The next six days on the Katy Trail are the pinnacle of the entire trip. Confidence in my ability and my bike soars to an all-time high. I even begin dreaming about riding back to New York. In reality, I’m not even halfway across the country the first time across, and (spoiler alert) unfortunately the second half proves far more challenging. My confidence tumbles as obstacles and expenses pile up.
Route 66 road conditions are terrible. I catch a flat riding into Tulsa. I get assaulted riding out of Tulsa, ending up in the emergency room. Tires wear out in Texas. I can’t find any hosts between Oklahoma City and Santa Fe. Nighttime lows dip into the 30s. Fierce headwinds across New Mexico shrink my range to 20 miles a day. I run out of daylight and sleep in a gas station parking lot.
But for now I am blissfully ignorant of the future and riding safe and strong on the Katy Trail. The weather is good, the leaves are changing and I have everything I need. The trail combines scenic riverside views with vehicle-free biking that overlaps with 1804 Lewis & Clark expedition. I'm loving every mile.
Comfortable camping options make this an economical adventure. For sleeping I pay just $111 for five nights, $85 of which was for a hotel in Jefferson City. A few interesting interactions with locals and two cool trail towns fuel a sense of American discovery and genuine delight while riding this shared bike.
The Katy Trail is one of America’s recreational hidden gems. OK, so who is this Katy? First of all, she’s a railroad, not a person.
The Katy Trail follows 240 miles of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT), better known as Katy. It’s the nation’s longest rail-to-trail thanks to a $2.2 million donation by Missouri native Edward Jones, Jr., son of the founder of Edward Jones investments, which is headquartered in St. Louis.
Day 1: St. Charles to Augusta
Are we there yet? Half of Day 1 is riding 25 miles out of St. Louis to the nearest trailhead, which for me is at St. Charles. Another 22 miles on the trail gets me to the Klondike Park campsite in Augusta, Missouri.
Katy is easy on the mind and the tires. The crushed rocked surface is soft and the grade is almost table flat, with a few dips at road crossings. There’s no getting lost and the late afternoon sun illuminates my path.
The only challenge is gnat swarms. These lazy bugs hang in the air doing nothing. They coat me like poppy seeds on a bagel (mmm… bagel). They get caught in my arm hair, fill in my beard, and stick to the sun cream on my face. My instinct is to wipe them away, but new bugs immediately take their place.
Fortunately Klondike Park has excellent facilities and I’m able to clean up and pitch a tent in a comfortable location with electrical ports and a covered picnic table. At the campsite I meet a biker from Arkansas who heard about me from another biker on her way to LA. Huh? I never met such biker, but guess that word is getting around among cyclists.
The sun is setting and it’s time for an improvised dinner of dry tortilla chips from Trader Joe's (see them strapped to the trailer?). I regret not buying a jar of salsa, which would have been worth the weight. No matter, I've got chocolate covered pretzels for dessert. I'll need to save some to fuel me tomorrow for my longest ride yet.