After getting cleaned up last night, I had a great night’s sleep in my own bed. I’m sure everyone can relate to the comfort of climbing in your own bed after a long journey. It just feels like home. Throughout our journey, we had very great accommodations from the various churches and Deacon’s houses we visited. But there is still nothing quite like being at home.
The Katy Trail has a bit of a mystique about it. Most people who enjoy bike touring have it on their bucket list. It is kinda like a baseball fan wanting to go to Wrigley or Fenway. The Katy opened in 1990 and was one of the earliest successful rails-to-trails projects, and arguably one of the most successful in garnering interest. It is the longest single contiguous rail-trail, although I would say that the combination of the Great Allegheny Passage + C&O Canal makes for a longer continuous off-road ride at about 330 miles.
For me, part of the enjoyment of the tour is the getting ready: the research, reading, watching videos, finding blogs, and talking to people who have already ridden the path. It was harder than I expected to find out a lot about the towns along the path. After riding it, I think that is because many are closed up old towns, whose soul lies in the past. The best book I was able to find was “The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook” (10th ed.) by Brett Dufur. It was last published in 2013 and could use some minor updates, but overall was a good resource. I do recommend this book if you’re considering riding the Katy. Dufur’s book has a small chapter on each of the little towns and areas along the way with history and some details about services. Some of the services information is no longer up-to-date.
Riding the Katy was a very good experience. We were able to ride all the way from Machens (the farthest east end) to Clinton (the farthest west end) with only about 3 miles of road riding around the town of Sedalia. That’s 240 miles with 26 trailheads, wandering through the beautiful prairie and countryside of Missouri.
The scenery along the Katy is pretty. I expected to see much more of the Missouri River – but we really didn’t see much of it. The Katy and Missouri are relatively near each other from the Eastern end all the way to Boonville, before parting and going different directions. But even on the eastern part of the trail, the Missouri was often a few hundred yards or more away. So when we did get a nice view of the Missouri, it was a welcome sight.
I was a little surprised about how much of the trail was out in the open. Much of the trail is shaded by a semi-mature canopy of trees. I’d guess about 50-60% of the total trail has trees lining it. During the early morning or late afternoon, the trees would do a good job of providing shade, however when the sun was directly over head, most of the canopy wasn’t thick enough to provide much shade.
In the prairie areas, there was little-to-no shade at all. During mid day, we found ourselves picking the left or right side of the trail depending on if there were any trees at all next to the path, just hoping to get a few seconds of shade here and there.
I found the farm country between St. Charles and Jefferson City to be pretty… but a bit repetitive after a while. The trail is incredibly flat all the way from Machens to Boonville, which doesn’t allow for you to break the monotony by standing out of the saddle for a climb, or coasting down a grade. It is just a continuous beat of putting one pedal in front of the other until you reach your destination. Personally, I like a little bit of variety in my ride to help make the miles pass.
The prairie between Sedalia and Clinton was my favorite of the farm areas, though. It was very windy up there, but the wind seemed to make the fields come alive, like watching the ocean on a beach. The waves of air would ripple across the grain or corn, causing them to dance in rhythm.
The western section between Boonville and Clinton provided the most diverse scenery and riding. There is very little flat riding, only gentle grades, typically about 1-2%. There are larger sections of tree canopy and more interesting rock formations along the sides of the trail. Also, the trail is more compacted and solid here. The surface was mostly older, so it is less dusty and took less pedal power to keep the wheels moving.
We didn’t really find very many places along the trail we would have liked to explore. Certainly there were the bigger towns like St. Charles, Jefferson City, Hermann, Sedalia, Boonville, and Clinton. But one thing Joe and I have enjoyed on other trails is the experience of going into smaller towns along the way and meeting the people there. There is something quite beautiful about the culture of small town America. Sadly, most of the little towns we passed through appeared to be closed up – storefronts all vacant and very few people to be seen anywhere.
The one town I would like to go back to is Rocheport. The area near Rocheport has amazing bluffs next to the trail. The town itself is well maintained, with many nicely restored older homes. Sadly, I didn’t get any good pictures of the town to share.
Jefferson City (aka “Jeff City”) was a very developed town, as you would probably have assumed. Since it is the state capitol, there is a decent economy, lots of restaurants, three bike shops, and so on. If you’re going to ride the Katy, I recommend an over-night in Jeff City.
As usual, however, it is the many people we meet along the way that really makes bike touring so memorable. So many people took such good care of us. Before this trip, we knew none of them. For the most part, we just called them a few weeks ago and asked if they’d help us find a place to rest – and remarkably, we were able to find housing at every stop. At every stop, no exceptions, we found friendly people who went out of their way to get to know us and help us out. We shared meals, prayer time, and stories with total strangers, and by the end of our short visits, we have new friends.
We certainly had our share of challenges along the way. Joe had a series of flats, most probably caused by having lighter-weight tires. I had one flat as well, caused by a very sharp pebble on the path. Then there was the heat, very strong and continuous headwinds from Sedalia to Clinton, and one day for each of us where our bodies just didn’t feel up to the challenge. But Joe and I helped each other through, My advice: be well prepared for basic repairs and carry a couple of extra tubes. It’s much better to be putting your tube patches on in the evening after the ride than taking the time out in the hot sun to set a patch.
As I’ve noted a few times, this is the dustiest trail I’ve ever ridden anywhere. The eastern half had a lot of fresh gravel on it, and I could see a ‘rooster tail’ of dust kicking off of Joe’s tires whenever he was in front of me. The dust is so fine that it gets on everything and inside your bags. If you are carrying clothes, food, or electronics, I strongly recommend putting them inside plastic bags, inside your panniers.
Before and after pictures of rinsing my bike off in St. Charles at the end of the ride:
I really enjoyed seeing another state by bike. The Katy gives a really nice way to enjoy Missouri. I’ve driven across a few times, but the bike takes you through parts of the country that most people would not see unless they were local residents.
And that’s what bike touring is all about for me: seeing the country at a slower pace, meeting great people, and enjoying the time away.
Here are a few tidbits of advice if you’re contemplating a ride on the Katy:
- Use the widest tires your frame can fit. You won’t likely need any aggressive tread, but you will want thick rubber. The extra weight will be worth it in flat protection.
- Carry 2 extra tubes and a patch kit. You’ll likely need it.
- Take 3-4 water bottles, especially if it will be hot. There are very few opportunities to get water on the eastern half of the trail. The western half seemed much better for water.
- Carry one meal worth of food and if you’re traveling on a Monday, check for restaurants ahead of time. There are long stretches without any opportunity for food.
- Pick your milage carefully. We pushed 70+ mile days for some segments. That’s probably a bit too much for most riders. The surface is pretty slow, so I would probably recommend 45-55 mile days, if possible.
- Take lots of sunscreen. Use it.
Overall, the Katy was a very nice ride. I’ve checked it off my bucket list. I’m not necessarily feeling like I will want to repeat the Katy unless there was a group of friends or some special event to draw me. The Katy is definitely nice, but not at the top of my list of favorite trails. It needs more small-town charm along the way, and a few more opportunities to explore. If I were to recommend a part of the Katy, I think my favorite part is the area between Boonville and Clinton. A nice 2-3 day ride out/back along that section would be a great long-weekend ride.
Here are some interesting statistics about our adventure. Remember that we cut off part of the round-trip by hopping from Sedalia to Hermann by Amtrak during our return:
- Total Miles by bike: 384
- Total Calories burned: 13,400 (approximately)
- Number of full pedal rotations: 156,968 (or 313,936 left + right strokes)
- 30 Hours, 52 Minutes of time in the saddle.
- Gallons of water/tea/gatorade consumed: I have no idea. Lots and lots.
- Flat Tires: Joe 4, Matt 1
- Number of Honey Stinger waffles consumed by me: 11. Yum.
- Number of meals that included french fries: zero (but don’t ask about bacon, I lost track)
- Number of days of rain: zero
With that, this brings to an end the 2017 Katy Trail tour for Joe and me. I have appreciated the prayers, texts, messages, and emails of support while we were gone. Thank you.