Katy Trail June 2013

Machens to St Charles:     

Well, sort of anyway. It was more like Black Walnut to St Charles, then to  Machens and finally back to Black Walnut to pick up the car. The original plan was to ride from St. Charles to Machens and back the day before my official start. However, a crazy late spring of tornados and floods and storm-toppled trees closed huge portions of the trail and made it uncertain that I'd be able to take the trip at all. With amazing efforts, crews managed to clear and open all but a single mile of the trail, MM 34-35, by the middle of June.  I decided to try one more time to see if it would be possible to get through.  I'd ridden out from St Charles several times, so I decided to try from the opposite end.  If nothing else, I could at least get in all but that one mile of the east side before leaving from St Charles to travel west on Saturday.

There were no roadblocks across the trail as I reached MM 34 so I was excited to assume it was open and traveled on through.  I'm not entirely sure this qualifies.

Initially, the trail was rough, but dry.  It looked like it had been recently scrapped with a bulldozer, so there was only a dirt surface, but it was easily passable.  After a sudden drop into the river bottoms though, it quickly changed.  The low, shaded areas were thick with mud and dotted by pools of standing water.  After splashing through multiple puddles, threading my way over narrow ledges of almost-solid earth, and once leaping off to lift my front tire out of mud up to its spokes, I reached the neatly placed orange fencing at MM 35, announcing the still-closed mile.

Well, I'd gone that far.  I knew the rest of the way into St Charles was open, so I decided to just complete the rest of the east side trip. 

The farmland melts away quickly from here, as the trail climbs back into the sunshine.  Woods on my left obscure the sights and sounds of the river for a while as traffic roars over the bridge ahead and industry replaces cropland to the right.

The old salvage yard isn't the greatest scenery of the trail of course, but it somehow seems strangely appropriate. Skirting the edge of the abandoned rail line, now salvaged into this beautiful park, the cast-off cars seem to wait to someday nurture another dream. 

The trail quickly opens up again into river views and the elegantly sculpted Frontier Park.  St Charles is just a block away over well-marked cross walks.

Old Town is quiet and sleepy now, in the weekday afternoon heat. Instead of the weekend crush of cars and tourists, only a few people amble slowly around the brick streets and novelty shops. The bench I find, in the shade of the flower lined street-side park, is much too conveniently located. It sits adjacent to Riverside Sweets and just across the street from Grandma's Cookies.  

After a rest in the shade, a bottle of water, and a Rainforest Chocolate Chunk ice cream cone,  I'm ready to brave the mud flats again. It's easier this time, and it's actually kind of fun. 
I make it back to Black Walnut in good time, check my tires, and take the quick final run to the end of the trail. 

Apparently, there's not a lot of traffic out here. 
This guy shows not the least amount of interest in my attempts at conversation or my clicking camera. He very convincingly plays dead until I ride off, only caught in his leisurely escape when I stop and look back to adjust my pack.

Machens is clean but deserted, a single branch across the path the only notice of the earlier storm.  My tires are still fine.  I've seen no hint of the notorious east side thorns.  A quick ride back to Black Walnut to collect my car, and I'm ready to set off on day two.     

St Charles to Augusta:

It's a gorgeous day to start my "official" ride.  There's about half of a hazy rainbow over the river as we drive into St. Charles.  After a scramble of last minute packing chaos and dealing with a broken strap, I'm ready to head out.  It's pleasantly cool at 7:45 and Saturday morning crazy busy with bikers, runners, walkers, and a dog or two.  Everyone is friendly and polite, smiling or calling greetings and moving aside to clear the path.

By 8:15 it's growing muggy, and I'm into the wooded area near the Page bridge.  I'm shocked by the piles of debris and the damaged trees.  It's incredible they managed to clear the trail so quickly and get everything open again after the wild storms of early June.  

Green's Bottom opens into farm country, with fields stretching out to the distant hills.  WIld flowers grow to the edge of the trail with bright red cardinals and those iridescent bluebirds flitting everywhere across the trail.  

By mid morning I'm back in the woods again and glad for the cool breezy shade.  The trail runs through the river bottoms and small sections are even still damp from the recent floods.  It smells like camping here; moss and damp earth and unseen creatures rustling nearby.  The sun is bright now and dapples the trail through the thick canopy of trees.  It's a beautiful area and inviting benches encourage a quiet moments rest and contemplation.

I quickly learn that's not a viable option.  The mosquitoes swarm with the merest hint that I might slow down, and I've discovered a new career option as a mobile feeding trough.

I made excellent time into Defiance.

I can't go through Defiance without stopping for a browse through the bike shop and break for an ice cream bar.  My husband rented a bike to join me for a potion of the ride and Augusta was just a quick jaunt away.  

I felt great as I pulled in and wondered if I should have planned a longer trip.  It was nice to still feel strong though.  We spent the afternoon walking all over Augusta and enjoying the live music from the wineries and the beautifully restored old homes. 

Augusta to McKittrick:

Sunshine, farmland, and wildflowers today.  Most of the trail was out in the open and yesterday's clouds had mostly dispersed.  I got a late start, about 9:15, after a big breakfast of fruit, french toast, eggs, and potato cakes at Ashley's Rose in Augusta.  The food was a wonderful energy boost, but I worried about the riding in the heat of the day.

I wasn't alone in my start time.  The trailhead was crowded with other groups setting out, but most seemed to be headed east.  Gravel was thick and loose on the trail in spots where it hadn't been packed back down after the storms.  There are lots of insects again today, but friendly ones, bright blue dragonflies, and butterflies in white and yellow and black fringed with blue.  Wildflowers line the edges of the trail and overlook the fields that roll out in ribbons of yellow and green.  

The sun is getting warmer fast and the occasional passes through the woods are a cooling gift.  It's like suddenly entering a world of jungle swamps.  The woods are thick and lush with standing water lapping at their trunks.  The sudden splash in the stagnant pool to my side is probably a frog but somehow evokes images of 'gators instead.  

By 11:00 I've passed in and out of woods and fields and switched out my empty water bottle for a stale one in my bag.  Passing the Marthasville trailhead, I have to slow down to check out the old red caboose with the deck on the front that rests at the edge of the trail.  I started to ride on past, but I had to know, so I turned in to check it out.  It was a little snack shop, perfectly set up for bikers.  It sits just off the trail with a neat gravel drive and a bicycle rack to one side.  Picnic tables dot the shaded yard, a perfect place to rest, cool off, and enjoy an ice cream cone.  

By MM 88, the river has swung back suddenly into view.  The fresh cool air off the water feels wonderful and I'm back in the woods for a while, enjoying quick glimpses through the trees.  

There has to be a story here.  I've passed this creek before and always wondered was it named by someone traveling by water or land and what exactly had they lost?

The trail winds away from the river again.  It's mid-afternoon, hot and dry, and I'm delighted to see McKittrick come into view.  We head into Herman for dinner and a walk around town, just in time for the storm to hit.  I'm glad to be off the trail as the rain and wind pound against the restaurant windows.  It's calm again as we drive back to Meyer's Hilltop Farm for the night.  The  porch swing creaks softly in the cooling air while hummingbirds dart about the porch enjoying their feeders.  

McKittrick to Jefferson City:

Another late start today, but so worth it.  We stayed at Meyer's Hilltop Farm last night and I got to discover in person what's so famous about Maggie's pancakes.  It was a wonderful breakfast overall and so much fun to spend time talking with others also riding the trail.  Eldon and Maggie had us laughing with stories of their own family and of those of previous guests they seem to hold as family.

I got on the trail around 9:00 and by 10:30 was glad to stop in a shady patch for a drink.  Several people were setting out at the same time, but all of them were heading east, so I'm traveling alone for now.  There's lots of wildlife out today.  Finches swoop overhead and tiny lizards scuttle at the edge of the trail. White and black insects that buzz about like tiny biplanes seem to be always around my wheels.

By 11:00 the trail has swung back alongside the river for awhile.  The cool breeze and shade are wonderful.  The mosquitoes not so much.  Breaks are quick, to escape the swarms and I start learning to take pictures with one hand while still riding.

The trail was sporadically crowded by mid-day today with pods of cheerful college kids out to ride across the country and promote their Bike and Build program.  They were a friendly, energetic group, happy to stop and explain their program.  I learned they were traveling across the country raising funds for affordable housing and assisting with home building projects as they traveled.  They were strong, fast riders, far beyond my speed but, as they occasionally stopped for breaks together, we passed each other throughout the day.  

I saw a couple pieces of trash alongside the trail today.  The greatest significance of it,  was how much it startled me.  I realized just how pristine the trail really is.  For all the people who travel there day after day, for the fact that many of the trailheads are not even equipped with trash cans, there's rarely ever the least bit of trash.  The most isolated trailhead is completely free of graffiti or vandalism.  If only people who protest projects like the Katy Trail could understand that those who would use it tend be people who love and respect the outdoors and would never misuse the space.

Speed limit 60.  I wish.  The last twelve miles into Jefferson City the trail is slow and hot,  back in the sun following HW 94.  The sky clouds up with a tease of rain, but it passes over without a drop.  I cross in and out of heavenly stretches of shade.  In one wooded patch I watch a marmot scuttle across the trail ahead of me into swampy thicket below.   I'm taking the trail two miles at a time by now, watching my meter and stopping for a quick drink and a break from the sun at the nearest patch of shade as I count down the final miles.  I'm glad to pull into Jefferson City for a good dinner, a corny movie, and the joys of modern air conditioning.  

Jefferson City to New Franklin:

I got an earlier start today.  I was on the trail and moving well by 7:20.  It was cool and cloudy through most of the morning which was really nice.  Out of the city, the trail lead into woods pretty quickly and stayed in the shade for a good part of the ride.  There were families out today, enjoying the park with children.  I love seeing the little ones pedaling along, learning to love the trail themselves and make it part of their lives.

Hartsford was quiet and peaceful today.   The only sounds were birds and the roar of a distant tractor.  It was quite a contrast to my last visit.  I rode through on a two day trip last October, arriving in time for their annual pumpkin festival.  There were booths lining every one of the few streets, with food and music and crafts and of course lots and lots of pumpkins.  Cheerful crowds milled throughout the town and cars lined up in all directions trying to get in.  My husband met me in the car and we spent a couple of hours that day enjoying the busy fair.   The trailhead is a nice one with lights and running water and a small park office. The faucet is even designed to allow space to fill a water bottle which I gratefully took advantage of. 

I almost passed this sign on the path to Rocheport.  Eagle Bluff Overlook Trail; strenuous climb, beautiful view.  They weren't kidding about either one.  I pulled my bike in to take a look, and found a bench and a small bike rack just off to the side. That did it, I had to try.

The trail up the bluff started with steep wooden steps wedged into the side of the hill, then shifted to a narrow dirt path.

It was a long climb to two bridges that extended over the hillside of wildflowers and lead to the overlook.  

The view was as spectacular as promised.  The platform hung over an enormous boulder as the wide damp flood plain stretched beneath it.  Large pools of standing water dot the landscape as the river twists in the distance.  Eagles float overhead, silent and complacent with no particular urgency to their flight.

Back on my bike, I cross under the I-70 bridge just before Rocheport.  It's one of the most gorgeous areas of the trail so far.  Cliffs laced with vines and wildflowers tower over the ground.  The river winds back into view, flowing silent and deep.  I wonder if they even look, all those people racing overhead.  In the thunderous noise of their crossing, do they notice, can they even see the peaceful beauty beneath them.

I met my husband for lunch in Rocheport and enjoyed a few visits with other riders.  Everyone seems to be going the other way.  Of all the people I've met this week, only the Bike and Ride group and I seem to be bucking the trend and riding east to west.  

The tunnel at Rocheport becomes a gateway to a new world as the river drops away and I'm surrounded by silos and cornfields.  Another hour, another ten miles and it's time to quit for the day.

We drove back to Rocheport to spend the night at the beautiful Yates House and to enjoy dinner over the bluffs at sunset at Le Bourgeois. 

New Franklin to Sedalia:

It's a quiet morning of trellises and picnic tables and a tumble flowered gardens.  I'm somewhat restless to be off, but still enjoying the peaceful morning at Yates House.  Conrad and Dixie served an amazing breakfast and Conrad told us the history of Le Bourgeois.  I enjoyed a talk with two other trail riders who were traveling east.  They warned me, as others had, that my hardest trip was ahead of me today, but reassured me that the trail would even out after Boonville.

I started at New Franklin, where the trail quickly changes to a paved path that run over an abandoned street, then crosses up and over the Missouri River.  I stop a few minutes to enjoy my last view of the river on the trip.  The trail soon begins to drop off to the south.  For now, it winds around the streets of Boonville to the beautifully restored train depot complete with a bike repair station.  I stopped to take a break and look over the caboose parked out front and air up my tires for the challenge ahead.  From the depot, the path leads to the official trailhead and to a cool wooded trail it innocently describes as a "gradual ascent".  Yes, well, that's one way of putting it.  I do have a feeling there are riders a few more descriptive terms. 

It's not really that it's all that steep, but definitely different from the trail so far.  I had expected to be out in the sun as I left the river, so it was a nice surprise to travel through the cool breezy woods, but it was a nearly continuous climb.

By the time I got to Pilot Grove, I was back in the sun and heat but beginning to sense an end to the hills.  I had been told there was ice cream here, so I followed signs posted at the trailhead and pedaled a block up from the trail to find Becky's Burgers.  It was a fun busy place, with a patio full of bikes and lot full of cars.  Friendly townspeople asked about my ride and worried about the heat, many reminding me to drink lots of water.  That wasn't really a problem.  I went through three bottles that morning alone.

Reward time now as I headed for Clifton City, flying down hill and back into shaded woods.  I felt great after the cool ice cream cone and managed my best speed of the trip until I ran into a couple of unique trail mates.

The guidebook didn't exactly prepare me to deal with this one.  Two young cows from the adjacent farm stood calmly in the center of the trail without the slightest indication that they intended to share it.  I rode slowly as we eyed each other, thinking surely they would move away.  They didn't.   I got off the bike and talked to them and started walking slowly toward them.  The back one clambered back to its fence pretty quickly, but I was starting to worry about the other one.  Finally, it turned and ran off as well.  I could hear the rest of the herd lowing at me as I passed, but no more came out to explore.

After that, it was a fun fast ride into Clifton City, through woods and cliffs and small creeks.  Most of it was downhill now with just enough of a climb at the end to remind you where you came from.  My husband met me at the trailhead with BBQ sandwiches and bottles of water for a quick picnic in the shade.

The last miles into Sedalia were through open farmland and then through the city itself.  The official trail ends temporarily and arrows and signs direct riders through the city streets.  I rode on fresh asphalt at one point, so soft and hot I was afraid it would pop my tires, before ending at the beautiful Katy museum and trailhead.  It was, as promised, a challenging day, but after a quick shower and rest I was ready for the fun of exploring the nearby town where three of my children had been born years before.

Sedalia to Clinton:

It's a beautiful early morning start.  I rode from our downtown motel to the Sedalia Depot trailhead around 6:00 am, and followed the trail through town.  It's all actual trail now, but does cross several streets.  Most of them are fairly quiet this early and not a problem.  Just on the outskirts of town, a paved path leads off the trail to Clover Dell park.  The path extends  around a small pond and a picnic table sits just off entrance.  It's a perfect place to stop for a quick snack of trail mix and water before riding on into Green Ridge through a canopied tunnel of green.

Green Ridge is quiet and peaceful at 7:35 am. I hear dozens of birds and the sound of a single lawn mower.  A DNR worker gives me a friendly greeting as he goes about his work, but no one else is out this early. The trail is still climbing today, but much more gently.

I reach the highest point in the middle of a prairie restoration area.  It's a beautiful space, covered in a tangle of wildflowers and an enormous open sky.  The sun is high and bright already and it feels like passing through a sauna when I stop.  It really doesn't seem that hot as long as I'm moving though.  My only question, as I get off to look at the sign, is "if I am at the highest point, why does that look like another a hill ahead?"

There's so much busy wildlife here.

A flock of prairie chickens waddle down the path ahead of me, before stumbling back into the brush.

 A tiny rabbit, almost too innocent to be afraid, eyes me from the shade of a wildflower he soon decides to nibble at.

I pass at least three turtles.  They all park abruptly in the middle of the path when I stop, refusing to peak back out until I've gone.

The trail ducks in and out of the sun now, farmland alternating with woods and a "make you work for it" trailhead up a steep hill at Calhoun.   Just before Clinton, another prairie restoration area bursts into color.

Then suddenly, almost before I can realize it, I'm in.  The Clinton trailhead is a small and basic one, with none of the fanfare of Sedalia.  From the trail, all I see is the information board, although there is a picnic area and a  brightly painted train car off the large parking lot.  Two hundred thirty eight miles done,  a little more really with the back and forth of the Machens section.  Two hundred thirty eight miles of sun and river, prairies and farmlands; the heart of our land in the lingering echo of the distant trains.


  1. Great Read, researching KT for 2014.

  2. Awesome. Have been talking about making this trip w/ my now eight-year-old son. Perhaps 2015.

    1. I met a man traveling with a daughter who wasn't much older than that. It would be a great trip for you to do together.

  3. Just passed boonville on I70 and heading to Sedalia to start our trek west to east. Finishing in Defiance on Saturday. Enjoyed your postings!

  4. Loved reading about your adventure! Makes me want to go too!

  5. Sounds great!! My husband and I are wanting to plan a trip summer of 2014. Did you camp or stay in the towns in B.&B.'s or Inn's? Also, round trip ride is what we are thinking of doing. An out and back sounds great.

    1. We did a couple of B&Bs and some hotels. We didn't try any camping. I think a lot of people do and really enjoy it, but it was more than I was ready to tackle doing the whole thing for the first time. I hope you go. It's a wonderful experience.

  6. Enjoyed your account and your photos! Dad and I are doing the Katy west to east in June this year (2014, if all goes well). I'll plan on packing extra mosquito protection and water thanks to your story!!

  7. Great! I hope you get to go. Hopefully the mosquitoes won't be as bad. It was mostly just in the low lying areas.

  8. Thank you for your account. I am currently living in Scottsdale, AZ, but am from Missouri and plan on riding the length of the trail (have not decided which direction yet, but likely West to East) this August. Am wondering if August will be absolutely hot? lol. probably. Could it be worse than the Arizona summer? :)

  9. Yes, I'm afraid it will be really hot by then. I'm not sure how it would compare to Arizona. Lower temperatures, but more humidity maybe? Early morning or in the evening should be good. Have fun.

  10. This was such a lovely and descriptive account of your trip. Thanks for sharing, it makes me happy to think about our trip there in October!