My wife, one of our sons, the family Golden Retriever and I took a hike along the Katy Trail over Memorial Day weekend. The midway of the east-west trail created on an old rail-bed brushes along the northern edge of the Missouri River across from Jefferson City, Mo., where we live.
The rails are gone, and what remains is a wide path suitable for running, hiking and bicycling. A couple of stretches permit horseback riding. At 237 miles long, more than half the trail follows Lewis and Clark’s path up the Missouri River. The trail meanders through peaceful farmland, beneath towering river bluffs and under forest canopies. The trail is the longest “rails-to-trail” project in the nation.
Our family is making an effort to become regulars on the trail, primarily bike riding but occasionally brisk hiking. Our 2-year-old Golden hasn’t mastered cycling yet, although we are looking at the possibility of a bicycle pet cart so she can accompany us on two-wheel outings from time to time.
Recreation on the Katy is done at each person’s own pace. Stops along the way, such as strategically placed permanent park benches, offer feature panoramic views of the river. The land is relatively flat; inclines are modest because they once had to be to ensure safety and efficiency for trains.
Katy Trail stations — which include parking, modest restrooms, maps and charts — enable visitors to begin and end shorter trips of their choosing. Stops near smaller communities afford the chance to secure refreshments. Some are very modest, pretty much mom-and-pop establishments that cater exclusively to trail traffic. Some stops are near towns with larger sit-down restaurants and convenience stores. At various points, trail visitors can rent bicycles.
The Webbs have been casual trail-goers over the years; we haven’t traversed most of it, a neglect we hope to remedy with more frequent day trips on the Katy. Like most people, our family likes the variety of scenery along the trail and — like everyone — we need the exercise. We can walk or ride at our own pace, break when we want and, if we plan correctly, finish an outing on a timetable of our choosing.
One thing we have discovered is that Katy trekkers tend to be friendly, conversational and helpful, especially at rest stops at the depot-like stations. They readily share information about conditions, landscape and scenery along the trail. They’ll tell you about their own trip. Some travel on overnight excursions in an effort to conquer the whole length or a significant part of it. Others are more like us.
Last weekend at a station stop, we spotted a couple of bicycles loaded with bulging backpacks, small tents and handlebar bags and visited with a couple of Katy veterans on a longer trip. They were prepped for a bit of overland travel during the three-day weekend. One operated a St. Louis bicycle shop and volunteered some advice on mid-trail bicycle repairs and how to be appropriately ready for fixing things like flat tires out in the middle of nowhere.
People on the trail come from various walks of life, but the trail is a great equalizer. You briefly meet interesting people who — at least on the trail — have similar goals, whether on foot or two (or more) wheels.
We heard about a lady who had been riding bicycles with her husband. She took a tumble, but her husband was way ahead of her and didn’t see her fall. Another lady on the trail did see the rider in distress and immediately came to her aid. This sort of camaraderie on an isolated trail is refreshing, but it also is comforting.
To be honest, I do not wish I had the trail to myself when we are on it. The people, and occasional pets, help make it more enjoyable and safer.
Life is a bit like that, too. Each of us has the ability — to some extent — to isolate ourselves from others. But usually life isn’t as pleasant that way. Nor is isolationism very practical. Relationships — even chance encounters on the trail of life — enrich our life experiences.