The Katy Trail: Rails-to-Trails – the shakedown trip
Barry and I saw deer, big harmless black snakes, small brown ones, lots of squirrels, hawks, crows, geese, . . .; we listened to billions of cicadas, and rode miles and miles under lofty trees as we biked the Katy Trail.
On our first attempt, Barry and I lasted five days (including one rest day because of the threat of rain). Although some bikers attempt to ride the trail in one day and others walk the Katy, Barry and I wanted to enjoy our experience.
The Katy Trail is the longest Rails-to-Trails project in the U.S. For much of its 256 or so miles across Missouri, the Katy Trail follows the meandering Missouri River, the path of Lewis and Clark, the last home of Daniel Boone (who was sent in his 60s to help the new settlers), and now through small Missouri towns that were once train destinations and hubs of their communities.
Short for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MK&T), the Katy ended rail service in 1986. In The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook–which we highly recommend if you are thinking of doing this trail, author Brett Dufur says that nationwide, about 2,000 miles of rails are being abandoned each year in the U.S. Those railroad corridors are sometimes converted for recreational use. Now all 50 states have rail-to-trails projects, some as short as a mile-long; only nine are longer than 100 miles. The projects are diverse: “some, like Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail, hug urban centers and are used by an estimated 1,000,0000 commuters and bikers every year” (16). The longest is the Katy Trail, and there are plans to extend it to connect Kansas City and the St. Louis metropolitan area!
To order the book, go to <http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Katy-Trail-Guidebook-Show/dp/1891708449>
This rails-to-trails project started when Edward “Ted” D. Jones Jr., of Edward Jones Investments, donated 2.2 million dollars for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to secure the right-of-way to this relatively flat, well-maintained crushed limestone trail that allows bikers and hikers to travel through fertile agricultural land, beside towering limestone bluffs along the Missouri River, through forests, and small towns.
Besides Jones, his wife, and now his son, others too have been generous benefactors in money and effort in creating this wonderful trail.
Barry and I rode the Katy Trail at the end of September when the leaves were changing color; during the week, we saw few others on the Trail. For much of the time, I felt we were doing a “biking meditation.” The experience was glorious!
On our first venture, which we came to understand was our shakedown trip, Barry and I did not make it to Clinton or even Columbia as we had planned. We did not go fast; we hadn’t trained; we took too much stuff; we didn’t get bikes until we got to St. Louis; we kept our tool kit at the bottom of our bag, and in general, did not follow good biking advice–yet we still had a good time.
Helping us get a good start on the Katy Trail, my brother Al picked our bikes and us up in his truck at 6:30am on a Sunday morning to take us from our sister’s house to the St. Charles trail head. The weather was perfect: cool and sunny. I wore my sweatshirt jacket until about 11am.
For about 90 minutes, Al rode with us to Green’s Bottom trail head and then turned back to coach his granddaughter’s soccer games.
Barry and I were off on our own at a steady pace. Tunnels of lofty trees, dappled light, fields of corn and soybeans, the Missouri River, wooden bridges, three startled deer (one stopped to stare at me, and I stopped to stare at her until after a minute, she turned and gracefully jumped off the trail on her way to the river). . . : beautiful! We biked from about 7:30 a.m. until almost noon to make it to Augusta. The 26 miles seemed a long ride to us since we hadn’t been practicing; we were sore.
So I was really happy to lock my bike at the Augusta trail head and walk the steep hill to the Augusta Brewing Company, which also serves food. Barry was too tired to eat, but eating always makes me feel better. I had a salad and humus wrap and a nice cold stout. One of my worries about the trail was that I wouldn’t be able to find good vegetarian food, but my concern proved unfounded. Barry and I nursed our beers and watched the parade of other travelers, many coming for the brewery and winery experiences in Augusta.
Did you know that Missouri has –
Founded in 1836 by Leonard Harold for its excellent river landing, Augusta is named after Harold’s wife. Settlers were predominately German. Although the Missouri River gradually changed its course away from Augusta, the railroad soon came through. Now it is a thriving small town with a microbrewery and at least two wineries that have live music even on a Sunday. In 1980, Augusta, population 210, became the first official U.S. wine district.
Once revived, Barry and I pushed our bikes up to Lower Street Inn B & B, which like all things in Augusta is up a steep hill. Owners Sally and Don have restored their early 1900 home where they raised their children. The garden has heritage flowers and vegetables; hummingbirds flit around the flowers on the front porch.
Go to <http://www.lowerstreetinn.com/> for more information.
We’d had enough of biking for that day, but after a short nap and with our bikes locked behind the B & B, we walked out to explore Augusta.
Led by the sound of live music, we quickly found the Augusta Winery.
Relaxing and listening to an up-beat guitarist, we bought a bottle of red and sat in the winery garden.
The music stopped at 5 p.m. – everywhere in Augusta on this Sunday in September. The restaurants closed then too!
We hadn’t brought much besides nuts and a green drink mix with us (more evidence that we hadn’t prepared well). However, we returned to our B&B where Sally had left us cool drinks and a cheese, cracker, fruit, and sausage plate, which is what we had for our dinner. Barry confirms that the sausage was wonderful (Norv’s summer sausage, Krakow ham, and Genova salami, came from the Wm. Bros. Meat Co. in Washington, MO – just across the Missouri River). We sat in the garden to eat, and although we felt sore, we counted our Day One a success. We slept very well that night.
The next morning we awoke to a terrific breakfast.
Sally and Don had everything ready for us when we got up: eggs, bagels, cherry danish., O.J., grapes, coffee, and pancakes.
Don let me try his recumbent bicycle- comfortable and fast. Although our plan had been to get an early start – like real bikers–you won’t be surprised to learn that we didn’t leave until about 10:30 a.m. Because I was not yet confident on my bike, Barry carried my too heavy pack, and I walked my bike down the steep hill toward the trail.
Again, we had cool weather and overcast skies, perfect for riding. I didn’t take off my jacket until about 3:30p.m. On this Day Two, we went through several small towns including Marthasville, population 674, the oldest town in Warren County. A French village in 1766, Daniel Boone arrived in 1799. In 1804, when the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived, the site (then called Charette) was the most western European settlement.
After a long stretch, we stopped to eat lunch under lofty limestone cliffs near the Missouri River. We weren’t far from Treloar. Not a single fly came to bother us as we were eating – not a grasshopper, not a mosquito, not a bird. Except for a hawk circling high at the top of the cliffs, we seemed to be the only living beings; I felt we were in a Steven King novel!
The crops–soy and corn everywhere– looked healthy, but had the Roundup killed everything else? The farmers must appreciate no bugs (and it did make for a comfortable lunch), but I wonder about the long-term consequences. Monsanto doesn’t tell us.
We didn’t linger.
That day, a Monday, we saw only a local Missouri man – bearded, no shirt, jeans; he was walking east as we were riding west on the trail. We exchanged “Hi’s” and biked on toward McKittrick, a “new” railroad town in 1893. Named after Thomas McKittrick, an investor in the railroad, the town is on the Katy Trail, just across the Missouri River from the bigger and more famous Hermann, Missouri.
Founded in 1836, Hermann has bluffs and hills on three sides and the Missouri River on the north. When the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia members purchased the area to be a self-supporting refuge for German heritage and tradition, its 11,300 acres teemed with wild grapes. Promoted throughout the United States and Germany, the Hermann settlement “quickly attracted a variety of professionals, artisans and laborers, drawn by the idea of a ‘German Athens of the West'” (140). Today, according to our Katy Trail Guidebook, Hermann has over 40 B & Bs and several wineries.
However, we stayed by the trail in McKittrick at Joey’s Birdhouse B &B. We had biked 34.5 miles! Again we were sore, but happy to be on the trail.
And what about that local guy we’d seen miles back on the trail? He came riding up to us on his ATV as we sat drink a beer on our porch. He’d found my jacket that I’d hooked under a bungee cord on my pack. It had fallen off; he’d found it and recognized us as the only people he’d seen on the trail that day. I hadn’t even missed the jacket, but I was happy to have it back.
Joey’s partner, Rick, drove across the river for a tour of Hermann, but in trying to find something that would have a good vegetarian choice for me, Rick noted that Joey’s cooking couldn’t be beat. After a quick call to her, we got invited back to the B&B for dinner at the “Merk.”
Rick and Joey renovated the Mercantile, which had been empty since the 1940s.; it’s now a beautiful building where they have a restaurant that’s open during the summer and an event center that serves the community with tai chi classes, ballroom dancing, movies, weddings, and fundraisers. Rich is an entrepreneur and developer; Joey is an artist and cook who went to university in Denmark. Their efforts are reviving McKittrick.
And Joey did cook for us in the big Mercantile kitchen. Much of what she prepared came from her garden including dandelion, tomatoes, and basil that she included in a pasta with olives and garlic. Yummy! I had three helpings! Barry said that we are probably the only people to bike the Katy Trail and gain weight!
Our room too was renovated and comfortable. We went to sleep with the sounds of chirping crickets. Day Two we counted as a complete success: beautiful trail, healthy, fresh, delicious food, and wonderful hosts.
On Day 3, we awoke to the threat of rain and a forecast for thunder and lightening storms. And then we realized we would have to bike almost 50 miles to Jefferson City to find a comfortable place to stay. Tebbetts, at about 30 miles beyond McKittrick, does have a trail-side very basic hostel, but we had no bedding, and we aren’t keen on roughing it.
Instead of trying to bike a record distance for us and to outrace the rain (especially since our rain gear was a white trash bag over our backpacks), we decided to be reasonable. Joey said she would again fix us dinner, so we decided to stay a day in McKittrick. We rode out on the trail toward Jefferson City for a short bike ride; we avoided rain and were back in time for — the ballroom dancing class at the Merk.
After our class, we got to eat again a wonderful dinner with Joey and Rich.
For more information, go to <http://www.bikekatytrail.com/joeys-bird-house.aspx>. For events, go to <http://www.themerck.com/>.
For Day Four, we had the choice of the 50 miles to Jefferson City – or we could bike back to St. Charles where we could put the bikes on our car and pick the portions of the trail that would have good accommodations. Instead of heading further west, we biked back to Augusta. There we again stayed at the Lower Street Inn B&B, and had another warm welcome and comfortable, beautiful accommodations.
On Day Five, we biked back toward St. Charles. Because of all the baggage weight, Barry’s carrier fell apart. We were helped by a passing biker — who unlike us didn’t keep his tools at the bottom of his pack. My brother Alan met us at Green Bottom to get our bikes and us.
Barry and I decided that the five days on the Katy Trail were our shake-down trip. We learned what we should and should not do (take less stuff, have more water, have tools handy instead of at the bottom of the pack, leave early, have better rain gear, have an alternate mode of travel). We also realized we should have trained, but, oh well, we were not trying to break records, just getting exercise and having a good time.
In spite of being sore and our various misadventures, we had a great time and planned to pick up the trail again after the weekend party to celebrate the newest Riley– Quinn’s — 1st year birthday and her parents’ house warming.
I feel really lucky to be able to bike the Katy Trail. I appreciate too that Barry is willing too although I suspect he would rather be playing poker in Las Vegas :).
Get out on the Katy Trail or a Rails-to-Trails project near you. Happy biking. You are sure to have a good time.