A recent vacation brought several surprises. I discovered that I could indeed ride my bike for five days in a row, I could carry all that I needed on my bike, and lastly that Missouri is a damn beautiful state. These discoveries took place in October 2002, as my husband Jason and I traversed Missouri on the Katy Trail.
In case you were not aware, Missouri hosts the largest rails-to-trails project in the country, with 225 miles of limestone chat stretching between Clinton and St. Charles. The final piece of the trail opened in 1999 and the trail has been growing in popularity. According to my official Katy Trail Guidebook, people travel from all over the world to ride the trail. Amazing.
More amazing was that I myself rode this trail. Skeptical doesn't even begin to describe my feelings when, a few years ago, Jason broached the subject of riding the Katy Trail. In fact, I'm pretty sure I told him to talk to his friend Mark because there was no way in hell I would want to do that.
I'm sorry to say that it was my competitive streak that had reacquainted me with my bike in the summer of 2000. Jason was gathering together a team of folks to ride the MS 150 bike ride. I did not believe myself interested or able to ride 150 miles in two days. However, as Jason began assembling the team I found myself incredulously asking Jason, "You mean she's doing it? Crap, if she can do it, I can do it." I think you get the picture. I found myself surrendering lazy Sunday mornings for the purpose of whipping my body into shape for the ride. It worked, and I rode the 150 in both 2000 and 2001.
Although competition was my initial motivator, I have thankfully moved on. Biking has given me not only a way to keep in better physical shape, but also the chance to be outdoors more often in both rural and urban settings. The Katy Trail had begun to seem possible. Of course, also motivating me was the opportunity to stay in lovely B & B's along the trail and watch some cable television. We'd camped both years when riding the MS 150, and the idea of a bed at the end of each day on our first extended biking trip seemed necessary.
Jason pretty much planned the entire trip. Giving up control like that was interesting, exciting, and new and meant me following an unknown script for six days. This also meant agreeing to his obsession that we ride every single bit of the Katy Trail. And, except for the mile we rode on Hwy 94 when a big, big cow literally chased us off the trail, we did.
The Katy Trail begins (or ends, depending on where you start) in Clinton, but the Amtrak train we took from St. Louis only goes as far as Sedalia, which is about 35 miles to the east. This meant that our first day of riding was a round trip to Clinton and back and topped off at 83 miles after adding in mileage from the B & B to the trailhead. It was a hard first day as a 20 mile-per-hour wind pressed against us the first half of the trip. After a much needed lunch stop at Pizza Glen in Clinton, where we loaded up on dairy products, we were thankful that our return to Sedalia included a strong tail wind, which shortened our trip by an hour and a half.
The first day of riding left me with many doubts that even the wonderful, hot bubble bath at Sedalia House B & B could not take away. I worried that we'd miscalculated all the mileage like we'd done on the first day. I wondered how I would handle it when I told people I couldn't do it and they saw what a wimp I was. And lastly, I wondered again why we are so opposed to tour vacation packages in the first place. What was this crazy prejudice I had against the all-inclusive beach resort?
Luckily my mood the next day was much improved and despite a call from our house sitter describing her trip to the emergency vet the previous night to remove a domed, spring-loaded trash can lid from our dog's head I was ready to hit the trail. The weather was beautiful, and my stomach was full of homemade granola and a scrumptious omelet. This day's trip would take us to Rocheport.
Since the trip, we have both concluded that this was our favorite riding day. It was a moderate distance at 47 miles and included several highlights, the first of which was seeing a real, live bobcat. I'd never seen a bobcat, and despite my love of seeing animals in the wild, I found myself shouting to Jason, "Get back on your bike and pedal!" Based on my frantic tone, you would have thought I was facing down a grizzly bear in the Alaskan wilderness. After calming down, we stopped for lunch at a grocery store in Pilot Grove, Missouri. Our entire meal for 2 people was $6. You have to love that.
When you arrive in Rocheport, you ride through the only stone train tunnel on the trail. It is a wonderful way to enter this historic town. In Rocheport we stayed in a converted rail car, part of the Katy O'Neill Bed and Breakfast. I was a bit unsure what to expect from a converted railcar and was surprised at how spacious it was. After settling in (i.e. showering off the funk) we headed to the only restaurant open in town that night, the Trailside Café. We feasted on fried okra and portabella sandwiches while visiting with two guys we had met earlier on the trail. The younger one, who we soon learned was the stepson to the older fellow, was a friendly, grungy, hippie type who had a guitar strapped to his bike and only two sets of clothing to last him all the way to Guatemala, via New Orleans. We would have visited longer with him had his stepfather not taken over the conversation by telling boastful tales of his youth.
The next night found us in Jefferson City. It was hard to stay in the "city" after being in more rural settings for the past few days. The lovely accommodations, the short ride, and the chance to dine with two gentlemen (and I do mean gentlemen) redeemed this city detour. These two 72-year-old men were high school friends from Enid, OK, who despite their geographic distance one lives in D.C. and the other in Denver had kept in touch and for the second year in a row were making a bike trip together. We had wonderful dinner conversation, complete with their disclosure of a humorous secret (which I won't share for fear that it might end up in the wrong hands) about their previous biking trip.
We left early the next morning for our destination of Marthasville, which was about 70 miles away. This ended up being a pretty hard day of riding as there were long stretches without any places to stop and we went through hostile areas. Signs were posted that indicated that the residents in the area had not wanted the Katy Trail running through their property. This was verified as we waved at folks in the "hostile territory" and were met with icy stares. Also throw in the fact that we were literally chased off the trail by a big ol' cow (now, Jason will tell you it was a bull and you can nod, but I'm pretty sure it was just a cow), and you get the picture.
Rhineland, MO, did offer a tasty reprieve when we stopped for lunch at the local restaurant/bar/quickie store. I was happy because they had pickled beets and homemade pie that was only $1.25 a slice. Made my day.
We arrived in Marthasville about 5 p.m. and I was so ready for a shower. We stayed in a B & B aptly named "The Little House," as that is exactly what it is: a small, quaint, two-bedroom house, equipped with bathrobes and slippers, and a washer and dryer. Woo, that is livin'.
I was thankful for a couple of beers and a good slathering of Icy Hot, as well as a lively chat with a 60-something-year-old man who had been riding his bike for the past five months. He'd been bike camping his way around the country. He really inspired me and made me feel so capable of moving up to bike camping for our next jaunt. Of course, I could have just been lightheaded from the beer.
It was hard to get going the last day as our butts were sore and the weather looked rainy, but once on the bike it was fine. This day I recognized that I was in Missouri as we passed through the familiar towns of Augusta and Weldon Springs, and had an unfortunate encounter with a rebel flag at a restaurant in Defiance.
Unlike the first day, a wonderful tail wind accompanied us and pushed us towards our final destination of St. Charles. As we approached the end of the trail, I found myself swept into the need to do the "whole" trail and made sure that we rode to the very last Katy Trail sign.