Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Katy Trail, A Missouri Treasure

I recently had the happy opportunity to visit Jefferson City to attend my JCHS Class of '51 Reunion. Having heard of the Katy Trail, I put my bike in the van before heading north from Florida. The plan was to arrive a few days early and try out this bicycle trail that follows the old MKT railroad bed across Missouri. Remembering only too well that summer temperatures in Jefferson City often exceed those of Florida, my main misgivings were about the July heat. However, this was an opportunity that might not come again so I decided to forge ahead and appeal to the law of averages to be gentile and accommodating.

I checked in to the Ramada Inn on the 10th of July in the midst of a statewide downpour and wondered if perhaps I should put my biking plans on hold. However the next morning dawned with the promise of only scattered showers so I decided to have a go at the trail. The good folks at Ramada were very accommodating, and in a few moments had deposited my bicycle and me at the trailhead via their courtesy van. As I watched the van depart it occurred to me that I had severed connections with most of the conveniences we take for granted. At the same time there was a release from the cares of daily life. The task that lay ahead came into clear focus and all else was forgotten, especially with the sounds of distant thunder and darkening western sky to remind me of my early days growing up in Jefferson City. Back then in the 40’s, Waverly Street was the last outpost of civilization before development gave way to open pastures. I well remember the thunderstorms approaching from the West as we played impromptu games of softball in the street.

So I headed West with the hopes of finding some shelter if the threatening weather decided to do a repeat of the day before. The trail follows the river and is mostly shaded by overhanging trees. The cool of the morning was welcoming and the level trail made pedaling easy. By the time I had made Hartsburg an hour had passed and the sky was brightening so I pushed on. The trail is one of the best I’ve encountered although I am admittedly not familiar with many. There are frequent scenic spots, benches to sit and rest, and periodically spaced brass plaques depicting the expedition of Lewis and Clark as they made their exploration up the Missouri River. The plaques tell an intriguing story of the trials and handicaps of the expedition and are well worth the time to read. As you pedal this beautiful trail you have time to reflect on what it must have been like to travel this wilderness area before there were any of the modern conveniences we take for granted. It’s especially gratifying to see how lovingly the Missouri Parks and Recreation folks maintain the trail.

I did not expect to see so much wildlife but it was definitely in abundance. Deer, a river otter, numerous rabbits and squirrels, and even a copperhead crossing the trail made for an interesting display of Missouri’s wildlife. Lots of birds, particularly small blue birds and cardinals abounded. Wild flowers of many varieties were blooming along the trailside and I found myself stopping again and again to photograph and record my findings. At one point a large doe with her two fawns stood in the trail ahead and I stopped to observe them. They seemed unafraid but before I could get out my camera they sauntered off into the underbrush and I missed a great photo opportunity. I was able to capture on film another deer a bit further along the trail.

By early afternoon I was approaching Rocheport, a charming little river town, and the weather was really closing in. Rocheport is on the National Register of Historic Towns, well worth a visit by bicycle or car, so I was happy to call it a day and seek out my reserved B&B, called the Bed and Bikefest. It turned out to be an immaculate small home of several bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room. Totally welcome, if completely unexpected, was the sumptuous gourmet breakfast prepared the next morning by our host Gregory Kirschoffer, a young man whose talent and passion for cooking could put him in line for a position in any leading restaurant in the country.

After breakfast, well fortified and with several over-the-shoulder glances at the darkening sky, I scooted on up the trail to Boonville and overnighted there, taking some time to explore this interesting town. The next day I headed back to Jeff City, completing my round trip without so much as encountering more than a few droplets of rain or temperature much above 90 degrees.

As you cycle along the trail you realize quickly why the Midwest is called the breadbasket of the nation. Here, corn and soybeans are king. The old farmer’s saying that corn should be "knee high by the 4th of July" sure doesn’t hold today. On the 11th of July, the corn in the Missouri River bottom was all of 8 feet high. Perhaps the modern farming practices and the rich soil have made this saying obsolete.

One thing that will never be obsolete is the gift to us all and to future generations that this wonderful trail provides. I hope to return soon to ride the entire length from Clinton to St. Charles, a distance of some 200 plus miles.

Trip photos may be viewed at:


Post a Comment

<< Home