Katy Trail 2012, Day One (Clinton to Boonville)

October 22, 2012

So I finally completed my major cycling goal for 2012 – biking the full length of the Katy Trail.

I should say “we”, as my oftentime cycling companion Mr. V joined me for the adventure.  We’d been planning this more or less seriously for several months, and had started to really focus the plan over the past couple months.  We initially thought we would go in mid-October; then it appeared circumstances favored an early November date; finally the original timeline was identified as being best.  We planned a four-day ride starting Wednesday October 10th in Clinton, MO and riding east to end in Machens, MO on Saturday October 13th.

Top-line impressions:  The trip went as planned; no major equipment or medical issues; no major weather (though it was dicey for one day).  In the subjective-experience department:  Wow. Wow. It’s not for nothing that bicycling.com named the Katy Trail as the best bike ride in Missouri as part of its top 50 rides in the US review.  I’d done a fair amount of reading and preparation on the trail prior to our departure, but the actual experience surpassed every expectation I had.  I – we – had an incredible time.  We were already starting to miss it (in anticipation) on the final day well before reaching Machens.  We hope to return next year – same-ish time – to ride the trail once again.

First a little backdrop.  The Katy Trail is the country’s largest “rails-to-trails” bicycle/pedestrian trail.  These are trails that are converted from former railroad lines.  The trail takes its name from her ancestral railway line – the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, often shortened to “MKT” or simply “The Katy”.  The trail is 237 miles long, stretching across most of the state of Missouri.  Much of it follows Lewis and Clark’s path up the Missouri River.  For much of the distance, and at intermittent points, the river flows to the south of the trail while much of the time, the trail’s north offers views of towering bluffs, open farmland, or wooded areas.  The surface of the trail is covered in finely crushed limestone.  The great majority of it is quite firm and feels similar to riding on concrete (not asphalt – picture concrete with a thin layer of fine sand atop it), although small stretches are slightly rougher.

For me, returning from the trail was like emerging from a wonderful swirl of sensory input and constant glimpses into the past.  The major themes of awe-inspiring visions of nature; the railroad history whose spirit is woven into the trail; and the Lewis and Clark parallels were to weave in and out of the four days like a beautiful tapestry.  The Katy is an incredible journey, one which I cannot strongly enough recommend to anyone.

We returned from the trip with many hundreds of pictures, which I have (though it may not be evident!) culled down to a smaller selection which conveys a taste of the experience.  For simplicity, I’ll be posting about the journey in four distinct blog entries, one for each day.

Day 1 – Clinton to Boonville

Day 1 was one of our two “long days”.  The itinerary we’d drawn up called for a ~70 mile day, then ~50 miles, then ~70, then ~50.  This gave a nice rhythm to the journey – long day, short, long, short – but was mainly driven by the content along different stretches of the trail.  There was plenty to see and do each day; but relatively speaking, day 1 offered less “stuff” than day 2, so it made sense to make hay that day and reserve some time for sight-seeing on day two.  Add in that friends of Mr. V’s – Mr and Mrs. K – graciously agreed to put us up for the night in Boonville (about 70 miles in) – and day 1 was pretty set.  Days 2-4 followed from there in the planning phase.

Mr. V and I live in Overland Park and Ottawa (Kansas) respectively, so just over an hour from Clinton, MO.  A friend of ours agreed to drop us off in Clinton on Wednesday (thank you Mr. C).

Above:  Mr. V in the warm van on the way to the chilly start in Clinton.
We arrived in Clinton about 7:30 AM.  Mr. C dutifully took a “the journey begins” shot of us at the Clinton sign, then returned to his warm van and drove off.

Yes, the warm van.  Mr. V and I were lulled to a false sense of comfort on the drive over.  The outside temperature was around 40 degrees and, in that inimitable first-cold-weather-of-fall way, felt colder than that.  It would warm up to palatable level within an hour or two, but the first hour was a chilly one.

We’d arrived prepared for the journey.  We each had panniers on the bikes with a couple changes of clothes; poncho’s in the event of rain; some fuel/food for the journey; things like chapstick, toothbrush/toothpaste and the like, mobile phones with chargers, plus a couple spare tubes and various tools for common bike repair.

When we arrived at the Clinton trailhead, another couple fellas were just unpacking their bikes and getting ready to set out.  Talking briefly to them as we all got things squared away, these guys had apparently also had this trip in mind for some time and were excited to finally be doing it.  They were planning to go something like 110 miles this day – in order, they said, to take things slower when they entered wine country.  They had experienced a flat before their ride got underway, but had taken care of that and were pushing off just before we did.

We filled up our water, got on the bikes and rode west.  Yes, west – we were purists and wanted to truly do the trail end to end. The trail actually begins 1/2 mile or so west of the Clinton trailhead.  We pedaled to the intersecting road there, got the “trail starts here” picture, and set off east toward Machens, 237 miles away.

Mr. V and I had previously been on the Katy only once.  We’d made a recon ride here a few weeks earlier and gone about 50 miles – to Green Ridge and back.  Therefore, over 1/3rd of today’s riding was not new to us, but from that point on everything would be.  We spent the first hour or so in conversation and trying to keep our fingers warm on the handlebars.  Not 5 miles in, we passed those same fellas we’d seen in Clinton – fixing a flat.  Two flats in the space of basically a couple miles.  They clearly had things well under control, so we wished them good luck and moved on.

Below – one thing I am super impressed with is how well organized/how informative the Katy Trail is.  It’s almost as much like riding your bike through a 240-mile museum complete with informative exhibit displays as it is riding on a bike trail.  Essentially every trailhead (of which there was one on the average every 10-12 miles or so) contained panels very similar to the ones below – showing where you are, what is of interest between there and the next town west, same with the next town east, various bits of local history or interest, etc.  Each contained a grid like the one which starts this post, showing mileage from every point on the trail to every other point.  Everything on the trail is communicated in terms of mile markers – and the trail has one every mile of its length.  This made it very convenient and easy to be on the lookout for things that interested you.

On our recon ride, Mr. V and I read many of these boards.  But on this ride, we chose to simply photograph all of them to later fully read at our leisure – which at this writing I’ve not yet done but am really looking forward to.  It’s my guess we will find many things here which will inform things to look for in our return next year which we might have overlooked this time.

Between Clinton and Calhoun, we didn’t take any pictures on this ride.  It was because we’d already covered this ground in our recon ride; but I now regret not grabbing at least a couple shots for the blog.

From Calhoun to Windsor was about 7.5 miles.

Above:  This is the Katy Trail Windsor Bicentennial train car at the Windsor trailhead.  One of the handful of train cars parked on a section of track along the trail.  At least one or two of these you could climb into (we did so in Boonville); but most you could not.

Above:  There were several of these older telegraph / telephone polls just off the trail in this stretch as well as in a couple of stretches further down the trail.  These were the old telegraph lines used to send signals from train station to station along the rail.

Above:  Roughly 20 miles in from Clinton you reach the highest elevation point on the trail.  There is a sign, an info board (below) and a couple benches here before you push on to Green Ridge.

Above:  Taken from the Green Ridge Trailhead.

Near the trailhead, we decided to ride into & check out the little town of Green Ridge.  Shortly after turning onto what appeared to be the main street, we found a little park with a lovely tribute to war veterans.

Leaving Green Ridge en route to Sedalia, we were officially in virgin territory.  This took us past our recon ride of a few weeks before; the remaining ~90% of the trail would be brand new!

We’d decided to eat at Kehde’s BBQ (pronounced Katy’s, just like the trail) in Sedalia.  A friend and coworker, BL, hails from Sedalia and offered this as her favorite place to eat in the town.  It was a hop, skip and jump off of the trail – exiting the trail past the overpass (below), you walked down a hill and rode a short 1/2 mile or less on the sidewalk up to the restaurant.

It was a cool little place all right – TONS of trappings from the railroad history of the town.  You had your choice of a traditional and comfortable seating area, chock full of railroad paraphernalia, or instead could climb a flight of stairs and eat in the “Kehde Flyer”, a long dining room in the form of a boxcar.  We opted for the latter but grabbed many pictures of the decor on the lower level.

This was a very cool place with an awesome reverential vibe for the railroad era past, and the food was wonderful too.  Good call BL.

Leaving Kehde’s, we returned to the trail and continued.  Shortly before the actual Sedalia trailhead was one of the handful of fully-restored train depots along the trail.  This was easily (along with Boonville) one of the two coolest trailhead-type stops on the trail, and we spent some time looking around the combo shop/museum.  Tons of pictures from the railroad museum follow.

Below:  This is possibly my favorite part of the Sedalia museum, although I found all of it very cool.  They had a display in a middle room with more-or-less postcard-sized pictures of, near as I can tell, the train depot at EVERY town along the trail.  It was a strange sensation looking at all these older pictures from a bygone age, of all these towns which I’d seen in my research for this ride and through which we had been, and would be, riding as part of the journey.  This was something I found extremely cool.

In addition to the awesome museum, the Sedalia station housed a Katy Trail-themed gift shop, at which I bought myself a sharp Katy Trail hat.

Shortly past this place was the actual Sedalia trailhead.

When leaving Sedalia we crossed paths with two other cyclists, younger guys.  We cordially nodded here in Sedalia, and saw them on the trail headed in the same direction we were; we otherwise thought nothing of it till we saw them again while going through our trailhead routine at Clifton.  They, too, pulled in and we all talked for a little while.  Turns out they had ridden the full trail in the other direction, turning around at Clinton and coming back, over the course of a week or so.  They’d ridden the Katy Trail or portions of it many times, and this time they were actually camping versus staying in hotels.  They were hauling comparable gear to myself and Mr. V but with the addition of camping gear – tents and cooking utensils.  Nice guys; they were taking their time so we also made it to Pilot Grove before they did, but they again arrived before we left and we chatted a while again.  We didn’t see them again the remainder of that or the next day.

From Sedalia we rode another 14.5 miles to Clifton City.

From Clifton City to Pilot Grove was about 12 miles.

A word here about elevation on the Katy Trail. The direction in which we were riding, west to east, is the easier of the two directions.  The trail, running along an old rail line, has no dramatic elevation changes over its course; but in general, the elevation does decline from west to east.

An interesting aspect of our itinerary is that nearly all the major (relatively speaking) elevation changes occurred in day 1.  From Clinton to Calhoun is gradually descending.  From Calhoun to the high point is gradually ascending (with some variation); the trail is fairly level to Sedalia; then there’s a nice descent into Clifton City, prior to a nice climb up into Pilot Grove.  From Pilot Grove to Boonville, where we stopped on the first night, is a nice descent.  Starting on day 2 and going to trail’s end, the elevation is essentially flat, but there is a gradual downward grade.

Above:  At milepost 213.2, this is one of the few original signal lights standing on the Katy Trail.  Seeing this, as with several other things on this journey, was very much like stepping out of a time machine into an older day.  It strikes me in a way I cannot adequately verbalize, how remarkable it is that we are standing at the same precise “coordinates” in a spatial/geographic sense but yet removed in time from this bustling older era of rail travel over this line.  It was a sensation that I was to experience again and again over these four days.  These old decaying, abandoned ghosts of machinery and engineering that one encounters along the way stand in mute testimony – perhaps a little sad if you can forgive the literary license – to a different time.

About another 10 miles beyond this signal light was the Pilot Grove Trailhead.

As mentioned earlier, friends of Mr. V were putting us up for the night.  They actually lived just north of the trail a mile or two before the Boonville trailhead, so Pilot Grove was the last true trailhead for the night.  We hopped off the trail and had a short run-up west and north to our waiting host and hostess.

Above: Mrs. K (picture taken the morning of day 2).

Our gracious hosts Mr. and Mrs. K were beautiful people, who as my mom used to say, spoiled us something fierce.  We arrived in time to eat a freshly-cooked chicken-and-rice meal with tomato sauce and fried apples (we both had seconds of everything!); and for dessert was some kind of pie (I’m not an expert, but it was fabulous) warmed in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream.  Heavenly end to a long ~70 mile day for two tired but enthusiastic riders.

A heartfelt and sincere THANK YOU!! to Mr. and Mrs. K for their gracious hospitality!

They had two guest bedrooms ready for us; I hit the sack pretty early, maybe 8:30 PM; as I understand, Mr. V followed suit less than half an hour later.  We were able to get a good long night’s rest prior to day two – our “short day” mileage-wise but with much cool stuff to see.

Stay tuned for day 2!


4 Responses to “Katy Trail 2012, Day One (Clinton to Boonville)”

  1. jd said

    Great ride Bill. First timers often focus on finishing the trail while leaving much of the other stuff to later rides. You did a nice job of balancing the two your first time out. Congrats. jd

    • Thanks very much jd. It was an incredible time. I think we did do a decent job balancing seeing the sites versus making decent time. If I were already retired I’d love to take 10 days to do the trail. Even 15 days wouldn’t be boring. As is, I think we struck a good balance.

  2. reneeriley said

    Thanks for your great blog.My wife and i are planning to ride from St.Charles to Sedalia,startng on Sept. 12th. find your site helpful.We are 66 and in good shape.We haven’t been riding our bikes too often and wondering how many miles a day would be best We are retired and have no timeline. We’d like to take longer,but the B&B’s all seem to be pretty pricy. Are there lower cost option other than camping along the trail? Thanks for your blog.good job. You can see our blog at where in the world are barry and renee we are also members of servas,an organization
    that you mind want to learn about. We host people from all over the world in our home in Hawaii.Only wish there where more members in Mo. Mahalo Barry

  3. jofjltncb6 said

    My eight-year-old son and I have been talking about making this trip, perhaps as early as 2015. I’ll need to buy a bike for that though. =P (Currently, he rides his bike while I run…but have little interest in running the entire trail. Perhaps hiking it later in life, but no time for that in the foreseeable future.)

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