 35 miles. Photo ops abound at every turn, cutting into our travel time, but we weren't in a race, so we took in all the scenery and preserved it through the camera lens.
At the hamlet of Beaman we picked up a little four-legged friend. A small dog began following us and six miles later she was still trailing us when we stopped at Clifton City. Our husbands had met us at Clifton City with our lunch and they decided the best thing for "Beaman" (the name we had given our little lady friend) was for them to return her to the town six miles back and hope that was nearer her home. They reported that when they let her out of the car, she immediately took off to a home near the trail and we were all glad to know she had made it safely back home.
The 26 trailheads along the entire route had all been stops for the railroad. The trailheads offered seating, rest rooms, maps and information about what you would see up to the next trailhead. Most offered drinking water. The information board would tell you of the grade you would be riding, whether there would be a long stretch with no available water and sights to watch out for along the way. Only three towns on the route were "city" size - Sedalia, Booneville and St. Charles. We were close to Jefferson City, but the trail was a few miles from town. Others stops were small towns the size of our own Sidell and many were even smaller, more like Archie and Jamaica. But you would be surprised which of these small towns offered some good eating establishments and most had bed and breakfast lodging.
The honor system is widely used on the Katy, because, as people living along the Katy know, bikers are honest and respectable. Many places offered drinks and snacks at roadside stands where no one would be maintaining them. You just dropped your money in for the items you wanted and were on your way. Debbie and I both purchased honey from "My Grandfather's Farm" general store. No one was around but the two of us. The honor system even worked for one hostel where you could bed down for the night inside a nice dry building for only $5. (Bring your own bedding). And while mentioning the decent sort cyclist are, in 225 miles we saw liter along the trail twice! These items probably fell out of some ones bike bag unbeknownst to the rider. And trash cans are not readily available. You take out what you bring in and it keeps everything nice and clean!
The second night we were treated royally as guests of the High Street Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Boonville. The hosts of the gorgeous 1880 Victorian home treated us as royal guests. Chocolate silk pie with homemade raspberry sauce ended our evening and we woke to a delicious breakfast that left us almost too full to pedal!
Pedaling through Boonville brought us to the one spot in the trail I had dreaded for weeks – the 2030-foot Boonslick Bridge over the Missouri River. The bridge has an eight-foot walkway that hangs on the outside of the structure for bikers/walkers. A concrete wall protects the pedestrian from traffic and a four foot high fence protects from falling into the water. A previous ride on this part of the trail had stopped me cold when I reached the bridge. I couldn't cross it. But this time I was determined to continue on and am glad to report I made it over, pedaling the whole way! Can't say that I much enjoyed it, but I made it. Debbie, however, enjoyed it so much she stopped in the middle to take photos!
Once we had reached Boonville the path leveled off for the rest of the trip. From Boonville we rode along the Missouri River to St. Charles and were often at the river's edge with towering stone bluffs on the other side of our narrow trail. The river would then disappear out of sight for awhile and around another turn would be back in view. We traveled over many small bridges crossing creeks and ravines. Iron railroad bridges now have wooden floors and railing for the bicycles but the architectural beauty of the bridges still remain.
The Katy ceased operation for train travel in 1986. Ten years later the trail was connected from east to west making the Katy the longest rails-to-trails project in the nation. There are over 1500 trails in all 50 states.
We traveled through the hamlets of New Franklin, Rocheport, McBaine, Easley, Wilton and Hartsburg on day three. At Rocheport a bike shop/cafe is set up literally "on the trail" and we had the best chicken quesilldias I've ever tasted and eating it at an outdoor cafe made it even better! The shop owner said he has the greatest job serving the cyclist that travel through. "Bikers are the best of people," he said. "They are friendly and are so respectful of other's property and they pick up after themselves!"
At Rocheport we met up with two other groups traveling most of the entire trail. Three women in one group and two men in another. They both had started 30 miles into the trail so we were the only ones that were going to travel the entire trail end for end. Over the next three days we saw those groups each day. Even when we ended in St. Charles we ran into the women at a cafe and they had finished the trip about 30 minutes behind us.
That evening the four of us visited with Debbie's sister, Sheri and Larry Cottam at Fulton. Steve and Jack spent a couple days visiting at their house and drowning fishing worms (oh, I mean fishing!). Cheri prepared a delicious supper for us before we headed to our B&B in Jefferson City.
We had purchased "The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook" before our trip. Businesses that cater to cyclist, historical sites to look for and everything else we needed to easily traverse the trail was listed in the book. The Great Burr Oak Tree is one of those sites that we would have rode past if we hadn't had the guide book to point it out. About 2/10 of a mile off the path near McBaine is a 360 year old landmark that has survived it all. The Burr Oak spans 106 feet and is the state champion. The tree dwarfed us when we had our photo taken next to the truck.
Other sites pointed out in our guide book included the Manitou Bluffs near Rocheport where you can see the remains of pictographs painted by the Native Americans and noted by the explorers, Lewis and Clark in 1804. Also, an explosives bunker used by the railroad, is set into a cave along the bluffs.
By the fourth morning my legs were a little "heavy" as we began to pedal, but after a mile or so they loosened up and gave me no problems. But on day five my bottom-side was calling "uncle!" The bicycle seat kept getting harder. Unfortunately, with a flat path there is no chance to coast downhill when we typically stand up and rest areas that are needing rested. But there was no coasting on the Katy.
On day four we passed through Claysville, North Jefferson City, Wainwright, Tebbetts, Mokane, Steedman, Portland, Bluffton, Rhineland and McKittrick. Steve rode with Debbie's niece, Jessie Knott to catch up with us in Tebbetts where we all had a nice lunch in the local grocery store. A deli counter offered a wide variety of deli sandwiches made up to order. Tables were set up in the front windows for the cyclist to rest their weary behinds while enjoying a good lunch. The group of lady cyclists were there having lunch, too.
We had a bed and breakfast booked in McKittrick and were about 30 minutes from there when the owners called and cancelled on us! It was 5:30 in the evening and other bed and breakfasts we contacted didn't take people at the last minute. We were fortunate to find a small motel in nearby Hermann where we had a very clean and comfortable room. Hermann is an old town full of antique and gift shops. We waited around the next morning wanting to take in some of the shops but only found one open by 10 a.m. The trail called so we ditched shopping plans to get back on our bikes.
We rode through Treloar, Peers, Marthasville, Dutzow, Matson and Augusta on day five. At Marthasville we had the best steak burger we had ever sunk our teeth into at a local pub. On our way back to the trail we stopped at a historic site of a log cabin that was a replica of those found in the area in the early 1800s. We both had our cameras on tripods and were snapping photos right and left when a local police car pulled into the park and came racing up to us in what seemed like too big of a hurry. We were expecting be hauled off to the local pokey for trespassing or something. We both were pretty speechless until he rolled down his window and asked what kind of cameras were were using! He was a photo buff, too. Whew. He sure gave us a fright!
On our way to our room – a hotel in Washington – we stopped by the burial site of Daniel Boone. Steve enjoyed this historical sight, being an American history buff. It was sad to read the news story posted there that the large bronze plate from the historical marker had been stolen this past June and melted down and sold. They caught the young man, though. The plaque had been erected in 1915.
On the last day we woke to a foggy morning. By the time we started down the trail it was beginning to burn off but hung eerily among the tree-canopied path. We had six days of gorgeous weather for this trip. One day rain stayed ahead of us and although we rode on a short bit of wet path, we never were rained on. The temps were in the mid to upper 80s and beautiful.
It was now day six and we had 26 miles to complete our trail. Reality began to sink in – as well as the bike seat! – that the ride we had anxiously anticipated for so long was now almost over. We rode a little slower trying to savor every last mile.
About 12:30 we rode into St. Charles. Our husbands stretched a red ribbon and a "finish" sign across the path for us to ride through. After several more "end of the ride" photos we loaded our bikes one last time onto the car. We enjoyed lunch in an outdoor cafe in the historic downtown St. Charles, took in a little shopping and then headed to the ferry across the Mississippi at Grafton. Due to the the excess rain earlier this month, the ferry had to take a detour and the 10 minute ride took about 25 minutes to reach Grafton. The late afternoon sun was bright and warm and we all enjoyed standing on the ferry as it slowly made it's way across the river. It seemed to be a perfect relaxing way to end our fabulous week of biking and great weather. We spent that night with Debbie Woefel in Grafton before heading back to Vermilion County the next morning.
I have had the privilege to bike ride the I&M Canal path in Northern Illinois, the Monon Rails to Trails in Indianapolis, the Michelson Rails-to-trails in South Dakota and even a 20 mile ride back into the Alaskan mountains at the foot of a glacier. But spending six days on 225-miles of the Katy will be hard to beat for such a feeling of accomplishment. I don't know if I will ever get the chance to do it again, but if I do, my seat and I will be ready to go!