Bike Tour 2022 – St. Charles Mo to Hermann, Mo on the Katy Trail

Today was supposed to be a 60-mile slow roll but things happened and it wasn’t.

To begin with the 60 miles did not include riding East on the Katy Trail for 3 1/2 miles to attend a day-after-the-wedding donut picnic breakfast in a park along the trail.

Of course I had already filled my tank at the hotel breakfast bar. It was well above average. As a result I had half a donut and some coffee at the picnic before heading out. The picnic delayed my departure to 11:30 which is much later than normal.

Before I left I had trouble filling my tires up to proper pressure. I decided to roll with it and it worked out fine. Along the way I found a bike repair station at a trailhead and used it’s floor pump to fix the issue.

The trail surface is unpaved but for most of the way you’d never know it. It’s as hard as pavement. Local trail users have an annoying habit of walking abreast on the trail, something I’ve never seen elsewhere. At one point a group of horses were hogging the trail. The riders moved to single file with military precision when I approached.

The trail is FLAT. The surrounding terrain varies between rivers (most often the Missouri), farm fields (occasionally flooded by recent heavy rains), wooded areas, and cuts through rock. I like that the variety keeps you from getting bored with the view.

I rode nonstop to Defiance where there was a trailside eatery. It was crowded and the bike parking didn’t work with my panniers so I forged ahead. I came to Augusta where I found a bike shop, ice cream, and a brewery. I chose the brewery and selected a “to go” box and a Coke.

The to go box had grapes, a clementine, carrots, celery, some cold cuts, cheeses, crackers, peanut butter, and hummus. Dang. I could barely put a dent in it at the brewery so I brought it along for dinner.

About 45 miles into the ride I arrived at Marthasville. Daniel Boone was buried near here so I followed the directions at the trailhead and backtracked 1 1/2 miles to see the gravesite. Along the way I rode the loaded Mule up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever ridden. I can’t believe I made it up without walking.

The Boone gravesite was a bit disappointing as it was adorned with a modern tombstone that look completely out of place.

Back into town I realized that my 60-mile route has somehow ballooned to over 70 miles! Good thing I started late.

I ground away into a light headwind. I decided not to stop to eat, choosing instead to make sure I finished before dark. I made it with ease.

The final town on the trail was McKittrick. Unfortunately all the services at this trailhead are located 2 miles north on the opposite side of the Missouri River in the city of Hermann.

The ride to Hermann was interesting. A wide smooth shoulder made for quick work. With the same effort I used to ride 12 to 13 mph on the trail, I was easily cruising at 15 mph. Once in town I searched for the town park that allows trail users to tent camp. It wasn’t much to my liking (nor was the declining temperature) so I opted for a divey motel instead. If they filmed Psycho at a Midwest hotel, Norman Bates would be from Gurjurat.

I am knackered. Tomorrow’s ride is supposed to be 55 miles. I sure hope it’s not more.

The trail goes through Rapa Nui, MO
I could not come close to eating all this.
The trail has many of these short trestles
Doesn’t look a bit like Fess Parker
Earlier I had to lift The Mule over a fallen tree. We could just squeeze under this one

Bike Tour 2022 – The Night Before

The car trip to St. Louis went without a hitch. All told it took about 15 hours including a stop to visit an ailing family member.

The last two hours were through torrential rains and blustery winds. We stopped near Frankfort, Kentucky for the night. Despite the weather, The Mule arrived in one piece.

Before we left yesterday morning I took The Mule for a quick spin so that I can legitimately say that I’ve ridden a bike in Kentucky. US 60 where the motel was located is a godawful road to ride on so I dipped into a neighborhood and declared victory. 15 states to go.

The last five hours of driving yesterday involved super strong crosswinds. Weather in the Midwest is surprisingly violent. After we arrived thunderstorms raged through the area for the next 24 hours.

Today we attended my niece’s wedding. It was a lovely affair. My only concern is that all the human interaction doesn’t come with a side of Covid which could hit when I’m nowhere near medical facilities.

The tour starts tomorrow. There is some discussion of a post-wedding get together in a park near here to have donuts for breakfast. in any case The hotel we are in is very close to the Katy Trail so finding it will be a breeze.

The weather for the next two days will be cool, 50s and 60s, before giving way to two or three days of rain. This is a concern because indoor accommodations are spaced about 20 miles apart. Also the trail is unpaved which can cause problems with cables and such. And to add to potential problems, the trail runs along the Missouri River which is prone to spring flooding.

It looks like I’ll be rendezvousing with Mark and Corey in Canon City, Colorado instead of Colorado Springs. This works out great because Canon City, unlike Colorado Springs, is on the TransAm and is easy to get to. my hope is that I can get there a day early to acclimate to the altitude.

I may have to modify my route, because of the weather and Memorial Day weekend crowds. I’ll try to stay flexible.

When I’m 64

The Mule reached yet another milestone today. It turned 64, thousand miles that is.

Will you still need me? YES!

I bought this bike from the Quaker Lane location of Spokes Etc. bikes in Alexandria Virginia sometime in 1991. I bought this bike because my Trek 1200 road bike couldn’t handle the stress of commuting. It’s a bit ironic that the Spokes Etc. chain of local bike shops recently was bought by Trek Bicycles.

It’s also a little odd that Spokes marketed this bike as a commuter bike. Little did I know that it was the best selling touring bike in Europe back in the day.

The Mule will be my steed for this summer’s bike tour. Tomorrow I’m taking it in to Bikes at Vienna for its annual fix everything service.

Autumn

The DC area does a pretty darn good job of falling. Here’s some examples.

Foliage

It always seems to take longer than last year, but the fall foliage around these parts, while not in the same league as Vermont, isn’t half bad. My vote for tree of the year is this one, located near the Virginia side of the Memorial Bridge.

Stopped me in my tracks

Cider

The last bicycling event ride of the year, at least for me, is the Cider Ride. It is staged by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. There are three routes of which I picked the longest, 55-mile one. The course winds its way up and down the branches of the Anacostia River and spends about ten miles meandering around a United States Agriculture Department research facility and its adjacent suburban neighborhoods. On the return the course passes through Greenbelt (which I always confuse with Beltsville). The three pit stops had dozens and dozens of donuts (I had one with white frosting and sprinkles), apple pie, and, of course, warm cider. (The Greenbelt pit stop also includes yellow jackets which find cider irresistible.) Normally I don’t like cider but on a cool autumn afternoon, warm cider is just about the perfect drink.

Kevin W. contacted me the night before and we rode together from the start. At the first pit stop about 13 miles into the ride at Proteus Bicycles in College Park we were joined by Michael B. These two gents have been the anchors of my last several 50 States Ride posses and are the best riding companions. They wait for me at turns because I am old and they are not. At the end of the ride we indulged in libations. A pleasant time was had. As you can see, the weather was splendid.

Kevin (L) and Michael at the after party

A big thanks to the folks at WABA who spend many hours planning this event. On the day of the event they get up way too early and resist the temptation to eat all the donuts. So thanks to all the WABA staff Garrett, Ursula, Kristin, and, Anna (as well as any I haven’t met or didn’t see), and the scads of volunteers. Somehow volunteer Dana got assigned pie duty at the furthest pit stop from his house in Arlington. Hope you didn’t get stung. And a big shout out and thanks for the hug to Monica, the queen of merch at the after party.

Floods

Although not strictly limited to autumn, the flooding of the Potomac River is always an interesting thing to see. A week ago, we had the highest water since the epic storm surge from hurricane Isabel in 2003. This picture of the lower end of King Street (the main tourist street) in Old Town Alexandria was taken several hours before the high water mark. News reports showed a couple canoeing here.

Fall Back

We just switched back to standard time this weekend. One annoying aspect is that I have to reset all four of my bike computers. Of course, I have three different kinds, each it its own sequence of buttons to be pushed. My big worry is that when I start futzing around with the buttons I’ll accidentally delete the mileage on the odometers. So, before I start, I take a picture of all four computers’ odometer settings. I’m a bit over 155,000 miles on these four bikes. This means I ride a lot and I, and my bikes, are old. (This does not include mileage from my Raleigh Grand Prix and my Trek 1200, both of which left the stable decades ago.)

Clockwise from top left: The Mule (Specialized Sequoia), Big Nellie (Tour Easy recumbent), Little Nellie (Bike Friday New World Tourist), and my Surly Cross Check.

Welcome to the El Norte Zoo

It has now been over two years since the Irish government received my application for citizenship. (My paternal grandmother was born in County Mayo.) Between Brexit and the pandemic, the delays have become rather frustrating. I guess I’ll have another Guinness while I wait.

My experience is not uncommon so I get chuffed when I learn that someone I know has been granted U. S. citizenship. The latest is my friend Peter’s wife Ona. I confess that I barely know her but it’s quite obvious that Peter is an hombre con suerte. Ona became a US citizen over the weekend. I saw her at the Cider Ride after party and she was still beaming. Congratulations, Ona.

One Way on the WOD

I’ve really been cooking with gas on my bikes lately. It always takes me a few months after winter departs to get my mechanics working right, but the last week I’ve been riding like a boss. After ten consecutive days of riding over 30 miles a day, I popped a 52 mile ride on my Surly CrossCheck. My route took me up to DC where I rode up Rock Creek Park to Bethesda. After a couple of miles of connecting roads, I hooked up with the Capital Crescent Trail for the return. Beach Drive. the main drag through Rock Creek Park, is closed to through auto traffic in the upper half of the park. This is a positive pandemic dividend. I hope the National Park Service continues this policy because it’s a beautiful ride.

Near the end of yesterday’s ride, the CrossCheck hit 20,000 miles. As is my practice, I am now switching over to other bikes for a while.

Today, The Mule got the call. My wife and daughter drove me out to Purcellville, Virginia where the Washington and Old Dominion (WOD) trail has its western terminus. I bid them farewell and headed for home.

The WOD is about 45 miles long. (A few detours here and there add about a half mile by my odometer). Since it starts at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains the ride loses about 545 feet along the way. The decline isn’t constant, but there are long stretches of gradual downhill that allow for riding at a respectable clip.

A couple of hundred feet from the start of the ride I noticed that my riding position on The Mule is much less aggressive than my position on the CrossCheck. I decided to try an experiment. I adjusted the tilt of the saddle down just a bit. At first it felt strange to have additional weight on my hands. And my butt seemed to have been raised much more than it actually was. After about three miles, I didn’t notice the difference at all and I seemed to have much better power transmission to the pedals.

Dang was I riding fast. I think I had about a 2 mile per hour increase in cruising speed.

To be honest, making a tweak to your riding position before riding 50 miles is not a particularly good idea. But for me. it work out okay.

The more I rode, the more my body liked the new position. Cruising along at 20 miles per hour is not at all normal for me. I blasted through a tunnel of green for ten miles before stopping at Leesburg for a Mule photo op.

As I rode the din from the Brood X, 17-year cicadas was my constant companion. From time to time I heard other summer bugs such as the annual cicadas. The Brood X sound is a low pitched drone coming from the tree tops; the annual bugs make a higher pitched sound that seems to be only a few feet over your head.

The best part of the WOD is the ten miles from Purcellville to Leesburg. After that, development encroaches on the trail corridor. For those of us who remember when much of this area of the corridor was farm land, this change in scenery is a bit depressing.

It is what it is so you just keep rolling along. I past a few turtles in the Ashburn. Later I east of Vienna I saw a deer eating grass on the fringe of the trail. No worries.

Trail traffic was light probably because of severe weather that had raised the humidity noticeably since yesterday.

I booked along through Sterling and Herndon and Reston. Vienna came and went as did Falls Church where some major trail work caused a half mile on-street detour. It brought to mind the fact that I have very little idea what this area looks like beyond eye sight of the trail corridor.

I ran out of WOD in Arlington and stopped for a couple of other photos, one of the trail sign and the other of the Weenie Beenie, an Arlington culinary institution for decades.

With the WOD conquered. I switched to the Four Mile Run Trail which took me three miles further east to the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport. Turning south on the MVT, I made honest work of the last nine miles. My pace had slowed but by this point my brain had shut down and The Mule and I were on autopilot. Every few miles I had that how-did-I-get-here feeling.

Did I just ride 110 miles in two days? Why am I not crippled? A month ago I would have sworn that my 65-year-old body couldn’t stand a bike tour anymore. Now, it’s telling me “You still got it, kid.”

The Mule Turns 30 and 61

It was 30 years ago that I gave up trying to commute on my Trek 1200 and bought a commuter bike. The Specialized Sequoia that I bought came with a generator lighting system that was wired through the metal fenders. The lights were lame (3 watts as I recall) and the generator contacted the tread of the tire and wore tires out.

Over time I replaced everything but the frame, fork, seat post, and rack. The bike was priced to move, at $300 off list because, back in those days, people shied away from heavy bikes. What I didn’t know was that this bike was the best selling touring bike in Europe.

It is an awesome touring bike. Stable. Comfortable. Dependable.

For a while I stopped riding it when I switched to Big Nellie, my recumbent bike. Nerve problems in my legs eventually drove me back to the bike I have come to call The Mule.

Today The Mule turned 61 as in 61,000 miles. Still going strong.

2020 – One Last Recap

It was such a fun year!

Okay, let’s start again. 2020 sucked but at least I salvaged some decent bicycling. I managed to go 10,240.5 miles this year. My Cross Check edged out The Mule for most miles: 4,179.5 to 4002.5. The other 20 percent of riding was split between Big Nellie (my Tour Easy recumbent) at 1,458.5 miles and Little Nellie (my New World Tourist) at 600 miles.

My bikes now have a total of 145,082 miles on them. Either one of them break or I do.

End of YearOdometer MilesMiles Ridden
Specialized Sequoia60,0204,003
Tour Easy44,2431,459
New World Tourist22,598600
Cross Check18,2214,180
Total145,08210,241

The monthly distribution was kind of Bell curvy. (I took stats, can’t you tell?)

As a prize for finishing in first place, the Cross Check got a new look. People used to pick me out during events by my humongous Carradice saddle bag. No longer. I switched to an Arkel Tailrider. It kind of wrecks the all black look, but it weights a bit less than the Carradice. The bike still weighs a ton but that will be addressed when I replace the tires with something lighter.

The Mule Turns 60

Indiana Jones once said. “It’s not the age; it’s the mileage.” Don’t know if I agree with him. I bought my Specialized Sequoia nearly 30 years ago. I almost gave up on it twice but a mechanic named Paul (now at Bicycle Space in DC) fixed a vexing problem with the headset about 20 years ago. When I complained about five years ago that he bike had too many miles on it to be trustworthy on long tours, my rando/touring/mechanic-y friend Mike told me not to worry. The Mule’s old steel frame would last a lot longer.

So here we are. At 60,000 miles. The frame, fork, seat post, rear rack, and wheel skewers are original. I fully expect to one day get on the bike and have it disintegrate beneath me. Until then, The Mule abides, baby.

By the way, if you’re thinking of getting a bicycle computer, don’t get the Cateye Padrone. It has never worked properly but I bought it at the start of the pandemic and returning it was fraught with peril.

Rebound

After a day of riding 65 hilly miles, my legs felt like concrete. Yesterday I was walking around like Frankenstein. In a fit of sanity, I took the day off.

Today my legs felt much better. I decided to go for a spin but before I began I raised my saddle a smidgen. Small changes to saddle height and other bicycle settings can make an enormous difference in comfort. Just a couple of millimeters was all it took to calm my sore left knee. I had no pain at all during my 35-mile ride up to DC and back. The change also seemed to help my lower back.

About a mile from home, I pulled The Mule over to take a picture..

I am beginning to wonder whether The Mule will outlast me.

North to Gettysburg

I discovered the website Bikewashington.org many, many years ago. It’s especially useful for newcomers to the DC area. Luckily, it’s list of day rides holds a few surprises even for those of us who’ve lived here a long time. And so I found myself doing the North to Gettysburg ride on what started as a splendid early summer day.

The ride starts in Thurmont, Maryland, a small town located not all that far from Camp David, the presidential getaway place. As I began my ride, I saw two Marine helicopters heading in the general direction of DC from the nearby mountains. Melania must be bored.

It was about 70 degrees F with a strong southerly breeze when I started out of town. The old downtown has a few log cabin buildings but this historical quaintness soon gave way to more modern residential houses, farm buildings, and the occasional machine shop as I left town.

The route is specifically designed to avoid the nearby mountains which contain several challenging climbs. Being an old fart with bad knees, I appreciated this aspect. As I headed north on curvy country roads, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. This area is just rural bliss and perfect bike riding. There’s enough variation in the terrain to shake things up a bit without having to go blue in the face and feel fire in the legs from exertion. I’m sure I could have done every one of the short climbs on this ride without using my granny gear, but I decided it would be best to be kind to my worn out left knee.

Yeah, I’m old.

Somebody must have had time on their hands

As I approached a turn I saw a sign warning that a bridge over the Monocacy River was out of commission on Bullfrog Road. I was following a paper cue sheet and decided to follow the detour signs. After three miles I came upon Bullfrog Road. Hey, wait a minute. I consulted the Google and learned that the route never actually crossed the Monocacy on Bullfrog, rather it left Bullfrog staying entirely to the west of the river. Doh!

Well, I guess my 46-mile ride had now become a 52-miler but so what? The Mule abides.

Looking west. Miles and miles of these views. Not too shabby,

After more country roads than John Denver could a guitar neck at, I found myself crossing the Mason Dixon line, the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The pavement turned from black to gray but the surface remained bike-friendly. Soon I found myself turning onto a narrow lane into Gettysburg National Battlefield. The route runs along Cemetery Ridge past Little Round Top, Round Top, and the Angle. Tourists and families scrambled about the hillside imagining the Confederate army attacking up the hill into defensive fire from the Union positions. It’s remarkable that they nearly succeeded more than once.

Mason Dixon Line

The battlefield is dotted or perhaps I should say strewn with dozens of monuments to Union states and militias and military brass of the day. At the northern end of the ridge I stopped to have a snack before turning south to begin the ride back.

Snack stop in the shade of the sign. Was hoping for a free meal but it was closed.

US Business 15 bisects the flat land across which Pickett made his charge. One look at the lay of the land reaffirmed my lifelong disdain for blindly following orders. It’s a miracle his troops didn’t frag him. Instead they died by the score although some momentarily breached the Union defenses at the Angle. The South’s military headcount was vastly outnumbered by the North. That Lee would waste so many soldiers in such an obviously futile assault puts the lie to the notion that he was a superior military commander. Don’t believe me? Go to Gettysburg and see for yourself.

My route turned to the west from the battlefield and then headed south along the western side of the valley. By this time, the lovely morning weather had given way to a typically swampy mid-Atlantic summer day. The terrain seemed hillier but increase in effort may have been caused by the headwind that was wearing me down.

More hills and curves and farms and cows. Even a longhorn. I startled a yearling deer crossing the road. It turned tail into the roadside bushes. A little further on a hedgehog did a u-ey and waddled under a barn. At least the wildlife has some pep yet, I thought.

I rolled into Emmitsburg on the Maryland side of the border and, after missing a turn, found myself cruising through Mount Saint Mary’s College campus. The campus is situated along US 15, a four lane divided highway. But for this misfortune, the campus would get an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It’s stone buildings practically intoned Catholic academia. It’s metal sided gym, really an oversized quonset hut, somehow amusingly fit in. The seminary building to the rear up a hill was the crown jewel.

Another ten miles or so to go. Up and down and around. I was running out of energy, a peanut butter bagel apparently being enough for 46 miles but not for 52.

After crossing US 15, I followed the windy (in both senses of the word) country roads to the final payoff, a covered bridge over Owens Creek. Why the heck did these things even exist? No matter, they are charming and, as long as you don’t catch a wheel in the gap in the boards, they are a treat to ride through.

Frederick County Maryland is known for its covered bridges

Back into Thurmont an annoyed driver honked his horn at me as I passed him. I pointed to the stop sign that he was about to ignore and successfully shamed him. To prove my point the route had me follow him through town. His impatience was accomplishing nothing but raising his blood pressure.

If you live in DC, I highly recommend this ride, without the unnecessary detour. I must admit that I resisted taking pictures otherwise I’d still be out there riding. It’s beautiful country.