The Katy Trail
© Ed Noonan 2002

On March 16 and 17, 2002, I drove 520 miles from Michigan to St. Louis, Missouri intending to bicycle about halfway across that state on the Katy Trail with my friend Lou. The Katy is a 225 mile long crushed limestone rail trail that parallels the Missouri River. Lou had to be back in St. Louis by Thursday, so we limited our trip to 2-1/2 days each way. Hoping to ride 220 miles over a five day period, our destination was Jefferson City, the state capitol, about 110 miles west of our starting point.

On Sunday, we loaded Lou's bike and gear into my car and drove to St. Charles, a St. Louis suburb that serves as the current trailhead. The "trail conditions" board, on which there was a place for a printed condition report, merely said "Have a nice day."

Lou rode his Trek hybrid. I rode my Trek recumbent. Riding self-contained, we both carried 2 rear panniers and a trunk bag. Intending to stay in B&Bs and eat in restaurants, we did not bring any camping gear or food. Since Spring had not yet sprung, our panniers were filled with foul weather clothing.

click on photos for enlargements

 
Ed - Trek R200

 
Lou - Trek hybrid

It was great to get out on our bikes for the first ride of the year. Though there were still no leaves on the trees, the air was fresh and the birds were chirping, so we were intent on having a great time. We enjoyed seeing a .7 mile long beaver pond that some incredibly industrious beaver had constructed adjacent to the trail. With a 10 foot drop, that dam was an amazing feat of engineering. We also saw a blue heron and numerous other birds. The rocky cliffs were fascinating, as were some old buildings.

 
old farm house

We didn't get on the trail until after noon, so decided to stay in Augusta after only 28 miles of riding. The ride from St. Charles to Augusta was quite pleasant, but it was overcast so we didn't take many pictures, thinking we'd take pictures in the sunshine on the return trip.

It was early in the year, so there was apparently only one lodging choice in Augusta: the Lindenhof, a very nice, albeit expensive, B&B.

 
Lindenhof B&B - Augusta MO

We paid $75 each for our rooms. The proprietress said that the rooms were regularly $120/night, but that she had discounted the price because she couldn't serve us breakfast since she was busy with her income tax preparation. She was nice enough to give us a tasty bottle of local wine: Augusta Winery's River Valley Red, a sweet dessert wine.

Augusta is a German town, so we had German food for dinner at the Augusta White House restaurant. I had saurbraten ($23 total) and Lou had goulash ($21).

On Monday, we ate breakfast at a greasy spoon, then wandered around town for a while before resuming our journey.

 
old house in Augusta

We had been warned that riding as early in the year as we were, the Katy Trail could be soggy. It was. After only 11 miles of riding west from Augusta, we had pedaled hard enough to work up an appetite. Ready for lunch before noon, we stopped at Loretta's Place in Marthasville. We could tell by the number of senior citizens there (ourselves included), that we had found the mother lode of lunch bargains. For only $4.50, plus 50 cents for canned Cokes, we grazed at an all-you-can-eat buffet that included a good salad bar, chili, homemade vegetable soup, corned beef and cabbage (it was St. Patrick's Day), chicken fried steak, and desserts.

 
Marthasville

 
old grain elevator

From Marthasville west, the trail surface was like beach sand. It appeared that the limestone had deteriorated over the winter and that in some places DNR had actually dumped sand onto the trail, presumably planning later to augment it with fresh crushed limestone. The trail desperately needed grading and compacting. With the 20 inch slicks on my recumbent, at times I couldn't maintain the 2.5 mph necessary to keep the bike upright, so was forced to push my bike about 2 miles through the sand. Even Lou struggled despite knobbier 700/38 mm tires on his hybrid. Whenever possible, we tried to ride in tire tracks where the sand had been compacted by the weight of a motor vehicle.

 
sandy trail conditions
(note my skid mark)

 
sandy trail along the Missouri
(note tire tracks)

Sinking into the sandy trail, we averaged less than 4 mph for much of our 38 miles. We never saw another cyclist all day, but because we could see footprints and tire tracks in the sand, we could tell that two other riders had preceded us . . . pushing their bikes too. Somewhere west of Treloar, their tracks stopped. They probably jumped into the Missouri River and swam. Maybe they carved a dugout canoe out of a fallen tree and paddled. I'm sure that Lewis and Clark were faster rowing upstream than we were on our bikes. It was one of the worst days of riding I had ever experienced.

With nearly 300 lbs riding on the 20" rear tire of my recumbent, it was not the best choice for riding in poor trail conditions, but with shoulder surgery scheduled for just three weeks later, I could not have handled the pain that an upright would inflict. Though there isn't time to get four letter words out before crashing on a short wheelbase recumbent, I managed to mutter some two and three letter words, like "ugg," "arf, " and "sh" as my tiny tires ground into the sand.

 
Lou and Ed smiling in spite of it all

Near Hermann we abandoned the trail in favor of Rt 94 for about 3.5 miles (at 18 mph) and then rode across the narrow bridge into Hermann without incident.

We stayed in Hermann at Harbor Haus Inn and Suites. While my room was less charming than the B&B in Augusta, breakfast was included for only $45 and the folks working there were exceptionally accommodating. After long hot showers, Lou and I were ready for a filling dinner. When it became apparent that we were having trouble finding a restaurant that was open on Monday, the gracious B&B manager drove us to a good Mexican restaurant. We ate so much, that we walked back to the B&B.

Awakening to rain on Tuesday, we abandoned our plan to ride to Jefferson City, opting instead to have Frank, the B&B owner, drive us back to Augusta. For the hour long return drive with our bikes lashed to a flatbed trailer, Frank accepted our offer of $50. He offered to take us all the way back to St Charles for another $50, but we did not want to be wimps, so declined.

It rained incessantly from Augusta to St Charles, so the trail leg that had been decent became soggy too. While not as bad as the segment from Augusta to Hermann, we experienced another grueling day of cycling. It was cold (around 37 degrees), rainy, muddy, slimy and downright miserable. At one point a sliver of seashell from the limestone trail paving managed to penetrate my brand new front tire. When we stopped to fix my flat, Lou and I were both showing evidence of borderline hypothermia. Despite the fact that we were properly attired in good rain gear and layers of thermal clothing, we were soaked clear through to the underwear and were dropping things when we stopped to fiddle with my tire.

When we got to St Charles, our clothes and bikes were caked with about 1/2 inch of limestone mud, so we went directly to the Trailhead Brewery. Telling them that were were not properly attired as their sign at the entrance required, we indicated that we needed to use the restroom to dress properly. Dry clothes, some excellent dark ale and peel-and-eat shrimp at the bar saved the day.

Our five day bike trip was shortened to three. It worked out to be a three day Century. I'm not complaining. I got a fabulous workout. When my brother was training to play football, he used to run on the beach. It was good exercise, but not as tough as riding a recumbent at 2.5 mph through beach sand.

I'm invigorated now and ready to start the 2002 cycling season.

 
Ed's muddy bike



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