Since I first became aware of the Katy Trail sometime in the mid to late 1990’s it has been a goal of mine to eventually ride the entire trail end to end. Over the years I would occasionally cross the trail driving somewhere, or even ride a short section from time to time. This year I decided that I had done enough dreaming about the Katy Trail and it was time to actually do it. Early in the spring I blocked a couple weeks in late September to keep open and I began riding my bike almost every opportunity I could, in order to get in shape for the 230 mile journey. When the week finally arrived, my parents offered to drive to the starting point at the western end of the trail in Clinton, then drive along and meet me at the end of each day with a place for us to stay. I really can’t envision a more perfect way to ride the trail. Here is my experience on the trail
September 24, 2008
Clinton – Pilot Grove (61.3 miles logged)
Storms were predicted and I could see large cumulous clouds in the western sky as we made the morning drive to Clinton. I was nervous about being rained on, but certainly not nervous enough to cancel the trip. Mom on the other hand was so nervous she could hardly sit still.
Once we arrived at the trail I realized my backpack seemed to weigh about 100 pounds so I took out about half the contents, including one of my water bottles and half my food, but not my camera, which was probably 75% of the weight.
After about a mile it seemed like the trail had not been as level as I was expecting, but slightly uphill instead. After several miles of what still felt like uphill trail I took my first break and enjoyed a scenic ceek bridge. While I was stopped, a man passed by on a bike, the first of only 5 other people I would see on the trail that day. A short while later I crossed the first official trailhead at the small town of Calhoun, where my parents were pretending to hide so I wouldn’t know they were checking up in on me.
I kept on riding, still what felt like uphill until I reached the town of Windsor, where I stopped and realized that each trailhead had very interesting informational signs about the town and what the next stretch of trail was like. I met an older couple who was riding the whole trail, but in small segments at a time, and not all in one trip.
After leaving Windsor I quickly crossed into Pettis County, the first of 9 county lines I would eventually cross on the journey. The trail still seemed to be going uphill and not long after the county line I saw a marker indicating the higest elevation on the trail, 955ft. I hoped maybe it would be mostly downhill after that because I was getting tired much quicker than I had expected. Not long after here I met mom and dad in Green Ridge for lunch at the only restaurant in town, which as was the case in many of those farm towns was really more of a bar.
Most of the first 50 miles or so was in the Osage Plains region of western Missouri, and relatively monotonous, with occasional tree canopy sections and stream crossings. Riding through Sedalia was interesting, mainly because it was the first actual town I had been through. I had the luck of arriving at a weird 5-way stop near the high school just as school was letting out and had to wait forever to get through the odd series of crossings.
Several miles outside of Sedalia I crossed into the “Ozark Border Region”, which is mostly rolling hills and streams, although nothing to the extent of the actual Ozarks in the southern portion of the state. The trail from Sedalia to Clifton City seemed to get easier and have more downhills that any section I had yet encountered. Once in Clifton City I met an interesting character named “Al” who had a long beard and said he regularly commuted the 104 miles round trip to Clinton. The trailhead sign warned me that the next segment to Pilot Grove was gradually uphill after the Lamine River. I hoped that it would be a long distance before I reached that river.
The trail from Clifton City was really scenic, and perhaps the most remote of any segment along the entire trail. After maybe one mile I crossed the river and as the sign said, I began climbing. I climbed for roughly the next 10 demoralizing miles until I met mom and dad who had started riding from Pilot Grove and escorted me into town to end my first day on the trail.
For the record, the town of Pilot Grove has two restaurants. A deli that is only open for lunch, and a bar that stops serving food at whatever time they feel like sometime in the afternoon apparently. At least there was a grocery store, which luckily was open until the late hour of 7 pm.
We stayed at Polly’s B&B, which was a small, old house, but very cute. Another couple from Tennessee who was riding a tandem bike happened to be staying there as well. Polly was nice and served us some tea and pie with our grocery store sandwiches.
September 25, 2008
Pilot Grove – Tebbetts (127.1 miles logged)
I was looking forward to getting on the bike this morning, expecting a mostly downhill slope to Boonville, then level trails once in the Missouri River valley. Just a couple miles down the trail I was passed by the couple from Tennessee. It seemed like they were riding at 50mph. The trail was mostly downhill to Boonville, but not enough to make it seem any easier. Crossing the Missouri River was one of the more exciting points along the trip.
Once in the flood plain of the Missouri, I was disappointed to find that the nearly flat trail was only marginally easier than the gradual ups and downs I had experienced over the previous 75 miles. I encountered mom and dad just before the scenic bluffs near Rocheport and they rode along with me through the tunnel and we had lunch at a trail side cafe. I had a fairly quick lunch, knowing I still had about 45 miles to go.
Once on my way again I was already feeling some fairly intense fatigue, so this particularly scenic stretch of trail just seemed to drag on forever. There was a neat old structure built into the cliff where I stopped for a bit and met a tattoo covered couple that said they were planning to hike to Clinton, where I had started. They had 2 dogs, one of which was carrying a small pack of gear. Since they started in Huntsdale, maybe 5 miles up the trail, I questioned to myself how far they would actually get before realizing how long 100 miles really is when not in a car.
I rode the short detour near McBaine to see the large Bur Oak, which as I had been told, had to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. Although I took a photo of me standing next to it for scale, one still can’t really understand the size of this massive tree without standing under it in person. As I started peddling back to the trail I saw the Tennessee couple again, and was glad to see they were taking our suggestion of taking the slight detour off the trail to see the tree.
From here on, I tried to stop as few times as possible and just kept riding as long as my legs would permit, although I did stop and rest somewhere along a tributary of the Missouri where I had a nice view of one of the many old railroad bridges that the Katy Trail crosses. I also learned that the flood plain of the Missouri is home to some of the muddiest and stagnate rivers and streams on the planet. For the most part, this stretch between Rochport and Jefferson City seems to be a more of a blur than anything. I took a long rest at the trailhead in Jefferson City and then jumped back on the bike for the final 12 miles into Tebbetts. As I was leaving this area the couple passed me again, and I waved and heard the now familiar “Hi Ryan” in their southern dialect. I thought it would probably be the last time I would see them, but I would end up getting passed by them one more time at the Hartsburg trailhead before their day ended in Jefferson City.
At first, 12 miles to Tebbetts didn’t seem like a big deal, but this last segment of the day seemed to be the longest of the entire trail, and before I knew it the sun was setting. Once again, mom and dad came and met me a few miles out and escorted me into town. We arrived at the “biker hostel”, which reminded me of a church camp dormitory just as it was getting completely dark. I think it’s official name was the Turner Katy Trail Shelter, and at $5/night it was a good deal. After a shower and basic dinner consisting of a banana, orange, and trail mix, I fell into a nice, long sleep.
Sepmtember 26, 2008
Tebbetts – Augusta (199.8 miles logged)
Thanks to mom’s creative and thorough packing I was able to enjoy cereal before getting back on the trail. When I walked outside the hostel I found the town dog running around looking for some affection. Apparently mom and dad had found this dog yesterday and according to a drunk woman stumbling down the street, it was named “Gravel Road Dog”.
It was a cool, foggy morning and for the first couple miles I wished I had put on some long sleeves or pants. Every time I would pass an open stretch of trail the sun would feel nice and warm on my arms which I noticed were collecting dew. It wasn’t long though until the trail opened up and I was longing for some shade as the trail was passing through large open expanses of farm land. Since I crossed into the flood plain, I had periodically crossed areas of the trail with moderate and occasionally severe flood damage. At one point on this day the trail was so bad for a stretch that I decided to ride for a few miles on highway 94, which conviniently paralleled the trail for this segment.
Once back on the trail mom and dad passed me on the highway and honked. I figured they were traveling up ahead to McKittrick where we had planned to meet for lunch. This was probably my least favorite section of the trail, which lasted from roughly Blufton to Gore.
The trail from McKittick to Treloar was the longest segment in terms of miles. The first half was mostly farm land with little to no shade. The second half was the picturesque bluffs and river frontage the Katy trail is known for. I saw a guy in a bright blue bikers outfit riding west, and then a few minutes later he passed me going back east at a “pro” speed. Then I passed mom and dad, and wondered how they were able to make it so far since the next official trailhead was still relatively far. A couple miles later saw their car parked along the highway where it happened to intersect the trail…allowing them to start the trail right where the scenic area started.
When I arrived in Treloar I saw the blue suit biker and found out he was visiting St. Charles with his wife, and just riding the trail for the day. I figured it up, and round trip he would have over 100 miles to get from St. Charles to where I had seen him turn around and back, so he was obviously a better biker than me. I did notice he was riding a Trek, similar to mine.
The rest of the ride was more or less rolling farmland and occasionally bluffs on the north and vast, flat farmland to the south. Had it not been later in the afternoon and starting to cool off at this point, the trail would have been somewhat miserable for this stretch. Instead, with the late afternoon light it was nice and peaceful looking out across the fields that seemed to never change no matter how far I peddled. Of course there was still the occasional break where I would pass a segment with a nice shaded tree canopy.
I saw the blue suit biker again at the Marthasville trailhead and stopped for another break. He was chain-smoking a pipe, which I found somewhat odd for a bicyclist. After several rounds he eventually put the pipe in his bag and took off again.
The last stop before I hit the end of the day at Augusta was Dutzow, just over 3 miles from Marthasville, making it the shortest segment of the entire trail and somewhat of a gateway into Missouri’s wine country. I stopped for a bit then carried on for the last segment of my last full day on the trail. Not long after Dutzow I crossed into St. Charles county, which was the first indicator that I was getting into the home stretch.
After a few more miles of corn and soybeans I found myself at the Augusta trailhead with surprisingly enough energy left to climb the monstrous hill up into the town where we were staying that night. Mom and dad had made reservations at a place with a hot tub, which was a great way to end their portion of the trip.
September 27, 2008
Augusta – St. Charles (228.4 miles logged)
After a great breakfast I parted ways with mom and dad and continued on for the last segment of the long journey. I reached Matson in what seemed like minutes and before I knew it was rolling into Weldon Spring. It was here that I started noticing the influnce of the St. Louis metro region. Just in terms of the amount and type of people on the trail, not to mention the VW’s, Volvo’s, Subarus, and Escalades in the parking lots. Here there were lots of walkers and tons of bikers, probably just out to ride a couple miles.
During the stretch between Weldon Spring and Greens Bottom it seemed like I was constantly putting on the brakes, waiting for a good opputunity to pass large groups slowing riding down the trail sometimes 2 or 3 wide. Being near a large city, and on a saturday I easily saw more people on this day than they previous 3 days combined. When I stopped at Greens Bottom I overheard a couple St. Louis residents talking about the trail. One college age girl said she heard this trail went on for quite a ways and the sweaty middle aged guy who had been trying to impress her said “yeah I think it goes for about 50 miles or so”. I spoke up and told them that it goes all the way to Clinton, which was about 220 miles from this trailhead and that was where I had started on Wednesday. I don’t think either of them believed that someone would actually ride a bike for more than 30 minutes at a time.
I found the trail between Greens Bottom and St. Charles to be probably the worst stretch of the trail in terms of scenery. On the right side I traded in the bluffs for a busy highway, an arena parking lot, hilltops lined with subdivisions, and a quarry of some sort…just typical city stuff I guess. The right side however, was more or less the same as it had been for the previous 160 miles with bottomland, forests, and the world’s 4th largest riverway.
As I crossed I-70 for the third and final time and started coasting into Frontier Park, there was a huge festival going on. It seemed as though all of St. Charles was celebrating my completion of the Katy Trail, when in fact most of them probably didn’t even know what the Katy Trail was. I slowly peddled the way through the park looking for the official trailhead, which seemed relatively insignificant and hidden with all the excitement of the park and it’s many facilities.
As I made my way up to the last official trailhead I quickly reflected back on how far I had actually rode my bike and everything and everyone I had seen along the way. It was kind of a bittersweet moment. On one hand, I was finished and no longer had to spend my days at the mercy of the trail and my horrendously uncomfortable bike seat. On the other hand, it had been such an incredible experience and journey, I was kind of sad for it to suddenly be over and to soon return back to normal life.
As luck would have it, Hannah was walking up to the trailhead at the exact same time I arrived. I jumped off the bike, got a hug and mentally checked the Katy Trail off my list of “things to do”. The realization that I could now say I had traversed the state on a bike began to set in, and I began looking forward to my next adventure, whatever that may be.