After bicycling through a torrential downpour along wetlands that were more wets than lands, we arrived at Rocheport, our halfway point on our second day of riding. Although my legs were sore and tired after 45 miles, my back was done. For a much-needed rest, we stopped at a bakery and chatted with another couple about the highlights of the Pedaler’s Jamboree. We had each witnessed the same couple in matching hot pink bicycle shorts with zebra stripes, and they told us a story about an elderly couple who danced and hula hooped with a fluid grace that belied their years (and alcohol consumption).
They tried to ask us about the music, but we had to confess that we were the true geriatrics because we were both so ready for bed—past ready, really—that we crawled into our tent and listened to the music through intermittent yet genuine attempts to fall asleep during a camping music festival at 8:00 at night on the Saturday during Memorial Weekend. We are clearly not cool by any generous interpretation of the word, though the couple did try to insist we were despite our explanation that we lost the ability to be functional human beings after about 8:30 p.m.
After the couple departed to Columbia to beat the impending crowd of “howling masses,” we had to face just how geriatric Team Geriatric really was. Though I wanted to finish out the ride, I instead watched Lee bicycle away because I knew that I would not be able to finish the last 15 miles without risking the inability to walk later this week. As I shuffled through Rocheport alone in my rain gear, I felt every twinge in my back, yet such wandering also gave me time to think about why I love the Katy Trail, which is the longest rails-to-trails project in the nation and stretches 237 miles across Missouri.
The Katy Trail combines history, culture, and scenic views that should challenge anyone to reconsider any erroneous beliefs about the Midwest being flyover country. When we race along the Missouri River, or slow to a pleasant meandering pace, we encounter a full spectrum of history. We see where Lewis and Clark camped and imagine their slow push upriver as they row against the swift current of the Missouri River; we learn of the train as the lifeblood of rural America in the late 1800s and how as the trains slowly became defunct, so too did the towns disappear under the fields. These towns have faded away and become only a green placard to indicate a spot where a community once gathered.
Although many of these towns have been swallowed by history, others towns and landmarks stand as our cultural heritage: the German bakery in Hermann, Daniel Boone’s homestead and family cemetery, and the wineries of Augusta. Before prohibition, Missouri’s wine production was second only to California’s, and Missouri’s wineries are rapidly expanding in recent years. These legacies (and many wineries!) can be easily explored from the Katy Trail.
Whenever I have bicycled stretches of the trail, I am routinely struck by the towering bluffs along the river, the rich fertile fields, the wetlands, the eagles and hawks soaring against a backdrop of blue, and the wildflowers dotting the trail. Such sights fill me with a love for my country, for the earth and its grandeur, and for these moments when I can savor them like a glass of good wine. One day, I hope that Team Geriatric can explore its riches with only the type of welcome pains that are the result of a good day’s adventure; in the meantime, I am thankful for our 45-mile ride, the rain, and the weird techno music to which I couldn’t quite fall asleep.