Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Katy Trail Part I

The fortune cookie

I just kinda stared about 5 feet in front of my front tire.  The world is framed by the brim of of my hat and the edges of the hood of my jacket.  Every now and then I remind myself to look up and soak in the view as the rain continues.  Depending on day it was the views were either dull farmscape or spectacular river vista and exposed stone from the carving of the hills to build the rail bed.  The trail is a light tan color and is very soft.  Our tires sink in at places and we soon discover that the surface is better where there is water.  Puddles indicate that the ground is too hard for even the water to sink in. That's the current theory.  It was a constant hunt to find a good line.  Average speed was 8 mph.  The temperature ranged from the 50s to upper 40s.  A rocky road indeed.

Alan, Joe, me, Donnie

For years we have been lusting for a ride on the Katy Trail.  240 miles of the former MKT (Missouri Kansas Texas) Railroad converted to a bicycle/equestrian/pedestrian path.  It is the longest trail in the nation.  The logistics have been the stumbling block.  Until now.  Katy Bike Rental eliminated this obstacle.  For $80 a head, they picked us up when we were through and took us and our bicycles back to our vehicle.  We made arrangements with them and they called later on to confirm and even adjusted to our adjustment for the trip.  FYI, the people that provided this service were at the Bike Expo in Des Moines.  That is how we discovered them.  Our vehicle and trailer, btw, were parked at the community center in Clinton, MO, with permission and a watchful eye.  Safe place to park and a ride back to our ride back home we were set.

Poor timing.  It had been a drought for four weeks.  Spring was beginning early.  We all could take the time off.  Despite studying the forecast for two weeks and noticing the rain drop icons we went ahead.  Nah, that little blue icon should not bother us, it's nearly 70F in Iowa.  Spring travels 100 miles per week.  It will be warm.  Better pack some DEET.  Leave the heavy clothing at home.  Nothing to worry about.  It's early in the season and that means we will miss the crowds.  Only Nick and Mary backed out.  Mary was yet to be vested in time off at her new job and Nick had to do something with his son at the last minute.  Joe, Donnie, Alan and I made the requisite number for the shuttle back to the beginning.  Columbus took a chance.  So did Montgomery.

At the Chinese Restaurant, Clinton, MO.

The western end of the trail was the shortest drive so we chose to start at Clinton, Missouri, the Kansas City side of the trail.  Our last meal before hitting the trail was at a Chinese restaurant on the square.  That is where I received the fortune cookie.

When a light rain began I decided to trade my helmet in for a baseball cap so the bill would keep the rain out of my eyes and off my glasses.  It had been a long time since this bike had been on wet gravel and hence how dirty the helmet became.
I think I need to order those hammered aluminum fenders from Velo Orange.  Joe said that his front disc brake stopped working from this mess.  Before you go all safety Nazi on me, falling off a bike at 6 to 8 mph on this soft surface will not harm a person.  There was no one else on this trail that day.

It had rained.  It rained on our way down.  Now the sky was merely grey, no rain.  but the trail was soft.  I'm on a Trek 520 with a set of Continental Tour Plus 700x37 tires.  Donnie has the other 520 with Schwalbe Marathons 35s.  We both have front and rear panniers.  Alan's bike is a Specialize Diverge with a set of 32s but no front bags.  Joe has another Diverge but has both front and rear bags and is riding on a set of Marathon Plus 28s.  All of us soon discover that 8 mph is best possible speed. Some bikes sink in more than others.  Within two miles I am thinking "what have I've done?"  Need to retrain the brain, relax and accept it.  Forward progress, do not burn out, do not blow up heart. Relax.  The miles start clicking by albeit slowly.

According to the GeoCouch webmaster, this couch was discovered back in September of 2016 by another out of state person.  It is one of the few GeoCouch spottings that has been claimed by two different people.  Windsor, MO, under highway 52.

At the beginning the trail paralleled a road on the right with farmland on the left side.  Not much to see.  We skipped Calhoun and continued on to Windsor.  Here I discovered a GeoCouch and had photos taken.  and rolling into the depot I was attacked by two dogs.  They left Donnie alone.  They never bit me but I had to constantly move around them.  When we caught up with Joe and Alan, it was Joe that got attacked and Alan they left along.  Donnie and I grabbed a beer at the Casey's.  Other Animal excitement, the dark blue-green snake on the trail.  It may have been a Eastern Yellow Bellied Racer

Taking a break at the "high point."
All downhill from here!  Another lie

The next bit of excitement was the "high point" of the trail.  We stopped and took photos.  Alan remarked that if you looked all the way around not a house or building could be seen.  Animal excitement, the crayfish crossing the trail, pincers up!

Green Ridge was where things went wrong.  Donnie went to the Casey's for water and I went there for a sandwich and Joe and Alan rode on.  Once back on the trail I stopped to put on my rain gear as I could see the incoming monsoon.  I don't know if it was motivation or if the rain actually improved the trail surface but I picked up speed.  It was not a thunderstorm nor was the wind bad.  But It was more than just a miserable female rain and it would be dark soon.  12 miles from Green Ridge to Sedalia, our planned overnight.  We had a room at the Hotel Bothwell.  Of course extra miles from that 12 mile point to the actual hotel.  I was stopped at an intersection contemplating my next move when Joe stepped out of the bar on the corner and handed me a beer.  We waited there until it was literally raining cats and dogs before the final push to the hotel through flooded streets and traffic and it was dark.

38.8 miles.  Average Speed 8 mph.

Great photo, Joe!

The Hotel Bothwell was built in 1927 and is on the National register of Historic Sites by the US Department of the Interior.  It had an elegance of days gone by.  And here we are, four soaked and dirty cyclists with filthy dripping wet bicycles in the lobby.  The staff warning people that the floor was wet.  'We have bikers.'  But we got our keys and two per elevator we went to room 420.  It was a tight squeeze but we got all 4 bagged out bikes inside the room and strung up a clothes line to dry our clothes.  I was the one that noticed that there was a coin laundry on the 3rd floor so we showered, changed and started the wash.  These same clothes we would wear the next day.  Why get into the bags for another set when these were already out?

FOOD!!!!!!  The guy at the bar said that there was another bar in town with THE BEST PIZZA near our hotel so we went there.  Saturday night in Sedalia, MO, and Fitter's 5th Street Pub was packed! Two Hen's Nights (bachelorette party) and a 70's theme party and all others watching the KU game. Took some time but we got a table.  The pizza was good.  Party cut not slices.

Day Two: The Dry Day
At the depot in Sedalia, MO
The rag Time Train
Even bikes!
And pigs...
And bunnies!

It was dry the next morning.  Since I brought Tri-Flow I lubed my chain and let the others do theirs. We made the mistake of not having breakfast first.  First stop was the restored depot/trailhead in Sedalia.  Great stop.

Clifton City was the next stop.  Not much here since none of us could be arsed into riding up the hill from the trail.  We did make a friend.  A small friendly dog decided to join us here and followed us for over 10 miles.  It seemed to have more energy than we did.  I soon thought of it as my spirit animal and subsequently named it Rufina since Rufus is a male name.  Only after encountering two walkers heading the other way did it turn back.  Rufina had a collar and was groomed recently so it belonged to someone.  But in Missouri it is against the law to tie up or leash a dog.

Inspecting my pannier.

Pilot Grove would be our lunch town.  Just a Casey's because the cafe was closed.  Sunday I guess.  It was sorely needed.  And if you don't eat at least drink a chocolate milk.  Casey's--sustaining life for bikers!  I don't think we saw a Kum & Go.

Rocheport was to be the overnight but we discovered that lodging was limited to bed & breakfast places.  So we cut it short and stayed at the Isle of Capri Casino & Hotel in Boonville, MO.  First stop the Missouri River.  The trail led to an old rail bridge over the river.  It was the type of bridge that was tall and lifted the center section for boats sailing up and down the river.  For our convenience, the casino was just off the trail.  This time the bikes and ourselves were not as filthy nor wet and the room was larger.  All-you-can-eat buffet featuring prime rib and rib-eye steaks, fried chicken, ham, ect was taken advantage of here.  We did walk through the casino proper but the second hand smoke was too much for me so I left without paying a single game.  Donnie said cocktails were $2.50 each.   I had BV Toasted Caramel whisky with Coke in the room instead.

Note:  we encountered the first bicyclist just outside Boonville.  74 miles into this adventure and we finally see someone riding a bike on the trail.  A few runners here and there and walkers too.

38.9 miles, Average Speed 9 mph.

Approaching the former rail bridge over the Missouri River, Boonville, MO

Day Three: The Rain Strikes back!

It was raining when we left in the morning.  The weather people said it would be over by 10 am.  we had breakfast at the casino and rolled out by 830 or 9 am.  Some of us were tempted to wear the same outfit they wore the previous two days but I wanted something different.  I also put a layer on over my legs.  It was 49F and soft rain.  Got to retain heat.   Got to keep legs clean.

We took a Protected bike lane across a bridge to cross the Missouri River.  It was pissing with rain and no one stopped to photograph it.  Somewhere, maybe 3 or 4  miles outside of Rocheport, MO, we found an overpass to stop for a rest where it was dry.  First thing I noticed that my front tire did not quite look right.  The squeeze told the tale of that tire...FLAT.  "Well boys, this may take a few minutes.  Donnie immediately broke out his chair.

Yo, Terminator, Meet the G that Killed me!
Action shot courtesy of Alan
Gotta love the Vaude bags.  Kept my stuff dry and installation and removal are simple procedures.  Donnie in his chair and me fixing the flat.

Hunt for a new tube..  Hunt for levers.  I found the pump easily.  I am a poor packer.  I must like walking circles around the bike and opening every bag.  No need for lectures....Pop off the front panniers and unwind the skewer.  I really wanted a hose to wash the trail off the tire so I could find the trouble maker but I did not need it.  A large tack was sticking out of the tire!  I was relieved.  Just a puncture.  I laughed out loud when I pulled the dead tube out.  It had a patch!  Well, it was not to get another since I had a new tube.  Now that could explain the 6 mph I was doing before stopping. The trail was too soft to let me know the tire was flat.  Once we got rolling again I sped up to 9 mph!

The Tunnel

Yours truly preparing for the tunnel.  Hood on means that it's raining.
Seems to me we did more climbing after passing the High Point.  At least the scenery was better.
We are so small, so insignificant...
A view from a cave.
He has risen!
Now the trail got pretty.  To the right we could view the river.  To the left we saw the exposed rock from when they dug out the rail bed.  Caves and holes and all sort of interesting things to look at.  A few photo ops were taken.  Then a tunnel into the side of a hill.  A turkey vulture dining on something a lots of geese.  One goose took off making quite a bit of noise (wing noise) and almost flew into Joe! He was after the bussard instead according to his honking.  I will mention at this time that crab apple trees were blooming, things were turning green, some sort of purple flower was in the fields and tree leaves were opening from their buds unlike in Iowa.  Spring travels 100 miles per week.

The Two Biggest Lies

I was given the option of merely airing up the tire and riding the 2 miles to Rocheport to find a better place to make the repair.  This far away from home and bike shops I prefer to fix it now instead of risking further damage to the tire.  It was longer than 2 miles.  Distance is always a big lie.

At last we reached Rocheport.  This is an "artist community" with a population of 300 or 150 mail addresses that benefits from tourism and the locally produced sweet wine to get said tourists drunk. (yes I did ask about the local wine to two separate locals here).  No convenience store nor grocery store.  The town looked closed.  We were told that the town basically is alive from Wednesday through the weekend.  Remember, we are off season.  We are the dumb robins that come back in February and wonder why we are buried up to our beaks in snow.  [find photo of robin buried up to its beak in snow]  Alan's legs were exposed and he did not seem to have the sense to put full length pants on and now was battling hypothermia, raced ahead and opened the door of a "closed" cafe and asked if we could warm up inside.  We did.  "We're not open but you can purchase something from the cooler."  "Water main break so we do not have water today."  It was a young couple making artisan bread while listening to NPR or PRI (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me). Apparently he plays in a band and has been on the Ragbrai with said band.  Most of us paid $3 for a Gatorade and bottle of water and ate our own PowerBars or whatever life sustaining edibles we carried with us.  The proprietor said that Iowans bitch about the trail the most.  Not used to riding on gravel.  Yeah, we are a spoiled bunch.  We can bag out 100 miles, and have so on many occasions in Iowa on paved roads and trails, but this week we have yet to break 39 miles.  But then again we rode this trail for 74 miles before seeing the first bicyclist.  Then a stranger walked in.

Neil Miller our host.  Thank you sharing your home with us.
Doesn't take much to get Joe out of his clothes!
Just what the doctor ordered!

Neil Miller, local.  The usual questions, "where you from?  Where you heading?"  Weeks ahead of the bicycling tourist schedule we were a bit odd.  Alan made the connection and got the invite.  "I live just a quarter mile away and have a wood burning stove whiskey and a case of beer.  Come over and dry off and get warm."  Now my Spidey senses were telling me no, we would warm up when we started riding, this could be a trap.  But `case of beer' is the virus that destroys my protective judgement.  No beer but bourbon and aged scotch.

Neil is in his 70s.  And if he had really lived the tales he told he would be an outstanding subject of a book or film.  He was lonely, his wife was out of town visiting a friend,  and wanted to share what he had and show us hospitality.  We took advantage of his dryer to dry our clothes and of the wood burning stove to dry our dirty clothing.  Joe's socks completely melted and mine melted at the top and were worn one more time.  Neil fixed us very good coffee and fed us salad and rice pilaf.  I still could only stare in disbelief that no one but me and Neil partook in the whiskey.  "Just sip it," I pleaded to no avail.  Joe busted out two airplane bottles of Fireball, drank one and gave one to Neil as a gift for his generosity.  Fireball right as he was going to pull out the Johnny Walker Blue....Yeah, $180 per bottle, "nope, $1 shot of Fireball is all I need."


This is where we got off the Katy Trail.

And now the MTK Trail.  Beware of floods.  Lots of walkers here.

An assessment was taken.  We lost 14 miles by calling it quits in Boonville the night before and Jefferson City was another 35 miles away.  It was still raining and even if it stopped the trail surface would still be saturated and hence our speed would not improve.  In 16 miles we could be in Columbia, MO, a university city with all the services we needed.  Our expedition was getting shorter every day.  Survival was paramount.  We needed to be in before nightfall and have food.  Columbia would be the next overnight.  Joe and I laughed was we rode the trail spur, the MKT Trail, to Columbia, when we read the sign, "WARNING TRAIL MAY BE WASHED OUT DUE TO FLOODING."  Christ, we might not be able to ride back this way tomorrow.  But the die was cast and we would not.

But another consideration was aired.  We ain't gonna make it.  We have a lot of miles to make up and services are few and far between.  The fucking rain is never ending and it never is going to warm up.  Alan has been coughing non stop night and day.  Also, while Joe, Donnie and I know from experience that we are physically, emotionally and physically able to put our heads down to the stone and grind this bastard out until we reach our goal we were not sure about Alan.  His first bagger adventure with three fools who do not know when exactly when to stop.  He has a newish bike with an uncomfortable saddle and just got his bags the night before.  Some of our bags are losing the battle with the rain.  The next day was supposed to be dry but we have little faith with the weather forecast. (it rained on our way back to Clinton).  The fun factor was slipping away.  Perhaps calling in the airstrike, having a good meal and a badass drunk tonight was the right thing to do.  I'd hate to think that he would sell off his bicycles because of this trip.  Any sane person might have given up on cycling after this.  I don't think anyone regrets calling it early.  We now know exactly what we will do differently and would not pick the rainy season to ride this trail.  Cut our losses and come back better prepared--a time when services are available, provisions for lack of food and lodging, wider tires and better weather.

As we made our way to the home of the Tigers we stopped and got out Google Maps and eventually stopped a biker and asked for help.  He rode a green 70s Schwinn Suburban or something like that, shifters on the stem, fenders and steel wheels with shit brakes.   His instructions were great including "at the end of the parking lot put it in your lowest gear and climb a very steep hill.  Your Hotel will be at the top.  What a hill! Granny time!  No shoulder on the road.  If you went off you would die or bust some bones at the very least.  traffic, of course.  Raining, yes.  I had to take two breaks.  Donnie and Alan walked their bikes.
Meet the bear.
Kiss the bear, Joe!

At last the Stoney Creek Inn was reached.  We got one of 3 rooms still available.  Then out of courtesy, we rode to the car wash, passing a steak house and a liquor store on the way.  Yes, JACKPOT!!!  Got all the shit off the bikes and then looked at each other "STEAK HOUSE!!!"   Jimmy's Family Steak House was owned by a man from Greece who went to the same college as my father almost at the same time.  "Your father's family rich?  You don't earn a degree there, YOU BUY IT!"  Gus the owner's son took pity on us and let us bring the bikes inside the side door.  Fire code hazard if any ever, no way to get out that door once our horses were parked!  Three of us had the Tiger Special--14oz rib eye, someone had an 8oz steak.  Beer by the pitcher, yes.

Your bike wants steak and beer!

Donnie and I stopped at the liquor store after the feast.  I had trouble making up my mind.  Wanna know when you have spent too much time in a liquor store?  When Bette Milder's The Rose starts playing on the PA.  I mean, good Lord, why that track in this place.  Christ, that's bad karaoke music.  But I could not make a decision.  Donnie was in and out with a 12 of Bud Light but me...a 6 of Lil Helper Mid West IPA from Mother's Brewery and a discounted bottle of Pearl Vodka that I would save for Mary.  And Coke to go with the rum and BV toasted Caramel.  The latter is an tasty drink that I have labeled "Panty Dropper."  BTW, since this is the topic of booze, Keystone Light is the Missouri Cheap Beer as I always saw it at $7.99 a 15 pack!  I did not buy any of that.

34 miles Average Speed 8 mph.

Unfortunately, I was too full to really imbibe in the spirits.  One cocktail and one IPA.  We did venture out to find a bar but did not see it.  It was a mirage that Donnie saw while walking his bike up the hill.  "I saw a sign that said "LOUNGE" in red.  No one else saw it.

Breakfast at the inn.  New rule.  If there is a Waffle House next door to the hotel/motel buffet, go to the Waffle house.  The extraction van arrived on time at 930 am.  Full size Econoline van with 4 place bike rack on back.  Drop bags and load up.  Once again the Vaude panniers were great, no struggles.  And then the long trip back to Clinton, MO.  We were the first of the season to use this service.  Got to have at least 4 people.  Cash preferred but they will do a credit card over the phone.

Sometimes on the way back we drove through the towns we rode through.  They often were much larger than we imagined and had convenience stores and restaurants that could not be seen from the trail.  Take the time and energy to explore.  Alan's SUV and Donnie's trailer were still in one piece each where we left them in Clinton, MO.  We left at stopped in Urich, MO, at the Lumberyard for lunch then continued the trip home.

Waiting for the man.

Will we be back?  Of course.  We have discussed starting on the St Louis end of the trail since we missed that part.  Perhaps go as far as Sedalia or just to Columbia.  We know we missed out on a lot of stuff.  And we know to research and prepare better for this.  It was probably for the best that we ran into these issues just to put us in our place.  But that's part of the adventure.  There's something more to do, something more to bring us back.  I look forward to it on a dry week.

You may leave the Katy Trail but the trail is always with you!

Things I Learned

Don't go during the rainy season
You don't ride as fast or as far on crushed limestone trail surface as you do on concrete or asphalt
If you go on the rainy season have WIDE tires and lower air pressure
Thoroughly plan ahead.  Some of the places we planned to stay at lacked the services we needed
Be prepared for lack of food and shelter
Ticks are out during the last week of March
Dogs are not leashed or restrained
Moteling it with 3 others in a room averages $30 per night.
Explore the towns on the trail.  They may look dead from the trail but have what you need just up the hill
Carry a 6 pack on your bike and take that break when possible.  Good for the soul
Trail brochures may not be accurate
Count on going SLOW
Start at the St Louis end of the trail for the best scenery early on.
Train on gravel
Consider bike packing for this trail
Consider using a fatbike on this trail

The Caboose

Always a fitting monument to a rail to trail path, the lonely caboose.  Plenty on this trail.

Green and yellow cabooses were the most numerous on the trail.  Unfortunately, we failed to get a shot of the rear of these with their yellow chevrons.  This one may have been at the Clinton trail head or in Sedalia.
Windsor, MO
Boonville, MO