Thursday, November 5, 2009

katy trail

I’ve read recently about some rails-to-trails rides, including: Wilkins' Cycling Weblog
The Katy is a trail built on a former rail line of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, or MKT railroad. There’s hope that the trail will be extended to the Kansas City area sometime in the future, but for now it runs for more than 220 miles from Clinton, 80 miles southeast of Kansas City, to St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis.

Several years ago I talked my brother, Jim, and nephew, Chuck, into driving from Phoenix, and my nephew, Nick from Fargo, to do a self supported tour of the Katy Trail. We met at my house on Saturday and after last-minute preparations, got up Sunday to head for Clinton. My wife, Beth, agreed to ride along and bring the truck back home, and pick us up 4 days later on the other side of the state. We figured that we only needed to average about 60 miles a day to ride the entire trail in the time we had.

I had “promised” that June in Missouri would bring sunshine and warm temperatures. I lied. It was a little cool and just starting to drizzle as we left the Clinton trailhead and headed through rolling farmland. The rain got harder and colder as the afternoon went on. We layered as best we could but were still getting more and more miserable as the cold rain felt like sleet on our faces. We ended up at a Casey’s General Store in Green Ridge eating pizza and drinking hot chocolate. Weird combination, but the pizza was good, and the hot chocolate was hot, so there you go.

We made it only as far as Sedalia, 35 miles down the road. We had dinner at an Applebee’s and set up camp on the state fairgrounds. That night we survived thunderstorms and lightning, and by morning it seemed like everything we owned was wet. The only other tent campers were a father and son from Georgia riding cross-country, including the Katy Trail east-to-west. They awoke to a large tree branch next to their tent, but no harm done. A cup of coffee from a kind RV camper and a fast food breakfast, and we were on our way..…to the laundromat.

It took us a few hours to get everything dry; sleeping bags, shoes. But by noon, the sun was coming out and we were enjoying some nice scenery as we neared the Missouri river. We made about 65 miles to Boonville and camped out at New Franklin. It was becoming obvious that we wouldn’t make it to St. Charles, but the scenery was getting better, the weather looked like it would improve, and after a nice night around a campfire we were ready to roll.

On Tuesday we rode next to some nice wetlands with lots of wildlife sightings, through the MKT tunnel into Rocheport, a beautiful little town with B&Bs and the Trailside Café. It’s a great place for lunch or an ice cream. And you can rent a bike next door. Now we were along the stretch of the trail with towering limestone bluffs on the north side and the Missouri river to the south. We weren’t worried about making time or miles, just enjoying the ride, stopping to watch a barge float by, take a nap in the shade.

We made it as far as Tebbetts, about 55 miles. There was a small city park where we could set up tents. And , across the street, Turner’s General Store. We had read in a guidebook that Mrs. Turner and her husband had opened the store in 1933, and she was still running it near the end of the century. We checked the door and it was closed, even though it was mid-afternoon. We waited out front and eventually she returned from somewhere and let us in. This would be an adventure too.

We picked up candy, chips, water, pop and some bread, and found some kind of turkey loaf in her cold section. Bless her soul, Mrs. Turner didn’t seem real confident about running the meat cutter. At this point Jim and Nick went outside to wait, thinking this may not end well. Chuck told her he had worked in restaurants and she gladly let him work the machine. She rang up all of our shopping on an ancient register, and came up with a total of just over $8.00. I told her I didn’t think that sounded right, so she let me come behind the counter and add it up. It ended up being closer to $30.00. She was appreciative and said that she had been told by people that she could trust bikers riding the Katy Trail.

More rain that night, but another nice day on Wednesday as we rode to McKittrick. We weren’t going to be able to make it much further so we went south over one of the few bridges over the river in that part of the state. Crossing the busy bridge we saw a small kitten that had been abandoned on the side of the road. Wet and cold, we made a nest in a handlebar bag and after getting directions, dropped her at the vet in Hermann, with a donation to help with the expense of finding a home for her.

We called Beth and told her where we would be when she came to retrieve us the next day. As we set up our tents in the beautiful city park near a small creek, the sheriff came and suggested we move to higher ground as they were expecting some flooding. We doubted the story, but moved anyway. Sure enough, we would have been swimming if we had stayed put. As it was, the ground near us became so wet that as we sat in the shelter waiting for Beth we watched in amazement as thousands, maybe millions of earthworms headed for higher ground. The concrete platform of the next shelter was totally covered in worms.

It was a great 4 days on the trail, our only disappointment that we couldn’t ride the whole way to St. Charles. I went back by myself that Labor Day weekend on Saturday morning. I parked at McKittrick and rode the last 75 miles to St. Charles. The campground mentioned in the guidebook turned out to not cater to tent campers, and I was too hot and tired to ride far for another campground, so I ended up at a motel for the night. In the early morning I got back on the trail and rode back to McKittrick, and drove home.

I would like to get back to the Katy Trail and ride the most scenic parts in small pieces. But, if they ever get it done I would love the idea of riding all the way across the state on the trail.


  1. Sounds like an eventful ride. Your past posts had already given a glimpse into the type of person you may be, as I think that is true with anyone who puts it out there on a blog week in and week out. I am not suprised in how you handled Mrs. Turner. IMO...Honesty says a lot. The Katy is one that is on our list to ride.

  2. Rlove2bike is correct.

    I've wanted to ride the Katy Trail when I first heard about it, and now I want to ride it even more! Thanks for your post.

  3. That Katy Trial looks brilliant. Do you live in America? Not much to do with my bike in Northampton England. Rather nice when I ride my bike in wales though, lots of trials and mountain roads or off roads paths to take.

  4. Bikes, yes I live in Kansas, but close to Missouri. The Katy Trail is a beautiful way to tour MO.

  5. That description of the worms sounds right out of a Hitchcock script! Too bad you didn't post any pictures of that...