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.
|The start of the Katy Trail is rather inauspicious.
|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.
|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.
|The first of many bridges on the Katy Trail
|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.