Oct 17: Katy Trail State Park

Oct 17: Katy Trail State Park

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 17, 2004]

One of the reasons I gave in my last message for staying an extra day in St. Louis was that there was rain in the forecast, so I planned to spend most of Wednesday indoors. Well, Wednesday turned out to be beautiful; all the rain came Thursday, the day I left town! I had made plans to meet my host, Corey (Malinda's husband) at Waffle House on my way out of town, so I could buy him breakfast. Unfortunately I told him the wrong intersection, so he never found Waffle House and I had to eat without him.

The rain gradually picked up while I was eating, and I decided to inaugurate the new raincoat one of Malinda's coworkers had given me. Although it turned out to be an excellent windbreaker, and I'll be very glad to have such a nice windbreaker, it was not waterproof, and I got completely soaked. By the time I realized what was happening I was already on the Katy Trail, and there was no shelter to be found, so I couldn't change into something dry without getting my dry things wet. As long as I kept going, I stayed warm! Again we see that the best laid plans are best laid aside...

Katy Trail State Park is the longest rail-trail in the country, at 225 miles. It's also the one and only flat route across eastern Missouri, from St. Charles (just north of St. Louis) to Jefferson City, where the land starts getting flat, and on to Clinton (southeast of Kansas City). It follows the Missouri River much of the way, which means it parallels Louis and Clark's journey, and there are many historical markers. It also follows a line of sandstone bluffs much of the way, so that frequently there's the river on one side and a sheer cliff on the other. The bad news is that the trail surface turns to mud in the rain, and it rained all day Thursday. The towns in the flood plain are small and far between, so that a traveler may have to go 30 miles or more to camp or find groceries. And the available information about services along the trail is inconsistent and misleading at best. And if you stray off the trail and try to follow a road, it will rapidly become steep and winding, with no shoulder.

I was in a pretty foul mood when I got to my first campground, in Klondike, at the top of the bluffs, and found that all the campsites were flooded. The good news is that some of the campsites had little shelters over the picnic tables, so I set up camp on top of a picnic table and was dry and cozy, once I changed clothes. The campground also had a "camp kitchen" that was a pleasant place to eat dinner. So that was Thursday the 14th.

Friday and Saturday I made slow progress due to the spongy trail surface, a strong headwind, and being out of shape from taking three days off in St. Louis. I made barely more than 30 miles each day. Friday night I stayed in Hermann, which has a colorful German heritage and was beginning its Oktoberfest weekend with help from revelers from all over. There were a lot of loud drunk people in the campground, and a few very nice quiet ones. My neighbors were a young couple from Kansas City, both high-school teachers, who let me taste the wine they had bought (Hermann has a half dozen vineyards) and gave me a small watermelon from their garden.

Saturday I discovered a wonderful place. The Katy Trail info had said that Jim's Bar & Grill was the contact for camping in the tiny town of Tebbett. But when I got there, Jim suggested I try the hostel next door instead, where for $5 I could sleep indoors and have a hot shower, a microwave oven, coffee, and other amenities. The Turner Katy Trail Shelter is a self-serve hostel intended for use primarily by nonprofit youth groups; it has beds -- and bikes! -- for 34. All they ask is a very modest fee, and that you clean up after yourself. What a deal! What a thoughtful gift to the community!

It looked like I was going have the place to myself, but at 8:00 six cyclists straggled in, all on upright bikes, half of them pulling trailers. They had come from Sedalia in two days, doing 60+ miles a day on the same trail where I've had trouble doing 35 a day, and were hoping to reach Hermann before Oktoberfest ended. As they were groaning around and popping Excedrin like candy, one of them asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes. "I would never have the motivation to do this alone," he moaned. I have to agree -- I wouldn't choose to travel that way on my own either!

I got up early this morning (Sunday) and rode the 15 miles into Jefferson City in time for church. A number of church members took an active interest in my trip and were able to give me good advice about road conditions -- shoulders are my main concern -- to the southwest. One of them offered me a room in his house for the night, so I took the afternoon off and ran errands in town. "Jeff City" is laid out along a series of ridges that parallel the river, which makes for very easy cycling in one direction (NW-SE) but lots of steep hills the other way (NE-SW)!

Although I'm grateful to the Katy Trail for getting me through the hills of eastern Missouri, I'm planning to abandon it tomorrow and strike out on the US highways for a while. The shoulders are reportedly good, the campgrounds are frequent, and I can travel the direction I'm headed instead of northwest, which is where the trail goes from here. Wish me luck! --Ben

Ben Sun, 10/17/2004 - 09:07

Cahokia Mounds, IL

Cahokia Mounds, IL

I hung around Corey & Malinda's apartment most of the day. I washed my tent, applied waterproofer, and let it dry thoroughly, tightened the shock cords in the poles, and sanitized my hydration pack.

In the afternoon Malinda picked me up and we rode out to Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, though by the time we got there we didn't have much time to see the museum before closing. We climbed Monks Mound (the largest prehistoric structure in North America) and walked over to Woodhenge.

After a pizza dinner, we went back into downtown St. Louis to visit the City Museum, but it was closed -- during the summer it's open evenings, but in the fall it's only open weekend evenings. It looks fascinating, so I'll just have to come back!

Ben Wed, 10/13/2004 - 00:00

to Klondike, MO

to Klondike, MO

Today was probably my worst day so far. To begin with, I ha promised to buy Corey breakfast at Waffle House, but I told him the wrong location, so he didn't find it. Then there was the rain, which started just as I was leaving Malinda & Corey's and continued all day without stopping. It was a colder rain than I've ridden in before; my hands and feet got pretty numb. Then it turned out that the jacket I got from Malinda's coworker is just a windbreaker, not a raincoat. My shirt got completely soaked, so that every time I stopped riding I got chilled. As long as I kept going I was OK. The Katy Trail had of course turned to mud and got all over my bike and trailer.

When I found out that I had overshot the campground -- because they had taken down their sign! -- I decided to risk going back on the road rather than the trail, but the road turned out to be hilly, curvy, and without shoulders, so that was a stupid move. And the campsites were all flooded, with only one or two well-drained places to pitch a tent in the whole campground. In the end I decided to sleep on top of a roofed picnic table at one of the campsites. This is working pretty well so far, but if the wind picks up I'll be in trouble!

distance: 33.1 mi

Ben Thu, 10/14/2004 - 00:00

To Hermann, MO

To Hermann, MO

I woke an hour or two before dawn, too cold to sleep but too sleepy to put on another layer. At dawn the sky was crystal clear. I spread out my tent and sleeping bag to dry and hiked to the "lookout point" for sunrise, both of which turned out to be unimpressive.

I thought my goal of reaching Hermann today was modest at just over 34 miles, but between the headwind and the spongy trail and stopping to repack my bearings, I barely made it by dusk. Hermann is having Octoberfest this weekend, so there are drunk people all over. I hope they'll all be hung over tomorrow when I make my exit!

I did meet a nice young couple from Kansas City at the campground; they had been aiming for the Ozarks but saw signs for the wineries in Hermann and decided to stop. They shared the wine they had bought around their campfire.

distance: 39.2 mi

Ben Fri, 10/15/2004 - 00:00

to Tebbetts, MO

to Tebbetts, MO

Slow going again today, in spite of excellent weather.  I got a late start due to partiers keeping me up late.  Couldn't seem to get fired up until I stopped for coffee at  noon.  Even so, I didn't make it into Jefferson City as I had hoped, but only into Tebbetts.

The trail Web site had indicated a campground here, with Jim's Bar and Grill as the contact.  But Jim recommended I check out the hostel next door instead: just $5 a night to sleep indoors with hot showers, a microwave oven, coffee, etc.  It's fantastic!  What a great find!

33.1 mi

Ben Sat, 10/16/2004 - 00:00

to Jefferson City, MO

to Jefferson City, MO

I made a full four-cup pot of coffee this morning and flew down the trail into Jefferson City, arriving early for church.  The first person to talk to me there was Don Love, who had noticed me on the road and thought I might be headed to his church!  He introduced me to a bike dealer and a highway employee among the congregation, who were able to answer my questions about shoulders on US highways I've been eyeing.

After the service, a bunch of folks invited me to lunch at a Mexican restaurant (excellent), and Don invited me to stay at his house for the night.  The road to his house has the most eclectic assortment of architectural styles I've ever seen outside of Epcot!  When I got to the Loves' home there was no mistaking it: UN flag flying, clumps of big bluestem in the yard, and four bicycles parked out front.  Don and Kathy Love turn out not only to be the parents of my Grinnell classmate Nora Love, who now lives in Austin, but also of Will Love, who lives with his girlfriend Anna at 27th and Grand in Minneapolis, just a block from where I lived the last two years!  And Will and Anna, who are just finishing up a three-week visit, also attended Grinnell while I was there.  Wild.

We had a big thanksgiving-style dinner, complete with pie.  I played a few tunes on the autoharp, but no one was really in the mood.

15.0 mi

Ben Sun, 10/17/2004 - 00:00