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Ride Report: Great Katy Trail Experience

By Jerry Dusterhoff
Round Rock, Texas

From Clinton to St. Charles, May, 2008

PROLOGUE

One thing you learn about going on cycling vacations is that you go where your friends are willing, and put off places where they are not. Honestly, it may be this book, the third book, or the forth book before I get to report on our adventures on the Mickelson Trail. For one thing, flying there is out of the question. Driving is a really, really long way. The stars are going to have to be properly aligned to get me there. Not so the Katy Trail, a mere seven hundred miles away.

Barry almost participated in the Allegheny Trail ride, but didn’t. However, he became quite interested in doing the Katy, and a few discussions later, we had some tentative plans. Byran would come in from Portland but Ray had a mandatory attendance event and had to pass. Byran would bring his son, Vellen.

I depart from my usual chronologic routine, in order to state unequivocally that the Katy Trail should be everyone’s first rail-trail adventure. The trail itself is well groomed and easily ridden on any type of bicycle, as long as the weather is dry. I prefer to do these on my mountain bike with the wide tires and full suspension, and because we plan so far in advance, we have no clue as to the weather at ride time, so plan for the worst conditions. The trailheads have water fountains and very clean rest rooms and some shelter. Most have eating establishments either on or near the trail. The towns are nicely spaced and most of the lodging is close to or near the trail. They also have a superior website, http://www.bikekatytrail.com/ and you can work from it to plan the whole trip.

When making airplane reservations, keep all of your options open and research, research, research. We assisted Byran and Vellen on obtaining relatively inexpensive flights. We tried multiple combinations, but flying from Portland to either Kansas City, Springfield, or St. Louis just was too expensive. I turned the quest over to Marilane (aka Miss Platinum) and unbelievably, we could save $400 per person by having them fly into Austin, Texas and back to Portland out of St. Louis. That made their trip doable.

ROUND ROCK, TEXAS TO CLINTON, MISSOURI – 700 Miles

We pulled into the Hampton Inn after thirteen hours of driving and were cordially greeted and quickly checked into our rooms. Both Byran and Vellen fell to assembling their bicycles and Barry and I assisted, mostly by staying out of their way and merely lending moral support. Too many hands spoil the soup. If they needed something handed to them, they could ask.

While unloading our bikes and luggage in the parking lot, a car with a pair of bikes on the back came in, and a couple disembarked and came over to introduce themselves. Barry and Ann had ridden the trail before and were quite helpful in their hints and directions to the trailhead. They would take six days to complete the journey and then take the train ($16 per person, $10 per bike) back to Clinton. This left them with no transportation other than their bicycles, so they were limited in their sightseeing, but since they had done this before, they knew where they wanted to go and see. We had considered this at one time, but I like having a vehicle, so our plan was one of us would drive to the next stop, then cycle back up the trail to meet the other three.

We deviated from this plan for the first day, because Barry wanted to do the whole segment. So, he and Byran drove to Sedalia, then cycled back to Clinton, while Vellen and I went opposite. We met on the trail, visited a few minutes, went to the end, picked up the truck, drove back to Clinton, picked up the guys at the trailhead, had dinner, and drove back to Sedalia.

CLINTON TO SEDALIA – 40 Miles

Armed with directions, Vellen and I struck out confidently. Right, left, right, left, right. That seemed reasonable enough. The last right didn’t look correct, so I turned left instead. Dead reckoning. Dead wrong. That cost us about a mile and fifteen minutes. The trail is well groomed and we were both on high dollar suspended mountain bikes, so the moderate pace did not tax our bodies at all. Thus we had time to enjoy our surroundings.

The trailhead is situated next to the highway that leads to Sedalia, near a Ford Dealership, so we mentally marked the location, since that would be our destination this afternoon. The highway and trail paralleled for at least ten miles.

The rolling landscape did not provide any spectacular backdrops, just prairie type grasses or farmland. The setting still exuded peacefulness as we cycled through, having the trail to ourselves, only our tires on the crushed limestone making any noise.

We stopped a few times, commenting that it appeared we were climbing a lot. Climbing as in incline, not like up a hill. Sure enough, we came to a sign on the trail that indicated the high point of the Katy Trail, 955 feet. We started out around 760 feet, so it’s not like we needed a lot of gears, but now “it’s all downhill from here.”

Barry called to say there were on the trail back toward us, and I estimated where we would meet. Sure enough, they came into view when expected. We stopped, exchanged pleasantries (ok, this is four guys, we exchanged barbs), gave a preview of what to expect, switched truck keys from Barry to me, got directions to the truck, and moved out in our respective directions.

Barry’s directions were easy enough: 1) Get off the trail just before you cross the trestle, and 2) stay on the sidewalk up to the Visitors Center, which is where he parked the truck.

A little over an hour later, Vellen and I came into Sedalia and recognized the trestle. There appeared to be no trail leading down to the sidewalk, so we contemplated our next move for a few minutes while trying to spot the truck and/or visitors center. A man with a dog came walking across the bridge and we stopped to him to ask for directions. Unfortunately, he was a moving van driver with a delivery in Sedalia and didn’t know much about the area. But this turned into a longish conversation because in exchanging “where are you froms” found out he grew up in the Portland area. This little bond helped, because eventually the talk returned to where the truck was, and even though he was just passing through, he remembered the visitors’ center, and pointed it out to us, up the hill. We said our thanks and good-byes and walked our bikes down the embankment, got on the sidewalk and made it to the truck. The visitors’ center was closed. I really could have used their restroom. In any case, we loaded the bikes and dragged the map out, and drove to the hotel to check in.

Hotel Bothwell – I had been hesitant to book us into a hotel, but the rates were reasonable and reviews good. When Vellen and I walked in, we were cordially greeted and given our rooms. They had room for our bikes in their secure basement, eliminating the need to take up space in our living quarters. This hotel was built in 1928. The elevator to the rooms is modern, but the one to the basement requires an employee to operate. Cool! The guys liked the rooms in the Hampton Inn, but I told them we had penthouse suites in the Hotel Bothwell. Many old hotels have taken out walls to turn two rooms into one, and that appeared the case for our rooms. I checked out the bathroom and in truth, described it as compact. But when I dragged Barry’s luggage to his side of the room, discovered a second, similar bathroom. Each had a sink and commode, and one had a shower and the other a tub. I believe this to be my first room with two potties. Well, not really a penthouse suite, but very spacious, nicely appointed, and quite clean.

SEDALIA TO BOONVILLE – 40 Miles

I hadn’t read about it in the literature, but the hotel provided a continental breakfast, similar to the Hampton Inn, and sufficient for cyclists. While we fortified ourselves and got ready for the day, we conversed with other cyclists who, we found out, were on a Sierra Club ride. It seemed one of the guys, not very experienced, had purchased a new saddle just before the trip, and found out the hard way that soft and wide saddles are poor choices for any distance. Apparently they rubbed him the wrong way and he contemplated dropping out because serious damage could be done if he kept going in that condition. The bike shop in Sedalia opened at 10am and even though it would put him hours behind, he thought about purchasing a more appropriate saddle.

Barry hesitated a few seconds, mulling his next move, then offered this stranger an appropriate saddle. Now, cyclists are accustomed to carrying spare tubes, and sometimes tires, but no one ever carries a spare saddle. On this trip, Barry did (there actually is a reason: he also was breaking in a new saddle, so if it didn’t work out, he could switch. In his case, his Brooks leather saddle worked for him quite well). The look on the guy’s face was priceless.

Barry retrieved the saddle from the pick-up, and both groups were able to depart on time, albeit we left earlier than they. I drove today, so missed the very pretty Sedalia trailhead and had to depend on my companions to take a picture.

Again, the highway and trail were together for a lot of the trip. I found Boonville, parked at Holiday Inn Express, and let the host, Nick, know we would be checking in later. He gave me directions to the trail entrance, not quite within sight but close enough. When I got to the trail, I called to let them know I had reached my starting point, and began. Knowing our pace once I met up with the guys would be “gawk and go,” I pushed my speed to maximum sustainable and enjoyed myself immensely. At the Pilot Grove trailhead, I pulled over to say “hi” to Barry and Ann, the couple we first met in Clinton and again in Sedalia at the hotel. Conversation over, after mentally noting the open store, I headed up the trail and in less than an hour we had merged back into a foursome.

They told me I missed only the Sedalia trailhead and I told them about the store being open and that would be our mid-morning snack stop. This information was important because Barry and Ann had warned us that many eating establishments closed on Mondays, so we should eat when we could and carry emergency sustenance.

One of the things I do on these trips is stop or slow down when crossing creeks, just in case it made for a good picture. Such an opportunity presented itself on Bonne Femme Creek. I took two, one with the trestle as a frame and one without. It looks good on the computer screen, and maybe a 16x20 picture is in the future. I have a lot of creek pictures and not enough wall space.

Bonne Femme Creek
Bonne Femme Creek Click to enlarge

The hosts at our accommodations are really making me look like I know what I am doing. They are not exactly falling over themselves, but appear to be genuinely happy for us to be their guests, and while our needs are few, anything we ask for is supplied. Again, there is a secure room for our bikes. Again, an excellent eating establishment is recommended. Okay, this is a tongue-in-cheek statement because there was only one open (other than fast food) because this is Monday.

We drove to downtown Boonville and parked across the street from the Steinhouse, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Boonville. We opened the door and stepped from the brilliant sunlight into the darkened restaurant, with a substantial bar along the right side. On the first barstool sat an old crone with a drink in her hand. I mention this only because I was the only one who didn’t immediately recognize her as a prop. I blame it on the change of lighting, my poor eyesight and proper manners in not staring at people. Maybe I’m just oblivious.

One other lesson learned at the Steinhouse. In conversation, the one waitress/barkeeper indicated business to be generally slow, but steady. Today, our group of four just beat the Sierra Club cyclists by a few minutes, so as we completed our non-burger orders, in trouped a group of eight. Now the kitchen would be stressed. After the meal, it took a long time for the waitress to give us our bill and we began to grouse. We had no place to go, so fifteen minutes or so passed and still no bill. Then I observed local patrons getting up from their booths and going to the bar to pay their bill. Duh! Apparently local custom is to let you enjoy a post-meal conversation without the arrival of the check (which is really an invitation to leave). How civilized! Once we approached the bar, she immediately gave us our bills and we left.

BOONVILLE TO HARTSBURG – 44 Miles

Holiday Inn Express is by the Interstate, several miles away from Boonville, which is located right on the river, so we enjoyed the first few miles of a good downhill into Boonville and across the Missouri River. Before getting to the river we stopped at the trailhead for a photo op, and then rode over to the old bridge for more photos, then around the casino and over the new bridge, which thankfully had a protected bike lane.

Shortly after crossing the river and heading out of town, we passed a junk yard. All of the males in Byran’s family take more than a passing interest in junked cars because they all purchase wrecks and refurbish them. Thus, they are always on the lookout for used car parts. Anyhow, we slowed enough for Byran to spy and pick up an old, faded stuffed duck that had seen better days. The stuffing on one hand poked out, it only had one eye, the other being almost worn off, it truly had seen better days. But Byran had plans. He presented this wreck of a stuffed animal to Barry. Of course, I have Moose and Byran has Deputy Dog (which he rescued from the side of the road in 1999 during Cycle Montana), so he felt that in his inauguration ride with us, Barry needed a stuffed companion. Barry immediately named this Katy, in honor of the trail, thus affixing the gender. Later the name expanded to Junkyard Katy Boon.

One of the big attractions for this ride was the opportunity to visit different wineries. While three of us are commonsewers of alcohol, Barry really enjoys his red wines. So, as we rode along, I repeatedly mentioned we could have lunch at Les Bourgeois winery & bistro, just three-tenths of a mile off the trail.

We had the Missouri River rolling majestically on our right and a steep rock cliff on our left. True to his nature, Byran called “stopping” and pointed out a small cave. I slowed, but didn’t stop to watch him explore, because fifty yards down the trail, I spotted what looked like a bike rack. Sure enough, a two-bike rack had been installed next to the trail. A narrow path led away from the trail, up the cliff. Hidden behind the foliage, about ten feet up the path, a three-by-three sign indicating the winery just three-tenths of a mile UP.

The operative word is UP. I geared down into the small chain ring and prepared for a very steep, very rough trail. Several times the front wheel came off the ground, several times my shoes came out of the pedals, several times I had to stop to let my heart rate drop back below the redline. Eventually I completed the distance and rolled down the driveway to the bistro. While waiting outside I took in the gorgeous view of the river, then went in to scope out the dining area and bar.

After about ten minutes, it dawned on me that even pushing their bikes up the hill, the guys should have been here. I couldn’t believe that cave could be so interesting. I pedaled up the driveway and slowly descended. I came out to an empty trail, looking both ways.

I called Barry, but his phone wasn’t picking up, so rode alone for about three miles. Vellen called, his phone working well, so he caught the brunt of my venting. They waited for me and in another mile we came together.

Having weathered the store closing on Monday, we looed forward to Hartsburg, because only a few blocks from our lodging was a winery. Our hostess, Cath Sherrer, greeted us with a plate of homemade cookies and gave us a quick tour of our rooms. We inquired as to places to eat and were advised the tavern opened at 4pm (about a half an hour) and that was the only place in town to eat. Keep in mind Hartsburg has a population of 108 or so hardy souls.

We figured we would hang out at the winery for a while, and then go eat. Cath advised that the winery didn’t open on Monday OR Tuesday. Dang! Today we missed our chance at two wineries. We settled for beer and burgers and fries at the tavern. Our diet is truly suffering.

Speaking of burgers, Hartsburg offered several interesting stories. The intrepid travelers waited until four o’clock and walked past the closed winery on the way to the tavern. We thought it hadn’t opened either when we couldn’t budge the door, but as we turned to walk away, the barkeeper swung it open. It sticks really tight! We left the empty barstools for the local regulars and made our way to a table and ordered beer and reviewed the minimalist menu. Consensus was burgers and because we were hungry, double cheeseburgers and an order of fried mushrooms.

The burgers took longer than we expected, but we had our beer and weren’t going anywhere. Earlier, Vellen had struck up a conversation with a regular and here, at least, they weren’t hostile to cyclists. Of course, we had changed out of our lycra. Men in lycra seem to set some people off.

The barkeeper finally came with our order and gave three of us our burgers and murmured that the rest of the order would be right out. Ten minutes later, Vellen got his burger and mushrooms. Perplexed at such a delay, we inquired further. It seems the appliance that cooks the burgers could only do six at a time. By ordering doubles, we exceeded capacity, so it took two rounds!

Now for the good part. Satiated, we meandered down the street past the other lodging in town. Out front were the Sierra Club cyclists, numbering around eight to ten. They were having a post-ride glass of wine one of the spouses had purchased in Hermann. We chatted for awhile until they had finished and prepared to depart for dinner. We asked if they were driving to Hermann, but no, they were walking up the street to the tavern….

The next morning when we saw a few of them on the trail, they were complaining about the spotty service of their hamburgers. Barry clued them in.

HARTSBURG TO RHINELAND – 50 Miles

We stopped in Tebetts for a mid-morning snack. A notice on the bulletin board at the trailhead invied cyclists to eat there and gave times. Although within sight, it didn’t appear open. One of the Sierra Club riders walked over and came back with the report: it had been closed for two years! About a half mile back, on the highway, stood the only convenience store in town, so the three of us dropped off the trail onto the road and rode back and loaded up on snickers, ice cream, stuff.

As we paid for our purchase I mentioned she should put up a notice on the bulletin board because about ten cyclists opted to go five miles to the next town, Mokan, rather than come back a half mile. She said she would, then observed that in Mokan, the cyclists would pay almost double what she charged for her snacks. Check mark for us.

Doll House Bed & Breakfast received good reviews, and came at the appropriate distance from Hartsburg, and so became my choice of lodging. Obviously, my guardian angel took good care of me on this trip. We stayed at six places and our reception in all six exceeded expectations. But of the six, Amanda at the Doll House made this a most memorable experience.

The building itself is right next to the Katy Trail. You might remember the story without remembering the details. The flood of 1993 inundated a lot of Missouri. Rhineland actually was flooded four times that year, and after the fourth one, the residents had had enough. They moved their houses to higher ground (with the help of the Feds). All but one. I remember the television clip of the interview with this one owner. Eventually he sold the structure to Amanda and her husband, and eventually, Amanda became a B&B entrepreneur. This is her story, not mine, so when you stay here, be sure to have her give the details.

Amanda exemplifies the Bed and Breakfast experience. Not only do you receive a friendly greeting, she stays and chats and makes you feel more like an old friend visiting her house. By the way, she lives up on higher ground with the rest of the town. She keeps her house clean and neat, the beds are comfortable, the bathrooms modern and sparkling. The piece de résistance of your stay is her breakfast. It is excellent in taste, substantial, and varied. You can either enjoy or overlook the bit of whimsy in the themed bedrooms. Even the name of the B&B shows her sense of humor and that is also a part of the details you need to explore when you stay.

In addition to wine, Barry had been craving fried chicken. But our experiences with taverns (not just on this trip) are you should stick to burgers unless proven otherwise. Each town brought him a disappointment. However, in Rhineland, we inquired of Amanda if (unnamed) winery was a good place to eat in Hermann (the much bigger town about five miles down the road). Rhineland has about 150 residents and we were growing weary of burgers. She said yes, but then, as an aside, mentioned that the restaurant in town served the best fried chicken anywhere.

Barry’s eyes lit up and another winery town went down the tubes. The restaurant really served superior fried chicken. They didn’t start preparing it until our order. Heck, as far as I know, that hen might have been scratching for grubs when we walked through the doorway. The mashed potatoes felt great and the twice-as-many-as-I-normally-eat, non-squeaky green beans satisfied the vegetable requirement. The best part: once again we just walked only a block to eat.

RHINELAND TO ST CHARLES – 65 Miles

Not only did I have good fortune with the lodging choices, we had great weather. Since making the reservations, we watched Missouri have rain, floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. The first four days of riding provided superior weather, from the mid-50s to 70 degrees, brilliant blue skies, and a wind mostly at our backs. This day, only a miracle would keep us dry. It was only a matter of how far would we get and how wet would we be. We all brought rain gear and today it came out of the luggage.

Vellen took his turn as designated-driver. We said our good-byes to Amanda and started off. Sunshine did not come into play this day. My best guess would put us between systems and we might pull it off without getting muddy. Even so, our pace increased only slightly and stops to see creeks, rocks, river, etc. did not decrease. Occasionally we looked over our shoulders and could see the building dark grey skies.

At the Marthasville trailhead we stopped for a break, using the clean restrooms and chatting with a couple of college hikers, hiking from Columbia to St. Louis. The conversation ceased when a large thunderclap rattled the surroundings. Time to move on! We made it a few miles down the trail before it started sprinkling. The rain never did come down hard on us (we found out later that Vellen, coming from the other direction, had substantially more precipitation), but still enough for me to pull out all of my rain gear: helmet cover, jacket, rain pants, and booties. Unfortunately, the jacket fit did not allow for Moose to hide underneath. He really got wet and muddy.

We expected to see Vellen and speculated he may have chosen better activities. Of course, we were kidding, but his failure to materialize began to occupy more and more of our conversation. When we arrived in Defiance, there were a couple of taverns open and we took the opportunity to have lunch and get out of the weather. They had a nice patio, empty, that served as a place to put our bikes and hang our wet and muddy rain gear. Barry and I went inside to secure a table and Byran walked over to the trail to await Vellen. A few minutes later they, too, came inside. Beer and burgers, beer and burgers. But at least we were warm and dry.

After lunch, we went outside to leave, but the rain had increased so we decided to wait. Thunder and lightning, real close, convinced me to wait inside. Another ten minutes and Barry came in to say the rain had passed. Just in time: one of the locals had cornered Byran and was imparting his life story.

Sure enough, the rain had slackened. It turned cold, and Byran needed an old cardboard box to wrap around inside his jersey to help him retain body heat. Once mounted and riding, the farther we rode the warmer we became, plus the sun threatened to break through the clouds. It didn’t, but riding conditions improved. We still had the wet trail with which to contend. The mud still flew off our tires and up our backs.

St. Charles came into sight, and eventually the trailhead, where Vellen had parked. The motel was about six miles away, so we loaded all the bikes and bade farewell to the Katy Trail.

While checking into the Hampton Inn in St Charles, four older guys on Harleys arrived. The very jovial ladies at the desk got us squared away with the rooms and one of them came out to direct Byran and Vellen to where the hose was connected so they could wash the trail crud from their bikes. Once packed, we went back inside and Barry asked about a good steak house. Long story short, the very savvy ladies directed us to Longhorn Steak House and the Harley guys to Hooters.

HOME

When checking in, one of the ladies extolled the breakfast and that she would be serving us. We advised we would really miss her company because we were leaving at 4:30am. Not long afterward, she arrived at our doors with a brown bag breakfast for each of us. We would miss her fun presence but she wouldn’t let us leave without breakfast. My already superior reputation increased even more.

We set the alarm for 4am, had the truck loaded and departed at 4:30am and were at the airport twelve minutes later. A few deft pulls in the back of the truck and Byran and Vellen had their luggage ready to check in. At 4:45am Barry and I left for home, arriving at 7:30pm, tired but accomplished.



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