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

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