2020, the year that took away bicycle events, gravel rides, get togethers. The year that took away interactions with coworkers, friends, family. The year that took away jobs.
2020 is also the year that thousands of people purchased bicycles for the first time in a long time and started riding. Thousands of them out there, on the trails, some even on the streets. E-Bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, cruisers, you name it, they are out there. We were out there with them.
Originally fall 2020 was supposed to be consumed with the Pedal The Cause charity ride here in St. Louis, followed by the Cuban Gravel Crisis in Cuba, Missouri, and wrap up October with the Big Sugar Gravel ride in Bentonville, Arkansas. Well, all that got tossed out the window. With all the rides gone, we started planning our own adventure. Taking on the full 237 miles of the Katy Trail, for myself, again, and for Wagner and Luigi it would be their first time. We were the three bearded amigos.
During initial planning we had upwards of 8 guys that were going to do the ride, but as we got into the month of August and I started pushing for people to commit, the numbers dwindled.Back at the beginning of September we did a shakedown ride to get gear tested out. We'll possibly do another post in the future on what gear we took/used/didn't need to carry, but I won't cover much of that in this writeup.
Day 1: Clinton to Pilot Grove (60 miles)
Day 2: Pilot Grove to Portland (90 miles)
Day 3: Portland to Machens (90 miles)
Planning out the ride we decided to do the same direction as three of us did back in 2017, West to East, starting in Clinton, MO and finishing in Machens, Mo. Why west to east? Three reasons:
- The wind typically blows west to east.
- The elevation on the Katy Trail is primarily on the western half, so get that out of the way earlier in the ride.
- We live near St. Louis, figuring we wouldn't want to do a 3-4 hour car drive after finishing, a 30-45 minute drive home is much more appealing.
Originally we planned to do this over 4 days, not the aggressive three day ride like '17. The plan was to start late Thursday morning, finishing up late Sunday morning. That all changed a few times though, when we departed Clinton on Day 1 we had the above route in mind.
Katy Trail Stats
- Direction: West to East
- Number of Days: 3
- Dates: October 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 2020
- Total Distance Rode: 249.5 miles
- Total Time on Trail: 27 hours 48 minutes
- Total Moving Time: 19 hours 53 minutes
- Longest Day: Day 3
- Shortest Day: Day 1
- Max Speed: 25.5mph
- Moving Average Speed: 12.5mph
- Overall Average Speed: 9mph
Day 1 – Thursday 65 Miles Clinton to Pilot Grove (Strava Ride)
The trip started with everyone loading up bikes and gear in my Tahoe at 630 in the morning on 10/1. We drove from Wildwood, MO to Clinton and arrived around 1030am. From there we loaded the gear on to the bikes, and I rode over to the trailhead restroom to throw on my riding clothing. My father in law snapped our photo and we headed out on the trail around 11:10am.
The weather on Day 1 was great, though we had a headwind most of the day. It was somewhere between 60 and 70 most of the day and sunny except for when we were under the tree canopy provided throughout the trail.
We made it to the High Point on the trail, 955 feet above sea level, my Garmin showed 935 feet at that point. It didn’t take long before we were stopped on the side of the trail replacing a tube in Luigi's Trek.
After Luigi's tube, the rest of the day was rather uneventful. Lots of slow climbing up the trail, I forgot how much elevation to expect on the western side of the Katy Trail, total for the day according to my Garmin was 1300 feet of ascent. With the Katy, you're never going up steep hills, but it is hard some times to tell if you're flat, downhill, or uphill. MOST of the time it looks like you're going uphill.
We pulled into Sedalia sometime after 2pm and jumped off the trail east of the bridge that goes over Highway 65. You can cut through a field into a neighborhood that resides behind the various fast food restaurants on 65. We rode for a bit until we got to the area near Burger King so that I could fill my vegan desires with an Impossible Whopper. We couldn't go inside due to covid, so we rode our bikes through the drive thru and sat down on the curb of a closed business across from BK to eat our food.
As we went through Sedalia we expected to come across some of the BAM riders, a group doing a 5 day ride from Defiance to Clinton. We never came across them, though we did see a sign for them directing them off the trail, so we figured they must of made it to their "camp" before we got into town.
There's a Katy Trail Detour in Sedalia, basically a section of trail that simply doesn't exist yet, so you have to head off on some city/country roads to get to the trail again. Going through on a Thursday afternoon, I don't think we came across a single car while on that section of the ride.
We pulled in to Pilot Grove around 5:30 on Thursday night. We found a local who told us what our food options were in town Deon's Bar and the Casey's Gas Station. I called the local police number to tell them we were going to stay the night in the park, they asked for contact info, how many were in our party, and how many tents/hammocks and what color tent. There was no charge to stay in the park for the night.
We headed over to the park, setup the gear for sleeping, and got changed to grab a bite to eat. We headed back to the trailhead where Deon's was located and locked our bikes up outside to grab a bite to eat. I think I ate a small salad and tater tots for dinner that night, along with a Coke (mistake due to the caffeine). Deon's was nice enough, mid-Missouri bar, so, smoking occurring inside and Adam's Family on an old rear projection TV. It is also a package liquor store, so I looked to see if they had anything I wanted to try to haul on my bike for 3 days, fortunately I didn't find anything I needed.
From there we stopped at Casey’s, I picked up 2 packs of brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts and then we headed back to the camp. My bike had managed to flip itself over a wall while I was inside, fortunately no damage was incurred with that incident.
It was supposed to get rather cold that night, so we were concerned about how warm we would be in our hammocks. I had my rain tarp down low, trying to keep it close to where the hammock was to try and keep some warmth inside my space. I had a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and an insert for the sleeping bag for extra warmth. I ended up not having the sleeping back zipped up all the way most of the night. I was uncomfortable all night, but not from the cold, I just simply couldn't get into a position that worked for me in the hammock and had a horrible night of sleep.
I know that Luigi also had the same problem, because I could hear him moving around throughout the night as I lay awake. He unfortunately also had the discomfort of being cold as well. His sleeping pad didn't provide near the insulation that mine did, and his body isn't as well insulated as mine either.
Wagner slept in his tent, and while chilly, I think he actually got a comfortable sleep.
Day 2 – Friday 75.41 Miles Pilot Grove to Tebbetts (Strava Ride)
We set our alarms for 6am on Friday and got up well before the sunrise to start packing up all our gear and load the bikes back up. We left the park around 7:15am and headed over to Casey's to grab some breakfast and a coffee, only to find that it was "closed for cleaning"... Thanks covid.
We stopped at the trailhead to top off the air in our tires. Not 60 seconds in Wagner managed to BREAK the stem on his tubeless tire/wheel setup, somehow it didn't lose any air. The valve stem was clogged with sealant, even broken off with no valve in place, the air remained. We debated just riding with it like that, but I encouraged him just to go ahead and throw a tube in it. We were at a trailhead, had a pump, and a place to sit. Might as well change it there instead of running the risk of it losing all air 5 minutes outside of town.
Especially because the Casey's was closed we were hungry for breakfast and decided to find something in Boonville. We arrived in town around 9am, maybe a little before, and found the Main Street Diner, a fine establishment with good food and great service. After a warm meal, heat, and a few conversations with a couple of other cyclists we decided to head back to the bike shop at the train station in Boonville. Google said the store was to have opened 9am, and since we were down two spare tubes (I still had my original 2) it was a good idea to grab one for both Luigi and Wagner. Unfortunately when we got back over to the bike shop they had a note on the door "Due to covid, closed, open Saturday and Sunday"... So that was that. No tube replacements would be purchased for the remainder of the trip.
Out of Boonville we made it through Old and New Franklin, and on to Rocheport. The Tunnel outside of Rocheport is always a cool site. Before getting to Rocheport though we had to deal with a little detour. It was actually pretty easy to reroute, and not have to go on the highway anywhere. You basically ride up to the closure, and take a right on the gravel road, hang a left, up and over the levy and you'll pass through a dry creek bed. We actually went to the left, climbed a grassy level and rode that east back to the trail/detour. It wasn't wet for us. Once you're through the creekbed you are basically back on the trail and on your way.
Out of Rocheport we started looking for the Burr Oak tree. Another must see stop on the Katy trail.
From the tree we continued on, planning to stop in Hartsburg, MO for lunch. The route was uneventful, we passed by the spur that connects the trail up to Columbia, MO. Shortly after that we came across three guys sitting on a bench on the side of the trail. I didn't pay too much attention to them, made the assumption that they were some college kids from Mizzou out for a ride, when passing by them one of them yelled out my name. I realized it was Justin, another buddy who told me he was riding the Katy Trail that week too.
They were riding Wednesday - Sunday staying in hotels and B&Bs along the way. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and then got on our way to Hartsburg. Upon entering Hartsburg we started scouting out some locations for lunch. It was after noon on Friday, so we assumed that we would find something open. A local at the trailhead said that everything was closed until the weekend, I looked online, and sure enough, online results told me the same thing. We decided to ride around town and check to see if the bar, or Dottie's were open, even though the online results said otherwise. The bar was closed until 3pm, but as we pulled up to Dottie's the open sign was flashing. In I ran, and sure enough, they were open!
We sat down and had lunch at Dotties, followed by a trip to the restroom there and then back on the bikes for the afternoon. The plan as we left Hartsburg was to try to find a gas station where we could refuel, and make it to Tebbetts for the night. We made it down to the North Jefferson trailhead and didn't come across a gas station or grocery store. We pulled out the old Google and looked to see what our closest option was for a grocery store. It was going to easily be a 1 hour round trip to get something, so we started discussing if we had enough food for the night. Could we survive on snacks, and then do 25 miles in the morning to get to The Corner, in Rhineland, MO?
We discussed it and decided we could. So we headed further east to Tebbetts to look for the hostel. Upon arrival in Tebbetts it was pretty easy to spot the Turner Katy Trail Shelter (the hostel) so we jumped off the trail at the trailhead and rode on over. There was a rider outside having a meal at a picnic table when we pulled up, we said hello and I went inside to check the place out. There was another rider inside, John (or was he Jim?). John was from Oregon, but apparently had been on the road for 7 years, over 60k miles bikepacking. He was headed back west, hoping to make it to New Mexico or SoCal and then perhaps take a break.
Jim was from Springfield, IL, and had only a few days earlier started after his wife had given him the go ahead for a quick trip. He was heading to Sedalia to take a train back home. Wagner, Luigi and I all took the opportunity to get our bikes inside and unpack some things for the night. A local drove up and let us know that there was a fish fry in town, Jim was the first one to grab a "plate". The three bearded amigos all cleaned up, took showers, and walked over to where the fish fry was occurring. There was quite a line, and for the first time in a few days, pretty much everyone was wearing masks. (Masks aren't a big thing in Mid-Missouri, but the group putting on the fish fry had them on.)
Only Wagner actually grabbed a box from the fish fry, myself being vegan, and Luigi eating extremely clean, there wasn't anything for us. So Wagner got a good meal, and we ate our planned bars/snacks for the night. We aren't really sure who was putting on the fish fry, but I assume it was a local church. They told us that this was the first one that they have had since Covid hit, and even though they ordered extra fish, they were quickly running out as they received far more orders than imagined.
By 7pm both Jim and John were in their bunks, so the three of us got everything ready for our own bunks and I think by 730pm the lights were out. I ended up going to sleep with my air pods in, with the noise canceling enabled and Ohms from Deftones playing. I can't tell you the last time I went to sleep with music going (wifey won't let me), but I was out like the 13 year old me when I would listen to the radio every night going to sleep.
I did end up waking up a little while later when the music stopped and turned it back on. About 11pm I remember waking up with sore ears, but the noise canceling was still working so I kept my buds in. Sometime early in the morning I took them out as the noise canceling had stopped. Our alarms went off at 6am and we packed up our gear and headed out the front door of the hostel.
Day 3 – Saturday 108.71 Miles Tebbetts to Machens to Black Walnut (Strava Ride)
The morning started early in Tebbetts, taking off from the hostel around 7:10am. The plan was to ride to Rhineland and get some breakfast, there would not be many options between Tebbetts and Rhineland to grab anything else. As we stood outside the hostel making last minute adjustments before riding off, I mentioned to the amigos that I really wanted to try to get the remaining 105 miles completed that day, instead of breaking it up into 2 days. The last real option for camping was going to be Defiance, MO, that would put our total for the day around 70 miles. Wagner and Luigi agreed that we would try to finish, but if something came up, weather, mechanical, we would be open to finishing on Sunday.
The route would take us through Portland, but there were no food options that we know of open early there, we had breakfast at The Corner in Rhineland a month ago, so we were pretty sure it would be worth the 25 mile ride to eat there. Before getting there though we needed to get through the rock fall on the trail just west of Portland. We were told by fellow riders that it was passable, though the website said there was no detour for the fall. We rode up to the rock fall and started to make our way up and over the rocks.
Rock Fall Detour
This was no easy task, we actually climbed up one route and found that there was no way down, so we backtracked and went a different way. Definitely an exercise in patience and balance, and carrying heavy bikes. We made it down, towards the river, and came across a beaten down trail that took us the rest of the way. I'm pretty sure if we had just started looking prior to the rock fall we likely would have found a path there people had gone off the trail and made their own trail around the rocks, we took the hard way instead. The trail where closed was extremely overgrown, you can tell it isn’t getting traveled much, it is amazing how much nature can take back on her own.
Breakfast in Rhineland
From the rock fall to Portland, and then on to Rhineland was uneventful. It was starting to sprinkle a bit as we arrived at The Corner, so we quickly got ourselves inside and found a table to sit down. I ordered oatmeal, hash browns and a bowl of fruit, and plenty of coffee, the same order I had back in early September. I will admit though, this meal wasn't as pleasing as it was a month earlier. The oatmeal was super watery, and not very warm. The bowl of fruit, instead of being mixed berries, was canned peaches, and the hash browns were far from toasty as well. The coffee though, the 5 or 6 cups, hit the spot.
From Rhineland we headed east, the plan was to ride to Marthasville to get some lunch at the Gas Station south of the trail/ballfields. While we had breakfast it had rained quite a bit, and it would continue to spit and sputter the rest of the day, but it wasn't raining hard on us at any point while riding. We ended up having fairly dry trails, with little rooster tailing or mud throwing until we got much closer to St. Charles.
The weather kept the traffic down, we pulled into Marthasville and headed straight to the gas station to grab some snacks, the first time we picked up food from somewhere other than a restaurant besides my pop-tarts at Casey's on Thursday night. While at the gas station, we saw a group of classic cars, probably 20+ deep, pass down the road, including a Shelby GT 350H that pulled in to fill up at the station. We took our snacks and headed back to the trailhead to sit down and eat. As we were there a couple pulled up on bikes, they were daytripping from Hermann. They asked about restaurants, we told them there was one in Dutzow if they wanted to ride on a little further.
By Dutzow we were ready to take a break every 8-10 miles, we were well over 175 miles for the trip by this point, so I wasn't concerned about taking a few extra breaks, though I was worried that if we took too long on the breaks it would stretch our day out past the available sun. We were in the end game now, the home stretch, on parts of the Katy Trail we regularly rode.
We stopped again in Augusta, grabbed some waters from Kickstand Katy and took the opportunity to have a few snacks and use the restroom at the trailhead. There was an event going on in Augusta, but there were very few bikes on the trail all day. The event, we believe, had something to do with the local brewery, but we weren't about to try to ride around and see what it was all about, it was time to continue east.
We ended up riding through Defiance and stopped again at the Weldon Spring trailhead, as we passed through Defiance I was probably 10 miles as the crow flies from my house. The ride from Weldon Spring took us to the Green's Bottom trailhead for another break/snack, and from there we rode in to St. Charles for our last bathroom break of the trip.
From St. Charles to Machens it was around 13 miles, so we placed a few phone calls to our wives, to let them know we would likely be ready for pick up around 630pm. The plan was to ride to Machens, and then ride 3 miles back to the Black Walnut trailhead for pickup, as there is not a way for cars to get out to the Machens trailhead.
St. Charles to Machens you ride past cricket fields and junk yards, followed by nothing but farmland. You will pass through the low point on the Katy Trail, 436 feet, though if you blink you might miss the sign, especially at dusk. We quickly rode through Black Walnut, not seeing any of our vehicles there yet. As we neared the end of the trail we came across the section of trail that had recently been repaired from a washout. As we went through this area, probably .25 from the end of the trail, I hit a soft spot on the trail and about wiped out. I pictured myself losing the front wheel and face planting right there, 1/4 mile from the end, fortunately that didn't occur.
Eastern Terminus Machens
Machens provides the terminus for the ride, we pulled in there at just about 106 miles for the day. Just after 6:20pm, over 11 hours after we left Tebbetts that morning. We didn't stick around Machens too long, we took a few pictures, rang the bell (maybe broke a bell too, see video later) and then jumped back on our bikes. We wanted to get back to Black Walnut before dark, and that was going to take some riding. We started off slow, but as we plugged along we started picking up the pace, from our earlier day pace of 12-13mph we were cranking along at 15-16mph and even up to 20 mph in a final sprint to the trailhead.
When we arrived, everyone's wives and families were there, except mine... Natalie showed up a bit later, I said hello to everyone there and started unloading my bike and its gear at the trailhead. Taking the bags off so that I could get the bike back on the rack of the Tahoe without struggle. Just about the time I had everything ready, Natalie and my kids pulled up. Hugs and congrats were shared and then I packed up the Tahoe so we could get on the road and find some food. I planned on another BK Impossible Whopper as my reward for finishing.
Overall it was a great trip. Only two flats, no other mechanical issues on any of the bikes. My trusty Niner RLT performed flawlessly with its Maxxis tires (so glad I dumped those Panaracers).
Will we do this ride again? Never say never, but I can't imagine I will do it again trying to camp. It would be much easier to just try to plan around B&Bs or Hotels and the Hostel, rather than trying to carry all the gear needed for camping. That's not to say I won't try bike packing again in the future, I definitely will, but I'll be buying a tent and selling off my recently acquired hammock gear.
If you're thinking about riding the Katy Trail, do it. It is such a great ride. While we didn't see much bike traffic on this trip, we totally expected more. The trail has been packed with new riders in 2020, I hope they continue to come out. We did benefit from weather that kept riders away on Saturday, but weather that wasn't so miserable that we suffered on the ride because of it.
We didn't get to see much fall color, perhaps doing the ride 1 or 2 weeks later in October would help with that.
Who knows what big adventure is next. I hope to continue riding the gravel bike this fall, and have already cleaned it up from the trip and removed all the racks used for the trip. Some time later this fall I am sure we will start planning some adventures for 2021. I am already in for the Dirty Kanza 2021 (or whatever the new name becomes) so I will plan to continue training for that. I have real concerns about being able to finish that 200 miles in the 21 hour time limit, so I need to really keep up on riding and training between now and early June 2021.
I'm also really interested in crossing Missouri by boat. Perhaps that will be something to plan in 2021.