Day 0

We started our adventure by driving from Salt Lake to Kansas City, through Nebraska. The drive was happily uneventful. It’s a long drive, but we were able to do it all in one day. We didn’t arrive at Mary and Zack’s home until about 11pm, and then we visited with them for a bit before crashing. Natalie was thrilled that one firefly followed us into their house when we arrived! Mary caught it, and we tried to get a few pictures of it before she released it in their backyard.

Lake Winnebago to Clinton

It is Sunday and we are resting in a hotel in Clinton, Missouri. Yesterday started with Pete going early morning water skiing with Zack, Mary, and Eliza. They live on a lake and ski many days a week during the warmer seasons. Both Zack and Eliza skied while Mary was the designated driver. They pulled me too. Like riding a bike, I could still manage to ski, but also like riding a bike after not riding for a long time, it wore me out fast. It seems that many of the muscles used for water skiing are different than the ones I regularly use. 

Thank you so much Mary, Zack, and girls for your hospitality and letting us stay with you.

We started our ride from their house around 10 AM. Because of some last minute changes our ride was beginning on Saturday instead of Monday and our planned first day ride was adding an extra 20 miles to get us to a better place to hunker down for Sunday.

We rode on rural surface streets from Mary and Zack’s house to the Rock Island Spur of the Katy Trail. It was beautiful and peaceful and a good reminder of why we loved living in this area 20 years ago. It was also immediately apparent that our packing was a bit heavier than any other ride we’ve been on. We may have overpacked quite a bit, as the miles were extra slow and extra hard. I found myself worrying early on: “at this rate we will not make it to Clinton until 7 or 8 pm.” Spoiler: we rolled in around 11… 

The Rock Island Spur is a beautiful section of the Katy Trail going from Lee’s Summit to Windsdor, where it intersects the Katy Trail proper. The inclines and declines are gentle, which is normal for a rail trail. However, we found the inclines more difficult as the day wore on. This was partly due to our load, the heat, and this being our first ride with this heavy configuration. 

The trail here is so peaceful, and it was surrounded by beautiful green trees and fields. Much of it is shaded, which is great in the heat of the day. Occasionally it passed near small towns. It is so great to ride with zero cars. A couple of hours into our ride another tandem recumbent bike rode up next to us! This type is bike is very unusual, and only a few other times have we encountered another. So we stopped and visited and exchanged stories with the riders. We also took photos.

Around 4 PM I started to feel the effects of the heat and our exertion and needed an extended rest under the bike (by extended rest I mean like an hour). Had we known the trail better we would have realized there was a good rest stop only another mile or so beyond where we stopped. We considered riding on the highway directly to Clinton at this point, but the shoulder was narrow and the traffic was such that we felt our safest option was the much longer route on the trail.

At this point progress was slow — about half of our normal pace. Eventually we made it to Windsdor where we bought some simple snacks at a gas station and then headed out on our final leg to Clinton. The sun went down and our riding conditions improved as far as temperature goes, but we were tired. We do have an excellent headlight, powered by our bike, so we could navigate the trail just fine. The comet temperature was very helpful. Another plus of riding in the dark, especially for Natalie, was that we got to see myriad dancing fireflies all along the trail. This is magical and reminds Natalie of her childhood in Massachusetts as well as of our years together in Virginia and Kansas. However, at this point we struggled to keep up much of a pace and arrived in Clinton quite late. Our last couple of miles were on small-town rural roads in Clinton, but we have a very bright red rear flashing light as well, and the few cars that were out thankfully gave us plenty of space.

We are safe but exhausted.

Day of rest in Clinton

Today we had a day of rest in Clinton. Our hotel is comfortable (air conditioning is magic). We mostly rested today. We were able to attend our home ward via zoom. It is wonderful to connect in that way when we can’t attend in person.

In the afternoon we spent some time with my (Pete’s) cousin Dan who is a life-flight helicopter pilot based out of Clinton. We were able to see his helicopter and meet his family. It was fun to talk to his girls and see them roll their eyes at him just like he used to roll his eyes at Uncle Tony.

We are dialing back our near-term ride plans to ensure we don’t get ourselves into the same exhausted spot we got ourselves into yesterday. Hopefully it will make a difference over the next few days as our bodies acclimate to our activity and the weather.

Clinton to Pilot Grove

We left at 8 am from Clinton, after a good rest day. Our stomachs were full of food and juice and our bodies were well rested. We rode at an easy pace, drinking extra water. We were determined not to wear ourselves out as much as we had Saturday. We succeeded!

We rode 65 miles from Clinton to Pilot Grove, and with stops included it took about 12 hours. Progress seem extra slow with our trailer. We’ve overpacked. The weather was similar to Saturday: very warm (high about 92) and humid, but also quite windy. In fact, we had a good tail wind pretty much the whole day, which was great. The day became overcast sometime after 4pm and helped us not be so hot  Beautiful ride, beautiful trail, thick green trees and forests, interspersed with pretty prairies and farms and small towns. Lots of historical signs and info along the way regarding the former MKT trail line, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and more. We passed the high point (in feet above sea level) of the Katy Trail, which is 900-something feet, which of course is kinda funny to Utahns who live at about 4000 feet.

We ate our healthy, yummy camp food and are sleeping in the city park of a small town called Pilot Grove. We have met lots of other nice bike travelers. In fact, two sets of them (riders we had met earlier in the day) were already at this city park to camp when we got here! We are slow compared to other cyclists. We brought a 4-person tent in this trip (where we usually bring a 2-person) and it feels extra spacious.

Pilot Grove to the Turner Shelter

(Night of Mon 30 May to Tues 31 May) 

We chose our tent site in the city park based on the flatness of the ground. However, at about 10 pm we realized we should have paid better attention to where the park lights were. We had a bright light shining down on us that lit up our entire tent. We were already staked down and exhausted, so we decided to stay put. However, as we slept fitfully we eventually determined to move our tent during the middle of the night to a section in the park that was better shielded from light. I slept better but Natalie not so much. About 4 am she put in ear plugs and was able to fall asleep.

As we started our ride on Monday we met a retired fellow who does a YouTube channel — something like Bluecollar Biker. He passed us early on but was camped at the same location on Monday evening. We chatted with him quite a bit in the evening and in the morning. He is doing this trip with an inexpensive bike and camping to demonstrate how little money is required to do a ride like this. 

We left around 8 am and had a generally downhill rail-grade ride for about 20 miles. We are still rolling slowly but our bodies are starting to acclimate to our activity.

Ate our mid morning meal at a gas station in Boonville. About this point the trail joined

the Missouri River, and we will be alongside it near the river for the remainder of the trail headed east. 

We stopped for lunch at a trailside cafe in Rocheport. It was delightful. We joked about ending our trip there and just relaxing for the next week in an Airbnb. It was the type of town that made that tempting. This part of the trail was also exceptionally beautiful. 

Overall the day’s weather was overcast, which helped a lot with heat, and the high was only 80 instead of 92. We were on the leading edge of a storm system throughout the day. We could hear the thunder rumbling but only felt a few drops of rain. Our friends in KC were reporting heavy rain and our weather apps kept telling us that would be coming soon. We kept pushing, hoping to bank as many miles as we felt able to do. 

We eventually made it to a trail shelter called Turner bunkhouse in the small town of Tebbetts, Missouri. The main floor of the shelter has 11 bunkbeds (22 beds) and a similar number in the upstairs room. It is just one big room on the main floor. There were two kinds of beat down showers which were pure magic. We’ve already reached that point in our ride where accommodations like this can be appreciated in spite of their obvious flaws. Perhaps the best thing about the bunkhouse, besides the weather protection, is that it is air conditioned. It was very comfortable relative to a tent and we slept well.

There were 4 other people in the lower floor with us. One retired man who chose to sleep on the cement floor in the bike storage room so as not to bother others with good snoring. Two guys have been on a two month trip from Kansas City to Washington DC and back. They are probably in their late 20s or early 30s and basically quit their jobs (one has a job cooking somewhere and the other was in construction). The other person looks a bit older and mostly sleeps.

It may rain most of today and into tonight, but we are prepared with clothing and gear and will stop and shelter if we need to. We have ridden in rain many, many times on previous trips.

Eleven servings of tater tots

We eat a lot on these rides. Dinner consisted of a bag of salad, 6-7 clementines, 2 bananas, 2 apples, 6 cookies, a medium bag of potato chips, a full bag of tater tots (11 servings), half a jar of pickles, half a watermelon (mostly Pete), a small bag of m&m’s, and about 100 ounces of juice and sparkling water. People often ask if we lose weight on these trips. The answer is no. An emphatic no.

Today we woke up in the bunkhouse to a massive rainstorm. (And there had been awesome thunder and lightning in the middle of the night. We’ve missed the Midwestern storms!) We had slept well and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to shower prior to going to bed. The bunkhouse was air-conditioned and smelled about like what you would expect from a bunkhouse full of multi-day cyclists and their gear but we definitely would stay in the bunkhouse again. A few of the people riding the trail decided to hunker down for a bit longer to wait out the weather, but we left in the rain with one other biker who is headed in the opposite direction. It’s a little bit of a leap of faith to leave a warm and dry building on your bike. We had good rain gear, but I soaked mine from the inside out with sweat, so I’m not sure it was doing a whole lotta good.

Early on we decided to shorten our day a bit and stay in a bed and breakfast. We saw it advertised on one of the bulletin boards along the trail. (There are relatively frequent Katy Trail trailhead areas, with very helpful and interesting bulletin boards, great maps and distance charts, and restrooms or pit toilets, and usually a water pump.) It was extra slow riding today. I spent half of the ride wondering if something was wrong with the bike because it was so hard to pedal. In the end, I think the slowness is because the trail is a little bit softer with all the water in it. We don’t generally leave tracks, and the trail is crushed gravel. But it seemed to roll extra slow today. Our average dropped from around 8 mph to around 6 mph. It was nice to know we weren’t going to have to do it for 12 hours.

After about six hours of riding we made it to our bed and breakfast, “Joey’s Birdhouse” in McKittrick, Missouri. The first order of business was riding back to a grocery store nearby to buy all the food we just posted above. Once we got it home to the B&B we showered and started a load of laundry. Then we ate, and ate, and ate. (Natalie’s note: this place and its host are as delightful as the name sounds! It is a fun little old – but nicely appointed – bedroom with a tiny but functional kitchen in back and a good bathroom with an old claw foot tub. Our host, Joey, in an artist and gardener and I love seeing all her projects and work around. She offered to let us do laundry, and she was so pleasant and helpful in many other ways. She even encouraged us to go pick fresh strawberries and honeyberries from her garden, which we did! I would love to stay here again.)

It is raining softly now as we get ready go to sleep. We are grateful that we are under a roof tonight.

McKittrick to St Charles

We slept well in Joey’s Birdhouse B&B, and woke up to the beautiful songs of all the birds outside.

Breakfast was outstanding. It was served in an old mercantile building next door that they use for their kitchen and other things. We left our bike trailer in their barn so we could have a lighter load. So kind of them to let us do that.

The temperatures were just right and gratefully there was no rain. We felt good today. We had good trail food, so that likely helped.

We have to say again how much we love the fact that there are zero cars on this trail! For example, yesterday we were only on a road with cars for 100 yards, and that was just to be able to get to a grocery store. We have been leapfrogging our friend Tony this whole ride, and he has been having quite the adventures. The Missouri River is wide, and it’s cool to ride alongside it so much of the way.

We rode almost 63 miles. Without the trailer, our average speed was about 9.3 mph (about 1.5 mph faster than our other days with the trailer). That felt nice. Near the end of the ride, we could tell we were getting into the suburbs of the city. Most of our ride has been quite rural. We arrived in St. Charles around 5:30. We are staying in a nice hotel, but it required a significant hill climb. And, sadly, it does not have a hot tub. 

In other news, Natalie found a tick on Pete’s ankle! 

We had Subway for dinner. It was just right, and the weather was perfect for a little evening stroll.

At one point in today’s ride, we figured out we had overestimated the distance to the end, giving us a shorter ride tomorrow than expected. We will make it to the very eastern point of the trail tomorrow! And we will only have 26 miles of riding out and back, so it will be an easier day. Then we can rest up in this nice hotel again to begin our ride back to the beginning. Woohoo!

A few random thoughts:

It’s good to work on a hard project like this – a big accomplishment we can do together.

It’s fun to have time to zone out, fun to have time to just talk about whatever pops into our minds.

We love not knowing what time it is.

We love how different it is from our usual daily lives (not that those are bad, just that it’s fun to have variety and adventures).

It doesn’t have to be entirely perfect to be a good adventure and experience. We have lots of random things that don’t seem to work out the best, but we just figure out how to deal with them and move forward.

There are so many things that happen on these trips; we could write for an hour about each day.

St Charles to Machens, the terminus of the Katy Trail

We slept exceptionally well in our nice hotel. The complimentary breakfast was very good. It was a beautiful Friday morning to be back on the trail, with perfect weather.  We had only one light pannier and our snack “trunk.” We were riding by about 9 AM.

We rode almost 13 miles east, first through quaint old downtown St Charles, and then through more rural areas again. The trail conditions were great, and there were quite a few other riders, but it wasn’t at all crowded. When we reached the terminus at Machens (no real town nearby, just the little trailhead shelter and a pit toilet) we rang the bell hanging there and ate some snacks. The terminus is very near the Mississippi River, but there’s not a good way to ride to the river. The terminus is also one of the least scenic places on the trail, but it represents a solid accomplishment. Eventually another local couple rode up and we visited with them a bit before heading back west. We saw Tony one last time, as we were heading toward St Charles and he was nearing the terminus, the end of his adventure where his wife would pick him up. What a great trail friend. We’ll look for his YouTube channel, Blue Collar Backcountry, and watch a few of his adventures.

Overall trail note: we have seen a LOT of black snakes, turtles, squirrels, birds, and one tick. Knock on wood – not too many bugs. Mosquitos at times are a bit annoying, but not too bad overall.

As we finished our total of 27 miles for the day, arriving back in St Charles, we decided to celebrate accomplishing the eastern portion of our journey by eating at PF Chang’s. We had a huge long slow lunch, and drank lots of Diet Coke. Then we rode back to the hotel. We were cleaned up and relaxing by 4. 

Continuing west tomorrow! 

One thing we didn’t write about was meeting a gentleman named John on our ride yesterday. He is probably close to the age of some of our children. He moved to Missouri about a year ago from Pennsylvania and leased an old trailside building in which he runs a diner called the KT Caboose. He was delightful to talk to as we rode together for about 30 minutes to an hour. He was riding into the nearest town to buy food, which he would carry back to his restaurant on the trailer behind his bike. It doesn’t appear he has a car. He is just living simply. One of the things we’ve enjoyed about our rides is the people we meet. Most of them are just exploring the world like we are. But everyone has a unique story and sometimes we get a glimpse into those stories. Sometimes we refer to these people as our trail angels, because they make the ride so much better.

St. Charles to Washington

We slept great last night. In the morning we woke up and ate another big hotel breakfast. We were riding before 9 AM. There is something a little bit different about being on a trail that you are somewhat familiar with. The time seems to go slightly faster. 

One thing I did on this segment that I haven’t done before was to turn off my speedometer. Sometimes I get so focused on our progress and our speed and when we’re going to arrive that I fail to enjoy the journey. So to try to keep that out of my head, I just put my bike computer on map mode and removed all of the other statistics from the screen. I think it helped. I found myself far less worried about how fast we were going and instead mostly just observed nature as we rode. As we moved west, the city suburbs gave way to more rural small towns and farms. Since it is a Saturday, there were far more riders, runners, and walkers on the trail. A few cyclists rode along with us for a while now and then, curious about our bike and our travels. It is fun to be able to swap stories and experiences with the people we meet.

The weather was very nice today, with highs in the mid 80s and no rain. There was lots of shade on the trail as we rode. I had set up our stay for Saturday and Sunday nights before we started our ride. That removed flexibility from today. Had we not prearranged a place to stay, we probably would’ve tried to go further. But it was nice to not have to worry about finding accommodations. At a little before 2 PM we rode into Washington, Missouri, and found our Airbnb, which is an entire two-story house. It is 115 years old and wonderfully restored. It has air conditioning, but it is set up with airflow such that the air conditioning hasn’t been necessary so far. Plus, we’ve gotten used to being out in the weather, so being inside at 75° doesn’t feel hot anymore. I think we’ve acclimated.

After we unloaded our gear we rode about two more miles to go to a grocery store. Once again we purchased a lot. We brought two panniers this time and filled them both. It is mostly healthy food, and lots of stuff to drink. We find that on these long rides having fruit juice and flavored water makes a huge difference. The house also has a washing machine in the basement. And so we were able to do laundry. Our bike is in the basement next to the laundry machines.

We are excited for a day of rest tomorrow. Ideally we would’ve had another day or two to ride, as it looks like rainy weather is coming in Monday and possibly also Tuesday and Wednesday, and it would be nice to be further toward our destination prior to the rain hitting. But we will be fine.

Our stomachs are full, our legs are tired, and we are in a comfortable location together. Life is good.

Rest day in Washington

Our rest day in Washington has been wonderful. We woke up and made pancakes (to help Pete feel better about carrying pancake batter for the last 300 miles…). We walked 30 minutes to church. Luckily it was the 9 AM block, so we didn’t get too sweaty on the way there (but we did get a bit sweaty on the way back). We were impressed by how many kind people welcomed us, and meetings were good. It was nice to sit together the whole two hours. (We haven’t been able to do that for a few years due to Pete’s calling.) The rest of our day has been lazing around the house, eating, reading, and happily doing nothing.

In many ways it would’ve been nice to have arranged our days differently by banking miles Friday and Saturday, allowing us to make a little more progress toward getting back. However, we have to make trade-offs between having a sure place to stay and having some flexibility. As it sits now we have four roughly 60-mile days ahead of us. There are a few options to possibly bank miles on the first couple of days, but there isn’t an option to adjust the final day’s mileage.

If the weather is reasonable, this should be quite doable. If we get caught in a deluge of rain, then the miles will be slow and difficult. Our first goal is to make it back to the Katy Shelter in Tebbetts tomorrow night.