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Ride Report: The Not so Dangerous Dangers of Biking Across Missouri

By Jennifer Popham

The Not so Dangerous Dangers of Biking Across Missouri

From Clinton to St. Charles

October 10-14 2005

Bike riders

Father:  David (age 70), a builder living in Alabama

Daughter: Jennifer (age 28), a recent chemistry graduate from University of Washington

Neither of us physically prepared for this bike trip.  I hadn’t been on a bike for a year due to knee surgery after a rugby injury, but I am an athlete and do exercise regularly.  My dad had attempted a bike trip in June from Colorado to Indiana, but the altitude, the heat, and the headwinds caused the trip to only last for about 10 days into the middle of Kansas.

Bikes

We both had 21-speed mountain bikes with 1 3/8” tires.

Supplies

I carried two panniers, a bag at the handlebars, a sleeping bag and ground cover, and one water bottle in a holder.  My father carried two panniers, a bag on top of the rack, a bag at the handlebars, and a sleeping bag and a ground cover, plus two water bottles.  We both carried enough breakfast and lunch food for five days.  The rest of the gear was layers of clothes for cold mornings, hot days, and potentially rainy rides, bike tools, and a first aid kit.  We also carried a packet of information about the towns, phone numbers for lodging and a cell phone (Cingular) to make reservations while on the trail.  We didn’t want to make reservations beforehand since we weren’t sure of the distances we would be able to travel each day and didn’t want to have a stressful ride trying to make a destination that would be painful to attempt.  We had rain in the forecast before the trip and it is difficult to predict headwinds.  We brought the sleeping bags in case we couldn’t find a place to stay.  We had heard rumors that the B&B’s were booked in certain towns, and we also didn’t want to pay $150 for a room that some B&B’s were quoting.

Day 1 From Elkmont, Alabama to Clinton, Misourri

We woke up at 4 am to get on the road by 5 am to drive 6.5 hours to St. Charles, MO where we would leave our car.  Several days before our bike trip we had checked out Clinton, MO and St. Charles to try to figure out transportation and where to leave our car.  We heard that going to St. Charles was downhill, so we decided to leave our car there and ride our bikes from west to east.  We had not researched shuttle options, but found a bike store, Trailriders in Clinton across from the Chamber of Commerce off the town square where the owners offered to drive the 300 plus miles to St. Charles to pick us up and bring our bikes and gear to Clinton.

We arrived early in St. Charles and looked for a safe place to park our car.  Along Riverside there is free parking, but we were slightly afraid of getting towed.  We called the St. Charles Police and asked if it was safe for us to park our car in Public Parking for a week.  They took down information about the car and said they would watch it for us.

At 2 pm sharp our shuttle, the Trailriders from Clinton, showed up with a lovely van, helped us pack up and drove us to our hotel, the Best Western.  It was an excellent shuttle service.  We were their first customers and they hope to start a regular shuttle from Sedalia to Clinton.  Later during our trip, we learned that another option for doing a one-way trip would be riding Amtrak from St. Louis to Sedalia where we would be able to hire the Trailriders to shuttle us to the beginning of the Katy Trail.

Day 2 Clinton to Pilot Grove (61 miles)

Waking up at 6 am, we had an early delicious breakfast served by the hotel and got on the road around 7:30 am.  The host of the hotel provided us with a map and the safest route by road to the beginning of the Katy Trail.  It was foggy and pretty cold.  Dad was wearing pants and a jacket.  I wore bike shorts and a long sleeve shirt with a fleece vest but within fifteen minutes, I was hot.

We saw a lot of animals and not so many people.  We met one person who had been on the trail for 14 days walking, sometimes staying in a B&B, sometimes in a campground if they would rent him a tent.

By 10 am, the sun was out and we were hot, shedding all of our layers to the bare minimum.  Water was easily accessible at the trailheads that were about 10 miles apart.  At the lovely Sedalia Depot, I bought postcards.  It is hard to find postcards along the trail, but at each town there is a post office and mailbox.  I brought my own postcards knowing that it might be difficult to find some.

We ate about four times during the day with our own food trying to keep up our energy since today was a long ride.  We didn’t stop at any of the stores we saw along the route. We had called mom around lunchtime to make reservations for us in Pilot Grove.  We had thought we would be able to make it to the bigger city of Boonville, but by after lunch we were beat, biking five miles and resting.  Dad said, “What sane person would ride this much?”

We arrived at the Flowers B&B around 4 pm.  We had averaged about 10 mi/hr during the day.  A lovely hostess guided us to our room which had a full size bed and a cot for me.  She told us there was a bar that served food and a store around the corner.  Since we really don’t like sandwiches and fries off of the grill, we went to the store and got beans and cheese.  We used the microwave at the B&B. 

Three older men were also staying at the B&B.  They were biking the trail round trip commenting that they enjoy riding on pavement better than the hard-packed dusty gravel.   You can make better time and see more things since long stretches of the Katy Trail are surrounded by trees making it difficult to see the landscape.  Also, one of the guys with skinny tires had had 8 flat tires already.

Day 3 Pilot Grove to Hartsburg (50 miles)

We again woke at 6 am and had a B&B breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice at 6:30 am.  We were on the rode by 7:30 am.  We decided it was better to be cold in the mornings riding in the fog than arriving in the late evening trying to find our way around in the dark in towns that close early.

By 10 am after riding about 20 miles, dad was beat.  It was hot and we were peddling against wind.  We didn’t meet many people and didn’t see as many animals; although, I almost ran over a snake.  That scared me.  Around 2 pm, we came to a crossroads in the trail, one path leading to Columbia City, another path leading to Hartsburg.  We sat on a bench and had to make a decision.  Do we want to go to Columbia, the big college town with plenty of places to stay which is about 8.8 miles away getting off the trail, or do we want to ride more of the trail, 16 miles to Hartsburg where there might not be a place to stay?  We called the Globe in Hartsburg but it was booked.  The hostess gave us another number to the Hartsburg Inn where we reserved a room.

Arriving in Hartsburg around 4 pm to freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, we unpacked our bags into a primitive B&B that had 2 twin size beds and a queen size bed on concrete floors.  The shower was awesome though, hot and strong.  We then ate spaghetti at Dotty’s cafe, a big restaurant filled with only us and two other groups.  We heard one of the groups talking about not finding a place in Hartsburg for the night.  It sounded like they were going to have to ride a pretty long distance to find a place to stay and it was already getting late.  There wasn’t a store nearby.

I wrote postcards out on the porch of the B&B getting bit by mosquitos the whole time.

Day 4 Hartsburg to Rhineland (47 miles)

For breakfast, we cooked the provided oatmeal and popcorn in the microwave that was also provided by the B&B.  We also had orange juice and could have had coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.  Today’s ride was easier and we were going pretty fast.  The only problem was trail washouts.  Definitely, along this part of the trail send your stronger bike first because the deep ditches that come one after another surprise you and it is impossible to slow down before hitting them.  We heard rumors that someone had broken several spokes.

We met a couple from Alaska during the ride and learned that they were staying at the Doll House in Rhineland.  We weren’t sure where we were going to stay.  Hermann was an option except we would have to call the police to escort us over the bridge.  Mom was able to make reservations for us at the Doll House. 

Other than the obstacles 10-20 tennis ball sized black walnuts in certain spots and the bathtub ditches, we arrived quite early to Rhineland around 2 pm.  The lovely hostess had 100 warm chocolate chip cookies waiting for us.  The B&B is an amazing house built in the 1920’s and has comfortable huge beds and great places in the living room and kitchen to just sit and talk, to read and write.  Dad and I used the laundry to wash out our clothes.  There was a bar with bar food across the street, but dad asked the hostess if she was going to the store which was 5 miles away.  She brought us back beans and cheese for dinner.

Day 5 Rhineland to St. Charles (66 miles)

A huge homemade breakfast with eggs, potatoes, cherry pastry, a fruit plate, bacon was waiting for us at 7 am.  Usually breakfast is served at 9 am, but we requested an earlier breakfast.  That breakfast provided us a lot of energy. 

We had asked mom the night before if she would be able to find us a place to stay in between Rhineland and St. Charles, but it sounded like it was going to cost over $100 or we would have to ride several miles off of the trail to the freeway where we could find a hotel.

We were riding fast along this part of the trail getting as fast as 16 mi/hr averaging around 12 mi/hr.  Either the breakfast fueled our speed, we were getting stronger, or the trail was downhill.  The trail was also very busy.  A lot of families and groups of people were riding.  The trailheads didn’t have water, but I am sure you would be able to find water in the small towns.  Because we were going so fast, we decided to ride the whole way into St. Charles. 

We arrived around 3:30 pm and packed up our car to drive to the hotel near I-70.  We were given coupons for a free buffet at the local casino.  We thought, “Wow, after such a long hot ride, a free buffet.”  We went over around 6 pm and stood in a huge line to fill out the paperwork to get the buffet and then stood in a huge line in front of the restaurant where we were told it was too crowded and we wouldn’t be able to get in until 9 pm.  That made dad mad and he went and talked to some people where we found out that the $16 coupons could be used at any of the restaurants in the casino.  We went to each of them and where some of them had hour waits while some of them had 15 minute waits.  We finally got seated and ate until we were refueld happy again.

Non-Dangerous Dangers

Weather

Thunderstorms are not bikers’ friends, but at each trailhead there is a covered patio where you could stay sheltered if bad weather did arrive.

Places to stay

Having a cell phone was very helpful.  Also, there were quite a few campgrounds scattered about.  We were successful at not having reservations, but if this week had been busier we might have been up a creek without a paddle.  The towns are tiny and it would seem likely that they could fill up quite easily.  Bring cash and checks.  Not all of the places take credit cards.

Food

If you like bar food, you probably can find food.  We never went into any stores except for one.  Hours are funny in small towns.  I think it was good that we brought our own food especially since you don’t want to be stranded somewhere without any energy having to ride another 10 miles to see if maybe they might have a store.  I was looking forward to a snow cone in Augusta, but the place was closed.

Water

Water was easy the first day since it was available at the trailheads.  The last day especially between Augusta and St. Charles are hard places to find water.  The trailheads are not at little towns anymore, but are parking lots that do not have water. If it is hot, I would consider carrying more water or else you will have to go searching for it into the quiet towns where the post office doesn’t open until 2 pm, restaurants only open sometimes in the evening, stores are hard to find.

Obstacles

Watch out for snakes and turtles along the route as well as black walnuts and trenches.  I would not suggest riding the trail at night.  Get an early start.  One couple arrived at the B&B around 9:30 pm.  I bet they were hungry and had been through some jaw breaking bumps.

Conclusion

I found the Katy Trail to be a safe way to travel across Missouri without being worried about being hit by cars to see the landscape and to feel the weather of the region.  There are lots of places to stop, lots of things to see and read.  There are a few long stretches of just riding like on a freeway, an easy road with trees blocking your view of anything interesting.  We were probably a week or two too early for the fall colors which would have been amazing.  The most interesting part of the trip was meeting people, meeting the people traveling on the trail and meeting the people feeding and providing places to stay for the bike riders.  That was truly the best part!



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