Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bikepacking the Katy Trail, Part 3: Day 3, Tebbets to Pleasant Hills

Day 3: 170 miles

Weather: 36 - 48 degrees F according to Garmin, cross/headwind 10-15mph

On me: SOAS short sleeve jersey under Search and State merino long sleeve, Patagonia MicroPuff while warming up in the early morning, Rothera flannel cap, alternated mittens/Handup gloves, Gore leg warmers, wool socks in Lake 303 boots.

Things I ate: Kind bar, handful of gummi bears, one Justin's PB packet, Casey's coffee/hot chocolate x2, Snickers peanut butter crispers x2, Clif nut butter bars x2, Nature Valley granola x1, one bag of potato chips, one bag of beef jerky, and whatever else I found in my car that appeared to be remotely edible on the way home.

The ride: So, I made the questionable decision to ride all 170 miles back to my starting point on day 3. Partly out of masochism, partly because it was supposed to storm again the following day. I crawled out of my sleeping bag inside the Turner trail shelter at 0500 and had the bike packed up and out the door by 5:30. It was dark and quiet. And cold, in the high 30s. I bumped slowly down the trail in the dark into a bit of a headwind. The sun started to come up after an hour, and pace and spirits both picked up some. I was relying on one granola bar and the rest of my emergency gummy bear supply to get through the first 80 miles, where there would be a C-store off-route in New Franklin. There may not have been any open cafes or coffee shops in any of the towns en route until that point, but several of the trail head restrooms were heated, and I *may* have dragged my bike inside with me a couple times in the early morning hours to add/remove clothing layers and defrost my fingers.

In New Franklin, I turned right off the trailhead onto a road that looked like it led into town, straight up a hill. At the top of that hill was the promised red land of a Casey's General Store, where the people again looked at me like I was crazy. Totally out of calories by this point, I grabbed 2 bags of potato chips (one of which was consumed on the spot), 2 chocolate bars, and a handful of Clif bars. Also coffee. All the hot coffee. It was 11am, later than I wanted after a bunch of stops along the way to pack away clothing layers (it was high 40s and sunny now). But with under 100 miles to go, and now fueled by chips, chocolate, and caffeine, legs felt ready for the rest of the haul home.

After New Franklin I crossed the Missouri River back into Boonville, and continued along the trail. Somewhere along this section I passed these Halloween-themed cycling skeletons (above), where a few folks headed in the opposite direction had stopped to take pictures. Couldn't pass up the opportunity, and three very kind French touring cyclists snapped a photo for me and then insisted we take a group photo as well 😄

I stopped to photograph a few of the bridges and tunnels (of which there were many) that I had passed over and through while East-bound the day prior. Boonville to Green Ridge passed uneventfully, just pedaling and ticking off miles. Gradual up, gradual down, no real hills but no coasting either, just constant steady work. In Green Ridge, 10 miles from Windsor (from where I had started the previous day), I veered off for my second and last C-store stop. Hot chocolate/coffee and some emergency chocolate for the road. Quick mental calculation that I would have 1-2 hours of riding in the dark.
Tunnel. Cooler than bridge.
When I got back on the bike after the Green Ridge Casey's, my left knee complained. I told it to shut up. That was relatively ineffective. I rarely get left knee problems, and think it was likely because of cleat placement on my winter boots. Kinda just threw those cleats on without as much meticulous measuring as usually goes into cleats. Note to self, don't do that.

I was making forward progress and eating chocolate, though, so couldn't complain too much. It eventually settled down to a tolerable level. In Windsor, I stopped and made sure that I was turning back onto the Rock Island Spur trail in the *right* direction this time. It was around 5pm and I calculated 50 miles to go. A few towns and, per my memory of 2 days ago, a lot of nothing along the way. It was nice to see this section of trail not in the pouring rain this go-round, even though it was much the same as the rest of the Katy trail 😂

The sun started to set. It was fine. I needed my light (borrowed battery pack-powered headlight from a friend, with the Dynamo in the shop still) earlier than anticipated, with the trees creating a trail-canopy making it darker than if I had been out on a normal open road. Trail things go bump in the night, although the only thing I ever actually caught sight of was a small family of raccoons. 

10 miles to go. Headlight dies. Stop and pull out backup, a trusty purchase that puts out about 150 lumens but lasts forever. The temp had dropped again with the sun firmly down, and I stopped to put a jacket on. A few more mile markers and I was rolling out into a parking lot in Pleasant Hills, MO. Somewhere within a few miles is my car. I didn't trust myself to navigate there from memory at this point, and finding myself back in the land of Verizon reception, let the iPhone take me there. 

I capped off my journey appropriately by bumping over the railroad tracks and catapulting said iPhone from my top tube bag, and then tipping over on my bike while retrieving it. All not 100 feet from the car. 

400 miles, two and a half days of riding. ✔

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Bikepacking the Katy Trail, Part 2: Day 2, Windsor to Tebbets

Day 2: 128 miles

Weather: mid-40s to mid-50s F, overcast, dry.

On me: Search and State merino wool long sleeve jersey, SOAS bib shorts, regular weight Handup Gloves, Lake 303 boots and lightweight wool socks.

Things I ate: 1x Justin's almond butter packet and a chocolate java Huppy bar. One lara bar, 2x some sort of protein bars obtained at Casey's, 1x Casey's coffee/hot chocolate. Chewy cinnamon bears from Sprouts that have been living in my top tube bag for far too long. 2x Wild Mesquite Huppy bars. 2 cups decaf coffee and one order of shrimp tostados. 2x Kind bars and a Hammer recovery drink mix.

The ride: So. Picking up where we left off. Most things are dry-ish, except for my boots. It's more than livable, though. I set out around 0830, and ran into a Casey's for a coffee/Hershey's bar breakfast of champions about 9 miles in, and grab an extra few protein bars while I'm there. It's cool and misty outside, but the rain is done for the week.

The trail is once again quiet. Trees on either side, occasionally an interesting skyline, bridge, pasture. Scattered tiny towns along the way. I hit Sedalia, and there's a trail re-route on pavement for about 5 or 6 miles - navigating briefly is actually a welcome brake from the railtrail monotony, and it takes me past some pretty farmland (and a taco stand). A handful of miles later, I stop at the Clifton City trail head, where there's not much other than a restroom and map, and am stowing my jacket in my seat bag when two older gentlemen roll up from the westbound direction. One is from Maryland and the other Colorado, and they tell me they meet up once a year "somewhere in the middle" for a cycling trip together. They tell me about the Turner house in Tebbets, about 130 miles down the trail from where I've started, which is a hostel-style house open to riders. It sounds like as good a destination for the day as any, so that's now where I'm headed.

I hit Booneville 50 miles into the day, where I'm later told my two separate people there's a fantastic hotel called the Frederick. With jet tubs. Note to self.

Passing through Boonville, the trail winds through town and across a bridge, taking you to the Northern side of the Missouri River for the first time. Crossing the Missouri is kind of neat, but also windy. I was too busy blowing around on a loaded down bike on a bridge high above the river to take any actual pictures here, but shortly after the river crossing is the New Franklin to Rocheport stretch of trail, featuring plenty of big open fields and rock formations.

I keep expecting to see another Casey's or any sort of convenience store, and go off the trail to circle through Rocheport, where there are a few small cafes but not much in the way of resupply options. So on I go. The trail runs right along the Missouri River now, and the banks are near over-flowing, but the trail is surprisingly pretty dry.  

Hartsburg is the next big dot on the trail map I've picked up. I've been warned there are no food options in Tebbets, so I stop there. Two B&B's, a single cafe/wine bar, no C stores, and everything else is closed. Many businesses along the Katy are seasonal and/or open limited hours, so if you're riding after 2pm and not during the summer, be prepared for not a lot. I gave up and blew some money on fancy shrimp tostados in Hartsburg, as they were only serving appetizers. They were super nice and made me hot coffee and let me plug my Garmin and phone in while I waited. It was a pretty little town, and the B&B's there looked like they'd be a nice stopover if one was touring the Katy trail.

I left Hartsburg in the early evening with about 20 miles to Tebbets and a good hour of daylight left. There was only one other town in between, North Jefferson. As I pulled into the North Jefferson trail head, I noticed a couple I had passed earlier in the day. They turned out to be avid bikepacker/off-road rider-types from Alaska, en route to a wedding in St. Louis. We admired each other's color-explosion gravel bikes, and rode the last 12 miles to Turner trail shelter together.

It was dark when we arrived at the Turner trail shelter, and dark again when I left the next morning, so thanks to Google maps for this shot:

All the necessities can be found here: restroom, coffee maker, handful of bunks, plenty of space to haul your bike and camping gear in, heat/AC. It was a nice place to crash for the night and interact with a handful of other cyclists from all over the country. I was more than happy to pay $6 for a warm place to curl up for the night.

Next up: Bikepacking the Katy Trail, Day 3...

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Bikepacking the Katy Trail, Part 1: Setup & Rock Island Spur

TL;DR: After a day spent cleaning the mud out of my my bike after the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra, I hit the Katy trail in Missouri for a few days of bikepacking. The original plan was to ITT a 550 mile route in Kansas, but Iowa/Kansas/Oklahoma were hit by huge storms and tornadoes. The Katy trail was just far east enough to not be completely underwater, so away I went. I went right around 400 miles in 2.5 days, bike/equipment/ride are detailed below.

Bike Setup

Frame bag (Rogue Panda): 4 battery packs (generator hub in the shop), 3 headlights (see: generator hub in the shop), headlamp, charging cables, iPhone charger, dry bag with second pair of socks/hand warmers, mittens. Side pocket with map, small bottle of chain lube, spare AAA batteries, Dynaplug, spork, pepper spray, pocket knife.
Front roll: Nemo GoGo bivy in Sea to Summit dry bag, under a Wanderlust pinon pack holding additional snacks, toothbrush/toothpaste/contacts, sunscreen, and whatever else I couldn't find room for elsewhere every morning.
Seat pack: tools/spare tubes, Otto lock, sleeping pad, Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt, Patagonia puffy coat, running shorts, Gore rain coat.
Top tube bag: chock full of Huppy bars, Lara bars, Justin's almond butter, and emergency gummi bears.

Day 1: 70ish miles

Weather: 60s-low 70s and intermittently misting -> pouring.

On me: SOAS short sleeve jersey and bib shorts, Gore ShakeDry rain jacket, Rothera hat, Lake 303 boots, lightweight socks.

Things I ate: 2x Lara bars and a pack of cashews. Sword ginger-citrus drink mix.

The ride: I found my way to Pleasant Hills, Missouri, a small town wherein lies the western end of the Rock Island Spur branch of the Katy Trail. A quick call to the very friendly local police department confirmed that I could leave my car in the town square and they would keep an eye on it. I rode a few miles around town and then hit the trail head. The Rock Island Spur branch meets up with the main Katy trail in the town of Windsor, about a 50 mile trip from Pleasant Hills.

There were a few areas of trail with standing water, all below the level of my bottom bracket, but enough to get bike & legs just slightly dirty [insert shoulder shrug. Still drier than anywhere else in the entire mid-west-south this particular week.] The Katy trail is entirely hardpack, occasionally with some pea gravel - the recent storms had, however, deprived the trees of plenty of leaves and small branches. It was like fall had exploded on the ground. What was left on the tree-lined sides of the trail was still a nice spring-green. I passed the trail heads for Medford, Chilhowee, and Leeton without seeing a single other person. It was quiet and peaceful with intermittent rain showers.

At the town of Windsor, 50 miles into my day, the Rock Island Spur branch intersects the main Katy trail. Windsor was the first stop where there were any actual businesses visible from the trail head, and I considered stopping at the Casey's C-store. It was 5pm, and raining again. Glancing at the map on the trail head signpost, it was only another 18 or so miles to Sedalia, and I figured I could easily make it there before dark. It looked to be a bigger town with multiple motels...despite hauling bivy/pad/quilt etc, I was already contemplating finding a cheap place to dry off tonight. Sleeping in the rain is fine. Sleeping in the rain when you're already wet and the temp is supposed to drop to the 30s was sounding less appealing.

So I start to haul down the Katy trail past Windsor, and 5 miles later figure out I'm headed in the wrong direction, as the mile markers are going up and not down. It will surprise exactly zero people who know me that I managed to get lost on a relatively straight trail. Whatevs, still plenty of time. A few miles past Windsor in the *correct* direction, thunder starts to rumble and a torrential downpour begins. Seriously, within 10 minutes there's what feels like an inch of water inside my winter cycling boots. Back to Windsor I go. The fine people in Casey's direct me towards the town's one motel. I ride through town up a big hill to get there, and there's a phone number to call if you want to check in, as the office is unstaffed.

No problem. Pull out cell phone. No reception. (the next few days will be mainly the same...the Katy trail area is apparently a Verizon black hole.)

Back down the hill I go, to a Sonic restaurant. The staff there are surprisingly unphased by a dripping wet woman on a 50lb packed bike asking to use a phone. They even offer to drive me back up the hill. Small towns are nice. For the record, I rode back up the hill, it was probably a whole quarter of a mile.

Windsor's motel is surprisingly nice, on par with most commercial low-end hotels. I attempt to lay out my wet stuff to dry, which is literally everything. Calculate that there's pretty much no way I'm not going to be cold and damp tomorrow. About an hour later the motel manager knocks on the door, says two other soaking wet guys just showed up, and he's throwing everyone's stuff in the dryer. Resist the urge to hug him. Dry things. Hooray.

I wipe the silty muck off my drive train and stuff some newspaper into my boots, after evacuating a small river of water from inside each of them. Eat a few granola bars and some peanut butter because there's no way I'm going back out in the rain again for food. Decide not to set an alarm, because I don't know where or how far I'm going anyway, which is kind of nice for a change.

Sorry, bicycle.

Everything is wet. I have mud on my face.

...Next up: Bikepacking the Katy Trail, Days 2 & 3