bagger – In cycling terms; one who is self-contained, using panniers and other gear carrying bags on their bike to tour for multiple days. See also, bike touring.
The Katy Trail, the longest Rails-To-Trails project in America (225 miles), is a trail I’ve wanted to ride since hearing about it a couple years ago. It’s one of those things that when you first hear of it, it strikes you in a certain way that piques your interest and is then banked in the back of your mind as “one of those things I have to do in my life.”
September is my birthday month, and who in their right mind would work on their birthday? So of course I had to capitalize on some time off work and make an extended weekend for some adventure. I thought riding the Katy Trail would be the perfect present to myself. I ran the idea by my friend Brian and he was also up for the challenge.
I got planning right away. We would ride most of the trail in four days, bike camping along the way. About a year ago I was at Half Price Books taking a look in the travel section and I ran across “The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook” by Brett Dufur. Although it was published in 1999, I figured it’d still be a good guidebook for future use, and hey, it was cheap!
The first task to planning the trip was figuring out the logistics of getting to where we needed to be. I found the best option was for us to make use of Amtrak. We would park the car at the Kirkwood, Mo Amtrak depot (parking is free for train riders) and take our bikes and gear on the train, head three hours west out to the town of Sedalia, then bike back to the car over four days.
The next task was figuring out how many miles to ride each day and where we would set up camp. Finding a place to stay was a big factor in dictating how many miles we’d be riding. On the Katy Trail you can’t camp anywhere you please, and campgrounds are few and far between. After much research on the web I found a campground at Franklin, a hostel in Tebbetts and another campground in Augusta. Here’s how our adventure went:
Day 1: Sedalia to Franklin (41 miles) Thursday, September 23, 2010
To start our journey we drove from Cedar Rapids, IA to the Amtrak station in Kirkwood, Mo to catch the 8:59 a.m. train. The morning was beautiful, sunny and warm, but not too hot. As the 3-car train arrived, we rolled our bikes and gear to the first train car. We hoisted the bikes up the steps and leaned them against the wall of our train car, found our seats and were off.
After three hours of train riding, we unloaded the bikes, geared up and headed out to find the Katy Trail in Sedalia. We rode through the scenic downtown and with a little directional help from some locals, found our way to the old train depot.
The Katy Trail is well marked. We followed the signs and painted arrows marking the road through some residential streets before getting to the crushed gravel trail that we’d be riding on for about 200 miles.
We were both excited to be starting our journey on the Katy. Today would be a shorter riding day since we spent the morning traveling.
From Sedalia the trail followed some cornfields before leading us into a tree-lined section. After a few miles I noticed how tired I was feeling. I thought it was probably the getting up early that morning and the relaxing train ride that contributed to my fatigue, but soon we figured out it was the slight upward grade of the trail that was making the going tough.
As we continued on heading for Franklin we saw very few riders. There was another couple that were baggin’, too, some solo riders and an older man with a flat tire who we stopped to help.
One thing I love about cycling is that fellow cyclists are so friendly. As Brian pumped air into the man’s tire he told us all about his journey on the Katy, that he was riding for charity and what we should expect up ahead on our journey.
At this point in our first day of riding I was beginning to run low on my water supply. We hadn’t passed through many towns that had amenities and the going was tough, so I was very thankful to have passed by the guy with the flat. We were able to help him out and he had water to spare and filled our bottles up for us. Thank you fellow cyclist!
After the low-water incident the truth was setting in, the Katy Trail would be harder to ride than I’d thought. And for good reason if you take into account the factors we were working with. (No, I’m not going to admit that I was at all out of shape. I truthfully was in decent shape.) For one, the trail is a mix of crushed gravel and dirt, which causes lots of friction. Second, the past few days had brought the area enough rain to saturate the ground – as was evident by the standing water next to the trail – so the ground is a bit mushy and sucks in your bike tire. And third, when the trail is either a 0% or 2% grade there’s no chance to coast on your bike. You literally have to pedal the entire time to keep moving. Not only does this wear on your muscles and energy level, but it also wears on your saddle area.
The first day was full of excitement to get riding on the trail, but also a wake-up call to what lied ahead. This journey would be difficult, but I was still excited and up for the challenge. And from what I’d read, I knew that Missouri wine country was awaiting.
Toward the end of our first day we reached the biggest town yet, Boonville. Along the trail at each town there is a green sign showing the name of the town plus a covered kiosk with benches for taking a rest and some maps and information about the area. At Boonville a local rider was taking a break under the kiosk. He was very friendly and directed us to the nearest watering hole. We told him that we were riding most of the trail and that we’d started in Sedalia, 30 miles from the beginning of the trail. He reassured us that we’d made a good choice starting where we did since the stretch between Clinton and Sedalia is the least scenic and rather monotonous. In retrospect, I’m so glad I hadn’t planned to conquer the entire trail in our four days, we were already pushing our bodies’ capabilities as is.
We continued on into Boonville, which took us up a steep hill. It was refreshing to use some different muscles to ride up that hill. We found the downtown at the top where lots of people were wandering around – a lady told us they were having an art festival. We looked around and checked out an Irish bar that only had a few beers on tap, and Guinness only in a can! Really, at an Irish bar? So we crossed the street and found another place that had a few more selections – no Guinness on tap but a Boulevard would have to do. There’s nothing like a cold one after hours in the saddle.
We finished our beers and then asked for directions to the local grocery store to get food for our dinner before heading on to Franklin where we’d be setting up camp. I bought some brats and deviled eggs. I knew the protein would be good for tomorrow’s ride.
Heading out of Boonville was a scenic exit as we crossed a long bridge over the Missouri River. One mile more found us in Franklin at the Roundhouse Campground where we’d be setting up camp.
We were the only tent campers at the campground; a few RVs were parked nearby. The campground had bathrooms but they were locked up and one needed a code for the keypad to get in. We had been looking forward to a shower after the day of riding and washing off all the grit and grime that was stuck to our sweat coated skin. Unfortunately, the campground attendants were out for the night and we were unable to get into the showers. It wasn’t until the next morning that we got a call from the owners to give us the code to the bathrooms. This was after a somewhat sleepless night for me.
I’ll have to explain about my tent. The age of my tent is unknown. It’s a single walled, one-man bathtub bottom tent held up by two poles and four guylines. It was a tent my dad used on his camping trips with his buddies. From the color of it I’d say it’s probably 30 years old or so. It has a few patches in the screen of the door and some duct tape to reinforce the bottom. I tested out the waterproofness of the material at home and it worked fine. It’s also a great size and fit in my panniers nicely.
I’d only used the tent a couple times before this trip. Unfortunately, our first night of camping on the Katy showed my tent’s weakness.
At some point in the night it began to rain, or, I should say downpour. The wind blew and the rain fell most of the night. I woke up around midnight to the feeling of some wetness where the walls met the floor of my tent. I put on my glasses, turned on my headlamp and found I had puddles of water on all sides of me. It appeared that the seams of my tent were failing at being waterproof (I didn’t think to check them during my test). I quickly packed up all my gear into my waterproof panniers, even my sleeping bag, and stayed on my sleeping pad using it as a dry island from the water pooling around me. If I had known the code to the bathhouse I probably would have slept in there. I even got out of my tent and ran over to the bathrooms to see if the overhang from the roof left enough dry ground for me to take shelter under. Unfortunately the wind blew the rain around enough that everything was damp.
So there I was, standing in the rain pondering my options. I remembered seeing a covered kiosk by the main office of the campground, I could try to sleep there. It was a ways away and I probably wouldn’t have gotten much shut-eye from being exposed to the elements. I finally decided to crawl back into my tent and found that my sleeping pad could keep me dry from the pools of water around me. I propped my feet up on one of my panniers to keep them dry and managed to get some sleep.
In the morning I woke up to clearing skies and no rain. Whew! I had managed to stay mostly dry during the night. I asked Brian if he had gotten wet at all during the downpour. If I remember right I think he said, “What downpour? I’m totally dry.” (He was using a REI Chrysalis solo tent.) When I packed up my tent I literally had to lift it up as high as I could to let the water pour out the door before packing it up. I was beginning to think that this might be my tent’s last trip, but I needed it to last me one more night. I hoped for clear skies to come on Sunday night.