My husband and I just spent 5 days traversing the the state of Missouri on our Xtracycles, from west to east on the Katy Trail – the country’s longest Rails-to-Trails project and the longest (and skinniest) state park in the country. The Katy is also part of Adventure Cycling’s Lewis & Clark route within MO, part of the trans-national American Discovery Trail, and is one of the first trails to be listed in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame. Its honors are well-deserved; it is a remarkable trail.
The Katy is not only a wonderful cycling trail, but also a fascinating historical journey that traces a fair portion of the first weeks of Lewis & Clark’s voyage up the Missouri River, as well as chronicling the history of the railroad towns that once flourished along the MKT (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) Railroad, often called the KT, or Katy. The trail also serves as a beautiful witness to the state’s agricultural heritage.
I initially wanted to condense things into a single post – which proved a little difficult (I need an editor). For anyone who might be interested in visiting the Katy, and who may be looking for another view of cycling the trail, I decided to offer up a little more and split our account into two posts and a photo gallery. In this post, I will include an overview, and a description of the physical trail. In the second post I will touch on things like lodging/camping along the trail, food and water, sights and side trips, and my own impressions of our bike adventure. The gallery will contain a few of my favorite photos.
We basically rode end-to-end, starting in the small town of Clinton on the west end of the state (SE of Kansas City) to St. Charles (a susburb of St. Louis) in the east. We did not ride the recently added 12-mile eastern extension to Machens out of St. Charles, as our last day was long and we did not have enough time. We left our car in St. Charles, and took a roughly four-hour shuttle ride to Clinton on the afternoon before we began cycling.
Over five days, we rode a total distance of 261 miles (420 km); 225 miles (362 km) was on the trail itself; the remainder was riding in and out of small (and large) towns along the way.
As you know by now, I am not a stats-keeper when it comes to cycling. I don’t keep a trip computer on my bike, but my husband did have one on his bike – and thanks to him I can share at least a few of the numbers that some people may be interested in (and which are the sum of both on- and off-trail riding):
- Day 1: Clinton to Sedalia – 42 miles
- Day 2: Sedalia to Rocheport – 55 miles
- Day 3: Rocheport to Jefferson City – 41 miles
- Day 4: Jefferson City to Hermann – 54 miles
- Day 5: Hermann to St. Charles – 69 miles
As for speed while on the bikes, we were fairly slow (as usual), stopping often for scenery, conversation with other cyclists, photos, and history lessons. Cycling on even the best crushed gravel trail is slower going than rolling on pavement. While riding we ranged between 8 and 11 mph with our bikes loaded pretty generously (I think roughly 25-30 lbs each). We carried clothing (street and cycling) and personal items, rain gear, tool kit, bug spray and sunscreen, a small first aid kit, camera gear, snacks, water – and a couple of “luxury” items that included books, my journaling stuff, an ENO hammock and two small backpacking seats.
We opted to “inn hop” rather than camp, staying at small inns and B&B’s in towns along the trail – which we enjoyed immensely. More on lodging and camping along the trail in more detail in the next post.
One of the best things about the Katy Trail is it’s friendliness to all levels of cyclists. Due to (or despite?) the flat terrain, you can make your ride as easy or as challenging as you’d like it to be. You can break things up into portions, ride the entire trail from end to end, or out and back – in as few or as many days as you want to spend, adjusting your daily mileage and speed to your desire and ability.
Small children can enjoy the ride as much as the most hard-core distance and speed-seekers. We met a young couple riding end-to-end with their 2-year old daughter in a bike seat, taking 9 days to cover the distance, allowing plent of break and playtime along the way. We also met two guys from nearby NC who were taking four days to ride a little less than end-to-end, but including a spur trail trip up to Columbia. We met a pair of cross-country cyclists traveling from Maine to California for a cause (FoodCycleUS), and they were using the Katy to connect with the next leg of their 4500-mile journey. Near bigger towns, we saw both fast and slower-moving fitness riders on a variety of bikes out for a few hours of workout time.
The terrain is basically flat to very gently rolling, with the western end of the trail having the widest range of elevation change – which isn’t much. Cycling west to east as we did, I believe there is roughly 19 miles (?) of very gradual uphill; easy cycling, but you will eventually realize you were, in fact, pedaling uphill.
Also on the west end between Sedalia and Pilot Grove, there are some very gentle “rollers” – if you can even call them that (?). I would describe them as gentle and extended undulations; still easy cycling, but you will be pedaling all the way – both uphill and down.
While your legs may not feel overly challenged along the way, you will be pedaling continually and will know you have ridden some miles at the end of the day. After fifty miles or so you may feel more discomfort in other body parts – from seat to hands to the annoying spot from the nosepiece of your sunglasses. It’s the strange result of long periods in a static position and cadence, where you tend to feel little things.
There is really no “coasting” on the trail; even along the most hard-packed portions, the surface still provides enough rolling resistance to slow any coasting momentum to a standstill within several yards. Your best chance to actually climb a hill or coast will he heading into an off-trail town on pavement.
While long stretches of the trail can be well-protected from both sun and wind by nice tree cover on both sides, there are lovely portions of wide-open spaces that wind through wheat, corn and soybean fields. In these places, the wind can either be in your favor or against you – adding a little variety to your ride.
The trail and it’s surface are incredibly well-maintained – by far the best conditions we’ve experienced (comparing to VA’s Creeper Trail and New River Trail). The MO State Parks people do an exceptional job maintaining the trail and trailheads. The surface is hard-packed crushed limestone, and was remarkably rut-, divot- and pot-hole free, as well as debris-free (no downed tree limbs, etc.).
You will, however, have to contend with significant amounts of fine, powdery white dust. Even with fenders it ends up covering and sifting into everything. It was in our water bottles, in our hair, coating our shins, and seeping into bag openings – and, of course, coating our bikes. It took my Pelican dry box to protect my camera gear from rain; it ended up being more useful in protecting against dust.
We experienced only one stretch of soft trail conditions near the high point outside of Windsor. Basically it was fine and loose, much like riding through patches of sand, sucking the momentum out from beneath your wheels. Fortunately it was limited to only a mile or two.
One of the most surprising things to us was how few people we encountered most days. On the first day, we rode 20 miles before seeing another person. There was so little trail traffic that we were able to ride abreast most of the time. We knew that autumn is peak time on the trail, but we still expected to see more traffic.
Tomorrow, I will try and post second and last part of our Katy Trail experience … until then, happy pedaling!