I am proud to say that I have some unique and interesting friends that present me with exciting opportunities for adventure and new experiences. When fellow biking buddy Brian was laid off from his job, he decided to take advantage of not having daily obligations and ride his bicycle from Iowa to D.C.
Brian’s cycling journey started in early October. His dad and I rode the first 40 miles with him as a send-off ride for his great adventure.
Weeks later, Brian made it safely to D.C. and from there he headed to Brooklyn to stay with his brother, Lee, while looking for jobs around New York. As Thanksgiving approached, I was in communication with Brian and we started planning for me to visit. I booked a flight and made it to Brooklyn on Thanksgiving Day just in time for dinner.
The following day we planned to explore New York. Since we both enjoyed biking and the weather was unusually warm for November, we decided the best way to see the city would be by bicycle. I borrowed a bike from Lee and Brian rode his new used commuter folding bike. Brian was excited to try out his Craigslist find. I was intrigued by this unique contraption and its compactness. When folded, it is about the size of a small suitcase. Brian showed me how it worked by unfolding it and securing various pins and screws that transformed it into something rideable.
I’ll admit that I was somewhat nervous about riding a bicycle in downtown New York with it being Black Friday, but I was willing to give it a try knowing that bike commuting had been growing in popularity in the city.
Starting out in Brooklyn near Prospect Park we made our way to Manhattan Bridge to cross the East River and ride into Manhattan. The bridge has a two-way bike lane that made crossing easy and safe for cyclists. Once in Manhattan, there were plenty of bike lanes that took us where we wanted to go. Surprisingly, Brian and I had most of the bike lanes to ourselves allowing us to get to places like Times Square and Central Park with ease. It seemed that biking was a great way to tour the city as opposed to navigating the subway system or taking an expensive taxi.
The biggest obstacle for us while riding was the wall of shoppers crossing the street near Macy’s. I felt relieved to be in our seemingly protective bike lane as opposed to being on a sidewalk among mobs of people rushing around eager for a good deal.
On our way to Central Park we stopped for a quick lunch before checking out the famed Manhattan Apple Store. While stopped for a brief break, a man took notice of Brian’s folding bike and remarked about it being a great find and he knew some models could be very valuable. At this point I was so intrigued by the odd-looking bike with tiny wheels that I asked Brian if I could take it for a spin. I hopped on and took a brief ride. The steering was odd because of the small wheels and overall it felt a little rickety. I figured you sacrifice the solidity of a normal bike to gain the portability and utility of the folding bike. Or perhaps this was not one of those high-value folding bikes.
Heading back to Brooklyn we took the Brooklyn Bridge to Lee’s apartment. A well-marked bike lane took us across the bridge. This was the most congested part of our ride as we had to dodge a fair amount of bikers and meandering sightseers not paying attention to the painted lines dividing walkers from cyclists.
By the end of our cycling adventure I was getting the hang of navigating through the busy city. I am now convinced that biking is indeed a great transportation option in NYC.
Weekend bike camping trip from New Glarus to Madison, Wisconsin
It’s been two years since Michon and I visited Madison, Wisconsin for a self-guided bicycling tour. READ: Fell in love with a city – Madison. That was my first time visiting and I left knowing I’d be back.
This time around Brian and I (unfortunately Michon couldn’t make this trip) took a whole weekend to ride the trails in and around Madison. I did some online research using this useful ride planning website: Bike Madison.
Saturday morning, hit the trail towards Madison taking the Sugar River State Trail to Badger State Trail. The trail is flat, packed limestone then paved outside and around Madison. This is about 30 miles.
Once in Madison, head to Lake Farm County Park to set up camp and then explore the many bike trails around Madison, find a yummy dinner and enjoy the nightlife.
Sunday morning, have breakfast at Bradbury’s Coffee in downtown Madison then head back to New Glarus.
Go to New Glarus Brewery for a tasting and tour. Buy Wisconsin beer.
Leaving Friday after work, we got to New Glarus easily taking scenic highways through small towns and dairy land countryside. After setting up camp we unloaded the bikes and took the trail from the park into town for some nightlife. We stopped at an old bar called Puemple’s Olde Tavern for some Wisconsin brews. I had a New Glarus beer called Two Women and Brian tried the Totally Naked. Both were very tasty. We tried another drinking establishment down the street for one more cold beverage (not sure I even saw the name of the bar) and then decided it was time to get some rest for our ride the next day.
Around 9 a.m. we were packed up and ready to ride the 30 miles to Madison. We hopped on the Sugar River Trail which lead us to the Badger State Trail and into Madison.
The trail is well groomed and the miles added up easily. We rode through a neat old train tunnel that was dark, damp and misty inside. It would have been hard to navigate without our bike lights because you couldn’t see the end from the start. The cool air inside the tunnel was a refreshing break from the warm, muggy air outside.
Before we knew it we were ready for lunch and near the town of Paoli. The town isn’t right off the trail so to get there we ended up having to backtrack a couple of miles. We were both hungry so we decided to try a little cafe called the Bread and Brat Haus that was having its grand opening.
The food was delicious! We both had a brisket sandwich on a homemade bun that came with a mixed green salad for $6. Next stop was to the cheese house for some Wisconsin curds and to a food stand for freshly-picked strawberries.
We hopped back on the trail and soon it turned to pavement taking us into Madison via the South West Commuter Path. The bike trail system in and around Madison is top notch. The paths have their own “road” signs and there are even on and off ramps where other paths intersect. Another noticeable aspect of riding by bike around Madison is that car drivers are very respectful of cyclists. More than once a car slowed down to let bicyclists cross in front of them when there wasn’t a sign telling them to do so by law. Thank you very much Madison drivers.
We continued on our route which took us into downtown near Machinery Row Bicycles. Interesting how a bike path leads directly to a bike shop, just saying. We had to stop of course and take a look at the huge selection of bikes and gear. Then we decided to cross the street and quench our thirst at the Stop Back In bar before heading to our campground.
The Lake Farm County Park campground is about six miles from downtown Madison and the trail system conveniently connects to the park.
After setting up camp and some relaxation and nourishment by Lake Waubesa, we showered, put on clean clothes and headed back into Madison for food and some nightlife.
We found an Indian restaurant near the capital for dinner. Next, we headed to the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union for some live music on the terrace overlooking the lake. We listened to a band called Sexy Esther, enjoyed some beer, and then it was time to head back to the campground.
Sunday morning brought thunderstorms and rains showers. Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated with us and by the time we were packed up and ready to ride back to New Glarus the rain stopped. We were left with a hot, muggy day, but still a good day for riding.
Our first stop was at Bradbury’s in downtown Madison for some coffee and crepes. We ordered a strawberry crepe and a smoked trout crepe. They were excellent. Inside Bradbury’s we got asked by another customer if we were riding across the country. Unfortunately, we had to explain we had only come from New Glarus, but it’s kind of cool to know that’s the impression we give people.
I wasn’t ready to leave Madison, but back on the trail heading south it was nice to be riding through the countryside void of path traffic and noisy intersections. Before we knew it, it was lunch time again and we were back near Paoli. We stopped at the Bread and Brat Haus for another delicious lunch and this time we had some ice cream, too.
The rest of the way to New Glarus was enjoyable. We met some other riders on the trail who had overnight gear. They said they had started in Madison the day before, stayed in New Glarus and were now heading back. So we weren’t the only ones with this idea.
Back in New Glarus we loaded up the car and cleaned up as best we could. Before heading home we had one stop left, to stop by the New Glarus Brewery. We would have ridden our bikes, but as Brian mentioned, it would be a good idea to drive since we’d probably want to make a purchase or two. After a tour and tasting we left with two cases of beer in the car. Those would have been a little difficult to load on our bikes and way too dangerous for that precious Wisconsin beer.
With spring in the air and the end to a long winter of being cooped up indoors, it was time to go on the first bike camping adventure of the year. Brian and I packed up our panniers and headed out on a Friday after work to the Pleasant Creek Recreation Area near Palo, Iowa.
Our first stop on our way out of town was to the local grocery store for some campfire food. They had a sale on brats, five for $5, so we chose one of each flavor including a pineapple brat. We also grabbed a bottle of wine and were on our way.
It was a great feeling to be on the bike again. The air had a slight chill to it and the forecast threatened rain but we set out on our trip with much enthusiasm.
Two hours of pedaling got us to our destination at Pleasant Creek. As we rode through the campground we couldn’t help feeling a sense of pride as we pedaled self-sustained using only the power of our legs to propel us. On our way to the tent camping sites we passed the only other campers in the park, all of which had brought giant RVs with their water hook ups, cable TVs and all the amenities of home. Can you even call that camping? They gave us a curious look; we waved a friendly hello and were on our way to find our campsite.
After finding a good spot away from the RV campers, we quickly set up our tents as the daylight faded. Our next order of business was to start the campfire and reap our reward of wine, brats and an enjoyable evening by the fire. (FYI: Pineapple brats are like a sweet dessert with sausage, we weren’t a big fan of them.)
In the morning I awoke to chirping birds and a heavy fog. My sleeping bag was keeping me toasty warm, so instead of getting out of my tent I unzipped the door and stayed snuggled in my sleeping bag while I brewed a cup of coffee and enjoyed the view.
After a breakfast of oatmeal and an orange we packed up and headed home. This was a great little getaway and I can’t wait for the next bike camping trip.
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.
Tebbetts to Augusta (65+ miles) Saturday, September 25, 2010
Saturday morning brought us another beautiful day. We made some oatmeal and coffee for breakfast using the hostel’s microwave, packed up our gear and were on our way. NOTE: Nescafe’s single packets of coffee work great for bike camping. They’re lightweight and taste good.
Today’s destination was the Klondike Park campground near Augusta, Mo. Like I’ve said before, finding a place to camp on the Katy Trail is a challenge, there are more bed and breakfasts than campgrounds along the way. When I found Klondike Park in my research, it was an easy answer to our dilemma and looked like an interesting park to explore. I could only hope the weather would hold out for my last night in my failing tent.
Back on the saddle, my underside was not happy to be once again perched on that small piece of plastic I call a seat. But my bottom and I had no choice this far into the trip, and soon the excitement of exploring more undiscovered terrain would take my mind off any discomfort. Today was another high-mileage day so it was imperative to keep moving and get in those miles.
This stretch of the trail was fairly rural even though the map showed a number of towns marked on our route. Some of the “towns” were nothing more than those trusty green trail signs displaying the town name, a kiosk and a building or two. As I’ve said before, one shouldn’t rely on all the marked towns along the trail to have available restrooms, running water and food. (The Katy Trail website is a great resource to find out what the trail towns have to offer, as well as mileage and other trail information.)
We pedaled on until we used all our energy from breakfast and had to stop for some lunch in Rhineland.
We found a bar and grill not far off the trail just north of highway 94 (the name escapes me.) The place was big with a bar running the length of the room on the left wall and a row of fridges holding beer, pop and a few grocery items lined the right wall. We found an empty table in the middle of the room and ordered some burgers, fries and large waters. The food was very cheap and very good. I left satisfied and refueled.
Riding out of Rhineland, the trail took us through landscapes of cornfields, pastureland, wooded sections and the Missouri River coming in and out of view.
The day was filled with lots of riding, rest stops and an increasingly cloudy sky. The gray nature of the cloud bank coming in from the west was worrying me, but we were able to stay ahead of it.
27 miles down the trail from our stop in Rhineland (and 53 miles in for the day – 11 to go) I was really starting to feel the fatigue. Luckily, we were approaching a town of some size, Marthasville, where we found a well-stocked gas station for some needed energy. By this time the sky was getting even darker with cloud cover, so I asked a local if rain was in the forecast. I was answered with a definite, “yes.”
At the Marthasville gas station I was so run down and suffering from major muscle fatigue after over 50 miles of constant riding that I resorted to buying one of those gawd-awful energy drinks that have become so popular. This is my opinion of course. I’ve only tried a couple energy drinks that my friends have had and found that the amount of sweetness and even their smell is revolting to my tastes. But at this point I was desperate for a pick me up. I found the smallest can of Red Bull I could find, purchased it and immediately downed its contents. The flavor was what I’d remembered but it was tolerable since it was chilled and I needed its effects. And it worked, for a while at least. Brian also downed an energy drink – many more ounces than I had bought – and I could tell he had more spring in his pedal.
With the news of rain in the forecast and my level of tiredness, Brian and I discussed finding a cheap place to stay under a roof, be it a bed and breakfast or a motel. So we rode on towards the next town, Dutzow, to see what they had to offer. We also were entering Missouri’s wine country and as we rode closer to St. Charles the towns seemed more touristy and had more to offer.
In Dutzow, a cute little town with boutique-lined streets and cottage style homes, we rode around looking for a place to stay. We didn’t have any luck finding a motel but the blacktop roads were sure fun to ride on after days of crushed gravel. I felt like I was flying with ease on the curvy, rolling main street that ran through town.
It was seven miles more to get to our original destination of Augusta. We didn’t know how big the town would be so I suggested we find a place to get some provisions for the night. And by provisions I mean some locally-made wine.
Ironically, the restaurant we were standing in front of while making our plans sold what we were looking for. I went inside while Brian watched the bikes and asked the clerk what they suggested for a good Missouri wine. I purchased a bottle and we were on our way.
With a bottle of wine strapped to the bike we rolled into Augusta. We stopped at the town’s trail kiosk for a rest and further planning of our evening.
Augusta was hopping tonight. The town was within sight of the trail across a car-filled parking lot and up a hill, which was home to a fancy restaurant and bed and breakfasts. We figured this would be a fun little town to stay in and there were lots of options. We found a handy brochure at the kiosk listing Augusta’s B&Bs. We made a few phone calls and found it very expensive to stay here and that every place we contacted was already full for the night.
The area was buzzing with trail riders and visitors of the town. We ran into a couple that were locals and frequent Katy Trail riders. We got to talking about how much harder the trail was than we’d expected. He confirmed our observation saying he’d known of many visitors to the Katy who are surprised by its difficulty for a nearly flat trail.
We told them we planned to stay at Klondike Park for the night after failing to find an open room in Augusta. He was excited that we’d be staying at the park; apparently he was a big fan and said it was a scenic area to stay. He asked if we had reservations. We didn’t. I didn’t think it necessary being the end of September and I wanted to keep our itinerary flexible. He gave us directions to the park’s entrance, a mile or so out of town, and said to look for the steep drive leading up to the park. Brian was excited to hear of an upcoming hill to ride up, while I just wanted to get to our final destination and be done riding for the day.
We easily found the steep drive leading to Klondike Park. Brian excitedly muscled his way up the hill while I struggled with my lack of low gearing – and muscle – and ended up having to walk my bike up the last half of the drive.
The park was very pretty with lots of trees and interesting rock formations. It also was overrun with campers. After riding around the large park and not seeing a single open campsite, we called the local park ranger and asked if there was a place left for us to put up our tents. He informed us that the park was full and we’d have to find another place to camp outside the park. His only suggestion for us was to ride on to St. Charles. St. Charles! That was another 27 miles away and we were losing daylight, fast.
The Haunted Farm
As the park ranger was about to hang up I could hear another voice in the background, the ranger’s friend suggested we try a place called “My Grandpa’s Farm” a few miles down the trail. It wasn’t an official campground but the owners were known to let campers set up tents on their property. Whew! I could stand riding a couple more miles, definitely not 27. We rolled back down the steep drive squeezing hard on our brake levers to avoid flying off the winding road and were soon on the trail again. By this time we had to use our bike lights to light our way and we were starting to feel a few drops of rain fall from the sky.
We were told by the ranger to look for some large white barns on our left.
Needless to say, we found the place called “My Grandpa’s Farm.” We rolled down the drive and saw a light on in the hayloft of the nearest barn. We could hear ragtime music playing and voices chatting. We tried to get someone’s attention by shouting hello from outside but they couldn’t hear us over their music. While I waited with the bikes, Brian found his way into the barn and asked the folks inside if we could camp there for the night.
A man and a woman came down the stairs and said the owners of the farm were out for the night but that they allowed people to camp on the farm for $10 per person. That worked for us as our daylight was gone and it was starting to rain. The nice people showed us where to get some water and the way to the restroom. I have to mention here that the bathroom they showed us, in the barn, was the most disgusting I have ever seen. I don’t think it had been cleaned in years! I pretty much avoided using it, and when necessary, made sure to not touch anything. Other than the nasty bathroom there was plenty of room for us to put up our tents. There were even outdoor tables with attached umbrellas that we could get out of the rain under and cook our dinner using our camp stove.
While finishing up our dinner of mac and cheese, instant potatoes and thoroughly sampling the Missouri wine we’d purchased in Dutzow, a truck came down the driveway and stopped next to us. Two guys in their mid-20s stepped out of the truck, walked over to us and asked for someone named Jim. They both had been drinking and one of the guys was still working on a bottle of Corona. They said they had been to the farm a couple hours before and a guy named Jim had promised to give them a tour of the haunted farm after dark.
Haunted farm? What?
We assumed the man we’d met on the farm was Jim. We took the guys over to his door and they gave it a knock. Jim answered, recognized the two guys and started in on telling us all about the place.
The barns on the property were supposedly haunted. Jim claimed he had heard and seen evidence of the ghosts while setting up sale items for an auction on the upper level of the main barn. He said he’d heard strange, unexplained noises. He also said some objects had mysteriously moved themselves across the room behind his back.
The two guys were eager to get inside the dark barn and check it out so Jim offered to take us all on a tour. I agreed since I’d never been on a haunted tour before and I don’t really believe in that stuff anyway. Brian agreed to come along, too.
Jim took us up into the unlit barn with a flashlight in-hand. We climbed the stairs to the loft where many random objects were laid out on tables ready for auction. Books, toys, mirrors, picture frames, furniture, etc. cluttered up the room. Jim further explained to us the strange noises he’d heard, objects that had moved themselves and a large cabinet that he claimed inexplicably had its door open one moment and shut the next. Someone suggested Jim turn off his flashlight so we could see how dark it got in the loft. It was pitch black with no lights. We hung out in the dark keeping silent for a few moments to see if we’d hear anything strange. Nothing happened.
The next part of the tour took us outside to the edge of the farm in a grassy field next to the second barn. Jim told us that the Boone family owned slaves on their property and when the slaves died, they buried them in shallow graves near the area where we were standing. Supposedly, there have been sightings of ghosts in that field. We saw none. One of the guys mentioned a news story he’d heard when the Missouri River flooded its banks in ’08, he said bodies were found floating in the water because the floods had washed out their graves. I’ll believe that story, but the ghosts stories I’ll stay skeptical.
Our tour ended with no sightings or indications of ghosts. Brian and I were plenty tired and crawled in our tents for a good night’s sleep.
It rained some during the night but not enough to cause me problems with my tent. We woke to the woman feeding chickens on the farm and to a gloomy, overcast sky.
We packed up our belongings and set out for the last leg of our trip on the Katy Trail.
DAY 4 – Back to the car.
On the last day of our trip we had overcast skies and bouts of spitting rain for most of the day. It was mostly uneventful. We rode to just outside of St. Charles to end our ride on the Katy Trail and routed ourselves back to Kirkwood. Near St. Charles the trail becomes paved, this was a nice change from the soggy, crushed limestone.
Finding our way back to the Kirkwood Amtrak station was no easy task. Navigatong through the city to get back to the car required frequent stops to check our map. Along the way we found unwanted hills we had to climb. Some of the streets had heavy traffic making riding less than enjoyable, but that only lasted for a few miles until we found a good route of side streets. By the time we got to Kirkwood the sky had cleared off and we had another beautiful day for the car ride home.
Even though the Katy Trail ended up being more challenging than expected, I was glad we did it. It’s a really nice trail going through some scenic countryside, cute little towns and is full of friendly people. The only thing I’d change is to ride fewer miles per day and spend a little more time in the wine country. Perhaps even splurge for a B&B or two.
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.
Day 2: Franklin to Tebbetts (56 miles) Friday, September 24, 2010
Happy birthday to me! I challenge you to think of a better way to begin your birthday. Nothing beats waking up to chirping birds on a warm sunny morning in the middle of a bike camping adventure.
28 started out great! It was 10:30 a.m. by the time we’d eaten breakfast and let our gear dry out before packing up and hitting the crushed gravel.
Today was going to be a long, challenging day in terms of miles. But from what I’d read, this stretch was one of the most scenic on the Katy Trail, so I was looking forward to it.
From Franklin we rode through more lightly-wooded areas leading us to those rumored limestone bluffs that slowly rose up on our left. To our right, winding its way towards us with its overflowing banks was the Missouri River sparkling in the morning sun.
The bluffs were spectacular in size and contrast to the surroundings. It was difficult to see them in their entirety since they were so close to us as we rode. A few times I almost lost control of my bike as I tried to crane my neck and look up to see them.
Our first stop of the day was at the town of Rocheport for a photo by the historic train tunnel built in 1893. My guidebook said the workers who were building the tunnel protested their measly wages by filling the tunnel with dynamite and then threatened to blow it up if they weren’t given higher pay. Thankfully they were able to make a compromise so we can still see and use the tunnel today.
In Rocheport, a lovely little town with bed and breakfasts, little shops and restaurants lining its main street, we stopped to grab an early lunch at Abigail’s. There were other cyclists dining at the little restaurant and it looked like an inviting place to eat. Our lunch was delicious and the atmosphere was relaxing.
After lunch we needed to get serious about putting in some miles since we’d gotten a late start from camp and taken our time at Abigail’s. There was still 47 miles of continuous pedaling before reaching our hostel in Tebbetts.
This would be a good time to mention one not so pleasant feature of the Katy Trail. I had been warned of this disturbing fact in my guidebook but hadn’t seen proof of it until day two.
The trail runs through some prime snake habitat. The snakes make their homes in the rocky hillside next to the trail and use the gravel path as a place to bask in the warm sun.
The first snake we came upon I didn’t see until it was only a few inches from my bike. I darn near ran over the thing! It was black, six feet long and as big around as a grown man’s fist. (This may be a slight exaggeration, but to me the thing was scary! It was not small, I’m sure of that.) I gasped and my body seized up in fright. I knew it couldn’t hurt me but I have this fear that if I run over a snake it might lash up and bite me in the leg or even touch me, yuck!
Did I mention I’m not a huge fan of snakes? I don’t mind seeing them in cages or from afar, but I’m aware of their quick movements and ability to bite. I have no desire to be in close proximity to one. I asked Brian if he had seen the snake, too. He had not. The next three I saw he didn’t see either. I think he thought I was seeing things. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t spotted one yet, it seemed like they were everywhere.
After seeing the first snake my mind went into ultra-alert mode to anything snake-like on the trail. I’ll admit I rode past lots of sticks that gave me a start.
Finally, Brian saw his first snake. A large, black one stretched almost entirely across the trail. As any curious boy would do, he stopped his bike, turned around and got as close to it as possible. He took some photos then made enough commotion to make it slither off into the grass. This is all while I stood waiting about 40 feet away.
The rest of the day was filled with lots of pedaling, small towns and more scenic views of the Missouri River.
Eventually, the river wound out of view and the last few miles of the day were somewhat monotonous as we followed a roadway instead of a river. My bottom was becoming increasingly sore and my legs fatigued. It was tempting to hop on the smooth, hard blacktop of the road we were paralleling and coast in some easy miles, but I just couldn’t do it. I came here to ride the trail.
The town of Tebbetts greeted us with tall grain silos and a handful of age-worn buildings. We easily found our hostel and were eager to shower and rest our legs.
Our hostel, the Turner Katy Trail Shelter, was a great place to stay and only cost us $5 each for the night. The building had been a church, school and recreation center before becoming a hostel. Now the main room was lined with bunk beds waiting for bikers to make use of its accommodations.
On a table at the end of the main room was a guestbook with entries from previous guests. It was fun to read and learn of the variety of people passing through on the trail. There were large groups down to solo riders from all over the U.S. and foreign countries. It appeared that the hostel had at least one rider a night using its facilities. We had the whole place to ourselves this night. I was hoping there would be other riders so we could swap trail stories.
Reading through the guestbook we also discovered that almost everyone ended up at the only bar in Tebbetts, Jim’s Bar, which sits across the street from the hostel. It’s the only place in town to grab some food and enjoy a beer.
Some words to describe Jim’s Bar: Unique, smoky, friendly, kooky. With fresh clothes and full stomachs, we walked the ten steps to Jim’s Bar for some drinks and a little nightlife with the locals. We found the bar to be crowded on this Friday night.
There were a couple open stools at the bar so we bellied up and asked what they had on tap. There was no tap. We also asked if they had some whiskey – since we’re Whiskey Riders and it was my birthday and all – they had no whiskey, or any hard liquor for that matter. I asked for the darkest beer they had and the woman behind the bar showed us a gold can of Stag beer, which I’d never had before. She said it was dark. We each ordered one and found it to be fairly decent. I don’t think it was a dark beer at all, but it was cold and it was beer.
Jim’s Bar is a very friendly place. Within the first half hour we met the lady who lives next to the hostel, Jim, and a local man who used to be an Elvis impersonator. Our neighbor for the night was an extremely nice old lady who was dressed to the T in her leopard-print blouse and bright, red lipstick. She welcomed us having known the instant we walked through the front doors that we were Katy Trail bikers. The locals were obviously accustomed to having trail riders enter their bar.
Jim, the owner, sat behind the bar manning the Karaoke machine and tending bar. He’s a fun-loving prankster with a wealth of props waiting behind the bar to use on unsuspecting visitors. He tried to get a start out of me with the “rubber band and paperclip in an envelope gag” that’s supposed to sound like a rattlesnake. Luckily for me I’d seen this prank before. I’d had enough excitement with snakes for the day anyway.
Sitting next to me at the bar was the Elvis impersonator. He said he’d gotten third place in a national contest. He also was a wealth of information on the history of the town. Apparently we were sitting in what used to be the town’s bank. The old vault was still standing and now used for storage.
It was an enjoyable evening with the locals of Tebbetts as everyone yucked it up, drank down some cold ones and sang old country songs on the Karaoke machine. (I didn’t recognize one song until the Elvis impersonator sang an Elvis song for us – he was quite good.)
We ordered a couple more beers and refused the requests to sing. I wasn’t going to subject those nice people to my awful singing voice.
Towards the end of the night people had drank their courage and were more frequently stepping up to the karaoke machine. On one of the songs Jim started bringing out some instruments he had stowed behind the bar. I played the tambourine while another lady played the spoons on her knee and we rocked the house late into the night.
When we’d had our fill of excitement we said goodnight to our new friends, walked the four yards to our hostel and got some shuteye.
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.
Adjusting back to reality after a few days on RAGBRAI is not easy. There’s a certain routine one gets into day after day out on the route. For my team it was getting up early, around 5 a.m., pack up the tent and belongings, throw our stuff on the RV and get on the road around 7 a.m. Then you power yourself 40-80 miles a day stopping in towns previously unexplored, eating your fill of delicious food and taking in whatever weird, wacky or fun-filled activities you choose – and there are plenty to choose from. When you get to the next overnight town, you put up your tent, shower and then hit the the town for some more food and exploring.
Now I’m back to my normal routine of sitting at my desk at the office for hours on end, noshing on vending machine food, seeing the same old sites (mainly my computer screen) and only being able to dream of places I’d like to be going. Well, at least there will always be the memories. Here’s my RAGBRAI 2010 experience:
Ok, I have to brag and exclaim that this year we finally did it, we ordered real team jerseys. I’ll admit that I waited until the last minute to get these done, but since I had some ideas for a design already in the working and I found a great company (V-Gear) that said they could get them done before the last week of July, badabing-badaboom, we have jerseys! You’ll notice we wore them as much as the sniff test said we could.
Clear Lake to Charles City[MAP]: Fellow Whiskey Rider, Michon, has grandparents who have a house on Clear Lake which made a great location for a Whiskey Rider rendezvous. Tim, Michon, Mike, Linda, Brian, Katy and I stayed at the house Tuesday night and prepared for our ride to Charles City (Dave joined us in Waterloo.)
With everyone sporting their Team Whiskey Riders jersey we rolled out of town on our way to Charles City. We cruised through the first town, Swaledale, and then had to make a stop in Rockwell because of some great advertising for Bloody Marys.
A lady sat on the side of the road in a golf cart holding a bottle of vodka and Bloody Mary mix with a sign saying they were serving them at the golf course. Mike got so excited that he and his bike almost swerved out of control, so we stopped for one. They tasted great, made with one of my favorite mixes, Zing Zang, plus we even got to garnish our own drinks with as many olives as we wanted.
Being that our jerseys sported the word whiskey, we didn’t leave the golf course without a few comments about being traitors and drinking vodka instead of whiskey – I’m not sure what a Whiskey Mary would taste like, but it might be worth looking into.
Next stop, Cartersville. From what I saw there wasn’t much of a town, there were more grain silos than buildings that I could see, but the townspeople did it up right for RAGBRAIers with plenty of food vendors and a newly constructed pond with an interesting swinging apparatus.
When we got to town there was a long line of spandex-clad people waiting to have a chance on the swing and drop into the pond trying to impress the crowd with their acrobatic skills. We saw flips, summersaults and a few bellyflops.. The crowd of riders rolling through town acted as judges with their ooing and awing at the complexity and skill of the swingers. There also were a few gasps when someone landed awkwardly and made a big , painful-looking splash. None of our group wanted to wait in the long line to try the swing as tempting as it looked, but opted instead to try out the slip ‘n slide. Tim, Amanda and I had a great time trying our diving skills on the wet plastic, all in good fun.
After having as much fun as possible in Cartersville we hit the road and made our way to the next overnight town, Charles City.
Tim found us a place to set up camp in one of his friend’s backyards so we hung out there for a while and shared our experiences of the day. Being the first day of wearing our jerseys, we had fun hearing people’s comments as they rode past us. Some memorable ones were, “Hey, do you serve on the road? What’s your favorite whiskey? Is that water or whiskey in your bottle? How much whiskey have you had this morning?” And Tim said someone asked him, “Are you a hard liquor?” (Interpret that one for yourself).
Charles City to Waterloo[MAP]: Thursday turned out to be another great day for riding as we began our 82 miles to Waterloo. The goal was to get a lot of early miles in as the day was heating up fast.
With long stretches between the first couple of towns it wasn’t until Parkersburg that we slowed down, found some pie and a patch of grassy shade for a good midday rest.
Driving through Parkersburg was a bit eerie after the two horrible tragedies they had in the last couple of years. From the EF-5 tornado that ripped through town killing six people in 2008, to the fatal shooting of popular football coach, Ed Thomas, in 2009. It was good to see that on this day the town was full of joy with RAGBRAI in town.
The rest of the day was kind of a blur. There was lots of riding and then some more riding, and then the terrain started getting hilly. It seemed that Waterloo would never come. In reality it didn’t, because RAGBRAI organizers held the festivities and camping areas set up a ways south of downtown Waterloo near the water park and casino. There was no town in site to indicate our final destination for the day, only rolling cornfields. Out of nowhere the Isle of Capri casino hotel appeared over a hill and was indication for the finish. Whew! It was nice to be done, I’ll admit my body was getting tired after all those miles in the saddle.
Waterloo to Manchester[MAP]: Rain rain go away. In my six RAGBRAIs I have never been caught in a downpour, so this year was a new experience as I rode half a day through heavy rain, thunder and lightning.
The morning started out overcast and humid. While packing away my gear and getting ready for the day’s ride, I felt my body heating up quickly. With knowledge of rain in the forecast I consciously chose not to take my rain jacket with me. I figured with as hot as I felt even before riding, getting caught in the rain would feel pretty darn good.
And so it came. A few miles into the ride on the way to Manchester the rain started to fall. It put a damper on the mood of the riders. There wasn’t much talking out on the road just people moving through towns hoping to get the day over with or hoping that the rain would stop.
For me, I was torn. The rain didn’t bother me too much while I was riding. I was able to stay warm enough if I kept moving. It wasn’t until I stopped that I started getting goosebumps.
At the turnoff to Winthrop where 99% of riders were flying by instead of riding the five blocks to downtown (15 miles from Manchester). We had to decide if we wanted to ride on to the overnight town and cut the day short, or make a stop in Winthrop and enjoy being out on the route with hopes that the rain would stop.
So stop we did. We turned off to head towards downtown Winthrop and found a great watering hole where a few other riders had also parked their bikes. We walked into the bar and received the good news of the forecast saying the rain was supposed to be done around noon. This gave us about an hour to sit back, relax and “do what Tim would do.”
By the time we left Winthrop the rain had stopped and sunshine was peaking through the clouds. The 15 miles to Manchester was just enough time to allow our clothes to dry.
Manchester to Dubuque[MAP]: The last day of RAGBRAI is always bittersweet. It’s rewarding to finish what you’ve started but it’s also sad to have to pack up the bike, go back home and know that it’ll be a whole year before experiencing the great ride again.
Saturday was a short 47-mile ride to the Mississippi River in Dubuque. Dyersville was our first stop to meet up with my friend Peter who had learned a couple days before that he was granted leave from his army post in Kentucky and could squeeze in riding a day of RAGBRAI. So he promptly flew back to Iowa to meet up with us.
After Dyersville we needed to be on our way since we were scheduled to meet our ride in Dubuque around 1:00 p.m. to take us back home. The only obstacles left for us now were a few more miles and one very big, mile-long hill called Potter Hill. Call me crazy but I was actually looking forward to the challenge of riding up the thing.
One thing I especially enjoy about the end of RAGBRAI is getting to ride in the river valley. It’s quite the contrast from the flats of central Iowa where I started this four-day journey. I welcome the rolling hills and curving roads because it adds a challenge followed by the sweet reward of coasting at speeds over 40 mph through the countryside. I wish I had some photos to share with you, but I wasn’t brave enough to snap any and I wanted to keep my momentum up. Dave, on the other hand, has some great shots. You’ll have to check out his post to see them.
Potter Hill lies just east of the small town of Graf. In this town a mass of riders were refueling up with food and drink before tackling the big hill. It was almost noon and the day was really heating up.
The road out of town was packed with riders making their way to the start of Potter Hill. At the Potter Road sign we made a sharp right turn and started up the beast. I quickly had to shift down to my lowest gear to bear the grade of the hill. It wasn’t until turning the first curve that I looked up and saw what I was about to conquer. The hill wound to the right then to the left getting steeper as it went. Looking ahead, I could see a wide line of riders off their bikes and walking to the top.
I was set on riding the whole hill even if that meant being passed by a walker. I found my pace and muscled up the steep grade with my hands gripping the drop bars and using my quads to push down as well as pull up to keep my crank turning. With the bright, noon sun beating down on me sweat instantly started popping out of the pores on my face, arms and legs. But I kept myself going at a steady pace.
Being among the other riders gave a sensation of being pushed along, making the ride easier than if I was alone. Someone had a large boombox on their bike blaring a song that had a good driving beat which was perfect for helping me keep my rhythm going.
Before I knew it I was at the top! The road leveled off, I could shift up again and I felt that wave of accomplishment and a feeling of, “that wasn’t that bad.” I stood at the top for a while catching my breath and looking at what I’d conquered as the sweat rolled off my skin; I felt great.
[Shortly after getting home I decided to ride up my old nemesis, the hill on Rosedale Rd. I’m going to blame the heat and the extremely steep grade of that hill for kicking my butt that day. I guess the week off of riding drained the conditioning I’d gained on RAGBRAI.]
Next stop, Dubuque. The closer you get to the Mississippi the more you start seeing RAGBRAI teams grouping up to roll in together to the last town. I saw a line of what seemed to be hundreds of riders from the Livestrong team pull onto the road two-by-two. There was a group of six riders from Italy that were each helping hold a large flag of their country while singing in Italian (I’m guessing their national anthem). There were teams from Australia, Finland and of course all over the United States and the rest of the world.
It was said to me recently that the two most well known cycling events in the world are the Tour de France and RAGBRAI. That sure makes me proud to be an Iowan.
Next up on the cycling agenda: Cyclocross training for Jingle Cross Rock in Iowa City in November. – MICHELLE