The Joys of Home

BlueBonnet

Spring North Cycling Tour

Life on a bicycle is the ultimate in simplicity.  And coming to the end of a cycling tour always evokes mixed emotions.  I’m sad to see the daily cycling end, leave behind the days of being outdoors all day and finish our 12mph sightseeing.  But once back in the car with home looming ahead, it is ever so alluring.  Now that we’re home again, there are so many simple pleasures to enjoy.

  • Sleeping in my own bed.  No more bouncy motel beds, noisy air conditioners or too-thin camping mats for a while.  This is where I sleep best.
  • Choosing and making my own food.  The first thing I did when we got home was to fire up my bread machine to make a loaf of 100% whole wheat cinnamon bread.  Toasted and slathered with peanut butter, it’s the best breakfast food ever.  You don’t find that on any restaurant menus.  And I had to shop at Trader Joe’s on the way home.  Just because I could.
  • Getting reacquainted with my wardrobe.  Clothing choices return!  I’m no longer limited to the one set of “civilian” clothes in my panniers.  Oh, what to wear?
  • Housekeeping.  There is a place for everything with plenty of room left over.  Drawers and cupboards are great inventions.  No packing up each morning.  No squeezing air out of zip lock bags.  No checking for items left behind.  It’s all right here.
  • Driving a car.  I can now cover 30 miles in 1/2 an hour instead of 1/2 a day.  I can pack it full of groceries, and not even care if it’s raining.  Novel.
  • Just hanging out.  I lingered over my coffee and toast this morning. Sitting by the fireplace (yes, it’s cold in Minnesota), iPad on my lap, I thoroughly read all the local news.  No need to hurry to be anywhere at all.
  • Weighing in.  This is the fun part.  Cycle touring is the best fitness plan ever.  I dropped 8 pounds and definitely toned up.  Without even trying.
  • Reconnecting with family and friends. We stayed in touch virtually over the last 6 weeks, but there is no substitute for the real thing.  Being with them is best of all.

Of course all the usual trappings of home life also await.  My to-do list is already getting longer, I have meetings to attend and material to read.  There are clothes to wash and dishes to be done, but I now have machines for those tasks.

After five weeks of cycling to follow the Spring North, it appears we finally overshot it.  The leaves are just beginning to pop out on the tree limbs in Duluth, my garden is barely starting to show life and morning temperatures are just into the 40s.  I’ve had to dig out my jeans and sweaters again.  But it will be sweet when spring finally blossoms here too.

Oh, it’s a joy to be home.

The Fender Finish

Final Totals: 34 days, 1521 miles

After 33 days on our cycling tour we had yet to get significantly wet. In fact we only had rain on 4 days. And for all of those we were able to wait it out or take cover. That was all about to change for our final day on the bikes.

Given a decent weather forecast, we were willing to hang in our B&B for another day. It wouldn’t have taken much arm twisting. But the rain looked to continue for days, with some potential storms. So after our leisurely gourmet breakfast and pleasant conversation with the other guests, we returned to the Katy Trail to complete our trip.

Leaving Clay House

We weren’t even out of the front garden before the first light drops began to fall. Ignoring the obvious, we forged on in oddly good humor. Knowing we had only 28 miles to cover was helpful. We were also glad to see that the trail was in good shape. Being closer to St. Louis and getting higher usage, it was more firmly packed and resisted the rain longer.

Even when the precipitation increased to a legitimate rainfall, we resisted putting on our rain jackets. It was still warm, and as long as we could avoid sporting rain gear we were able to deny the reality of our situation. The trees formed a nice canopy over our heads, providing some measure of protection. It really wasn’t all that bad. And we continually repeated our mantra, “Thank heavens for our new fenders.”

Leaving the garden center

With 20 miles behind us, Rich called a time out. There was a garden center across the way and he proposed that we put on dry shirts and our rain jackets before crossing the high bridge over the Missouri River. By then, it seemed a reasonable idea.

Once off the bikes, we were able to survey the morning’s handiwork. Our bikes and legs sported a good deal of Katy Trail mud, but we would have been far wetter and dirtier without the protection of those fenders.

Dirty bikes

It wasn’t until I donned my alternate jersey that I realized that I was in fact chilled, and it felt oh so good to be dry. To add to our comfort, we found that there was a little café inside which served a delicious hot quiche. It was a very welcome snack break.

Bridge across the Missouri River

Fortified with food, warmth and rain protection we resumed cycling. We had planned to cycle to St. Charles and spend time in that attractive town, but discarded that idea because of the rain. Instead we proceeded directly across the bridge that would take us to Creve Coeur Park, our final destination. Winding our way through the park, we just happened to find the Lakeside Café. No sooner had we ducked under the front porch when the rain came down in buckets. But that no longer mattered, we were finished!

We were happy to wait under the front porch for my cousin to pick us up, but the staff wouldn’t hear of it. Even though they were closed and setting up for a wedding, they invited us inside and opened up the bar for us. Rich had a celebratory glass of Chardonnay while we happily chatted with the workers.

Spring North Tour finish
It was a successful completion of the Spring North Cycling tour. And what would spring be without rain showers? Somehow the fender finish seemed fitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On and Off the Katy Trail

Rain delay

I really wanted to stay longer. Our wonderful Warm Showers hosts in Hermann – particularly the kids – had encouraged us to extend our stay, and it was such an attractive offer. But Rich was dutifully watching the weather and thought it best that we head out right after breakfast. As luck would have it, the rain started just as he brought the bikes around. Before we even got them loaded, it was raining hard. Oh, too bad – a rain delay! We were going to be off the Katy trail for a while by the looks of the weather map. It turned out to be a delightful morning.

Heading out with Keely and the girls, we got a wonderful insider’s view of Hermann. Our first stop was Espresso Laine. I was able to indulge in a latte and we sipped drinks in the attractive local coffee shop while the rain came down. Next we dashed into the new leather goods shop owned by a friend of theirs. We were fascinated by the extensive equipment in the back room and learn a bit about how shoe repair is done. And I enjoyed admiring the beautiful leather purses up front. It was true craftsmanship in the works.

Morning in Hermann
Julie in her kitchen

Next door we visited a “federally approved kitchen,” which was particularly significant. Three years ago, then 8-year-old Julie set out to help her dad fund a mission trip to Africa. Unbeknownst to him, she began making toffee (which he’d taught her to make) and sold enough batches to surprise him with enough funds to pay for his plane ticket! It has since grown into a true commercial enterprise, called Toffee on the Run, which she continues to run today with support from her family. It was fun to see where produces her toffee and learn more about her company. She is an amazing young woman.

Shortly after lunch, the rain seemed to be letting up. Rich declared that there was enough of a window for us to attempt to reach Augusta, although there were no firm promises of staying dry. We loaded up the bicycles, said our goodbyes, and were off – back on the Katy Trail once more.

With plenty of rain overnight and all morning, the trail was soft and the going was tough in places. Discovering that highway 94 paralleled the trail, Rich proposed that we take advantage of the smooth pavement and ditch the trail for that portion. Ever the purist, I wouldn’t hear of it, so we slogged on. After all, we’d planned to do the whole Katy Trail. By the next time we crossed the road, Rich had had enough. We were moving to the highway. Much to my dismay, we were off the Katy Trail again. Grumbling and complaining, I followed him down the road.

It just so happened that Rich had chosen the portion of the road that was inland from the Missouri River. On the bluff side. We barely rounded the corner before we were faced with our first hill. And it was a steep one. That was followed by a swift downhill and even higher, longer uphill. And the sequence repeated itself. Again and again, for several miles. I kept my mouth shut. For “Him who Hates Hills” it was a bitter pill to swallow. When we came upon a road that led back to the trail, Rich put up no argument. We were soon back on the Katy Trail.

With dark clouds behind us, we were eager to make tracks and beat the rain. By that point, our feud was over and I had to admit that Rich did have some logic. So we bounced back and forth between road and trail beyond that point, but only when the road lay between the trail and the river.

On and off Katy Trail

We made Augusta by late afternoon, and still dry! There was a quick shower shortly after we reached the trailhead, but even that let up by the time we headed to our lodging. Once again we were truly blessed in our timing.

With this being the last night of our trip, we justified staying at a posh B&B called the Clay House. Returning later after dinner, it was particularly attractive in the evening light, so Rich returned outside to capture the beauty of the moment. Off the Katy Trail.

Clay House in Augusta

Friends on the Katy Trail

Perhaps the first indication that this was not going to be a normal day of cycling was the roadblock. Cows. Right in the middle of the trail. They looked friendly enough, but did not seemed inclined to budge. They meandered, munched, and checked us out. Rich finally ventured forward but that didn’t even faze them. They ran ahead of us and eventually exited the trail to return to their field, graciously allowing us to pass.

Cows on Katy Trail

The second clue was hearing my phone ring, which was unusual. It was our friends Carl and Connie from the Twin Cities. They were camping at Lake of the Ozarks and were already en route to the Katy Trail with their bikes. Where were we, and could we meet up? To be fair, it wasn’t 100% out of the blue. We had traded Facebook comments about being close by. Soon we had plans to cycle toward each other.

Cycling on from Booneville we encountered the only railway tunnel on the trail just before Rochport. There were loads of people out walking, which was a surprise as until that point we’d seen few people at all on the trail. It became apparent why they’d chosen that area as it was very scenic. Not far beyond, the bluffs rose well above the trees and we heard a bunch of geese making an awful racket. They were nesting in the crevices on the face of the bluff.

Katy Trail Tunnel

Shortly after that we saw familiar faces approaching. Sure enough, it was Carl and Connie. They turned around and cycled with us for a good distance. Cycling two by two down the trail, we had a great time catching up on each other’s vacations while the miles quickly slipped by. Searching for a café for lunch turned out to be an exercise in frustration (and hunger) as Wednesday just happened to be the closing day in that area. So when we saw the sign for Chim’s Thai Kitchen, we had low expectations. Discovering that the lowly trailer business was indeed open, we were all in. The fact that Rich does not care for Thai food was irrelevant. Despite some language difficulties and a strong-willed proprietress, we managed to place our orders. To our amazement, the food was very good. Even Rich agreed. I have witnesses, and will remind him next time I want to go out for Thai.

Katy Trail Thai lunch

With farewells to the Minnesota folks, we headed for North Jefferson City. There we made new friends when we were picked up by Kent, who is the brother of our friends on Duluth. Having heard about our cycling tour, he and his wife Marna kindly offered to host us for a night. Kent ferried us to their home in Fulton, passing the spot where Winston Churchhill made his Iron Curtain speech. We had a lovely visit with them, trading travel stories and desires for future destinations. We hope they will make a trip to Duluth soon.

Breakfast with Palmers

Breaking out of the mold of just cycling as a duo with only each other for company was refreshing. Who knew we had friends on the Katy Trail?

Heading down the Katy Trail

We chose the Katy Trail as the finale of our Spring North Tour. Not only would it conveniently return us to St. Louis and reconnect us with our car, but we suspected that finishing with a flat, dedicated bike trail would be a nice way to ease ourselves to the finish.

Starting the Katy Trail

The Katy trail stretches 240 miles across Missouri and is the longest rails-to-trails project in the country. We started at Clinton, its westernmost terminus, and headed east. Using our normal mileages, we calculated that four days would be enough to complete the trail. But after the first day or so, we quickly adjusted our plans to add an extra day. It didn’t make sense to rush through – the trail is designed so that cyclists can enjoy the many towns along the way. That appealed to me, and even after slowing down I wished we’d left more time to explore.

Highest point on Katy Trail

From Clinton to Booneville, the trail angles to the northeast heading to the Missouri River. Although railroad beds are known for being very flat, we were surprised to find that there was actually quite a bit of elevation change in that section. It was all very gradual, but we did reach the highest point of the trail. Rich seemed to think it was quite a climb!

The trail surface is crushed limestone. For the most part, it is very well maintained and rough spots are very well marked. It makes for good cycling, but it does take its toll. It’s not like rolling over smooth pavement where it is easy to gain momentum and glide along. The rougher limestone takes more effort, costing us a gear or two, and even with 1400 miles behind us we could feel that extra work by the end of the day.

Katy Trail

The surroundings of the trail changed frequently. At times it was out in the wide open, surrounded by farm fields and flat land. In some areas they were working to restore the prairie grasses. Other times there were trees lining the trail, which were a welcome wind break for us. Best of all were the wooded sections, with thick undergrowth and trees that stretched to meet over our heads forming a tunnel.

We were still being treated to an abundance of wild flowers, and my eyes were glued to the sides of the trail searching out different varieties throughout the day.

Katy Trail wildflowers

There are still reminders of the Katy Railroad along the trail. Old switch boxes and signals are visible, and the truss bridges now carry cyclists across the frequent steams and rivers. A few of the beautiful old depots still stand, frequently serving as information centers at the trail heads. And caboose cars are also popular fixtures in some of the towns.

Katy trail

It makes for a nice change from navigating the roads, figuring out directions and dealing with cars. But one thing doesn’t change. Even heading down the Katy Trail, there’s nothing like ice cream at the end of the day.

Ice cream on Katy Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Opportunity Knocks

Progress to date: 29 days, 1,280 miles

When I clip into my bicycle pedals each morning, I have no idea what is in store for me. Sometimes the days are pretty ordinary, and on others things happen that I could never have foreseen. Those are the times to seize the moment.

Having left the Ozark Mountains behind, our route took us north through the western side of Missouri to begin the Katy Trail. There were no particular sights on our itinerary at this stage. But traveling the back roads being propelled by the same south wind that plagued us early in the trip was extremely pleasant.

After a morning breakfast stop in Cassville, we expected to hit the road again. But a sign reading “Car Show” soon diverted us. There lining the streets of the town were rows of classic cars. It was a sunny warm day, and strolling along looking at the cars was extremely pleasant. I didn’t have to be a car fan to enjoy the spirit of the moment and the festive air in the small town gathering. A group of young people were playing fiddling music, which added to the ambiance. It felt great to be in the right place at the right time to partake of this show.

Cassville Car Show
Parachutist

That very same afternoon, pedaling along an undistinguished section of road, Rich suddenly began gesturing toward the sky. There we saw a parachutist just about to land. Not long after his colorful chute collapsed on the ground, I spotted a second one in the air. This time we were able to get our cameras out in time. We happily hung out on the roadside to watch the second one descend, which turned out to be a pair of jumpers. Their target was actually an airfield, and the small plane land soon after they did. It was quite the air show!

Rich at the campground restaurant

Sometimes opportunities are of a very different nature. One of Rich’s prime adages about cycle touring has to do with meals. “When food is available, EAT!” is his motto. It’s a lesson he’s learned the hard way, when we’ve come up hungry by incorrectly assuming food will be available when we want it. So when we arrived at our campground at 2:00 in the afternoon and discovered the only restaurant within miles was about to close, we quickly ordered meals. Never mind that Rich had just consumed a burger and fries an hour before, and I’d downed an ice cream cone. This was our dinner – just way early. Oddly enough, it tasted great and carried us through the entire evening.

We camped on a yurt that night by the Sac River. I wandered down to the river as I explored the area and saw a dam and a bridge just upstream. Looking more closely, I noticed some young men fishing with a net. I was memorized watching them throw the net and reel it in – an entirely different way of fishing than I was used to seeing. I’m still working on my photography skills, so I took the chance to practice and was pleased to be able to capture the whole sequence.

Fishing
Campfire

I love campfires, but there’s no chance of carrying firewood on a bicycle. So when the campground caretaker showed up at our yurt with a load of firewood, it was a gift too good to turn down. He even gave us his lighter to start the fire. Soon I was off in search of kindling and donated my old maps to the cause. The evening was mild and dark, and as we sat on the extra logs by the fire we could see the full moon rising behind the trees. The crackling of the fire was accompanied by frogs croaking by the river.

Tomorrow’s another day on the bicycle. I wonder what new opportunities might be in store for me?

 

Hazards of the Road

By now it's pretty obvious that we think traveling by bicycle is the greatest. But there are those who worry about us. And the countless folks we meet who are intrigued with our trip always feel compelled to add “Stay safe” to their farewells. While safety is constantly at the top of that our minds, I will admit that there are certain hazards inherent in this mode of travel.

Rumble strips

Rumble Strips – I used to think it was great to have this buffer between me and the cars. But I've changed my mind. I don't think I've ever been spared by a rumble strip. To put it bluntly, I hate them. More than once, I've inadvertently ridden over them, only to be shaken to bits and narrowly avoided losing control of my bike. The ones that really fry me are those that infiltrate the already too-small space on the shoulder. Balancing on the fine line between the rumbles and a drop off turns my knuckles white. It leaves me no choice but to ride in the car lane.

Dead armadillo

Road Kill – We've seen roadkill on our previous trips, but for some reason this tour tops them all for the frequency of such sightings. Most often the extinguished animals are in the middle of the road but we do get our share to avoid on the shoulder. And the stink pervades the area no matter where they lie. The most common and unique victim by far has been the armadillo. We have yet to see a live one. We're beginning to believe they only exist as roadkill.

Speed limit sign

Speed Limits – We expect fast traffic on big highways. But on the smaller, 2-lane roads we assume there will be lower speed limits. Not so in Texas. There we commonly found 70 mph speed limits on those small farm roads. The ones with hardly any shoulders. That's unnerving.

Campground dog

This pooch wasn't any threat

Barking Dogs – I do like dogs. Just not when they are chasing me on my bike. For some reason, dog owners in rural areas think it's okay to let them run free. The thing is, when they come charging out of the yard barking at me, I have no way to tell if they are just friendly or about to chomp down on my leg. Or get in my way. Nothing gets my heart racing or my legs pumping faster than the approach of a barking dog.

Cars and Trucks – It goes without saying that cars and trucks are the biggest threat to us on the road. But then again, without them there would be no roads. We are, after all, in their space. And we respect that. Given any quarrel, they win. Every time.

Soon we will leave all this behind. Tomorrow we begin our final leg of the trip which is on the Katy Trail, a dedicated bicycle path that extends 240 miles across Missouri. There we can enjoy carefree cycling on the trail and say farewell to the hazards of the road.