I woke up the next morning enchanted by the sun cutting through the mist on my left side and the steady noise of the Missouri River on my right. One of the joys of hammock camping is that I could sleep on the very edge of the river bank and wake up like this. Well, so long as I didn't accidentally roll out of my hammock in the middle of the night. All the hard riding, struggles, and dehydration were worth it to wake up in such a wonderful spot.
The reality of our mileage situation sank in quickly, though, and I made an effort to start packing things up early and knock JP out of his tent-coma.
Back on the trail, we snuck water from from the first house we came across- a trailer with a hose spigot and no car in the driveway. We still hadn't decided what to do at this point. St. Louis was a long, long ways away. Worse, I had eaten through all my food save for some pasta (which we no longer had any wood to burn for boiling water) and one cookie. JP's food situation consisted soley of a half-full jar of peanut butter, so we split the cookie in half and took turns covering each bite with as much peanut butter as possible. Honestly our situation was just comical, but there was an idea for what to do. The next major town, 20 or 30 miles away, was Jefferson City. Once there we could catch a train to St. Louis and be back on schedule, but it would mean giving up on the tour.
Worse, JP and I had been co-hosting Bicycle Magazine's instagram, and with an audience of 82,000 people all hyped up on our adventure we now had the heartbreaking task of telling them that we were bailing on our goals and taking the next train to St. Louis. Internet presence aside, we really needed food. As Jefferson City's capital building grew on the horizon our legs were feeling miserable, but somewhere within the city was a chipotle and with that the promise of fat, tofu-filled burritos.
And suddenly we were back in civilization. We were passing people, buildings, services, cafes, all on pavement. How quickly I had forgotten what it was like to pedal on pavement. Burritos and chips disappeared, people asked us where we were coming from- the fun little things that happen on every bike tour which serves as a reminder that, yes, you do look like a crazy person and you definitely need a shower. Loitering at a coffee shop, an old man in a denim work shirt asked us how long we were in town, and if we knew about the huge opening party for the new bike shop.
"What's that now?"
We rolled up to a refurbished brick building with a sign out front saying, simply, "Bike Shop." Walking inside the place stocked with bikes ranging from inexpensive, upright hybrids for novices to the Salsa's newest high-end, gravel-grinding models. The owner Nick greeted us and the small-town vibe kicked in at once as he offered us beers. Nick struck me as the kind of shop owner who's there to talk with whoever walks through the door earnestly, with no agenda or time limit. I dig inclusive environments like that, and I guess that atmosphere gives him a good memory everyone who bikes, so he didn't hesitate in asking us where we were from, how long we'd been out on tour, what condition the Katy Trail was in, and trying his best to not laugh at our hardships save for when we laughed at them first.
One one other cyclist in full kit showed up, fresh from a ride, but he stuck around with JP and I telling us of all the amazing gravel around Jeff City outside the Katy Trail. When I'm ready to do this ride again, I'll definitely give myself a few extra days in this city to take advantage of some of these rides he talked about. Two beers was plenty, and definitely helped us out of the introverted shells one ends up in with lots of solitary biking in isolated places. But more importantly we had a train to catch. We said our goodbyes, exchanged numbers with new friends, and headed over to the station.
Thirty minutes late, of course, but the delay and the time spent on the train to St. Louis gave us time to decompress and think about what we would say to everyone online. It wasn't easy, or brief, but things like that never are.
As you can guess, coming into St. Louis was bittwersweet. I really love this city, but I wanted to come pedaling in tired but triumphant. I wanted to enjoy a little bit of that hero-complex that so many companies in cycling enforce. Instead, I'm slowly rolling in on a comfy train seat, tail between my legs.
Checking in at the same hostel (the only hostel in St. Louis, mind you) I stayed at a year and a half ago on a random weekend trip, the comfort of familiarity helped dull that nagging feeling of failure sitting in the back of my brain. It sat with me through a fantastically long and hot shower, but once we were out in the warm air of the St. Louis night and heading towards Cherokee Street to have late night waffles at Melt, I started to feel better.
Adventures don't always work out as planned. All the beautiful, funny, hard, and interesting experiences we had aren't nullified because we boarded a train. Pedaling past cornfields and rocky bluffs belting out my acapella versions of Katy Perry songs (we were on the Katy Trail after all) was still a lot of fun. That shovel was still ridiculous and waking up on a river bank was still transcendent. So full of waffles and fancy beers, we pedaled back to our little hostel, leaving a trail for others to follow our adventure. Now, to catch an early train back to Chicago the next morning.