Cycling The Katy Trail: Missouri’s Famous Rail Trail

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When day three rolled around, Josh Miller and I loaded our bikes into the car and drove thirty minutes south to the town of Sedalia. There, we assembled our rigs and prepared ourselves for the 5-day ride across Missouri on the famous Katy Trail. Before we hit the road, we explored the Sedalia station and spoke briefly with three tour leaders from the Adventure Cycling Association. They were in the middle of leading a tour on the trail – with 50+ riders heading in our direction from the far side of the state.

Around 1 PM we finally hit the trail.

As is typical with most first days of bicycle travel, our first few miles were nauseatingly slow. We stopped frequently to take photos and adjust our saddles, handlebars and panniers. But we were in no rush. The trail was flat and the weather was good. A bit chilly, but good overall.

Before we even left the limits of Sedalia, we spotted three white-tailed deer in a nearby meadow. I was successful in snapping a photo of one of them before all three darted off into some nearby trees. Josh made a comment about seeing hundreds of female deer during his time in Missouri, but never seeing a male. I was determined to try and spot one during my visit to the state, but sadly I never did.

After crossing several busy roads and riding around large pools of water that had flooded out the trail entirely, we eventually left the city limits and cycled our way into a dark green tunnel made of leaves and branches that seemed to stretch on forever and ever.

It is these endless green passageways that many cyclists oftentimes dream about. They are beautiful, easy to ride, and traffic free. It’s easy to see how a scene such as this might be the ideal cycling existence.

I too was happy to be inside the endless green tube. It was beautiful… and it reminded me of a similar stretch of road that I traveled through in the summer of 2004 while cycling across Vancouver island in British Columbia, Canada.

While there were miles and miles of trail surrounded by tall, lush, dark foliage, there were a few spots in the path that opened up to the scenery that is Missouri. Most of these openings were at places along the trail where the trail crossed over a road or bridge… and Josh and I took these short opportunities to snap photos and get a sense of place. After riding in the green tunnels of the Katy Trail for such an extended period of time, it was nice to actually see the world outside of the isolated path.

“We could ride all the way across Missouri,” I said to Josh as we rode along, “…and not see a thing but this endless green tube.”

After more than an hour’s worth of riding, Josh and I reached the tiny town of Green Ridge. We were excited to see that the city had a restroom, drinking fountain, benches and an awning in place for cyclists passing through on the Katy Trail. We used this opportunity to stop, fill up our water bottles and soak in the history of Green Ridge, Missouri.

After our short break in Green Ridge, it was time to get back on the trail… and back inside our never-ending canopy.

Shortly before reaching the city of Windsor, we climbed to the highest point on the Katy Trail. A small brown sign marked the spot. Only 955 feet.

One of the things that attracts so many people to the Katy Trail is that it has practically no elevation gain whatsoever. And if you ride the trail from West to East, it’s almost an entirely downhill shot. Even if you were to climb from the lowest point on the trail to the highest, you’d still only be gaining about 650 feet in total elevation. Heck, I do more than that on a daily basis when I ride my bike to the supermarket to get my groceries.

The trail certainly isn’t steep, but the ride (for us at least) was far from easy.

It was at about this point in our ride that we began to notice just how difficult it was to ride on the sandy path that is the Katy Trail.

Under normal conditions, we were told that riding the Katy Trail was much like riding on a regular paved road. But after days of rain, the path was now soft and riding in a straight line was nearly impossible (Look at the tire tracks in the photo below. Do you see how they wiggle about?). Josh described the experience best when he said, “It’s like riding your bike in beach sand.” And I couldn’t agree more! While it was nice to be riding on a dedicated bike path and not having to worry about the danger of passing vehicles, I found myself living for those brief moments when the trail crossed a paved road and my bike could finally coast along as it’s meant to do. Coasting on the Katy was pretty much impossible… which meant resting too was out of the question. There were two options at this point. 1) Stop. Or 2) put your head down and pedal. So we pedaled on.

Once we reached the city of Windsor we decided that we would go no further. We had plans of cycling an additional twenty miles to the city of Clinton, before turning around and riding back the same way we had come, but we got a late start, took our sweet time, and more than anything, were surprised at just how tiring the flat trail was. So we called it a day and decided to get food and set up camp.

There were few places to eat in town, so Josh and I did the unimaginable – we ordered a cheese pizza from a gas station! For $9.99 USD, we were made a “fresh” cheese pizza by an experienced cook at Casey’s General Store.

“Only in America,” I thought to myself, as Josh placed our order. I then spent a good fifteen minutes recounting all the great pizza I had eaten when traveling through Europe last year with my bicycle. “If you want some good pizza,” I said to Josh, “Go to Macedonia!”

After our pizza was  prepared, we returned to the Katy Trail and took a seat on one of the wooden shelters that had been erected there.

As we sat and ate, dozens of Amish horses and buggies drove past. I snapped photos of as many as I could – shocked at just how many Amish were roaming around this small mid-western town.

Although we had spent several hours cycling the Katy Trail that day, we had seen few other people. “I guess we are the only ones crazy enough to try and ride the trail when so much of it is flooded out,” I thought to myself. But in Windsor the trail was a moderately used path through town. At one point a small group of older men on bikes rode past… and several individuals walking their dogs waved as they strolled by as well.

Then, a loud rumble filled the sky and three B2 Bombers flew overhead. Josh informed me that there was a military base nearby and that the B2 Bombers were somewhat famous in this particular area because of the fact that so many of the bombers are stored and tested here. In a single day I went from having never seen a B2 Bomber in my entire life to seeing three of them in a ten minute time span.

After finishing our greasy pizza pie (which was much better than I expected it to be (or maybe that’s simply because the both of us were so hungry)) we jumped back on our bikes and headed to the south side of town, where we paid $5.00 each to set up our tents in what appeared to be the city park. Just across the way was a small lake/pond.

After finding the area of the park that had been set aside for camping, we went to work on setting up our tents.

Prior to my arrival in Missouri, Josh had purchased a small 2-man tent that I instantly recognized. It was the Wenzel Bivy/Tent – the same tent I had used on my first two bike tours. And I instantly knew it was a tent that Josh was not going to like.

NOTICE: If you are going to buy a tent, DO NOT BUY THIS TENT. It costs about $20-$30 USD and it is a classic example of “You get what you pay for.” The main problem with this tent is that it is poorly ventilated, meaning that once you climb inside it at night, it is almost impossible to escape in the morning without getting absolutely drenched. The heat from your body builds up inside the tent and creates giant condensation drops on the roof of the tent. Then, as you move about during the night (or in the morning), those giant drops of water begin to fall on you, your sleeping bag and whatever else you might have inside the tent with you.

Needless to say, I knew Josh was going to have troubles, so I watched and laughed as he went about setting up his “prized piece of camping gear.”

After a little trial and error, we had both of our tents erected… and a few more minutes of daylight to spare. So we took a walk around the nearby lake, just in time to capture the sunset.

As it grew dark, we walked back across our campsite, down the road and through the trees until we arrived at Sonic - a fast food “restaurant” that seems to be found in nearly ever small and large city in Western Missouri. We ordered some ice cream and french fries and hung out for a few minutes under the neon glow of the EverydayValue Meal.

Now fully stuffed on junk food, we returned to our tents, said goodnight and hit the hay. It took Josh several minutes to climb inside his tiny tent… and I giggled to myself as I thought about him waking the next morning to the downpour I was so sure was coming.

It had been a good first day on the famous Katy Trail… but if we were going to complete the entire trail in the next four days, we were going to have to pick up the pace.

Stay tuned for my next installment of “Adventures from the famous Katy Trail”… coming soon to BicycleTouringPro.com! I’ll post my next article in just a few days.

About Darren Alff

Darren Alff is a world-renowned authority on bicycle touring and is the founder of BicycleTouringPro.com - the world's most popular bicycle touring website and how-to information source. He is the author of "The Bicycle Touring Blueprint" and three additional cycling books. Darren has dedicated his life to helping others conduct the bicycle tour of their dreams. His websites, books, email newsletter, products and public appearances now inspire and assist hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world.

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5 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Katy Trail - A Wet And Soggy Mess | Bicycle Touring Pro

  2. Hans Erdman

    August 4, 2010 at 9:35 am

    You mean you SKIPPED St. Charles, and dinner at the wonderful “Lewis and Clark American Resturant”? You missed out! Rode the Katy in late April from St. Charles to Augusta and back. Beautiful trail, great ride!

  3. Paul Fish

    December 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    I enjoyed this whole article of the Kathy Trail, rail trail ride. I rode a trail from Downtown Akron, Ohio to Cleveland and then another nine mile to the end of the Erie Towpath Trail in the dark. The trail is crushed limestone and the bicycle gets very dirty and has to be cleaned up. How do we fine the camping spot? I just pull over somewhere and roll the bicycle off the road into some big bushes and stelth camp. Untill I can peddle again.

    I would like one to peddly Pyton Airizonia Sometime. I started off in Tuscon Az and first road to Phonex Az, rode in 110 degrees. Then headed around a lake in the middle of the desert and then onto Pyton. The road climbs ten feet about every 15 to 20 feet. It gets steep. Trust me on this one.

    I am handicapped and have to carry a phone for emergenices now-a-days, but will go somewhere. I have not done any really long rides for years, except the towpath trail, Franklin Pa which goes into two tunnels where we have to carry lights to make it thru there it gets very dark, but the senery is verry pretty with a big river and railroad bridges to ride over, it is neat. The other way goes to Oil City, Pa.

    Please send some more updates I really enjoyed reading about this ride.

    Paul

  4. ** The Jame :P***

    June 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Im 10 yrs. old and live in missouri and yet i have never been on the katy trail, ill have to beg my mom to take me now ;)

  5. Blaine

    July 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Sorry about you experience on the trail. My friend and I rode the entire thing in mild early june weather with one day of rain. We even rode our touring bikes which did dig into the ground on the rainy day. It is quite weird that you sat at the same “wooden shelter” in you picture that we did. And while eating there we saw a man in a buggy!

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