Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2002 Biking Missouri's Katy Trail with Elderhostel

This Elderhostel program was hosted by St. Charles Community College. The Katy Trail State Park comes is named for the rail line whose right of way it follows -- that of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad. The state of Missouri has made it a linear state park which runs 225 miles from St. Charles (a suburb of St. Louis) to Clinton, MO. Though supported by the state and many of its citizens, not all those whose land abuts the trail are enamored of it. Some farmers/property owners believed the land on which the railroad had run should have reverted back to the original owners. Legally, the old railroad right-of-way has been "land banked" and is temporarily being used for other "transportation" purposes -- the bike trail. Should it ever be deemed necessary to reconstruct a rail line, the trail would be replaced with tracks again.

We began at the town of Rocheport (mile marker 178.3 following the old railroad mile marker system) and biked to Weldon Spring (mile marker 56) over the course of five days, staying at motels and eating at restaurants along the way. This is the only tunnel on the trail and can be found just north of Rocheport. When we did the trail during the middle of October, just as a few trees were changing color, but a week or so later, the scenery would turn truly spectacular.

The trail is crushed limestone and is in excellent condition, with few rough spots. Scenery varies, with sections traveling through woods, or along the Missouri River, or next to cliffs, or along farm fields, or alongside tall grass and wildflowers. Towns of varying sizes are found every 10 to 15 miles and offer varying services to bikers. The town names appear on signs at the town limits, and when services are available in town, a sign indicates such. Washrooms are available at trailheads or in restaurants. 

Four bridges take bikers across the Missouri River to towns on the south bank (Boonville, Jefferson City, Washington, and here to Hermann). Beware, because only one bridge has a dedicated bike lane, and the narrow bridges can pose dangers from vehicles. We had a van which briefly blocked the lane to vehicular traffic for the few minutes it took our 25 bikers to cross the bridge safely. Besides driving the two vans, our support staff of Don and Ron from Touring Cyclist served as mechanics, repairing bike tires and adjusting gears and brakes, etc. They were indispensable and we thank them for their assistance.

The sections along the Missouri River were particularly beautiful, and cliffs often extended along the other side of the trail. Guard rails were present on trestles/bridges, but not elsewhere, and the dropoff toward the river was steep and deep. Ravines also ran alongside the trail in other areas, all without guard railings of any sort, so caution must always be exercised. Numerous times, squirrels ran out in front of the bikes, and a sudden twist of the handlebars could be dangerous in areas with dropoffs on either side.

All Elderhostel programs must have an educational component, even these "active outdoor" programs. Here the group is learning about Lewis and Clark and their "Corps of Discovery" experiences in Missouri. Chuck Yates, a volunteer with the Missouri DNR, is the lecturer following lunch at the Doll House Bed and Breakfast in Rhineland, Missouri. Other lectures and side trips taught us of the history of wine making in Missouri as we toured Stone Hill Winery in Hermann and enjoyed a wine tasting and a delicious dinner there, the German influence in the area, the contributions of Daniel Boone when we visited his home and learned he had spent the last decades of his life in this region, and the important impact of the river, riverboats, and railroads on the area.


The energetic strangers who quickly became friends on this trip (l to r):

kneeling: Marny, Sandy, Ann, and Betty.
row 2: Jeanette, Ellie, Sheila, Mary, Audrey, Margaret.
row 3: Fred, Chuck, Fran, Dave, Beth, Lillian, Len, Jean, Paul (our leader), Mary C., Bill C.
back row: Bill B., Michael, Hugo, Jim, Tania, and Don.

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