Two friends (Chuck and Bill) and I decided what we really needed to do was to ride the Katy Trail, a 240-mile former railroad line now converted into a bike path across Missouri. The following account, which occurred in May 2011, may or may not be true. Certain facts may have been either stretched a bit or downplayed, depending on what made for a better story. Other than that, this story is probably true. For certain, all of the people described in this account are ones that we actually met.
Starting out on a Monday morning, we boarded the Amtrak train in downtown St. Louis, having bought both tickets for ourselves and also reserved space for the bikes. We took the panniers off our bikes and carried both bikes and bags onto the train, setting them in an empty space close to the front of the car set aside for this purpose. The train ride was entirely pleasant and uneventful and a highly-recommended way to travel. It took about three hours for us to get to Sedalia, our jumping off point and home of the Missouri State Fair.
Climbing down off the train, we began setting up our bikes, putting the panniers back on, etc. We heard a squealing of brakes, a crunch of metal and broken glass, and immediately three police cars went screaming by on their way to a giant car crash that had happened just a block down the street from us. I took this to be a good omen.
We chose Sedalia as our stop as it is the point farthest west where the Katy Trail and the Amtrak stops coincide. It's still 36 miles from there to the western endpoint of the trail at Clinton, but the train doesn't run there, instead turning more north to go to Kansas City. Though occasionally you'll hear of people taking the train to Warrensburg, Mo., and riding south to connect with the trail, the roads are kinda sketchy. Most people intent on saying they rode the WHOLE Katy Trail arrange for a shuttle to take them to Clinton from Sedalia, which costs maybe $50-75. Since we're cheap and actually like riding bikes, we decided to ride from Sedalia to Clinton and then backtrack. It meant covering a lot of the same ground twice, but that was okay.
As it was after 1 p.m., we decided to grab some lunch before getting down to some serious riding. A little joint came into view even before the trail took out out of Sedalia and we stopped. It had about ten tables and paper placemats that doubled as the menu. It was the first of a number of cafes that we would stop, where the predominant décor was cowboy kitsch that all looked like it came from rummage sales. About a dozen customers sat inside, all of them smoking like crazy while they ate. After lunch -- a bunch of fried stuff -- the lady working as both waitress and cook offered to fill our bottles with water and ice before we left. We took her up on this, very nice, and started riding about 2 p.m. It was hot for mid-May, over 90 degrees, and very windy too.
One hold-over that you'll notice about the Katy Trail from its former life as a rail line is the spacing of the towns. They are regularly ten-twelve miles apart, not much variation, due to the railroad's reliance on water and coal at predictable intervals along the way to keep the steam trains rolling. This predictability is good for bikers too, since that translates into a regular source of water and also a nice interval of an hour or so riding, then a break. (Related article: Survive and Thrive on a Long-Distance Ride
We rode from Sedalia west the 20 miles to a town called Windsor and dropped off all our extra stuff at the hotel where we were spending the night. It was a family-run thing and the clerk working there didn’t know the name of the bar in town. “We just call it the tavern,” she said. She also couldn't recall the name of the university from where she had graduated from the week before. There was a little place across the way, and Bill pointed at it, asking her if O.B.’s drive-in was any good. Turns out it was actually called BOB’s drive-in, and a utility pole had blocked the first B from his view.
From Windsor, we rode the final 16 miles down to Clinton, the western end of the trail. It was even hotter and windier, and even with the lighter bikes this was a very taxing ride. We got there about 6:15 p.m., just totally bushed. I was expecting the end of the trail to be something special, but it was rather anti-climatic. The former rail line didn't even seem to hit the main part of town. It just came up alongside a baseball complex and sorta stopped. We sat around the trail head for a while, eating Clif bars and watching kids drifting in for practice at the fields next door.
Fortunately, the ride back to Windsor was much more enjoyable. The was sun going down; the wind was at our back and this 16 miles was much easier. Only choice for dinner was a Sonic Drive-In; at 8:30 it was the only thing open. We were hungry as could be, and wolfed down a bunch of food. Then it was back at the hotel for some TV and bed. The TV only offered like three channels so we ended up watching the Home Decorating network. Also, the AC was very ineffective and the room temp was about 84 degrees for Dave and Bill. Great sleeping, oh yeah, but Chuck’s room was apparently cold enough and ultimately we all managed.
Other than the occasional short stretch through the small towns along the trail, most of our riding we had done today was either through woods or open fields. Wildlife we saw today included brilliantly bright bluebirds, which we would encounter throughout the ride, squirrels, rabbits, a snake, a monster owl that almost carried Bill away, a possum, and a dead raccoon that had a swarm of flies on it. Total miles was 65.3.
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