A 4am chance of rain became a 1:30am steady drizzle at our campsite at the Missouri State Fair Grounds, and didn't let up until well after first light. I'm pretty sure I jinxed us, as it feels like it rains on every adventure I have, but also because I decided to not put my rain tarp up before falling asleep. Tying knots in the rain and figuring out how to squeeze two bikes underneath my hammock in the middle of the night isn't my favorite thing to do.
The morning came and it took a lot of effort for us to get out of our sleeping bags in all the wet, cold, dreariness. Slowly, the sun was burning off the overcast and after our gas station breakfast we finally rolled onto the Katy Trail.
Soft, sandy, but rideable. While the trail conditions weren't the best, we were amazed to see the Katy Trail was taking us through all sorts of time-worn places before delivering us into the middle of nowhere. I was surprised by the elevation changes on it for a rails-to-trails path! Ones in Illinois are dead-flat, but if for no other reason I found myself loving the climbing as it tended to lead to drier, faster gravel.
When the sun really came out, we stripped off layers, stretched out, and started cranking it. Food was running low, water even lower, and we started to realize the water fountains and bathrooms found in small, store-less towns were all shut off despite the great weather. In one town we found a small, open laundromat and took the opportunity to refill our bottles, chug as much water down, then refill again. The trail was only getting softer, but we knew the next big town would be Booneville and we could try for more food there.
In Booneville we found a bare-bones gas station stocked with chips and candy, of which we each put down nearly 2000 calories. This simple, relatively-flat trail was kicking our asses! Crossing the Missouri River for the first time, we hoped the continued sun and warmth would firm things up, but leaving Boonville the trail becomes part of the river's valley, and with that the trail turned to peanut buttery conditions. My speed went to a crawl, Jp had to stop just about every five miles to clear mud out from his brakes and frame. Our snail-pace made me nervous about making it to our next campsite, so once in Rocheport we had to make some hard decisions about what to do that night.
The sun was going down, and looking back at the map we saw 40 miles still between us and our planned campsite. Some quick math showed our current average speed since Booneville at 6mph, which would put us at the 100 mile mark just after midnight, whereas the next town listed Katfish Katys (that website tho!) as a campground. It took a TON of coaxing Linda, the campground owner, over the phone to let us stay- her primary concerns being where would we go to the bathroom? Her restrooms were still weatherized with the water turned off.
If you haven't bike long-distance, multi-day bike rides before, here's a little bathroom secret: your body burns off everything during the day, but if you're staying hydrated you will have to pee a fair bit. I tried to explain the delicacies of how neither of us would, well, poop in random spots on her campground- in fact we had taken care of all our business there in Rocheport. Reluctantly she agreed to host us, and would meet us there (seven miles away) in an hour. It would take us that entire hour to get there, and sacrificing any opportunity to really enjoy and photograph the incredible bluffs that lined the trail. The only other thing Linda had warned us of was a lack of firewood, but before leaving Rocheport we found a few spare pieces left trailside- resting against a telephone pole.
Our legs were dead, the effects of running off candy and chips for four hours taking effect, I almost thought the campground was a hallucination. This serene spot, right by the river and away from everything, was all ours for the night. Linda had yet to arrive, but that didn't stop us from finding the least muddy ground to set up camp and start collecting every dry branch in sight for a huge fire. Linda showed up, thinking nothing of the amazing blues and magentas of the sunset we were being engulfed by, and handed us a post-hole shovel and toilet paper just in case we had to go to the bathroom. "You guys look like you have boy scout training," she said, and drove away.
We got the fire going as huge as possible. I sat in my sleeping bag watching pasta boil, excited to put anything besides sugar into my weary body, ignoring the fact that we now had about 140 miles between us and St. Louis still, with only one day left in our schedule.