Today marks the beginning of the end of the Katy Trail, the best sustained riding I’ve done (and will do) on this trip. I still have two full days of riding, but after crossing the Missouri River into Boonville, the trail and river part ways. Moving into landlocked territory won’t be as scenic, and the trail towns have no charm like Hermann (home of great root beer) and Boonville (home of great fried pickles).
I ride back to Boonville (named for Daniel Boone) where I nearly got drenched the night before. I stop at the post office to lighten my load by five pounds. A jar of backyard-made honey from my St. Louis hosts, shorts from Banana Republic, unnecessary toiletries, brochures from attractions, and credit card receipts from meals and motels are boxed home.
Post offices in small towns are tidy and staffed with pleasant professionals, a sharp contrast to the ugly attitude and gross inefficiencies of clerks in big cities. In urban areas post offices probably rank below the DMV as a place to avoid at all costs; however, in small towns they are a meaningful source of employment and center of exchange.
I watch customers collect mail, select stamps and chat with clerks on a first name basis. Even in the age of email, Twitter and FaceTime, post offices remain vital to communication and community identity. Every small town has one. Politicians love to assail the bloated, bleeding postal system, but visit tiny town America and see for yourself why the nation’s second oldest federal agency still matters.
Feeling lighter, I consider stopping for another burger and fried pickles at Maggie’s on Main Street, one of the best meals I’ve had on the trip. But it’s already 12:30 PM and I’ve got 42 miles until Sedalia. I won’t arrive until 6:30 by which time darkness will be enveloping the Missouri State Fairgrounds where I’ll camp in the cold across the street from a Pittsburgh Corning facility where smokestacks steam day and night.
The nation’s third largest fairgrounds take me 20 minutes just to find the right entrance for campers. Electrical and sewer hookups for RVs punctuate the grassy area, and I find a clear space beneath a tree to set up my tent. I can’t imagine what this place must be like during the 11-day fair in August that attracts 350,000 people. It’s such a big deal that a nearby community college is named after the state fair!
A quick inspection of the men’s bathroom makes it an easy decision to proceed straight to dinner. Let’s just say that you’d have more privacy in prison. Here cinder block toilet stalls without doors face a row of sinks with stingy water pressure. The shower room is right out of a 1987 high school locker room horror movie. Dry grime coats the tiles. I wonder if there’s even hot water because there sure isn’t at the sinks. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to criticize the city park bathrooms in Hermann.
I bike a mile in the dark on broken sidewalks alongside busy streets to a BBQ restaurant inside an old train car. Crossing five-lane South Limit Avenue into the parking lot is a shock after the car-free Katy experience.
Kebede’s Barbecue is partially housed inside a 1920 Pullman standard rail car that saw service in the Northeast, most recently in 1982 in New Jersey. Somehow it made a cross-country retirement ride to Sedalia. The BBQ joint has been around since 1955, but I’ve had such good BBQ on this trip that this place doesn’t measure up.
Surprisingly, Sedalia is named for a woman, Sarah, who went by the unappealing nickname Sed. Her father named his farming settlement Sedville, but the suffix shifted to Sedalia to sound more pleasing. The Pacific Railroad brought prosperity and growth to the area, and then the MKT (Katy) Railway laid tracks through town and established a headquarters inside a beautiful 1896 Romanesque building, which is now a visitor center.
Aside from this renovated train station and the fair grounds, Sedalia doesn’t have much in its column. However, Sedalia wins my award for best No Parking Snow Route signs. What do you think? The snowman has a hat and sled, yet begs for doodling on his blank face and belly.
Speaking of blizzards, the Diary Queen next door to the train restaurant serves double duty as I order a shake and recharge my devices for two hours before returning to the cold campsite where a security officer is waiting in his truck by my tent to collect the $10 camping fee. I guess that’s how you spend a Saturday night in Sedalia.