[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