Last summer I was envious of my friends leaving for weekends on their bicycles with their panniers packed with all of their camping gear. I love camping and I love biking, so I had to figure out a way to join them without going out and buying a touring bike. As an avid backpacker, I already own all of the ultralight camping gear, so it was just a matter of how to get it all on my bike and still be able to ride it. If I’m able to pack all of that in a backpack and carry it on my back for 10 miles, how much harder can it be to carry it on a bike, right? (And yes, all of you that have ever carried your camping gear on a bike, feel free to snicker a little at this point.) The Katy Trail was picked for the destination as an easier route for a first-timer. I was also biking with my friends Jackie and Kirk, and Kirk’s 13 year-old daughter Mazzy. It was Mazzy’s first distance ride, so her dad carried both of their gear.
On the left, I have all my gear: Sleeping bag in a dry bag, sleeping pad, camp chair, camp towel, tent, toiletries, battery operated fan, and snacks. On the right, I have everything packed in Bontrager Town Double Throw Panniers. The panniers have 52 liters capacity compared to my 65 liter backpack, so the tent ended up in its own dry bag strapped to the top. My luxury items were my chair and my fan. I found I could have left the chair at home since both of our campsites had picnic tables, but since we were biking in Missouri in August, I sure am glad I carried that little fan! Because there are plenty of places to stop for food and refill our water bottles along the Katy Trail, we chose to just carry snacks and our two bottles of water.
One of the most important parts of my gear since it is August in Missouri (along with lots of bug spray and sun screen) was my Moxie tanks to keep my cool and dry and my Da Brim sun brim. The brim was great in keeping the sun out of my eyes and off the back of my neck. The only drawback to the brim is it will catch the wind in windy conditions, but we were lucky to just have a light breeze most of the weekend.
To begin our trip, we drove to Jefferson City, Missouri and caught an Amtrak train to Sedalia, Missouri. When you make your train reservation, you also pay an extra $10 for a ticket for your bike. They have removed a couple rows of seats at the back of the train and you carry your bikes up the stairs and store them during the ride. Only four bikes are allowed on each train due to limited space. Once we got organized, we sat back and enjoyed our one hour ride. One thing to note, there are no bike racks or holders, so if your bike does not have a kickstand, you will need to lean your bikes and support them with your bags so they don’t fall over.
We were much more prepared getting off. When the train arrived in Sedalia, we made an assembly line out the door onto the platform, passing out our gear and then our bikes.
We started off from the Sedalia Amtrak station just after 1:00 p.m. and with a sense of excitement and a wee bit of anxiety since it was my first time toting gear, we headed out! At our half-way point for the day, my brain was yelling ‘WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????’. If you look at any of the rails to rails projects, the maximum incline is 6%. The first 23 miles of our day was on the hilliest portion of the Katy Trail. Every corner we rounded, the hill kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing – adding that 30 pounds of gear sapped my energy by at least half. Hmmm…..maybe my couple of evenings around my fairly flat neighborhood with my gear the week prior to the trip wasn’t enough training. I have to say it felt great at our stop in Pilot Grove to stretch out for a few minutes off the bike 🙂
When I wasn’t thinking about my body screaming at me, I was reminded of why I love this trail. A lot of the trail is completely canopied by trees, several old railroad bridges over creeks, and tunnels under roadways. It passes through wooded areas, farmland and small towns following the path of the old railroad line. Along with the sounds of me gasping for air we were serenaded by the sounds of the native birds and frogs and just the peacefulness of nature. After our rest stop in Pilot Grove, we hopped (or in my case, crawled) back onto our bikes so we could reach our camp ground before dark. Our dinner stop was in Boonville, Missouri, which timed it perfectly to catch sunset from atop the pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River as we rode our last three miles to our campground at the Katy Roundhouse in New Franklin, Missouri.
Since I didn’t carry any food other than ride snacks, who knew that Sunday breakfast of biscuits and gravy sitting on the curb of a Casey’s convenience store would taste like a 5-star meal? My motivation for the day was that Sunday’s mileage was only 30 miles and was on my absolute favorite section of the trail. After Boonville, the trail flattens out so I knew we had a much easier day in store.
At Rocheport, Missouri, the old railroad tunnel as you ride into town is the highlight of the trail. We stopped at Mulberry Grill & Bakery for some amazing wood-fired pizza and a nice cool glass of wine. The rest of our day was a relaxing ride, the Missouri River to our right and big bluffs with lots of fun caves to explore on our left. With the energy of a 13 year-old, if there was a cave, Mazzy would want to climb it and if there was a frog she wanted to catch it. It was so much fun to see the trail through her eyes. My legs were still screaming a bit, but I had decided by this point that I could DO this!
Our Sunday night stop was at Cooper’s Landing in Easley, Missouri. Cooper’s Landing sits on the bank of the river and is known for a food truck with the best Thai food in Missouri. The campground is a eclectic mix of trail riders, and summer RV residents. In the campground, a couple worked on hand crafted dugout canoes while live music was being played on the deck behind the store.
Monday was our final day. We had a short 23 miles to go, and since it was Monday we had the trail almost to ourselves. With overcast skies and a threat of rain, we didn’t take much time to stop and play. My legs were cooperating and carrying the extra gear was finally getting easier. We made it back to our car at the Jefferson City Amtrak station in time for a well-deserved pizza buffet lunch.
Even with all of my struggles on day one, I would do it again in a heartbeat. We are already checking the Amtrak stops and the Katy Trail maps to find another section to ride before winter sets in. My reminder from the weekend – ride with the glee and abandon of a 13 year-old.
Donna is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!