22 September 2016 - Reston to St. Louis, MO
In our pursuit of doing bike tours on long rail trails, the Katy Trail stands out. At 240 miles it's the longest rail trail in the U.S. The trail is located on the right of way of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Katy is a derivation of the railroad initials, MKT. The railroad ceased operations in 1986 and shortly afterwards the state of Missouri was able to purchase the railroad right of way using a generous donation from Ted Jones, son of the founder of Edward Jones Investments.
We planned to stay overnight in St. Charles, MO, located just west of downtown St. Louis, and take a shuttle to our starting location in Clinton, the western origin of the trail. While the trail extends 13 miles further east of St. Charles, to Machens near the Mississippi River, but the logistics of getting from Machens back to St. Charles can be difficult. Most shuttles do not pick up in Machens.
Once we checked in to the Country Inn & Suites, we assembled our Bike Friday bikes and went for a short ride through town to mail a letter and pick up some last minute supplies. Later we took a short walk to Trailhead Brewing Co for a good veggie pizza and craft beer. Since we would be doing lots of riding over the next week we splurged with good bread pudding at Mother in Law House Restaurant nearby.
Trailhead Brewing Co
23 September - Shuttle from St. Charles to Clinton
We contracted with Katy Bike Rental & Shuttle, a bike shop and shuttle service, to haul the two of us and our bikes and panniers to Clinton. The shuttle wasn't due until midday so after a good breakfast at the hotel we had time for a short ride along the Katy, located adjacent to the hotel. Lunch was also nearby at Bike Stop Cafe where we could watch trail users pass as we sat outside eating our sandwiches.
Left: Katy Trail through St. Charles. Right: Bike Stop Cafe in St. Charles
Jessie our shuttle driver works part time at the Katy Bike Rental shop. He also works full time as a fireman. After the 3 1/2 hour shuttle ride we arrived at the Hampton Inn a short bike ride from downtown Clinton. With a regular grid of streets it was easy enough to find a quiet residential street parallel to the busy main street as we made our way downtown.
Several food trucks were parked around the courthouse in the public square, one of the largest in Missouri. A BBQ competition was underway but being mostly vegetarians, there wasn't much that appealed to us so we headed back toward the hotel where we found a good Mexican restaurant, El Camino Real.
24 September - Clinton to Sedalia, 44 miles
Instead of carrying all our gear on this tour we decided to use the luggage shuttle service provided by Katy Rental & Shuttle. The drill was to ensure our packed suitcases were at the front desk by 8:30. They would be delivered to our next hotel. After a hearty breakfast at the hotel we headed out to find the nearby trailhead.
During our tour on the Katy we saw very few cyclists. It was 2 hours before we saw anyone riding; two couples headed in the opposite direction. We saw a total of 13 cyclists during the first day. Quite a change from our local rail trail, the W&OD Trail, that is busy even during the week. We did see lots of animals, including a hawk, turtles, snakes, and an armadillo.
Left: Starting our ride on the trail through Clinton. Right: Railcar at official start of Katy Trail.
Services on the Katy are some of the best I've seen. Trailheads are located at regular intervals of approximately 10 miles. Many have flush toilets, sinks with soap and water, and drinking fountains. Safety guidelines are posted frequently. At some of the major road intersections STOP signs are placed for trail users. Otherwise YIELD signs are used.
Left: Typical rest stop about every 10 miles. Right: It may not look like much but compared to most other trails, having a flush toilet every 10 miles is a huge benefit.
While there were usually places to eat along the trail, some of the towns are very small and have few choices. For lunch in Windsor we stopped at the local Subway shop. The chain seems to have displaced most local sandwich shops. While riding through town looking for a place to eat we saw another cyclist who approached us and asked if we were looking for the Rock Island Trail. In Windsor the two trails cross paths. The Rock Island Trail extends for 46 miles west toward Kansas City. An extension is planned that will end in Kansas City, eventually allowing cyclists to cross the state from St. Louis to Kansas City.
Typical sights along the trail.
The trail high point wasn't very high.
A restored train station serves as the trailhead in our destination city, Sedalia. A bike shop and visitor's center have space in the station. We stopped and chatted for a while with the bike shop owner then headed to Hotel Bothwell, a classic old downtown hotel. Several restaurants were located nearby. Our King Suite had two bathrooms and was very spacious with plenty of room for our bikes. We saw lots of older ladies milling about, many wearing fancy hats. The Daughters of the Confederacy were holding a convention in the hotel.
Left: Penny Farthing bike rack in Sedalia town square. Right: Hotel Bothwell entrance,. although the advertised coffee shop is no longer open.
25 September - Sedalia to Rocheport, 50 miles
"Breakfast" was included in the cost of the room. A couple of bagels and muffins were placed on a tray along with coffee. It was enough to get us on the road.
That morning we saw several other cyclists in the hotel. The economic impact of the Katy Trail is huge for the towns through which it passes, estimated at over $18 million from 400,000 visitors a year.
While the Katy trial is a mostly flat former rail bed, we encountered some rolling hills after leaving Sedalia. In general we were headed downhill toward the Mississippi River. Once again we only encountered a few other riders on our way to Rocheport; probably a dozen or so.
After checking out the old bridge over the Missouri next to the Isle of Capri Casino, we stopped for lunch in Boonville, . We also visited the Boonville Tourist Center next to the old train station. The place recommended for lunch, The Katy Cafe, was closed so we ate subs at Breadeaux, the local pizza joint, popular with locals.
Left: Restored Boonville station. Right: Checking out the old Missouri River bridge.
After lunch we crossed the Missouri using the trail located on the south side of the bridge as we headed to Rocheport. Along the way we saw several snakes sunning themselves on the trail. Yates House in Rocheport, our destination for the night, was a welcome sight after the 50 mile ride. Our friendly hosts Conrad and Dixie gave us a tour of the place before we settled in for a shower before dinner. Conrad was a neighbor of Ted Jones, son of Edward Jones, and the major benefactor of the trail. Conrad said that Ted once met with state officials to discuss the cost of completing the trial. When told the cost, he pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check on the spot.
We walked to dinner at Mullberry Grill & Bakery conveniently located a short walk away, adjacent to the trail. We shared a good veggie pizza and Boulevard pale Ale. Back at Yates House we strolled through the beautiful garden and checked out the dozen or so chickens who supplied eggs to the inn. During one of the big floods most of the back yard was under water even though the property is much higher and about a 1/4 mile from the river. We were in bed by 9:30 p.m. I carried my Kindle and my bedtime reading was a good book by an art critic who sat for a portrait by one of my favorite artists, Lucien Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf.
Left: Dinner at Mulberry Grill & Bakery. Right: Yates House in Rocheport.
26 September - Rocheport to Jefferson City, 40 miles
We were up early for a delicious breakfast at the inn of eggs benedict with poached eggs and tomotoes on an English muffin with potatoes and fruit on the side. Since there were very few options for lunch, our generous hosts prepared three sandwiches for us to carry.
Left: Breakfast at Yates House. Right: Yates House garden.
Throughout the day the Missouri River was on our right with tall bluffs on our left. Just outside Rocheport we stopped for a self-portrait at the Ted Jones memorial marker. We looked but weren't able to see the pictographs located above the Lewis and Clark cave. If we had more time we would have ridden the connector trail into Columbia, Missouri's largest city and home of the University of Missouri.
Left: Ted Jones memorial marker. Right: Lewis and Clark cave.
We stopped for lunch at Cooper's Landing, on a porch overlooking the river. We bought drinks and chips and ate the sandwiches we packed . Just before the lunch spot there's a unique sculpture of boats buried in the ground, lined up in a row. We saw almost no boats on the river, and encountered only a few more cyclists on the trail than on previous days maybe 15-20 total. Just off the trial is The Big Oak, the largest Burr Oak tree in Missouri.
Left: Boat sculpture near Cooper's Landing. Right: The Big Burr Oak.
Jefferson City is the state capital and our destination for the night. There is a good route from the Katy into the city on a trail and low-traffic streets. An elaborate set of switchback ramps allows cyclists to reach the trail parallel to the US 54 Missouri River bridge. The Capital Plaza Hotel was nearby, accessible using a route signed as a "Shared Bike Lane/Yield to Bikes." It was a regular lane with a sharrow in the middle and motorists are expected to give cyclists access to the full lane.
Left: View of Jefferson and capitol building. Right: Trail ramps leading up to Missouri River bridge into Jefferson.
It was nice to have several options for dinner. We had to wait a while for our bags to arrive. After showers it was a bit of a hike to an area with several restaurants. It was worth the walk to The Grand Cafe where we had a good meal of linguine pesto and a Boulevard Octoberfest Ale. The bar was taken over by what looked like a political social event. We returned to the room to catch the Clinton/Trump debate.
27 September - Jefferson City to Hermann, 45 miles
A good breakfast at the hotel was included in the tour package. I wanted to check out the Thomas Hart Benton murals at the capitol building. It took us a while to find bike parking. Besides the Benton murals we admired several murals by other artists. The cost of constructing of the building was under budget and the saved funds were used for public art.
Left: Thomas Hart Benton mural in capitol building. Right: Osage Hunters mural by Irving Couse.
Inside the capitol building.
To avoid fretting too much about where to find lunch, once again we picked up lunch at Subway to carry with us. We returned to the Katy and headed toward Hermann. Along the way we encountered a large group of about 40 kids on a bike field trip. Along this stretch of the trail the restrooms were a bit more basic, most without running water with pit toilets. The trail was very rough between mileposts 139-134. We heard that when the trail was built some farmers were not happy and sabotaged some sections near their homes. We saw what looked like several old trail counters that didn't appear to be in working order.
Left: Bike field trip. Right: Missouri River overlook.
We checked into Captain Wohlt Inn in Hermann. There's a trail from the Katy to Hermann that includes a crossing of the Missouri. Most of the restaurants were closed on Tuesday's so we ended up at Wings A'Blazin' for a surprisingly good meal of grilled shrimp, fries and cole slaw.
Left: Bridge into Hermann. Right: Hermann lodgings, Capt Wohlt Inn.
28 September - Hermann to Augusta, 39 miles
After a good breakfast at the inn we did the usual, picked up lunch at Subway. Encountered a few folks riding back to the Katy from Hermann. Got the sense that the trail is a real economic boon to these small towns. At one point during the day we met a guy who was riding over 100 miles that day from Jefferson City to Black Walnut near the end of the trail. He was looking like he was having second thoughts about the trip.
While eating lunch we met a couple of gentlemen from Rollo, MO. The USGS has an office there. One of the riders had worked there for many years, also in the mapping group where I worked. He was a regular on the trail. Later we rode to Daniel Boone's gravesite. It's said that after the burial his remains were removed and reburied in Kentucky but some have speculated that the wrong body was moved and that Boone is still buried in Missouri. In Augusta it was a steep climb into the town. We stopped briefly to sample wine at Augusta Winery on our way to Swan Haven Inn. We also checked out some very nice artworks and custom made furniture at Gallery Augusta.
Left: The Katy Land Trust seeks to preserve the lands in and around the Katy Trail region. Right: Daniel Boone's grave.
We took up the offer of a ride to dinner from the innkeeper. With few restaurant options we were fortunate that the Silly Goose was open, serving locally sourced Southern-inspired food. The portions were generous; excellent salad, shrimp with Cajun spaghetti, a glass of Chandler Hill Traminette, finished off with a cream cheese swirl dessert. Yes, we do like to eat on our bike tours. After dinner I took a walk by the cemetery next to the inn and took some sunset photos.
Left: Augusta Swan Haven Inn.
29 September - Augusta to St. Charles, 27 miles
Over a generous breakfast we learned that professional cyclist Kevin Livingston used to live in Augusta. Livingston rode in several Tour de France races with Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team. He could do plenty of hill climbing training in Augusta by riding the steep roads from the Katy trail into town a few times.
In the town of Defiance we stopped by Katy Bike Rentals, the company that provided our shuttle and was moving our bags from inn to inn each day. They have what seemed like hundreds of rental bikes. As we were leaving, a bus full of school kids pulled up, on their way to pick up bikes for their ride. On this our last day of riding we saw many more riders as we approached St. Charles and the outskirts of St. Louis.
Left: Katy Bike Rentals. Right: At trails end, in front of the Lewis & Clark (and their dog) memorial.
We arrived in St. Charles around 1:30 p.m. and stopped by the Lewis & Clark Boat House Museum. We were not impressed, and the place was overrun by school kids. To make matters worse, the replica boats were out on display elsewhere. We also spent some time checking out the artist's spaces at the Foundry Art Centre. It was disappointing that in a town where so many people bike the Katy Trail, neither place had bike parking.
After checking into the Country Inn and showering we returned to Trailhead Brewing Co. for dinner and beer. Our return flight was the following day so we had some time to wind down from our trip, walk around town, and catch a mid-morning cab to the airport (flat rate of $15).
We enjoyed our Katy Trail tour. For the most part the trail is in good condition, with a few rough spots here and there. The Katy Bike Rental shuttle and luggage service worked well, with our bags arriving most days before us. As with most flat rail trails, there was little variety in the terrain, and the scenery was underwhelming at times. There's a great deal to be said for riding almost completely separate from motorized traffic.