Spring Getaway on Missouri’s Historic Katy Trail
By Matt Crossman
She was 60 or so, and pedaling her bike on the Katy Trail, a nearly 240-mile path across Missouri built on an old railway. She headed west, and I passed her headed east on the final morning of my four-day quest to ride the full route. Straw-colored hair marbled with gray fell out of her bike helmet. Crinkles shot from her eyes, evidence of a lifetime wearing that mammoth1 grin.
A little enviously, I found myself wondering, What happened, that day and in all the decades before, to make her smile like that? What’s her secret? I tugged on2 my brakes to stop, turn around and chase her down to ask. But I let her go. I’d rather imagine her answer.
That was on a Tuesday. I had arrived on the previous Saturday with three friends at the Katy’s westernmost trailhead in Clinton, Missouri, in a sour mood.
One of my fellow riders works in agriculture, and as we set out, he narrated the fields we pedaled through. Soybeans, he said, and then soybeans, and then – hey, look! – more soybeans. We crested3 no hills, rounded no turns. Nothing changed. Just miles of sameness. After months of chaos, I found the monotony comforting.
Deep in one field, we stopped for a drink. Two men from Colorado broke, too, and struck up4 a socially distant chat. We told them we were riding toward our homes near St. Charles, a historic community just outside St. Louis that’s best known as the launch point of the Lewis and Clark expedition5. We climbed back on our bikes. “Have a great ride,” one of them said, and in a light-hearted reference to their speed (slow) relative to ours (less so), he added, “We’ll never see you again!”
I pushed the pedals with more verve6 after that. Usually I’m the one who sparks conversations. I ask about the city on your shirt or the team on your hat. On the Katy, people pestered me with7 questions. It started with the Coloradans. It continued for four days.
“Where are you from?”
“How far are you riding?”
“Those shorts are hideously tight – why are you wearing them in public?”
The idle small talk sprung a small leak in the anxiety I carried, and it slowly spilled out behind me. I didn’t realize I had given into isolation until I stepped out of it. Soon, instead of craving shelter from the storm, I ran like a fool into the rain, head tilted back, drinking big drops. I couldn’t wait to get to the next stop to yak it up8 with strangers I found there.
The Katy Trail has always been a through-way for travelers. For about 100 years following the Civil War, trains rumbled along tracks controlled by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (nickname: MKT, or Katy). The route fell into disrepair in the ’70s. In 1987, the state adopted the corridor with a vision to establish Katy Trail State Park. A pioneer conversion of its kind, it remains the longest rails-to-trails bike path in the U.S.
Flat and wide, the Katy draws both families for short excursions and endurance athletes who want to pile on miles. (I fall somewhere in the ambitious middle.) Hikers, runners and bikers share the gravel path in spring, summer and fall, joined by cross-country skiers and even mushers in winter. Historic depots converted to trailheads pop up every 9 or 10 miles, so you can easily drive anywhere to park and hop on for a short out-and-back ride. One-way cyclists can hire a shuttle service – that’s what we did – or ride Amtrak9 with their bikes between Sedalia and Hermann.
If you aren’t riding or running the Katy, you’re chasing an entrepreneurial dream along it. B&Bs, breweries, cafes and wineries dot the full length of the trail. As do some surprises: Drew Lemberger, an Army veteran who owns the Mount Nebo Inn next to Meriwether, has worked as a river guide, fishing guide, boat-maker and sommelier. I took a break from my ride to join one of his Missouri River tours. Being on the water (in a boat the captain built himself) provided an intimacy with the river that carried Lewis and Clark that I would have missed on the trail. Something of an ornithologist, too, Lemberger pointed out pelicans, geese and vultures. He nosed us toward a tree holding a nest. A bald eagle soared above, circled, then came in for a landing. Lemberger turned the boat back toward Rocheport, and as golden cliff faces peeled past, offered up some wisdom from a life spent on the Big Muddy10: “Never hang your fishing clothes next to your tuxedo11.”
The next day, our final morning, we stirred to life12 before dawn. We planned to cover 110 miles, so we couldn’t dawdle. The streets lay empty, the sun barely a rumor. The state Capitol dome watched over us from behind as we rode across the river back to the trail. The clouds waved an ominous ombre of gray to blue to purple, an apparent real storm replacing the metaphorical one that followed me the first day.
But the threat proved to be illusory. Gaps of light grew in the darkness. Pink freckles peeked through the clouds. The sun climbed high, warming my back as I passed the woman with the giant smile.
1. mammoth 巨大的，庞大的。
2. tug on 用力拉拽。
3. crest 到达顶点、山峰、浪峰等。
4. strike up 建立友谊，交谈起来。
5. 指19 世纪初由梅利韦瑟·刘易斯和威廉·克拉克领队的横越美国大陆抵达太平洋沿岸的考察活动。
6. verve 活力，激情，愉悦。
7. pester sb with sth 以……纠缠某人。
8. yak it up 东拉西扯，唠唠叨叨。
9. Amtrak 全国铁路客运公司（National Railroad Passenger Corporation），商标由America和track 组合而成。
10. Big Muddy“大泥河”，密苏里河的俗称，其河水比密西西比河更浑浊。
11. tuxedo 燕尾服，晚礼服。
12. stir to life 恢复精力。此处指重新踏上骑行之旅。