Family and friends,
Though our ride on the Katy Trail has been mainly a solitary undertaking, we did enjoy a kind of comradeship with other bikers. If you’re stopped beside the trail, passing bikers will often slow and ask if you need help. At trailheads, folks share greetings and wishes for a safe ride, compare notes and offer trail advice. We gotten pretty good at telling the long-distance folks from the day riders, mostly from the amount of gear they're carrying. We marvel at the stamina of those who are completing the trail in just a few days and the ardor of those who have ridden it multiple times. There was the young fellow who fell in beside us one misty morning and talked non-stop for a few miles before finally pedaling on. We've paused twice to help folks with flats and it must be earning us good trail karma because we are thus far flatless. These transitory “acquaintanceships” have made the ride more fun. Then there are the people we meet who feel like friends.
Unless you ride it in a single day like that fanatic we mentioned in an earlier e-mail, covering the 238-mile-long Katy Trail from end to end is a big logistical challenge. Some folks load up their bikes with 40 pounds of camping gear or tow a little bobtail trailer along behind and camp their way along. Others overnight in B&Bs, carrying just a change or two of clothes and maybe a spare tire. We wanted to travel light during the day and camp in our comfy trailer with a hot shower and our own soft bed. We might have accomplished this as a whole bunch of out-and-back rides, pedaling a few miles then turning around and coming back to camp, but the trail is plenty long without doubling the distance. The solution seemed straightforward: We needed someone to shuttle our truck and trailer ahead while we pedaled.
What with the trail being so popular and all, we figured this would be no big deal to arrange. We were wrong. It turns out that while those who ride are numerous, those who shuttle are a rare breed indeed. Enter Barbara Gokenbok and her Show Me MO Tours.
Cheryl found Barb in the Katy Trail guidebook and after a flurry of e-mails we had our shuttle service for the west and east portions of the trail settled.
A dozen or so pedal days based from just five campsites would do the trick, we figured, but the actual logistics of making that happen can be a real challenge. The nightmare scenario would be finding ourselves at the end of a long day’s ride with no truck or trailer in sight. We sometimes resorted to diagraming the moves on paper to reassure ourselves that we’d end up in the same place as our bed each night.
An example of how zany this can get: We arose early one morning at Bluffton, left the trailer at Steamboat Junction campground and drove back to the trailhead at Jeff City where we’d been only the day before. There we met Barb and her husband Roy, who took the truck back to Bluffton, from whence it just came. Then we got on our bikes and pedaled “home” to Bluffton.
What’s more, Barb and Roy live in St. Louis, so for the shuttles on the western end of the trail they’d be driving all the way across Missouri to move our rig 30 miles or so, then heading home. A day or so later, back across the state to move us farther along. Through it all, and in spite of our frequent tweaking of shuttle points to even out miles between the days, there was never a single miscue. Thanks to Cheryl’s careful planning and Barb’s patient logistical support we never ended up homeless on this adventure. And it was fun chatting with Barb on those days when she hauled just us and our bikes. Her warmth and natural friendliness were great and we can’t say enough about the wonderful service from Show Me MO Tours.
There was a middle portion of the trail, middling for length but with lots of sightseeing, where we figured we’d linger several days, do shorter rides and just wing it for shuttles, doing 70 miles of trail from one central campsite. After spending a frustrating hour calling bike shops up and down the line trying to find someone to ferry us from our camp at Franklin, we discovered the solution right in our pocket. Back in Sedalia we’d picked up a flyer for MO River Taxi and Shuttle. “This is Cotten,” came the answer in a rumbling drawl when we dialed the number. In a few minutes we’d organized three shuttles, one to carry us back to Pilot Grove to finish up the trail as far as Franklin, the other two taking us forward to trailheads so we could finish all the way to Jefferson City, the mid-point on The Katy.
Marvin Cotten is as as reliable as the sunrise and knows every trailhead and shortcut for getting there.
Careening down backroads and byways on our morning shuttle rides, we got to know him a bit and enjoyed him immensely. He’s lived in Boonville all his life except for a stint on the Florida gulf coast as a young man. “It got so crazy down there I knew it was time to come home,” he said. Making conversation, we asked him if he or other Missourians think of themselves as southerners. “No, not really,” he said. “Midwesterners?” we pressed. He mulled briefly, then replied, “We’re just country!” But this son of Missouri soil who speaks with a pronounced drawl that’s almost but not quite southern is no back-country rube. He’s wired for sound with a Bluetooth phone in his ear and his van is equipped with a tablet and the latest navigation apps. “With this”, he said, proudly holding up a mobile hotspot, “I’ve got internet everywhere I go.” His wife sometimes fields phone inquiries and relays messages via Facebook.” October is the busiest month for biking The Katy and Cotten spends his days zipping back and forth to pickup and drop-off points, sometimes covering the same ground two or three times in a day. He even responds to emergency calls from busted down bikers. Between his in-town taxi service and the bicycle shuttles, he put 90,000 miles on his van last year. The day he dropped us at the North Jefferson trailhead, he lingered a few minutes in hopes someone there would see his van and decide to use his services. “Some of ‘em ain’t all that tired ‘til they see the ride,” he quipped. No one bit and he finally got a call and drove off, leaving us with a sinking feeling to see him drive away for the last time. If you’re ever biking The Katy, get in touch with Cotten. He’s out of Boonville.
It was in this same part of the trail that we met Maggie. She’s a walker. Closing in on Pilot Grove one hot afternoon, glad to be almost done with our day’s ride, we passed a woman on foot. She was dressed from her chin to her walking shoes in dark blue, using a walking stick in each hand and carrying a hefty-looking daypack. She turned to give us a friendly greeting as we passed. “Man!” Keith thought, “Hot day for a walk!” At the trailhead a mile farther on we were waiting for our truck and trailer to arrive when here she came out of the woods. She and Cheryl struck up a conversation and we learned that she’d walked the 60 miles from Clinton! Neither of us could believe it. Compared to her walking pace, we’d just zipped across those miles and felt like we’d accomplished something. And she seemed in no great hurry to get to her B&B just across the street. We were bushed and eager for our wheels to arrive to carry us into camp, but Maggie slipped off her pack and sat down to chat. Keith couldn’t resist and picked it up. Heavy.
Maggie told us she's taking this walk just to see if it can be done.
Over the next few days we kept running into her. A bit farther on at Boonville on a day of rest, we’d just come out of the museum near the trailhead and who should emerge from the woods but Maggie. “Hey, look who’s here!” Keith exclaimed. “This woman’s amazing!” he whispered to Cheryl. Her lodgings for the night were just a block away, but once again she stopped for a chat. We had the truck with us and offered her a ride. “No thanks,” she said. “I’ll just walk.” We felt like total weenies. On one of our morning shuttles with Cotten, he mentioned that he’d picked up a woman who was walking the trail and shuttled her back to her hotel. Even he was impressed. “We met her, too!” we exclaimed.
And again near Rocheport farther along the trial, we were cruising along and here was Maggie, still making her way eastward. Cheryl pulled to a stop and it took Maggie a few seconds to recognize us. Then her face lit up. Sans daypack but with both walking sticks, she was out for a morning stroll before retiring to a local hilltop winery for lunch. The whole thing was getting funny by this point and we laughed and talked for a convivial half hour. Maggie's got a quick wit and a glib style of humor, which we came to enjoy. But there would be no further meetings, at least not on this trip. Having walked nearly half the trail she was about to head home to begin planning her next jaunt on The Katy in her project to show that it isn’t just for long distance cyclists.
Encamped at St. Charles, we're closing in on the end of our ride. Stay tuned.
Cheryl and Keith