Saturday, September 3, 2011

Vacation on the Katy Trail, Missouri, Part 1 of 2

On Saturday, May 21st we removed the pedals and loosened the handlebars on our bikes at Union Station in Dallas so we could box them up for the ride to St. Louis.

Some trains allow bikes to be rolled aboard, but from Dallas to St. Louis, bikes are considered checked baggage. It really was not too much trouble, as Amtrak sells the boxes at the station and provides the tape to seal the box with. Also, the baggage department in St. Louis agreed to store the boxes for us while we were on the trail, so we did not have to purchase them again for the return trip.

The conductor's final "all aboard!" was at 3:40pm, and we were on our way!

Having seen the coach chairs on the Amtrak website, we felt like we would be comfortable sleeping in them because we carried small pillows and the train provided additional ones, and the chairs reclined with leg rests. In hind site, having slept in coach on a train, I would have to say it was "okay" for one night, but on the return trip we tried to book a sleeping car to be more comfortable. None were available this time, but the next time we ride a train overnight, I'm pretty sure we will upgrade our accommodations. There will definitely be a next time. The seats are large and much more comfortable than any airplane or bus. The dining car and club car were both very good and easy to get to. Prices for food were similar to a chain restaurant, and we enjoyed both of the meals we ate on the train.

The trip to St. Louis from Dallas by train is about 15 hours. We arrived in St. Louis early Sunday morning, unpacked the bikes, reattached the pedals, tightened the handle bars, loaded our luggage on seatpost racks with bungee cords, and began wheeling our way to St. Charles.

St. Charles is at the top right portion of the map shown above, and it is about 30 miles from downtown St. Louis. I had printed a Google Bicycle Route Map to follow to get us to the Katy Trail just north of St. Charles.

The trip to St. Charles was somewhat difficult. I had hoped to purchase proper racks and panniers for the bikes before we left, but just never got around to it, and really felt like small overnight bags attached to seatpost racks would be okay. I was wrong. The bikes were top heavy and rather difficult to control with this setup. Several times along the way we had to stop to adjust the load or tighten the bungee cords. I was also carrying a full size floor pump that caused some additional difficulty, not only securing it to the bike, but it was also a problem swinging my leg over it to mount the bike.

Our Google Map kept us off of high traffic roads for the most part, and being Sunday morning, we initially encountered very little traffic. Neither of us had any prior knowledge of St. Louis, and the map took us through some areas that made us glad it was Sunday morning rather that Saturday night. Also, the map had us making turns about every half mile. I'm sure there were much more direct routes. We lost our way a couple of times and had to backtrack after going a mile or so out of our way, and once even had a police officer lead us (lights flashing!) to get us back on the correct road.

The last three miles of the road to St. Charles were harrowing! Following our Google Map, we found ourself on a narrow (though nicely paved) two lane road with no shoulder, and significant traffic traveling at 60 miles per hour. We hugged the white line, occasionally holding up traffic on curves and hills until we could find a place to pull off and let the cars pass. We were well frazzled by the end of this road only to find there were worse things yet to come.

The map showed a right turn down the "service road" of a major six lane highway towards the Missouri River. The road became a small path that curved back under the highway near the river and back up the other side. I approached a local man who appeared to be about to dump some trash along the path about where we might cross the river on our bikes, and he just pointed up at the highway bridge. I was sure he had misunderstood me. I reiterated that we wanted to cross the river on bicycles. His only answer was the highway bridge shoulder, or another similar bridge a few miles away.

We had been 30 miles and were pretty tired. It was a very steep hill up from the path to the highway, and by the time we got to the top, Rhonda announced that she did not want to ride across the bridge, so we walked the bikes. Traffic was flying by at 70 mph, 3 lanes each way, and we had the shoulder. It was a l-o-n-g way across the bridge pushing the bikes, but we thank God we made it safely. I had prayed a lot over those last three miles.

Finally! Our real initial destination, The Katy Trail was right in front of us. After a brief water break, we rolled into the beautiful town of St. Charles and found the Boone's Lick Trail Inn, our first of 5 Bed and Breakfast's for the trip.

St. Charles was the first capital of Missouri, but it was later moved to Jefferson City. The entire main street is paved with red bricks, and there are a lot of very old inns and pubs along the street. We really did not have a chance to enjoy this quaint little town, as we were bushed from the ride over. Our innkeeper was not available when we arrived, so we just parked the bikes and walked across the street to a nice pub/restaurant for lunch. The picture the waiter took shows our accommodations in the background.

We enjoyed our evening meal at a nice restaurant that had a third floor balcony. There was a nice breeze up there, and the view was great with the Missouri River in the background.

Sleep came easy that night, and after a great breakfast casserole with fruit and assorted pastries, we packed the bikes and started down the Katy Trail a 20 mile ride to The Parson's House Bed and Breakfast in Defiance, Missouri. What an eventful day this would prove to be!

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