Part 5: Cycling Missouri

On day 34 of our journey, we entered our seventh state, Missouri! We have spent our entire lives chuckling at the pseudonym “Misery” for the state and boy were we proved wrong. The first town that we entered was Cape Girardeau and we were impressed from the very moment that we cycled over the bridge onto cobblestone streets near the university and the historic downtown district. It was an almost 50-mile day from Karnak so we were eager to find our Warm Showers host’s home. Alas, when we called from outside her house, we were asked to come back at 3 when she returned. So, we cycled the short distance back into town to enjoy a burrito and cool off in the air conditioning at the library to update our blog while we waited.

When it was time to head back, we were greeted by our host, Judy, and her little rescue dog, Heinzy (because she is a mix). We have stayed with some incredibly kind and generous people so far on this trip, but Judy was the first person we have met who is practically famous. We knew that she was an avid cyclist and had traveled through much of the world on her bicycle, but it wasn’t until later that she casually revealed that she was among the 4,000 riders on the 1976 BikeCentinnial, which was the premier trans-American bicycle tour that became the inspiration for our beloved Adventure Cycling Association. We were appropriately starstruck to be standing in the presence of a living legend.

The house we had the privilege of staying in was designed by Judy’s grandparents, J. Maple and Grace Senne Wilson, and built in 1903-1904. Each room was filled with antiques, which Judy jokingly reminded us were new when they were purchased. We shared one of five available bedrooms in this incredibly adorned Colonial Revival home, which was recently listed on the historic registry.

There was no shortage of things to admire, as every room contained a myriad of interesting objects, including the bathroom with the original bathtub where we enjoyed a divine and much-needed soak and framed implements from Judy’s grandfather’s pharmacy, Wilson’s Drug Store.

After we got settled, we headed to Cape Bicycle, the shop Judy insisted that we go to given its proximity to her house, the kind service, and the fact that she had worked there after she retired from teaching at the local elementary school. She first learned about bicycle mechanics on her tour across the country, where she absorbed knowledge of how every piece of the bike works by watching them being taken apart and put back together again. After the tour, she bought a basic repair manual and studied it cover to cover. When she felt confident in her skills and wanted to continue working after her retirement, she went to the bike shop and asked if they had ever hired a woman.

At Cape Bicycle, we each bought a pair of SPF50 arm cooling sleeves that have been a blessing every day since. We lather all of our exposed skin with sunscreen every 90 minutes so having these sleeves is saving our skin. Additionally, they are equipped with cooling technology that has been ever so helpful in the midday heat. We also picked up a squeezable water bottle and some dog pepper spray – in every state up to that point our only defense against the packs of territorial dogs that occasionally race from their yards, growling and barking, to chase us away was to pedal faster and yell at them to stop and go home. That has been a successful strategy so far, but we feel even safer having a bottle to squirt water in their faces if they get too close and pepper spray if that fails. We dropped Judy’s name and Don was happy to give us a deep discount.

Back from our errands, we made a huge salad and pizza for lunch, which we repeated for dinner. By the time we arrived in Cape Girardeau, we had cycled for 6 days and were ready for a rest day. Thankfully, Judy was a very obliging host so we enjoyed her hospitality for two nights.

Heinzy enjoyed lots of belly rubs.

The next day Judy was kind enough to do our laundry and take us on a tour of her town. We visited Cape Rock Park, where the town’s founder, Ensign Jean Girardot, had a fur trading post. Overlooking the Mississippi River, Judy explained the place’s significance as the nation’s only inland cape until it started pouring with rain.

Judy’s home is full of bicycle-themed items from mugs to books to the bone necklace she wears, which she carved herself. In the below bike-shaped frame is a photo of Judy as a little girl on a bicycle juxtaposed with a photo taken of her on one of her many tours, over 50 years later. Her lifelong love of bicycles was apparent at every turn.

On the grand tour of her home, Judy pointed out some of her favorite objects, like this stereoscope, with images of a group of women beating up a man they found under the bed.

The high chair below was Judy’s grandfather’s and the doll seated in it was her grandmother’s.

We followed Judy up into the attic and up a ladder, through a narrow hatch onto the roof.

The view from the widow’s walk was breathtaking. Judy admitted that she used to have a great fear of climbing up to the roof and once had to complete the harrowing task of replacing a pane from the sunroof that had blown off. Soon thereafter, she had the railing installed.

On the opposite side of the house, in the basement, is Judy’s mini-bike shop where she fixes her multitude of bikes and restores bikes for friends.

On the morning of our departure, Judy, still in her nightgown, prepared us a wonderful breakfast. After learning the route our maps had us taking out of town, she insisted that she knew of a better, safer, and less hilly route that she would take us on that met up with our route.

Judy put on her cycling clothes, rolled out her bike, and led us the approximately 14 miles out of town. It was only on that ride that she revealed that she is 80 years old – after powering up a few hills at a solid pace and cycling with the relaxed confidence of a skilled rider. Needless to say, we were a bit teary-eyed at our departure when this remarkable woman turned back toward town and we headed onward.

From Cape Girardeau, we cycled about 55 miles to Marquand, MO.

Our first stop was the small town’s grocery store, where we bought some Powerade to replace our sweated-out electrolytes. We sat on the benches outside to have our lunch of burritos which we filled with a can of beans, cheese, and the mixture of vegetables and rice that we had cooked at Judy’s house the day before. We love being able to cook a big medley of veggies and rice, seasoned with the taco seasoning that we brought, to add to our simple fare for a few days.

Next, we spotted the sign for the town’s museum and noted that it was only open for a few hours on Saturdays. Luckily for us, it was Saturday!

The museum’s founder and chief historian is a delightful woman with the even more delightful name of Shelby Shell. She single-handedly collected and labeled every item in the small museum, a labor of love for the little town where her family has roots and a task she completed while her husband, who worked for army intelligence, was sick at the end of his life.

While talking with Mrs. Shell, we mentioned that we had planned to camp in the city park (our map indicated that was allowed), at which point she asked us to watch the museum while she went to talk to Kim, the pastor at the local United Methodist Church. A few minutes later, she said that she arranged for us to meet Pastor Kim so we could sleep in the church instead.

Once the museum closed, we cycled up the hill to the church where Kim was getting ready to work in the community garden. She lovingly showed us around the church and gave us permission to eat anything we could find inside. She turned on the air conditioning and said goodnight.

We slept so well that night and in the morning, we prepared ourselves coffee, toast, and farm-fresh eggs that Kim said a local parishioner delivers to her and the church, whether they need them or not.

38 miles from Marquand, we arrived in Farmington to the cyclist-only hostel called Al’s Place. We were told by numerous other cyclists along the way that this hostel was not a location to pass up. It is on both the Trans-America and the Great Rivers South Adventure Cycling Association routes so it is a very popular destination.

We had only cycled two days since our rest day in Cape Girardeau, but when we arrived at Al’s Place we quickly decided that we would take another rest day. That Monday was Memorial Day so we were anxious to be on the road on such a popular holiday for backyard barbecues and brews. We were glad we took that day off also because the other cyclists who arrived later that day were withered by the day’s excessive heat. Our legs and bodies thanked us for taking the day to relax on comfy couches, watching movies in the air conditioning.

The hostel was originally the city’s jailhouse built in 1870-1871 and closed in 1996. In 2009, the Farmington Downtown Development Association awarded $6,000 to furnish and re-open the building as a 14-bed cyclist hostel dedicated to Al Dziewa, a Farmington citizen and avid cyclist who passed away in 2003 of cancer.

Image result for Farmington Al's place

There is a suggested donation of $20 a night which we gladly paid, but we also did our part to keep the hostel clean for other cyclists. Behind Kelly is Al’s framed racing jersey and life story, which was an inspiring example of how one person can make a huge difference to their community.

Among the movies we watched were one of Milo’s favorites, Cast Away, and one of Kelly’s favorite childhood movies, The Goonies. Interestingly, the Goonies is filmed in Astoria, OR where the Trans-America trail begins/ends and where we hope to end our tour if we have the time.

As usual, we read ourselves to sleep.

Early the next day, we headed out of town intending to cycle to Meramec State Park about 60 miles away, but after 36 miles of cycling and several minutes to fat rain drops and dark clouds threatening our safety (people entering the store where we had stopped to take a break warned us about a coming storm), we decided to stop at the nearby Washington State Park for the night instead.

The camp host was very kind and while cleaning up the camp, he collected unused firewood that campers had left behind from the holiday weekend and delivered it to us so we could light a fire to keep the bugs away.

As Kelly prepared the fire, Milo noticed that the campground was littered with sparkly and crystallized rocks which we believe are agates.

The camp host checked in on us one last time and asked what our route was. He gave us a very simple short cut so we wouldn’t have to tack the 30 miles we had intended to cycle that day to Meramec State Park onto the next day’s ride. Instead of cycling 75 miles to get us back on schedule, we were lucky to cycle 55 miles into Marthasville the next day.

We passed a few post offices along the way, but this particular one was directly on the street so we stopped to drop off more postcards.

That afternoon, we arrived in Dutzow at one of the several dozen trail-heads to the Katy Trail, one of the original Rails-to-Trails projects in our country. In 2008, the Katy Trail was added to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame. The Katy Trail is the old route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railway (M-K-T, or “Katy” for short).

Rails-to-Trails is an organization that transforms abandoned railways into multi-use recreation paths to create a healthier and happier nation.

The Katy Trail is the longest Rails-to-Trails route in our nation, spanning 240 miles. We were lucky enough to enjoy 150 miles of the trail. When the railway ceased operation in 1986, two visionaries, Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones dedicated their lives to working with state legislators and the state park system to amend the National Trails System Act and acquire the abandoned railway system. The Jones’s generously donated $2.2 million to purchase the majority of the trail and have it packed with crushed limestone. In 1991, United Pacific Railroad donated 33 miles of the rail to the state which completed the 240-mile-long route that we have today.

The trail is also on or around to the original route that Lewis and Clark used on their journey westward from St. Louis, Missouri to the Oregon coast.

Our entry onto the Lewis and Clark trail was a major milestone on our journey coast to coast from St. Augustine, Florida to Astoria, Oregon. From this point forward, we too will closely follow the original route that Lewis and Clark used on their exploration westward. We celebrated by dining at Philly’s Pizza Parlor in Marthasville, where the server said that the large vegetarian, deep dish pizza would be too big for us. We told her that was the exact pizza we wanted.

Our server was extremely surprised that we ate all but 2 slices that we wanted to save for breakfast. We knew we could eat it because when we cycle 50-60 miles a day for several weeks, we are pretty much constantly hungry.

We camped that night in the Marthasville City Park. We always prefer to set up in the pavilion because it is the least buggy, the flattest, and covered just in case it rains.

The trail is punctuated by trestle bridges that were built between 1897 and 1923.

We made it to Portland! Portland, Missouri. Along the Katy Trail are plenty of small towns and replica train depots that house informative signs about the history of each town, as well as providing water and bathrooms to travelers. These covered areas and benches were very much appreciated because they allowed us to eat our lunches and snacks in comfort.

One of the interesting markers along the trail told the story of Standing Rock, shown below, which was engraved with high-water marks during severe floods. The most recent flood, in 1993, killed 27 people, destroyed thousands of homes, and submerged the trail. Pat Jones, (Ted had passed away a few years before), paid to have the trail restored to its former glory.

On day 41 of our journey, we arrived in Tebbets, MO, where the only accommodations (really the only thing in town other than the post office) was the Turner Katy Trail Shelter. This 40-bed shelter was once the private home of the Turner family and was generously donated to the community by Mrs. Leone Turner. The shelter is now used by cyclists and community groups. We gladly paid the suggested donation of $5 each per night. This shelter did not provide bedding, unlike the numerous overpriced B&Bs that dot the trail, but we were able to have a hot shower and cook in the kitchen. We carry camping gear so it worked out just fine for us to use our own sleeping bags and pillows on the bunk beds. We saw many other cyclists on the trail, some were carrying small panniers, but they clearly were not as well-equipped as we are because we were the shelter’s only occupants that night.

After we arrived, Kelly spotted a dog in the field nearby and whistled to it. The dog immediately started wagging her tail and ambled over to her, wearing what we later learned from a passer-by was her signature grin. She belongs to some people up the hill, we were told, and is friendly to everyone, earning her the nickname Smiley.

The Turner Shelter also has a bike room where we were glad to have the chance to remove the fine layer of white dust that we had accumulated on the trail that day and to re-grease our components.

Generous cyclists before us had left some goodies in the fridge so we ate that night for free, a delicious spaghetti with tomato sauce with fresh onions and seasoned with the Italian seasoning we brought.

We got to sleep quickly, before the sun had set completely, and had a restful night’s sleep alone in this ghost town.

The next day, we spent our second whole day on the Katy Trail, which was a welcome respite from the traffic, hills, and roadkill.

There are numerous interesting historical points of interest along the trail, including the below structure, situated between Rocheport and Easley, which consisted of a rough stone wall enclosing one of the many caves worn into the rock walls by the Missouri River. We later learned that the structure was built by railroad workers at the turn of the century as an explosives bunker.

Below is a monument to the founders of the Katy Trail, Ted and Pat Jones, who like Al in Farmington, had a huge impact on their community and on the people who would later enjoy their contributions. According to a plaque we read later, there have been over 400,000 users of the Katy Trail since the first section of the trail opened in 1990.

The Rocheport Tunnel, built in 1893, is the only tunnel on the Katy Trail and was blasted through the solid rock of Moniteau Bluff.

On our journey through Missouri, we have cycled beside many, many cornfields. Corn and soybeans are the dominant crops. We always know when we are coming close to a corn field because the air smells like cereal.

This was one of the few cabooses stationed along the trail. Interestingly, these colorful tail cars were replaced by a second engine at the back of the train for safety reasons.

Sadly, after 150 gloriously flat, shaded, and historically significant miles, our route took us off the Katy Trail and back onto the paved roads into Boonville. That night, we stayed in a hotel. You may have noticed that we often rest with our feet above our heads. This is a strategy we have adopted to help our circulation and prevent ankle swelling, which Milo is especially prone to while traveling.

The next day, day 43, we headed toward Marshall, MO after checkout at 11 (we like to get our money’s worth when we stay in hotels). After only a few miles on the road, we had to pull over and do our first roadside triage. Much like cars, we are frequently pelted by insects of all varieties, which mostly just bounce off. This morning, however, Mi, nor the bee that hit their face, made it out of that encounter unscathed. Luckily, we have been carrying baking soda to put in our shoes to prevent odor and to keep bugs out while we camp, so we quickly made a paste with water, which we know instantly draws out the venom and soothes the sting. Soon after, we were back on the road again.

At around 3 P.M., we finished the short 35-mile day in Marshall. We cycled down Main Street to the visitor center, which was also a museum dedicated to Jim the Wonder Dog. Jim, who was born in 1925, was a champion hunting dog. In addition to being named the Hunting Dog of the Century, Jim was also psychic. He could follow commands in multiple languages, including Morse Code, pick out strangers in crowds based on limited descriptions, alert to people in need, predict the sex of unborn babies, and he even chose the winner of seven Kentucky Derbies.

While we read about Jim’s achievements, we got to talking to the young woman, Julie, who was in charge of the visitor center, museum, and small refurbished furniture store. Our map did not indicate many services in town so we asked her if she knew of anyplace where we could camp. She thought for a moment and then brightly stated that we could just come stay at her parents’ ranch. She asked us to explore the town and come back at 5 when she was off work.

Just a block away, we found people setting up for an event that the city was hosting. Kelly spoke with someone from the local radio station who informed her that there would soon be a talent show and cookout in the park. Impressed by our adventure and by Kelly’s story, he even invited her to be interviewed on the radio! After the interview, he gave us his business card and asked us to give a follow-up interview on our trip once we return home.

At 5, we returned to the visitor center where we unloaded our bikes, which we left safely in the visitor center, put our bags in the back of Julie’s car, and she drove us the 5 miles out of town to her parents’ ranch.

There, we enjoyed the hospitality of Julie’s entire family, who fed us snacks and dinner. While we ate, their neighbor, whose nickname is Dog, stopped by, as he often does, and chatted with us for a while about his late wife who had passed away 6 weeks ago, before he headed out to the massive front lawn to teach Julie’s mom, Phyllis, how to play golf.

That evening, Julie’s dad John took us on a ride around their property. Our first stop was their pond, which they had dug, allowed the rain to fill up, and then they filled with catfish, which had grown enormous. John revved the engine, which he does to call the fish to him from the depths. He had brought along a jug filled with dog food that he tossed into the water for the fish. The family’s two dogs, Sunny (a boxer lab mix with an underbite rivaling our dog Chuño’s) and Lily (a St Bernard who has had 69 puppies!), as well as Dog’s two dogs, Snoop and Ziggy (a black and yellow lab), accompanied us and were very happy to jump in the water to paddle around and chomp the food that floated on the surface, clearly not willing to share with the fish.

The four dogs are the best of friends and were among the happiest we have ever met. Just look at those smiles! They roam freely around the property and every day they meet up with each other to hang out. As we drove along, the dogs romped in the grass and chased after us.

We stopped to sample the honeysuckle before heading back to the house for bed.

The next morning, Phyllis cooked up a delicious breakfast of eggs and pancakes, served with fresh fruit and all the coffee we could drink.

As we left, we took pictures with Julie and her husband, Charlie.

With Julie and her dad, John.

And with Phyllis.

Then, Julie drove us back into town where we re-attached all of our gear and cycled towards Higginsville.

The amazing hospitality that we enjoyed at the Rector Ranch did not end when we left. The family has a great network of friends who live along our route who they kindly contacted to ask if they would put us up for a night. In Higginsville, we stayed with Donna and Bob Brown, pictured below with Donna’s daughter Kali, who not only hosted us but also treated us to a delicious Mexican dinner.


Meeting the couple’s granddaughters was another highlight of our stay with them. The girls had stopped by earlier in the day and then begged their mom to come back after dinner to ask us questions about our adventure. The inquisitive youngsters asked question after question and our hearts were warmed by their curiosity. Alex, in the white t-shirt, had compiled a series of questions for us and listened intently to our every word. The next day, she told her mother that she was enjoying reading our blog and thought that we were very nice. We have no doubt that her thoughtful nature will propel her into an adventure of her own!

We enjoyed a great night’s sleep, wonderful conversation, and Donna even cooked us an energy-packed breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, biscuits, and coffee. Donna is the Economic Development Director of Higginsville, which we both thought sounded like a fascinating profession. We also figured that it was her key role in the town that made her so recognizable to people everywhere we went- she was greeted by basically everyone coming in and out of the grocery store and knew everyone at the Mexican restaurant.

With full bellies, we were able to cycle 30 miles that day before we needed a break for sustenance.

The bridge over the train tracks was out so we had to roll our bikes over them instead.

Our maps aim to take cyclists on the safest routes, which often have us on country roads. We can’t count the number of private property signs we have seen along the way, many of which blatantly threaten bodily harm to trespassers.

Other times, we cycle past herds of cows that stare blankly at us from their pastures, past groups of goats that bleat and flick their tails as we whizz by, and past horses that raise their heads with cautious curiosity. This particular horse was more than curious and even moved closer to the fence as we neared. His eyes and body language insisted that we pull over to give him some attention, which Milo was happy to oblige.

On day 45, we cycled the almost 47 miles from Higgensville to Lawson, where Donna and Bob had a contact at the United Methodist Church.

The original plan was to stay at the wilderness camp operated by the church but the camp counselors, our contacts, were incredibly busy with campers and did not immediately answer their phones. Luckily, we met the church’s pastor as we were admiring the mural on the side of the post office (which we later learned was made possible by a local resident who asked people to donate money instead of presents for her 90th birthday to support her dedication to the town). Pastor Gary allowed us to sleep in the church that night and invited us to eat whatever we found. We enjoyed a huge bowl of ice cream with cookies left over from the preschool graduation and very comfortable night’s sleep.

The next day, we had planned to cycle to Platte City but again the Rector family came to our aid and insisted we cycle 5 miles farther toward Weston, where Phyllis’s lifelong friend Karel and her husband Earl live. It was an extremely hot and hilly day, making the 50 miles feel even longer. The photo below from our lunch break was the only one we took on the road. There was a hungry butterfly that spent our whole break trying to eat all of our reflective gear.

Thank you Karel and Earl (and the Rector family!) for your hospitality!

On day 47, we cycled from Missouri into Kansas. Although we were thrilled to make it through our seventh state, the feeling was bittersweet as we learned every day that Missouri is not Misery, but Mesmerizing. We would like to dedicate this post to the strong women of Missouri. Predominantly it is men who offer their assistance, but from the first day to our last in Missouri it was women who approached us, who offered their support, and proved our preconceived notions about Missouri wrong. In part because of you, this has been our favorite state so far.

Now we have completed 1800 miles of our journey! Stay tuned for part 6!

2 responses to “Part 5: Cycling Missouri

  1. I am so enjoying the blog. The photos are amazing and you both looks so strong and happy. Let the good times role😊

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