In October 2008, Craig and I bicycled the entire Katy Trail in Missouri. I've recorded our adventure here in case you'd like to vicariously join us from the comfort of your computer chair. But hopefully you'll be encouraged to consider a future bicycle tour of your own.
The plan was to ride our bikes down to the St. Louis Amtrak Station. Take the train out to Warrensburg, MO. Then ride 35 miles down to Clinton, MO, the west end of the Katy Trail. Then take five days to ride the entire Katy Trail back to our home in St. Louis. This would add up to 298.5 miles altogether.
Our goal was to go from 45-70 miles each day. That would normally be a lot of miles per day for us but we didn't think we'd have any trouble on the flat Katy Trail. We are self-supported tourers which means that we carry all of our camping gear and food on the bikes with us. We'd planned this trip for over a year and have slowly acquired all of our gear.
Both of us ride our bicycles every week -- Craig commutes to work by bike (6 miles round trip) and I ride about 10-15 miles a week going to the bank, post office and other errands. But besides that we didn't really do much training. This was a fun trip and a great way to begin bicycle touring. ANYONE can do this! Hope you enjoy this journal of our trip and then get on YOUR bike and ride...
Our big trip started at 5:00 A.M... still dark outside. Our friend, Gerry Noll, would be riding Amtrak with us and then joining us on the first two days of the Katy Trail. Gerry met us at our house and off we went into the darkness down New Florissant Road to the UMSL-North MetroLink Station. I was still too groggy at this point to be nervous about the upcoming trip. We had a long day ahead of us.
Three sleepy bicyclists pushing their fully loaded bikes onto the MetroLink at 5:30 in the morning must have looked a bit strange. But the few early morning MetroLink passengers had their dissinterested commuter faces pasted on so I have no idea what they thought about us. Thank goodness Gerry had checked the Metro website the week before and discovered that part of the MetroLink was closed this particular weekend so we had to disembark at Wellston and ride the roads down to the Skinker station to get back on the MetroLink. I was prepared for the detour with a map. Would have been a rude surprise if we had found out about it that morning. We had a train to catch afterall.
On the maps it looks like the Amtrak Station is right next to the Civic Center MetroLink Station. But when we got off the MetroLink we couldn't figure where the Amtrak Station was so we went for a frantic little ride in downtown St. Louis looking for it. We could see the train tracks but no station. Fortunately it was daylight by now and only light traffic. A helpful pedestrian gave us directions to get to the station (of course in the opposite direction we were going) so off we went. Then we heard him yelling and running after us pointing the other way. Surprise surprise, he had just noticed the brand spanking new Amtrak/Metro Station behind us. The entrance was only about 15 steps away from where we had originally gotten off the MetroLink. DOH!
So into the station with our loaded bikes... but the lady behind the desk explained that the Amtrak Station hasn't officially moved to the new building yet. *sigh* She directed us through the parking lot, down a narrow board covered walkway into a little box that is currently the Amtrak Station. We squeezed into the little boxy building with about 50 other folks and waited in line to pick up our tickets.
Now for the big test... would we be able to bring our loaded bicycles onto the train? I had called the Amtrak office twice and Gerry had also called to verify that yes, the bikes can be rolled onto the train and placed into the bicycle racks. We asked the lady at the Amtrak desk and she told us the same. We even had purchased special tickets just for our bicycles. No problemo!
So we wheel our bikes to the train and you guessed it... the conductor told us that there are no bicycle racks. None of the trains have bicycle racks, he says. Okay [email protected]#!$%! Fortunately he was just about as nice as a conductor could possibly be and he helped us strongarm our very heavy bikes up the steep steps and then unload our gear piece by piece and get all the gear in the overhead racks. Of course in the meantime, the line of happy folks waiting behind us was lengthening which made the process a bit frantic. By this time another conductor was also helping. Gear was flying everywhere. My bike got squashed into the space behind the seats. Craig's and Gerry's bikes got shoved into the overhead compartments. I couldn't bear to watch Craig's face as his beloved Surley was pushed back into the rack. But Craig handled the dire situation admirably and everyone remained alive with limbs intact.
Craig's Surley Long Haul Trucker confined to the rack.
The trains are actually really nice and comfy... pretty snazzy! There's my bike wheel peeking out of the space behind the seats. There's Craig. See he's smiling! I'm so relieved...
Except for the lack of bicycle racks, our Amtrak experience was very nice. The trains are nice, the seats are comfy, and they've got the friendliest crew I've ever experienced on any sort of public transportation. We also enjoyed the dining car with benches and tables and a snack menu. It was a pleasant way to spend four hours.
The view from the back of the train.
Our friendly conductor started getting us ready way ahead of our Warrensburg destination. We piled all our gear in the back of the train and assembly lined the bikes and gear off the train when we arrived. It was a much more organized and planned affair than our entrance had been.
Gerry and Craig waiting at the back of the train to exit.
Our friendly conductor stands authoritatively behind Gerry.
DAY 1 - Sunday, October 5
Warrensburg to Clinton
Katy Trail Head
So there we stood at the Warrensburg train station in the hot sun. It was a bit disorienting. We loaded up all our gear and went in search of a good place to eat lunch. Oh how I love little midwestern town restaurants! We ate a hearty country buffet at Heroes Restaurant. Great fuel; it was already after noon but the hard part of our day was just beginning.
After lunch we hit the roads. I had mapped out the 35 miles to the Katy Trail Head in Clinton along back country roads. I checked the Google topography map and it looked pretty flat. I was anticipating a nice sunny ride through the farmlands.
Gerry stopping on the side of the road for sunscreen application.
Our first clue that things were soon to run awry was how terribly hilly the roads were... incredibly difficult with our heavy loads. Thirty five miles of this was going to be tough.
Then we made a bad turn which took us several miles in the wrong direction. Oops my fault... I was the navigator and the roads aren't marked very well out there. After tooling along several miles with the sun decidedly on the wrong side of us, outrunning two crazed dogs, and searching in vain for marked street signs I finally realized we were lost. We had to ride another mile before we found a street sign and I could figure out where we were.
The trouble with getting lost in the country is that you have to travel so dang far before you get to the next road. The quickest way back to where we wanted to be was an unpaved gravel road (see pic below). It only took a few yards to realize that it was just impossible to ride our loaded hybrid bikes on that huge gravel. Our bikes were slipping all over the place. A helpful farmer told us that the best way to get to Clinton would be to backtrack several miles and then take Highway 13 all the way down to Clinton. I had hoped to avoid riding 35 miles on a highway. But it looked like we had no choice. Apparently a lot of the backroads on my intended route were going to be gravel.
Highway 13 was a frightening two lane country highway. The narrow shoulder was no more than a few feet wide and often dwindled down to a few inches when we passed over a creek or ditch. Our helpful farmer had assured us that traffic would be light on Sunday afternoon and I'm glad we weren't riding during a busier time. The cars and trucks whizzing by inches from me were quite unnerving. At one point Gerry reassured me that we probably only had about 26 more miles to go. That however did not make me feel much better...
Just when I thought it couldn't get much scarier I heard Craig yell. He told us that he was suffering from terrible leg cramps and had to get off his bike to walk. This was weird. Craig is a strong healthy guy and never has problems like this. He told us he had been in excruciating pain for miles but had stoically pedaled on in silence until he couldn't take it anymore. He insisted that Gerry and I continue on and he would catch up to us later. I didn't want to do this but Craig was adamant and I knew that the only way we could get help for Craig (if he ended up not being able to pedal the distance) was if we got to Clinton as soon as we could.
So Gerry and I pedaled on leaving Craig behind about 20 miles from Clinton. I was second guessing myself the whole 20 miles... you know the kinds of things worriers worry about... what if Craig has such bad cramps that he falls in front of a car? What if he doesn't make it to Clinton by dark and a car hits him?? What if something happens to him and we can't find him later?!? WHAT IF ALL WE FIND IS A BLOODY MANGLED BICYCLE!?!?!?!?!?
Gerry came up with the plan that when we got to a gas station, we should try to call a cab or shuttle service and go pick up Craig. Good plan! But there was not a single gas station or any services of any sort the entire 20 miles to Clinton. So Gerry and I pedaled on down the hilly, scarey Highway 13 and pulled into the first Clinton gas station hours later right at dusk.
I ran into the station and explained our problem to the young girl behind the counter. She was very nice but didn't know of any way to help us and handed me the phone book. I made sure to explain more of our situation to her as I leafed through the phone book hoping someone else in the station might hear me and be able to help. We had left Craig hours ago and had no idea where he was. For all we knew, he was still 20 miles away. We had tried to call his cell phone several times during the afternoon but could never get a signal.
The first cab company number took me to a voicemail, DARN! I was punching in the numbers for the second company when a guy walked in and asked me, "Are you looking for a third bicyclist?"
"YES!!!! Did you see him???" Turns out Craig was not that far behind us, less than a mile away. YAY!
Gerry asked if I wanted to wait there for him to catch up. "NO! Let's go get him now!!!" I was so excited and relieved that he was okay and nearby. Gerry and I turned on our blinking bike headlights and peered into the encroaching darkness for Craig coming the other direction. I couldn't wait for him to see our headlights and know we would be reunited soon.
And it was a very happy reunion. He had struggled with terrible full body cramps for hours and just when he thought he couldn't take it any longer, the shoulder had widened out about six miles north of Clinton and a tailwind picked up and pushed him on down the road until we found him. We stopped again at the gas station, fueled up a bit with some energy drinks, got directions to the nearby Katy Trail Head and bicycled there in the dark to find someplace to set up camp. Our itinerary had been to ride 16 miles up the Katy Trail to camp in Windsor the first night but that obviously was not going to happen. Day was done and we were done for the day.
The Clinton Trail Head is in town but located next to a large city ball field so it seems somewhat separated from the population. There isn't an official campground there but I had read that the city will let people camp in the ballfield park so that was our new plan. There was no one around when we got there so we wheeled our bikes into the dugout. Craig and I tied our hammocks to the rafters and Gerry set up his tent inside the dugout. What a nice comfortable camp our first night after one heck of a long hard day!!
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