Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Answer to the sign question

Guy's sister just reminded me that I never did give the answer to that sign question I asked way back in Wyoming. (Click here to see the original post.)

Here's the photo again:

roadside markers
Can you divine the meaning of these roadside markers?

These signs indicate to highway striping personnel exactly where no-passing striping changes should occur. The dots represent the dashed line, and the L shapes represent the solid line. In the photo above, the top marker means "the DO NOT PASS line in this lane ends here," and the bottom marker means "the DO NOT PASS line in the other lane ends here." Click here for a pretty little picture explaining it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Niles, MI

Day 77: Saturday, August 3, 2013
St. Charles to Niles: 27 miles (3490 total)

Distance from St. Charles to Niles via bike: 450 miles
Number of days I have until my high school reunion: 3

What would you do?

The rain was pelting down when I left the motel room to catch the 5:38 am commuter shuttle from the motel to St. Louis light rail. Fifty cents for a fifteen-mile ride to the rail station.

It was still coming down hard as I dashed to the train platform. $2.25 for the two miles to the airport.

At the airport, I picked up a rental car and headed back to the motel, stopping first at Lowe's to buy a drop cloth to protect the car from my bike, which was coated with Katy Trail crud. I could have left it out in the rain to take a bath, but by this time the rain had stopped. I took the bike apart, stuffed it into what passes for a trunk these days, and filled the rear seat with my panniers.

Eight hours later, I was at the South Bend airport, where my niece was waiting. We shuffled the gear to her car and hied to Elkhart and her house, my home for the next three days.

On Friday, the final leg of the journey: 25 miles to classmate Ralph's house in Niles, and two more miles to the high school and the first of the reunion activities. The reunion was a blast. My sister and I decided that they get better as we get older: people mellow, old cliques and old grudges are set aside; we're all in the same boat. Except for those who are on the far shore - who are, of course, leading the way for the rest of us.

So ends the saga.

Of course, there's more. There should always be more. I'm still traveling, bopping around Michigan, visiting old friends and relatives, continuing to meet new people. And DeAnne will join me to ride the 400 miles of DALMAC before we finally come home.

But that's another story.

Bret in Waco

Monday, July 29, 2013

St. Charles, MO

Day 72: Monday, July 29, 2013
Klondike State Park to St. Charles: 31 miles

This is my last day on the Katy Trail. It goes another 40 miles or so east, to Machens, but St. Charles is the end of the line for me. St. Louis is very accessible from St. Charles, and that is my destination tomorrow.

Not only is this my last day on the Katy Trail: it's my last day on the bike before the end of the journey. Approaching a large urban area, it seemed like there were fewer places to explore, and people to meet, than when I was out in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps that was only because I was ready to be done with the trip and move on to the next adventure: my high school reunion.

Shortly after leaving Klondike State Park, I biked past a farm that was now a failed tourist attraction. At one point, Daniel Boone's family had lived on the property. The granddaughter of the more recent farmer, in an effort to preserve the farm and its legacy, had tried to turn it into a destination for tourists. It didn't work.

abandoned farm
This tourist attraction failed to attract the tourists.

sign at abandoned farm
There just wasn't enough here to attract them.

Trappers and traders were navigating the Missouri long before Lewis and Clark made their epic journey in 1804-1806. (Historical markers along the length of the Katy Trail tell the Lewis and Clark story.) The city of St. Charles played an important role in the region's early trade. Today, the historical section of St. Charles is quite the tourist spot. Many of its brick and stone buildings date to the 1830s.

Old St. Charles
This view of Old St. Charles
bears some resemblance to New Orleans' French Quarter.

Old St. Charles
The other side of the street reminds me of Colonial Williamsburg.

The Katy Trail passes through Frontier Park, just across Riverside Drive from Old St. Charles. The Katy St. Charles depot, restored inside and out, is festooned with flowers.

St. Charles depot
I promise this is the last train-related photo.

I stopped for a delightful meal in the Bike Stop Cafe, across the street from the depot, then wandered around the shops in the old section.

Bike Stop Cafe
The Bike Stop Cafe is just behind Old St. Charles's main street.

lunch at Bike Stop Cafe
The sandwiches at the Bike Stop Cafe are tasty and healthful.

The rest of St. Charles is sprawling and not very inviting. There's a huge casino to attract the tourists, and a lot of urban junk. I found a not-so-cheap cheap motel, grabbed supper at Hardee's, and planned tomorrow's trip into St. Louis before hitting the sack.

Lewis and Clark statue
I've been reading historical signs about Lewis and Clark
ever since Day 1 in Astoria.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Klondike State Park, MO

Day 71: Sunday, July 28, 2013
McKittrick to Klondike State Park: 55 miles

Grandma Moses farm
This farm reminded me of a Grandma Moses painting.

This was my fifth day on the Katy Trail. The riding was pretty much the same as all the others. Flat. Scenic. And, fortunately, dry. I passed by picturesque farms, picturesque bluffs. And I met some interesting people - none of which are pictured below; but that's the way it is: you don't think to snap a pic until after you've parted.

Actually, I've met interesting people just about every day. It's the people who make the trip memorable.

tidy soybean crop
This tidy crop of soybeans...

tidy farmyard
...was accompanied by a tidy farmyard.

I rode for 15 miles or so with a retired school superintendent who never graduated from high school. (He got his GED after leaving the service, and then went on to earn his bachelor's, master's, and PhD.) He cycled partially to get his mind off his recent divorce (and perhaps find someone else) - but it wasn't working: that was our primary topic of conversation. She was an off-the-wall OCD who refused any kind of treatment. Their counselor finally asked him, "Why are you still married?"

I was wearing an Expeditors t-shirt today. While the super and I were talking our way down the trail, another cyclist pulled up next to us, and asked, "Where'd you get the t-shirt?" It turned out that he was also a former Expeditors employee, had worked in the Chicago office, then transferred to St. Louis to help get that branch going. He didn't know Annie - which surprised me. He told me his name, but it slipped away on the wind. It was something like Sean Barbados. Maybe someone out there can tell me who it really was.

The bluffs below Klondike State Park

The Augusta Brewery sits right on the trail. And it has a beer garden. With music. A lot of cyclists were stopped there. Figuring that they knew what they were doing, I stopped for lunch. And I broke my rule against having a beer before the end of the day.

Augusta Brewery
The Augusta Brewery has a laid-back atmosphere and so-so food.

The music was okay - mostly oldies, easy to sit back and groove on. The beer was okay. But the food was run-of-the-mill.

That wasn't my last chance to stop at a beer garden. The two-block-long town of Defiance had one, or maybe two, plus a winery. It also had a gaggle of motorcyclists, and at least two rock bands going full blast. Not exactly my kind of place. A motorcyclist who was also a bicyclist came over to chat for a while. I stopped at the bicycle shop to pick up an ice cream bar. The proprietor said that the town is like this every weekend during the summer. It wasn't exactly his cup of tea either. After a short chat, I headed back west, to Klondike State Park, to set up camp.

Motorcycles in Defiance
The ambience in Defiance was quite a contrast to Augusta.

This Klondike has nothing at all to do with the Klondike we in the Northwest are familiar with. There used to be a town of that name nearby. The state park is at the top of the bluff that lines the north side of the trail, on the site of a former silica sand quarry. It's a pleasant place. There were quite a few French-speaking tourists there. They sounded like Quebecois, but don't quote me on that. The history of this area of Missouri has quite a few French connections: trappers, traders, settlers. Primitive campsites were only $7, but I paid $10 for a deluxe one. What made it deluxe? I didn't have a long hike to the john.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

McKittrick, MO

Day 70: Saturday, July 27, 2013
Hartsburg to McKittrick: 66 miles

Missouri street signs
Street signs at a crossing near the Katy Trail

Dottie's Cafe was just across the street from the gazebo, and cars and bikes galore were lined up in front of it. Scarcely a table was empty, and the waitresses were definitely getting their morning exercise. I filled up on my usual plate-size omelet with hash browns, and hit the trail.

(As you've probably been able to tell, I'm using my stove less these days, and my wallet more.)

The piers of several of the bridges I crossed this morning had caused logjams, and the streams were so completely covered with logs, weeds, green algae, and human-generated debris that it appeared possible to walk across them without getting wet. One hapless cyclist seems to have tried it (see photo); I think he's still down there.

log jam
Several creeks were jammed at the railroad bridge.

helmet in logjam
Walking the logjam, this cyclist didn't fare so well.

There are a few campgrounds along the trail, but B&Bs is what you'll find the most of. I think there's a real shortage of hostel-type lodging. The one in the photos below is the only one I know of. A local resident donated the building and a foundation, funded in large part by Ted Jones, helped to fix it up, install beds, a kitchen area, a bike workshop, and other useful stuff. The building is kept locked, but the key hangs on a post outside. (!) Suggested donation is $5 plus clean-up-after-yourself.

Turner trail shelter
This shelter is open to all Katy Trail users.

Turner trail shelter interior
It offers bunks, a small kitchen area,
and bike storage and workspace.

Some sections of the trail are open to horseback riders. (Why not all? That's a mystery to me.) I met only three. They were out for the horsey equivalent of a stroll. I noticed that their saddles were equipped with holsters for beer bottles - and they were loaded. The holsters, that is: not the riders! We had a pleasant conversation and then parted company, each of us leaving behind our own style of tracks.

horses on the trail
These are the only horses I saw on the trail.
L-R: Okie on Shorty, Caleb on Gunner, Kathy on Grey Goose.

trilliums by the trail
Trilliums by the trail
(I'm not sure they're trilliums, but I liked the alliteration.)

Plestiodon skink
Blue-tailed skink?
No! Plestiodon skink.

treed barn
Forgotten barn in the forest

Suppertime brought me to the trail-flanking towns of Hermann and McKittrick. Hermann is actually a couple of miles south, and is to all accounts a very pleasant place to visit. But it is a popular destination. The mother of a trail cyclist, whom I happened to meet, said that the town was full up, due to a blueberry festival or some such, and she had to go 15 miles north to obtain lodging. I thought I'd try McKittrick, which is immediately adjacent to the trail on the north side. But it, apparently, was housing the overflow from Hermann. So what to do? Here's what: wander into a restaurant and look lost.

A customer, who just happened to be the former husband of the proprietor of the restaurant and the adjoining B&B, offered room at his place. It was about four miles north, up a few of those Missouri hills. Pieter is a free spirit, a remnant of the '60s and '70s, who raises vegetables and chickens on fourteen acres with his boys. (He must do something else too, but our conversation didn't take us there.) When I arrived, the boys were fixing dinner at the open-air veggie-stand/kitchen/dining room, and invited me to join them. It turned out to be one of the better burgers I've had on my trip.

Pieter's truck farm
Pieter and his boys raise veggies and chickens
on 14 bucolic acres.

rustic lodging
This rustic lodging (yes, there's a trailer
under there!) sheltered me for the night.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hartsburg, MO

Day 69: Friday, July 26, 2013
New Franklin to Hartsburg: 37 miles

At the Katy Roundhouse campground, the rain began some time around 4 am. When it came time to get up, it was still raining. I turned over and went back to sleep. An hour or two later, and it was still coming down. Given the choice of riding in the rain or staying at a campground with no restroom and no food supply, I decided to face the music.

By the time I packed the soggy tent and left, the rain had eased. But the trail was soaked. The crushed limestone is pretty pervious, so there was not a great deal of standing water. But it didn't take long to develop a stripe on my sleeping bag and clog up the fenders and brakes. I stopped several times during the day to attack the accumulation with a sharp stick.

gritty stoker
The stoker did not appreciate his back-seat position today.

The trail eastbound from New Franklin follows the course of the Missouri River, generally with high bluffs immediately to the left and the Missouri River immediately to the right. Where the river meanders to the other side of its floodplain, there are rich bottomlands adjacent to the trail, most of which are farmed (primarily corn and soybeans) and are protected by a network of dikes, some of which create bumps in the trail, as they were constructed after the Katy RR ceased operation.

bluffs to the left
Bluffs to the left...

river to the right
...river to the right

tiled grain elevator
This is the only tiled grain elevator I've ever seen.

There's only one tunnel on the trail, a couple hundred feet long, passing through a projecting ridge that looks to be no more than sixty feet high.

Katy tunnel
The sole Katy tunnel, just before Rocheport

boxcar B&B
This boxcar was put to good use as a B&B.

The town of Rocheport, large enough to have its own depot but now with a population of only 200 or so, makes a good lunch stop - and it's a good place to spend the day, if you have the time. Some of the town's buildings date back to 1830. Its main industry is antique shops, and - if you want to spend the night - there are several B&Bs. At the Trailside Cafe, a combo bike-rental/cafe near the depot, I was served a tasty Philly cheesesteak sandwich with fries. Rocheport is the home of William Least Heat-Moon, the author of Blue Highways. I suppose you could call him one of the patron saints of blogs like this.

Hartsburg, my destination for the day, is an even smaller town that is also wedged between the bluffs and the bottomlands of the river. The city park (which seems to be in someone's yard) is right next to the trail, and the downtown eating establishments are about ten seconds away by bike. When I pulled in to the park, a few townspeople were pulling out their instruments for a bluegrass practice session. They gave me the rundown on the town's eating establishments, and I wandered off in search of sustenance.

One of the local boys moved away to the big city, met and ended up marrying a girl who was studying the culinary arts. They came back to Hartsburg and opened the Hartsburg Grand, a friendly place in a historic building that serves excellent food. I enjoyed a very good meal there, and they graciously let me blog away while I sat at the bar.

After supper, I set up my tent while listening to the tail end of the bluegrass session, and I quickly moved it to the shelter of the gazebo when the rain picked up again. This being a Friday night, the local bar was busy, and it was somewhere around 2 am before the conviviality waned and I drifted off to sleep.

Hartsburg gazebo camping
Camping in the gazebo in the Hartsburg town park

end of a damp day
The end of a damp day

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Franklin, MO

Day 68: Thursday, July 25, 2013
Windsor to New Franklin: 66 miles

Day 2 on the Katy Trail continued the trek across farm country, with straight sections predominating. Not long after setting out, I crossed a bridge under which ran the tracks for the Rock Island railroad. In 1981, Jack and I encountered the Rock Island line frequently in our trek across Missouri - it looked all but abandoned then. Now, it was decidedly abandoned. The rails are still there, but they're hard to spot among the trees and weeds.

maybe ashy sunflowers
Prevalent along the west end of the trail, these may be,br />ashy sunflowers (but I don't think so).

Part of today's route has the distinction of being the toughest part of the trail. This being a railroad grade, it's probable that Lard Hill, the steepest part of the climb, was not more than 3%, and for not more than half a mile. On a Katy Trail forum, one respondent, in all seriousness, referred to this climb as brutal, which provoked a round of derisive comments. Headed down Lard Hill, I hit a speed of 17 mph.

The story of how Lard Hill acquired its name may be apocryphal, but it sounds good. Supposedly, a train struck and killed a pig belonging to a woman who lived nearby. She filed a claim with the railroad for the value of the pig. The railroad paid her for the lost animal, but the amount was apparently too low to suit her and she protested to the railroad, which deemed the payment fair and the matter closed. Unsatisfied, she rendered the remains of the pig. For the next few days, every morning she would smear the lard on the rails that went up the hill. Westbound trains would lose traction, and were forced to back up and make multiple attempts to climb the hill. Eastbound trains, applying their brakes as they approached Boonville, would simply slide. It didn’t take long for the railroad executives to sweeten their offer.

Katy Pass
The grade up Katy Pass in unbelievable.

delicate lavender flowers
These delicate lavender flowers grow in stands of multiple clumps.

Most of the towns along the trail are small. Many of them were actually established by the railroad itself, and quite a few of those towns have vanished. Sedalia was well-established before the railroad came, so it was an important town on the route, simply by dint of its size. The Katy had a junction with the Missouri Pacific in Sedalia. When the trail was built, it could not follow the path of that junction, so there is a discontinuity in the trail. That's good for the town, as it gives trail users a reason to pass through the downtown area and spend some money. At the Fifth Street Sports Bar, I talked with a group of cyclists who were headed west.

Sedalia downtown
Ignore the vehicles and the one modern storefront,
and this photo of Sedalia could have been from the 1930s.

Sedalia was the home of Scott Joplin, and the town takes pride in billing itself as the birthplace of ragtime.

Sedalia depot
Sedalia was an important stop on the Katy railroad.

Like the Rock Island line's, the Katy's tracks may still be in place. In several spots, the tail ends of rails ran right out from under the path. But why would they have simply buried over 40,000 tons of steel under the trail?

tracks under bike path?
Are the tracks still there, buried under the bike path?

bluff and bridge
Bluffs and bridges typify much of the Katy Trail.

Numerous times, when the trail crossed a road, the combination of extreme hills and no shoulder made me awfully glad I was travelling the trail. If the roads we cycled in 1981 were like that, I don't know how we ever did it.

steep and hilly crossroads
Scenes like this make me glad I'm on the Katy Trail!

silent sentinel
The signal stands like a ghostly silent sentinel.

The Katy Railroad crossed the Missouri River between Boonville (named for Daniel Boone, of course) and Franklin. Its bridge is grand, and would have made an interesting crossing for the trail; but, to my knowledge, the trail has never used the bridge. Instead, it detours to a nearby highway bridge, which is quite boring. The old railroad bridge is scheduled to be torn down in the next year or two.

Katy Missouri River bridge
The Katy bridge across the Missouri is slated for demolition.
The trail has been rerouted to a nearby highway bridge.

At trailheads along the trail, there had been posted signs advertising the Katy Roundhouse campground at New Franklin. Oho, I thought, this will prove interesting: a roundhouse to explore, and maybe even sleep in! Twilight was descending as I pedaled madly up Katy Pass, and by the time I reached Boonville it was deepening considerably. I arrived in New Franklin shortly before the headlight was needed, and found nobody at the old depot that now served as campground office and restaurant. I filled out a registration envelope and wandered off to find a campsite.

optimistic sign
Given the little that remains, this sign is wildly optimistic.

The tent area had no other occupants, so I picked a spot close to the showers and set up the tent by the light of the helmet headlight. It was when I walked over to the showers that I regretted paying for the campsite: they were locked, and I didn't have the combination. Phone calls to two numbers posted on the door were absolutely fruitless. And since the showers were also the restrooms, I was doubly unhappy. This was one of the rare occurrences on this trip where I really felt the need to write a note expressing my displeasure. It's on my list of things to do.

New Franklin turntable
This turntable and an old brick powerhouse
are all that remain of the Katy yards at New Franklin.

cactus in Missouri
Cactus in Missouri?
There were numerous clumps near the old Katy roundhouse.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Windsor, MO

Day 67: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Harrisonville to Windsor: 65 miles

This morning was the morning of soft shoulders, no shoulders, ground-up shoulders, unrideable shoulders, injured shoulders. This afternoon made up for it.

Part 1: The Nightmare

The day started with a shower, as is my habit on this trip when I'm motelling it. In the evening, I'm usually so tired I just crawl into bed, and then shower in the morning. Unfortunately, when I exited the shower this morning, the bath mat parted company with the floor, and my tailbone and elbow quickly made intimate acquaintance with same. Five minutes of introspection, inspection, and range-of-motion research indicated that the chances of continuing the trip were pretty good. But one shoulder hurt like crazy in certain positions. Luckily, they weren't riding positions.

The Katy Trail starts at Clinton, about 30 miles down Missouri Route 7 from Harrisonville. Internet comments from several cyclists said that, although Route 7 is busy, it has a wide shoulder, and is the safest way to get to the trail. But that was before the construction.

Route 7 was great for the first ten miles. But the next twenty miles were being resurfaced. The car-lane resurfacing was complete, but the shoulder had not been done - which left a three-inch drop-off from the lane to the shoulder. Part of the shoulder had been ground up into gravel. In some places, a strip one or two feet wide was left - but it came and went, like a ghost trying to decide whether or not to manifest. With the heavy truck traffic, riding the smooth pavement in the car lane did not seem safe. Sticking to the shoulder was not safe, either. So, just as on the other narrow roads with no shoulder, the ride became a game of dodge-'em: where the shoulder was useless, I'd use the car lane until traffic came along, then pull off and come to a stop until it passed by. Is it any wonder that I was ready for the peace and quiet of the Katy Trail?

Part 2: The Dream

The Missouri-Kansas-Texas ("Katy") Railroad came into being shortly after the Civil War. Its grade across Missouri paralleled another trade route that was already flat: the Missouri River. For much of its length, it runs adjacent to the bluffs on the north side of the river's bottomlands. While this obviated the need for expensive large cuts, fills, and trestles, it subjected the line to the whims of the river: changes of course, flooding, washouts. Over time, the costs of maintenance, added to the decline in rail business due to the growth in highway traffic, brought the Katy to the end of the line. In the early 1980s, it was bought out by the Union Pacific. The last Katy train ran in 1988. The UP donated the railroad grade to the state of Missouri, and both state funds and donations (with many millions coming from Ted Jones of Edward Jones Investments) started the ball rolling to convert the grade into a 250-mile-long state park.

The Katy Trail is surfaced with a crushed limestone known as pug. This material compacts to a hard base with a light coating of mostly pea-sized gravel. It is eminently rideable during the dry season. When it's dry, wheels kick up a fine dust that gradually coats the bicycle and panniers. (Also your shoes and legs.) When it's raining, the tires also pick up some of the gravel along with the dust (which is now dust soup), and will make pug oatmeal, which will build up on the frame and brakes and will eventually fill the space between tire and fender. So the best time to ride the trail is maybe a day after it has rained.

Being a railroad grade, the trail is about as flat as you can get. I found that, with my fully-loaded panniers, I could maintain a speed of 10-11 mph on a level grade. Uphills (which were generally under 2%) slowed me to 7-9 mph; and on downhills a speed of 12-14 mph was common. The gravel surface presents more friction than pavement, so coasting on a downgrade is not really coasting: you still have to pedal to maintain speed. Occasionally the trail has a bump or dip in it, to accommodate a new flood-control dike or a road that has been regraded. And sometimes there will be patches of a rougher gravel, due to repairs. But flat and smooth is the order of the day.

The trail starts in Clinton with little fanfare. Various groups have been pushing for years to get it extended to Kansas City, so that it will run border-to-border; but so far, little progress has been made.

start of Katy Trail
The start of the Katy Trail is rather inauspicious.

Katy caboose at Katy Trail start
Just a few hundred yards further on, the official trailhead
has - what else? - a Katy caboose.

Today's ride on the trail - only about 20 miles - was through farmland. Over the years, trees and brush have grown along the right-of-way, creating a leafy tunnel that provides welcome respite from the sun and any crosswinds. Some of this growth is being removed, to restore the pre-railroad prairie conditions.

Katy Trail leafy bower
Dappled with sunlight,
much of the Katy Trail is covered by a leafy bower.

Where the view is open, we get to see the backs of farmers' fields - which look remarkably like the fronts - and, in the small towns through which the trail passes, the back yards of houses that border the former rail line. Railroad bridges crossing the numerous creeks provide rich material for a study of 19th-century iron-and-rivet construction techniques.

Katy trail first bridge
The first of many bridges on the Katy Trail

wooden grain elevator
Grain elevators, long idle, punctuate the foliage along the trail.

Windsor, tonight's destination, provides camping spots and nice shower facilities in a park surrounding a little lake, for seven dollars - a reasonable fee. A Sonic drive-in just down the road provided supper, and I was set for the night.