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a katy trail adventure … part 2

The second part of our Katy Trail cycling trip; a look at lodging and camping, food/water, sights and side trips and a few of my personal thoughts.  (Like I said – I need a good editor … forgive me).

LODGING & CAMPING

 While I enjoy camping on our bike adventures, I personally felt that the camping options along the Katy Trail were somewhat limited.  We decided to stay in small local inns and B&B’s over the course of our trip. I remember passing only two campgrounds along the way, both in the same general area and both very open with not much shade.  Some of the website listings for camping along the trail include places like a local fairgrounds, a city park, and possibly a trailside hostel.  The only hostel we saw was a bit sketchy-looking, appeared to be closed, and I had read some very mixed reviews about the place.  None of these options sounded particularly appealing to us.

the grey building (far left) is the Turner Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbets

Moreover, upon stopping in one or two of the town parks – which may or may not have allowed camping (?) – we discovered there was no available water, and the restrooms were locked.

While park regulations stipulate that camping is not allowed on trail/state park property, we did see at least one couple “stealth” camping off to the side of a trailhead parking lot.  Personally, if I were to attempt stealth camping, I would plant myself on the edge of a corn or wheat field … but, whatever.

There are a wide range of accommodations convenient to the trail (i.e., within 1-5 miles, easily accessible).  You can stay in anything from an B&B on the historic register, to a renovated train caboose, to a variety of other options in various price ranges.  You can plan everything on your own, or you can make arrangements through a tour planner, like the Independent Tourist.

We spent our first night at the Hotel Bothwell, a fascinating and historic hotel in Sedalia (I think its founder, Mr. Sweet, had a thing for coffee).  The next three nights we spent at small B&B’s in trailside towns:  Yates House B&B in Rocheport, Cliff Manor B&B in Jefferson City, and Captain Wohlt Inn B&B in Hermann.  All three provided beautiful and restful rooms, wonderful breakfasts, and they really catered to us as cyclists – providing appreciated extras like offering to wash a load of laundry, rinsing trail dust off of our bikes, to filling and freezing our water bottles for the following day.  All three also offered to pack sack lunches for us for the next day’s ride.

FOOD & WATER

Most days we stopped for lunch in towns along the trail.  The places we found were small and friendly diner-types or bar-and-grills – good enough for a sandwich, maybe fruit or salad, or just a pizza or burger-and-fries kind of thing.  Even though we had a list of possible eateries in various towns, trailside businesses can struggle and change quickly; places were sometimes closed (especially on Mondays and Tuesdays), or we discovered they had gone out of business since our list had been compiled.

We also had lunch on the trail one day, as our hosts at Yates House provided us with a sack lunch.  While it saved some time, I think we both preferred taking time to explore places in the trailside towns, riding on some pavement, and taking a break from heat and dust.

Dinner in the evening provided more options, and some very nice ones.  Our favorite evening meal was at Les Bourgeois Vinyard’s Blufftop Bistro in Rocheport.  We walked part of the Katy Trail from the B&B to a footpath that led up the bluff to the restaurant.  The views over the river at dusk from the airy timber-frame and glass restaurant were lovely, and the food – mostly local and organic – was even better.  We shared a bottle of their wine, took in the sunset over the river, and thoroughly enjoyed our evening.

Les Bourgeios Bistro: delicious local organic salad with locally-made feta cheese

the sun sets over the Missouri River

end-of-the-day beer at Paddy’s in Jefferson City

Water.  You need it, and you need plenty of it in the heat on a dusty trail.  Unfortunately, I think it’s somewhat limited availability along the trail is one of the biggest complaints among riders.   A number of trailhead stations did not have water (this is marked pretty accurately in the map and signage), and it may be hit-or-miss finding an easy place to buy a bottle of water in a few of the smallest towns.  We stopped at one local park, thinking we could fill our bottles from a faucet in a restroom – only to find the doors were locked.  So be prepared to carry plenty and top off your bottles at every opportunity.

SIGHTS & SIDE TRIPS

The places, stations and towns along the Katy Trail have a rich and diverse history.  Nearly every railway station along the route has nicely detailed signage, offering a brief history of the area and outlining points of interest ahead – in both directions of travel.

Wildlife is also abundant along the trail, and we saw a wide variety – deer, many types of birds (including wild turkeys, cliff-dwelling swallows, waterfowl, and indigo buntings), turtles, lizards, snakes, and a healthy number of acrobatic bats in the evening.

cliff-side nests

For railroad buffs, there is much to see – railway stations, an “I-lost-count” number of bridges, an amazing old rock tunnel, and several old cabooses and railway cars.  Several of the stations have their own museums; the one in Sedalia is even home to a small bike shop.

cut-stone tunnel near Rocheport; 243 feet long, built in 1892-93

There are also a few trailside oddities, like “BoatHenge” near Easley.

While I enjoyed the railway-related history, I was most interested in the Lewis & Clark points of interest along with the old agricultural landmarks.  All of the Lewis & Clark campsites – from their first weeks along the Missouri River – have markers and usually detailed signs, many containing excerpts and drawings from the mens’ journals and descriptions of their experiences.  For me, it is just fascinating stuff.  Especially to pull my bike over and imagine what it must have been like for them along the river.

The Katy Land Trust has partnered with the Missouri State Parks; their mission is to “increase awareness of the benefits of preserving agricultural resources and forests along the Katy Trail.”  I was drawn to many of the old grain elevators that still sit along the trail – wonderful iconic symbols of the local agricultural heritage.

old clay tile grain elevator

In Treloar, reproductions of paintings by artist Bryan Haynes are displayed on one of the old grain elevators; a beautiful way to promote the Land Trust and to celebrate the Katy Trail agricultural corridor.

We also enjoyed our side excursions to nearby towns, and wish we could have extended our trip to spend more time in some of them.  Most are easy to reach by bicycle, the large bridges had pedestrian/bicycle lanes.  We particularly enjoyed Sedalia, Jefferson City, and the old German Society town of Hermann – which is the center of Missouri’s wine region.

bicycle/pedestrian bridge into Jefferson City, the state capitol

PERSONAL THOUGHTS

There are so many wonderful things about cycling the Katy Trail, and I feel I have barely scratched the surface.  I still believe there is no better way to experience a place – every aspect of it – than by bicycle.

As I looked through my photos and read my notes, I realized how drawn I am to wide open spaces of plain, prairie and farmland – and to the endless span of blue skies and wisps of clouds overhead.  I think it may be reflected in some of my photos, but I just don’t have a wide enough lens to adequately capture the feeling.  I hope you will go and see it for yourself.

Our Katy trip was filled with wonderful cycling, friendly people, and provided a rich history lesson.  It is a great place to ride for any cyclist, young or old, fast or slow.  You can enjoy it for a day or longer,  and it’s an excellent place for anyone who might want to make a first attempt at a multi-day bicycle adventure.  Everyone should make their own journey, in their own way … I hope you enjoyed some of the pieces of ours.

the end of our journey

a katy trail adventure … part 1

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.

Clinton, MO – home to the western end of the Katy Trail, and our starting point

OVERVIEW

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

history lessons along the way

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.

THE TRAIL

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.

two friendly guys we met from nearby NC; our paths crossed several times

younger couple cycling from Maine to California for a cause: FoodCycle US (foodcycleus.com)

couple from Kansas City, out riding for the day

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!

storm clouds and dandelions

There are some days where all you have to do is look up, and you know you are in for it.

I remind myself that the rain is a good thing, washing the pollen from the air, making spring things grow bright and beautiful – even as I stand beneath a storefront awning, trying to wait out another thunderstorm before riding home.  Oh well.

Yesterday I had to be out in it; today I really didn’t need to be anywhere, but despite the rainy forecast, I wanted to take a quick ride to a nearby field I had passed yesterday.  Red clover and wildflowers were out in abundance, my time was my own, and I wanted to play with my camera.  But before I was even a mile down the road, the rain began to fall again.

No fields of red clover today … only a few dandelions in my yard.  I’ll have to wait out the rain once again.  Sigh.

stealing second

Riding home, I stopped to poke around the local ball field up the road.  Little League season is in full swing this time of year, but the park was empty and quiet when I arrived – an hour or so before the after-school practices would begin.  One of these nights, I’m going to go to watch a game.  It’s always entertaining to watch the really little kids play – cute, earnest, and usually with a sprinkling of comedy.

I let the Xtracycle steal second base… and I am wishing my beloved a very happy fifty-second birthday today, and many more wonderful miles ahead!

rain game

The name of game this week seems to be Beat the Rain.  Today, I won … for a change.

bike the boat

Yesterday I worked; today I played.

Even though it is the first official day of spring, it felt more like summer.  Eighty-plus degrees and sunny.  The heat makes me want to ride to the river, and I figured I may as well try to do a little paddling.  I have a nice set-up to tow my boat with my Xtracycle, and it’s a happy combination to be able to ride and paddle on a beautiful day.

My put-in is just up the road from our house, about 4 miles.  Getting there was a breeze, literally.  Gently rolling with an overall downhill grade, and I had a nice tailwind.  It was definitely the easy part.  Arrived and locked the bike along the guardrail by the bridge, and was reminded again of the mess that has been made of this river by Olin and their mercury dumping – which thankfully will be ending soon, with their commitment to converting the plant to mercury-free processing.

Meanwhile, I still cannot comprehend how people are still willing to fish – and keep their catch – despite the clearly posted warnings of high levels of carcinogens in the fish.  Completely baffles me.  I’ve discussed it with several fishermen before, but I have learned to just keep my mouth shut.  There is no changing their minds; they perceive the risk as negligible.  (And I secretly shudder and shake my head).

I paddled away most of the afternoon, exploring and trying to navigate the very shallow water.   In places, I was paddling in only inches.  The Hiwassee River levels are regulated and controlled by TVA, and at this time of year they don’t typically release water upstream for recreational use in this inlet.  Hence, the lake that is filled and sparkling blue in late spring through summer, is filled with stumps and shoals and islands over the winter and into early spring.   The locals call this inlet Stump Lake.  A fitting name.

Dozens of Great Blue Herons were my company; I love to just sit and watch them fishing in the shallows.  Turtles were out sunning on stumps and logs, but would quietly slip into the water as I raised my camera lens.  One of the fishermen said he had seen a Bald Eagle near the bridge.  Sadly I missed it.   It was peaceful, quiet, and a beautiful afternoon to be on the water … and “pedaling” my arms rather than my legs for a change.

Having had enough sun and with fatigue setting in on my shoulders, I headed for home in the late afternoon – this time against a headwind, with a more uphill grade, requiring a bit more muscle to tow the boat.  I will confess my wimpy-ness by saying it felt good to get home.   Dinner was salad and veggie pizza.  Not fish.  Definitely not fish.

utilitaire 5.12

After giving myself a few days off – no biking, swimming or much of anything else – I got back out today, thankfully feeling more like myself.  I rarely get sick, or injured, and typically try to push through it if I can.  But taking a few days to rest and lay back was a good thing, I think; I feel so much better than I did on Friday.

It was raining all morning, but the clouds began to break up shortly after noon, so I decided to make a grocery run – #5 on my Ultilitaire control card.  Two bags of groceries, a gallon of milk, a quiet ride through dripping trees, cows in damp fields, and the smell of springtime in the air.  Zig-zagging a route on back roads and out of traffic, feeling my legs again after several days off of the pedals.   Mileage guestimate: 7 miles.  Daffodils emerging: gazillions.

yin & yang storm clouds

back roads home

daffodils