Thursday, September 22, 2016

Riding the Katy Trail

On Wednesday September 15, 2016, Lois and Jean and I began our Katy Trail adventure in Clinton  Missouri.  Our combined ages are 207 years.  We rode a total of 233.34 miles in 5 1/2 days.   We rode in the rain two days, arrived at our destination after dark 2 days, had two flats, three mishaps, and saw three snakes including the copperhead we rode over.  At the end of the ride, we were three awesome old ladies, feeling quite happy with our accomplishments!

Jean, Lois and Harlene celebrate a successful, life-affirming adventurous ride on the Katy Trail.

We had started talking about doing this ride together about a year earlier.  Two of us were recovering from injuries that kept us off the bike for quite a while, and we thought a ride like this would motivate us to get back in the saddle.  It worked!  We had done a little riding together before and thought that we were well matched in our abilities and style of riding.  That is, slow riding with plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings.  We decided to make sure we had things planned out so we always knew what our next destination would be.  Given that services aren't available everywhere along the trail, this was the right approach.

Day 1: Clinton to Sedalia - 42.22 miles
We began our journey in Clinton Missouri, where we stayed at the Westbridge Inn and Suites to do our final packing and preparations. "This doesn't weigh very much, does it?"  Lois and Jean had done lots of riding and some bike touring, but they had never carried their own gear.  So the bikes felt a little awkward, and before our ride was over, both of their bikes would fall over on them once when we were stopped. 

We got on the road about 9:30.  The early morning was stormy, but it cleared up as we began.  Unfortunately, by the time we rode the 2 miles to the trailhead, the rain came back.  We stopped at the Clinton kiosk, where we met three women from Toronto who were just starting out as well.  We thought we might see them again, but we never did.  I guess they rode faster than 7.42 mph, which was our average over the whole ride.  (On the fastest day we topped out at 7.6!  Not exactly speed demons.)

The rain was quite tolerable.  Not too hard, not too cold.  And we all had rain jackets.  We pedaled through mildly rolling country, quite scenic.  We rode through Calhoun, also known as Jug Town.  It once was a busy town with six pottery companies, but Main Street is now deserted.  Most of the towns along the trail are like this.  That's one of the reasons it is a good idea to have lodging reservations, especially during the busy fall season.  We were right at the start of that season, and we pretty much had the trail to ourselves.

We stopped for lunch at Windsor, where we had some of the best fried chicken ever at Raymond's Family Restaurant.  We took our time eating lunch, and the rain had cleared up by the time we got back on the trail.  Soon after lunch, we climbed to the highest elevation on the trail - 955 feet.  A slow steady climb, nothing difficult.  We stopped at the depot in Green Ridge to learn about the once busy business district that is now mostly extinct.  The depots along the way are filled with interesting information about the surrounding terrain and the history of the little towns.  We stopped at each one.  A good excuse to take a "butt break" and have a little snack.

 We pulled into Sedalia too late to visit the gift shop and museum in the Katy Trail Depot there.  We called Maxine and got directions to her house where we spent the night.  A lovely old house on the outskirts of town, complete with horses and a donkey!  We ordered pizza and salad, did laundry, took showers and fell into bed, tired and a little sore. We had a cozy upstairs bedroom with one queen bed and a sofa bed.  

Lois, packed and ready to go.

I hope I remember where I'm putting this!

Lois and Jean, waiting for our fried chicken lunch at Raymond's Family Restaurant

At the highest point on the trail, 955 feet.

Day 2: Sedalia to Boonville - 32.73 miles
We asked for a 7 AM breakfast, and Maxine had a continental breakfast waiting for us when we went downstairs.  She and her husband Pete were both very friendly and willing to help out however they could.  We ate a hearty breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast, juice and coffee.  We repacked our panniers, and found that things had mysteriously expanded while we were sleeping.  We also found that things had moved around by themselves in the panniers, so things were never where we were SURE we had put them.  Outside we used the hose by the barn to wash off our muddy bikes before taking off.  And to our dismay, it was already 9:20 by the time we started pedaling.

We were blessed with good weather.  We enjoyed the long, slowly undulating grades.  We rode through Clifton City.  No services here so we rode on to Pilot Grove, where we stopped for lunch at Deon's Bar and Grill, right on the trail.  It was after the lunch rush, so the place was pretty empty.  Great service, limited menu but good food.  And ice cold Gatorade!  Life was good.  By the way, you will notice throughout this blog that we never skipped a meal.  I guess that's why, after six days on the bike, we had collectively gained a total of 13 pounds!  Fortunately, it came off easily when we returned home.

Angel from Boonville Comfort Suites had told us how to get to the hotel, but we needed some clarification so we called her from the trail and she talked us in.  It was not all that far, but there was a BIG hill to climb before we got there.  It was a short day for us and we got there early.  We had the queen suite so we had plenty of room to spread out.  Showers and laundry were the first order of business.  There was no place close enough to walk to for dinner, so Angel recommended a taxi, who in turn recommended a restaurant.  Lois grew up in Missouri and still has family there.  One of her brothers, Tom, met us at the restaurant and treated us to dinner!  A tasty quesadilla and very pleasant conversation.  After a quick trip to the neighboring Pilot Travel Center to buy Gatorade and snacks for the next day, we climbed into bed.

Saying goodbye to Maxine, who had taken very good care of us.

Jean crossing one of the many bridges along the trail.

Lois on yet another bridge.

Day 3: Boonville to Hartsburg - 42.05 miles
We awoke to the sound of thunder and turned over, hoping it was just a dream.  And luckily by the time we got on the road, the storm had passed.  The hotel offered a hot breakfast, and we fueled up.  We made better time, and were on the trail by 9:10!  Every little helps.  We had stayed on the west side of Boonville, so we still had to cross the city.  

As we pedaled out of Boonville, we met a woman who was one of Bubba's Pampered Pedalers.  (I kid you not!)  This group was the reason we couldn't stay in the historic Hotel Frederic.  We chatted for a while.  She was waiting for her husband, who had fallen behind.  We went on, promising to let him know she was worried when we encountered him.  It was several miles up the trail where we found him relaxing in the Boonville depot.  He'd had a flat.  We suggested he call his wife, since she was quite worried.  Somehow, it hadn't occurred to him to do that.....

We had to leave the trail for a while in Boonville, but the route on city streets was well marked.  We crossed the Missouri River, for the most part on a dedicated bike and pedestrian crossing.  As we left the bridge, we pedaled on the side of the road for a bit before we picked up the trail again.

Now we were right on the river, and along the way there were historic markers filled with information about the river, especially about the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Very interesting, and I have now vowed to read "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose.  All of the markers included excerpts from the Lewis and Clark journals.  Fascinating.

Not too far out of Boonville, I started to have a hard time keeping up.  I'd done fine up to now, and all of a sudden I was struggling.  I felt very old.  I should have gotten off the bike when Lois observed that my rear tire was a little low.  I thought I'd put air in it when we get to Rocheport, where there is a bike and snack place right on the trail.  But before too long, I couldn't ignore the fact that my rear tire was flat.  I had just had new thorn resistant tubes put on the bike, filled with "Flat Attack," and I was as sure as I could be that I would NOT have a flat.  But here it was.  I inspected the tire and found a big piece of glass stuck in it.  It had to have come from the short distance we were on the road leaving Boonville, although I had thought I was careful.  I removed the glass, and the Flat Attack bubbled out and sealed the tire so that I was able to put enough air in it to continue to Rocheport and the bike shop.

When we got to Rocheport, the bike shop/cafe was closed...  Hungry and disappointed, we headed up to the General Store.  Rocheport is a very scenic sleepy town, and it was fun to explore on the way.  The store was pretty deserted when we got there, well past lunch time.  We had hearty deli sandwiches and cold Gatorade, with a small ice cream cone for dessert.  We asked about the bike shop and learned it was closed for good.  But fortunately there is an avid biker who lives right behind the General Store, and we were told he might be able to help us out.  His wife does beautiful pottery, and their home is also a shop - Shirahaze Gallery.  We found them both at home.  We thought maybe my best bet was to just fully inflate the tire and let the Flat Attack do its work.  But it started to bubble, and I was very grateful that I'd brought along a spare tube.  Tom changed it for me, and I gladly compensated him for his efforts.

By now it was after three and had started to rain.  We still had about 25 miles to go.  It was beautiful riding along the river, but the rain got heavier and the trail conditions deteriorated.  We kept going through Huntsdale, and made what we intended to be a quick pit stop at McBaine.  The rain was getting heavier, and dusk was fast approaching.  I called Leaia at the Globe in Hartsburg to tell her we might be a little late for our 6 PM dinner appointment with her.  Since there was only a bar in Hartsburg, we had decided to take her up on her offer to fix us dinner.  (For a price, but well worth it.)

We were getting on our bikes to leave McBaine when Lois discovered SHE had a flat.  What was to have been a quick stop turned into quite a long delay, as we dealt with a flat tire in the driving rain.  Two flats in one day, and heavy rain to boot!  When we finally arrived at the Globe, after a couple more calls to Leaia, it was well after dark.  We were soaking wet and muddy.  We worried about tracking mud into this beautifully restored old hotel, but Leaia and Mark were very warm and welcoming.  They had even waited dinner so they could eat with us.  All the other rooms in the B&B had been rented out to a wedding party, and they were all at the rehearsal dinner at the Hitching Post Bar when we arrived. Leaia gave us warm robes to wear so we could eat dinner right away.  Then the regular routine.  Showers and laundry, and falling in bed.  Very tired and extremely grateful to be in a warm, dry, comfortable bed.

Getting ready to ride through the Boonville tunnel.

A granary outside New Franlkin.

Jean resting at one of the kiosks along the way.

Day 4: Hartsburg to McKittrick - 52.8 miles
We were up and ready for breakfast at 7,  hoping for better luck for what was our longest ride yet.  Mark and Leaia fixed us a delicious and hearty breakfast.  We settled up, packed our panniers, washed the dirt off our bikes and were out and pedaling by 9.  We had good weather, and our wishes that it would stay that way were granted.

But the trail was wet from the deluge the day before.  Not too far out of Hartsburg, some bikers coming from the east warned us that the trail was flooded and that we should get off the trail at the bridge and find a detour around.  Unfortunately they didn't say which bridge and before too long we were looking at the trail under water for as far as we could see.  So we backtracked and found a place where we could cross over to the gravel road that was running parallel to the trail.  We pushed gravel for a while then found another place to cross over back to the path.  That was the last flooding we encountered, but there were lots of washouts on the trail.  In some places, part of the trail had just collapsed. 

The ride was beautiful, right along the river.  And again, we stopped at the historic markers along the way.  At the north Jefferson depot, we met a young woman who was doing a solo cross country tour.  We read about the capital, Jefferson City.  If this were a longer tour we might have decided to explore the city.  Maybe next time.  It seems there is always more to see than there is time.

We kept riding until we got to Tebbetts, where we stopped at P4 for lunch.  The building was large, the menu was small, the food was good and the people were friendly.  Unfortunately this was their last week open, due to disagreements with the landlord.  There isn't much else along this stretch of the trail, and they will definitely be missed.  The young woman who was doing the solo cross country ride came in with a fellow she had met along the trail.  She stayed at the hostel in Tebbetts, but he soon caught up with us and wanted to know where we were staying that night.  We continued to encounter him along the trail, but we were unfriendly enough that he finally got the message.

We stayed focused on our ride and were making good time.  We continued to stop along the way to enjoy the beauty and history that was all along the trail.  Why bother riding if you can't enjoy the surroundings?  As we rode through Rhineland, dusk was falling.  Only five miles to go, and we were hopeful that we wouldn't have to use our headlamps.  I had just crossed a major road when I heard my name  called and looked back to see one of my companions on the ground.  The trail barriers had finally gotten one of us.

Yes, the trail barriers.  At the entrance to the trail from each road there are barriers to keep cars from entering the trail.  Sometimes only half the barrier is closed, sometimes there is a nice gap between the two halves, and other times the two halves are staggered.  But sometimes the opening between them is quite narrow.  We'd already had some near misses.  But now it was near the end of a long day, it was dusk, and the gap was narrow.

Fortunately the injuries were minor.  No broken bones, just plenty of scrapes and bruises.  We all got back on our bikes and turned on our lights for the final five miles, which seemed much longer than that.  The trail is a state park that closes at dusk, and we were just wondering if we were breaking the law when we saw some headlights shining right on the trail.  Oh sh*t!  Busted!   What a relief to find that it was Rufus, one of Lois's brothers, delivering dinner for us.  We were staying upstairs at the Farmer's Mercantile, and it took us a few minutes to find the correct entrance in the dark.  Jodie wasn't there, but had left everything ready for us.  We had wonderful salad and pizza, with the good company of Rufus and his grandson Caleb.  The room we stayed in had been a vaudeville hall at one time, and is now billed as the largest B&B room in Missouri.  No chance to do laundry here, so after dinner, first aid and showers, we were in bed.

A beautiful sunset.

Water, water everywhere.

A hitchhiker.

Nursing our bruised and battered legs and feet.

Day 5: McKittrick to Augusta - 34.51 miles
Breakfast was downstairs in the Farmer's Mercantile at 8, coffee at 7:30.  Jodie made a delicious breakfast using many ingredients from her garden.  We were joined by a handful of people who had stayed at her cottages, including two brothers we had met earlier on the trail.  The breakfast was so good we decided we would like to come back sometime and have Jodie cook us dinner.

We took our time getting on the bikes.  It was probably about 10 when we finally started pedaling.  We were recovering from a long day, and had a relatively short day ahead of us.  So we had a relaxed pace, enjoying the trail, the scenery, the pedaling and the companionship.  I must admit that by now, we all agreed our butts would be glad when we got off the bikes for a while!

We stopped at Treloar for lunch at a little pub.  Decent food, friendly people.  We stopped at the Marthasville Depot and read about Daniel Boone.  He and his wife Rebecca were originally buried here before their remains were moved to Kentucky.  There is a monument about 1 1/2 miles off the trail.  Another possibility for next time.

As we pedaled along, we came to a detour.  The trail was totally closed off.  The website said it was open on weekends and this was Sunday.  There was a road that ran parallel, so we hopped on that for a few miles.  It was actually kind of a relief to be on smooth pavement.  There wasn't much traffic to deal with.

We stayed at the Red Brick Inn B&B in Augusta.  We called for directions, and got off the trail to find that we had a HUGE hill to climb to get to our lodging.  It seems all of Augusta is on a huge hill, so I doubt we could have found a place that didn't involve a climb. Esther had told us there was a happy hour at 5, but unfortunately we got there just a little too late.  We had the Katy Trail suite, which was very nice, but was up two flights of stairs!  

Augusta is a thriving town, unlike most of the towns along the trail.  There are lots of B&Bs and several vineyards, and is a tourist destination for the people from Saint Charles and Saint Louis.  After we had taken our showers and done laundry, we took a leisurely stroll up to the Silly Goose for dinner.  A little too leisurely, since they had just closed the kitchen when we arrived.  Fortunately, they were very accommodating and were able to find food for our dinners.  As we walked back to the B&B, we saw a very pretty little skunk run across the street in front of us.  We were far enough away that we avoided any unpleasant encounter.  I took a quick dip in the hot tub, and then headed back up to the suite to find Lois and Jean making up my bed for me!  Our last night on the trail, and a very comfortable one.

Jodie, our master chef, outside one of her "birdhouses" in McKittrick.

Lots of beautiful flowers to enjoy along the way.

The trail is closed!

Day 6: Augusta to Saint Charles - 28.03 miles
Our last day was a short one, but we had to be in Saint Charles by 2 so we wanted to get an early start.  Esther had suggested breakfast at 9, but agreed to move it up to 8.  What a fabulous breakfast it was!  We were joined by two other Katy Trail riders, a husband and wife team.  We had seen them the day before, and had noted that he was the only one carrying panniers!  We teased them a little about it.  He is a professor at a local university, teaching classes on law enforcement and civil rights.  How timely!  Especially given that Missouri has just passed a law that allows concealed carry for ANYONE, no license or training required.  Needless to say, the conversation was very interesting and we would have liked to stay longer.

We were out on our bikes by about 9.  The ride down the hill was steep enough to require some care, but certainly a lot easier than the ride up.  We rode along enjoying the small towns and beautiful homes we passed.  The trail here was in good condition.  It was hotter than it had been and our butts were tired.  So we were happy to arrive in Saint Charles at almost exactly the same time Rufus and Sally drove up with our cars.  They had done us the favor of picking up our cars in Clinton, driving them to their home in Jefferson City, and then driving to meet us in Saint Charles.  They saved us the significant amount of time and money that a shuttle would have cost. 

We loaded our bikes, changed into street clothes and headed to the touristy part of town.  Very nice, with cobblestone streets.  We had a nice lunch at Lewis and Clark restaurant, followed by a huge, delicious ice cream cone at Kilmans, just down the street.  I said goodbye with chocolate ice cream dripping down my sleeve.  What better way to end a wonderful biking adventure!

Jean checks out one of the historic markers along the river.

In front of the statue in Saint Charles.

Final Thoughts 
All along the trail, we were accompanied by wildlife.  Butterflies, fireflies and dragonflies were abundant.  (The mosquitos weren't too bad until the next to last day.) We saw three snakes, including one that caused so much excitement that a bike was dropped.  Then there was the copperhead that was run over by four tires.  We didn't go back to see if it survived.  We saw turtles, frogs, a possum, a mole and a big black animal that disappeared before we could identify it.  We smelled three skunks and heard two roosters.

We also met interesting people, some of whom I've mentioned.  There was also the young man who had been born without a fibula.  After many operations, he was able to walk and ride bike in spite of his deformities.  He was riding the trail to raise money for disabled kids.  He also worked with disabled kids to motivate them.

This ride was an adventure.  We had to be tough.  We hoped for good weather, but were prepared for rain.  We hoped for no flats, but had spare tubes.  We hoped for no falls, but had a first aid kit.  We hoped for good trail conditions, but brought our patience.  We hoped to make good time, but brought our headlights.  We used every one of those things.  We are already talking about what we will do differently next time.  Because we DO want a next time.  We were gentle with each other.  Nobody said, can't you go faster?  Or, you should be more careful!  We just slowed down to make sure no one was left behind.  We just helped  whoever fell or dropped her bike clean up her wounds and get back on her bike.  

There are more stories and memories, but this is enough for a blog.  If you decide to ride the trail, be sure to check out the website,  It's a great ride, especially for people who prefer to ride without traffic or big hills, for people who love scenic views and history.

Happy pedaling!


  1. Hey Harlene: CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm always amazed that you have mastered a "sport" that you wanted nothing to do with when we were all growing up! Only one question: where's the picture of the copperhead? Love, Gary

  2. What a wonderful adventure you have had. It sounds like a challenge, but not too much of a challenge. It sounded like it had the right amount of fun, good good, good friends and lovely scenery. Thanks for sharing it with me. I loved reading it.

  3. Enjoyed your blog very much. Brought back some memories. I rode the Katy east to west in 2011 on the way to Oregon. The most vivid day was Hermann, where I holed up for a rest day the day after the Joplin tornado. Wine cellars make great tornado shelters:
    My book, A Hole in the Wind, comes out in June.

  4. The 47 mile Rock Island leg is open now from Pleasant Hill to Windsor, with housing options at Kim's Cabin and the Crossroads Hotel. As you pointed out, there are plenty of places to eat in Windsor and places to explore.

  5. My brother in law and I rode KATY in Sept of 15 Clinton to Machens , plan on doing it again using the Rock island as part of a loop.