Family and friends,
As we reported in an earlier missive, we bicycled the western third of Missouri's Katy Trail from Clinton to Boonville in four days of pedaling and very much enjoyed the ride and the scenery. But there was even better in store because we were getting more pedal-fit and at Boonville the trail crosses the Missouri River and turns down its broad, beautiful valley.
We were mighty pleased to reach the Mighty Mo, but to say that it would be a steady companion for the 150 miles to St. Charles would be misleading.
For tens of thousands of years, the Missouri has roamed back and forth across a wide bottomland between limestone cliffs on the north side and the Ozark Border foothills on the south. Until the last century or so it flowed where it pleased, rearranging its course after every big flood. Humans long ago learned to be wary of this powerful river. (In recent decades, the US Army Corps of Engineers has somewhat tamed the river with levees and wing dams, but the river never sleeps and the Corps can’t afford to snooze either.) As we pedaled our way down-valley it became ever more clear that the gents who built the MKT Railroad had a love-hate relationship with the river. On the one hand, its flat-as-a-pool-table floodplain made superb terrain for laying rails. There were virtually no railroad cuts and not many fills beneath the railbed. On the other hand, as the interpretive panels along the trail so often pointed out, the river now and again gets up on its hind legs and rampages across that floodplain, carrying away rails, ties, trestles, ballast and road grade, not to mention the occasional entire town. Trying to take advantage of the terrain while also keeping the tracks as far from the actual river as possible, the surveyors tucked their line up against the foot of the limestone cliffs, hoping perhaps that the Missouri wouldn’t notice them there and take umbrage.
We pedaled mile after mile beneath trailside cliffs, dramatic scenery that we enjoyed.
The other side of the coin is that because of the MKT's river-averse tastes, actual river views are infrequent.
We delighted in those places where the Missouri meanders over to pinch up against the cliffs.
Below Boonville, we began to pick up our pace, averaging something like 25 miles a day. On our biggest day we clocked 32 miles–admittedly modest by hard-core standards but we were proud of it. While actually on the bikes we were probably rolling along at close to 10 miles an hour but our progress was slow because we kept stopping. Picturesque bridges and scenic views, rest stops and snack breaks, times when we stopped for no other reason than to savor the experience.
Couldn't pass this mile marker without a celebration and we're pretty sure we've got a picture of ourselves at every single trailhead, where the kiosks are fashioned after railway passenger platforms.
Then there are the 26 trailheads along The Katy. Each of them features richly detailed interpretive panels that describe local history and trail highlights: Indians, settlers and early day personages like Daniel Boone, the flowering of the MKT and its eventual decline, the rise and demise of whistle-stop towns, local industries from wineries to coal mining, agricultural pursuits, landforms and wildlife, historic floods–there is just so much of interest and all of it so carefully researched and well written. To top it off, the panels often include wonderful historic photos. If you put them all together it would make a very interesting book, something we suggested to the MO State Parks employees we’ve run into.
At times it felt like we were reading our way across Missouri, and once the trail joins the river we also began to encounter stops to read about Lewis and Clark’s expedition in 1804.
In the early days, our leisurely approach sometimes made us feel a bit chagrined when chatting with other cyclists. Many were doing The Katy in a matter of days, covering 40 or 50 miles a day. “We’re just taking our time,” we’d offer apologetically. It was when we met a pair of pedalophiles from Ohio (one looked to be in his early sixties and the other not much younger) that things snapped into focus for us. They’d started at St. Charles that morning (a destination we reckoned we'd reach in another three days), still had miles to go on this day, and were riding to Clinton with a side trip to Columbia, then turning around and coming back – a distance of 500 miles. And they were riding it in just seven days! “How much can they really be enjoying this?” we mused. It was along about then that we stopped apologizing for our pokey pace and started gloating. It became a matter of pride that we were enjoying every mile, pausing just for the fun of it, reading every word at every stop, and taking lots of pictures.
"How the heck could we pedal past places like these and not take pictures!?" we wondered.
So in our leisurely way, “we proceeded on,” to borrow a frequent phrase from William Clark’s journals, and covered another 130 miles of Missouri’s Katy Trail.
Cheryl and Keith