I never really thought about exploring the state of Missouri until my bike-riding friends and I found out about the Katy Trail. Katy Trail State Park is the longest developed rail-trail in the country. The park, built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT), is 240 miles long, with 26 trailheads and four fully restored depots along the way. One section of trail has been designated as an official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
The majority of the Katy Trail closely follows the Missouri River, so trail users often find themselves with the river on one side and towering bluffs on the other. The trail travels through many types of landscapes including dense forests, wetlands, deep valleys, remnant prairies, open pastureland and gently rolling farm hills.
It was about a nine-hour drive from Marietta to St. Charles, Mo., at the eastern end of the trail. Nine of us took three cars, our bikes and riding gear, along with everything we needed for seven days of riding the trail. We all had panniers in which we packed clothing and bath essentials. We had to fit all we needed into those panniers - a challenge, but workable.
Nine Marietta area residents rode bikes more than 240 miles across the state are pictured at the Lococo House Bed and Breakfast in St. Charles, Mo. From left: Gene Barry, Katy Lustofin, Karen Barry, Judy Baker, Steve Simonton, Ann Simonton, Roger Kalter, Elin Jones and Joe Baker.
The cars stayed at the first night's bed and breakfast, and the next morning we took a shuttle to the western terminus - Clinton, Mo., where our ride began. We rode 36 miles that day to Sedalia, Mo., where we stayed at the Hotel Bothwell - a classic example of a small town historic hotel, which opened in 1927. The next morning we headed out on a 37-mile ride to Boonville, another small town with old-time character.
One of the things we noticed about these small Missouri towns is how friendly, helpful and accommodating the people are. Even the cars stopped for us at all the crosswalks - something we don't often see. One example was the cab driver who took us into Boonville for dinner. She brought her 11-year-old daughter with her and wanted a measly $8 for the 15-minute drive in her Ford Fiesta. The bed and breakfasts went above and beyond also - especially with the home-cooked food! Quite often, food left over from breakfast, or dinner the night before fed us along the trail.
The next day was a 25-mile ride to McBaine and then a 9-mile spur to Columbia. The most amazing part of that ride were the more than 100-foot high bluffs immediately to our left, and the Missouri River to our right. Columbia is the home of the University of Missouri, or as the locals call it, "MIZZOU".
Some of the B & B's were a real treat to stay in. The Globe Hotel in Hartsburg, the Concord Hill B & B in Peers and especially the Lococo House B&B in St. Charles gave us wonderful recuperative powers.
Also, some of the little towns along the Katy like Hermann and St. Charles gave us a taste of the picturesque Midwest, with quaint downtowns and high quality hometown restaurants. There are plenty of wineries in Missouri, too - something I never realized.
Our final three destinations were Hartsburg, Bluffton and Peers. All three rides took us by beautiful views of the huge Missouri River as well as the bluffs interspersed with caves and amazing rock formations. All along the way the wildflowers, birds, turtles and frogs added to the beauty of the ride.
When you're riding a bike for an extended period of time, you have a chance to let your mind wander. This was a very different trip than the Natchez Trace ride last summer. This ride was on crushed limestone, not pavement. We all had hybrid or mountain bikes - heavier than our road bikes. Each of us was carrying anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds of gear in our panniers. It made riding much more challenging. At times I had to consciously encourage myself to just keep going. But being out on a bike in the fresh air, gaining strength mentally and physically helped me realize how much challenges enrich your life. Why do I go on trips like this? Aside from the great times spent with friends, it's a way to accomplish something new and different. It all makes me feel that no matter how much I sometimes question my own sanity, the rewards far outweigh the sore muscles, legs, back, shoulder.
Final note: When you get to be 65, and you've ridden a bicycle about 35 miles every day for a week, you tend to make groaning/grunting noises when you sit down or get up. At a rest stop on the last day, I was overheard emitting one of those noises. A rider in the same shelter said, "Oh, that was you. I'm so glad! I thought it was me!"
Judy Baker, along with eight others from the Marietta area, rode bikes more than 240 miles across the state.