There I was, just riding along as they say, contemplating my next blog post.
I was excited to be pedaling a section of the famous Katy Trail – the nation’s longest continuous rail trail – on a beautiful early September morning. Heading west with the heavily wooded bluffs to my right, the flood plains of the Missouri River to my left, and a canopy of trees above, I couldn’t help but think of all of those who had been there before me.
Before the tracks were pulled up and the corridor was converted to a trail, before the last freight and passenger trains rolled the rails, there were people that cleared and leveled this path. These laborers were preceded by Lewis and Clark, who were tasked with mapping the newly acquired lands leading to the Pacific Ocean. Earlier still, there were the Native Americans.
Just as I was starting to ponder the permanence of nature and the temporariness of human life, I was jolted back to reality. My front tire had gone flat. It was time to pull off the trail, flip my bike over, remove the wheel, and replace the tube.
The valve on the new tube and my mini-pump seemed to be at odds with one another. For every two shots of air the pump breathed into the tube, the tube exhaled one back into the pump. This tug of war persisted for several minutes before I decided to settle for a less than firm inflation and proceed cautiously back to my van. My planned three-hour adventure would fizzle out with only fifteen miles added to the odometer. This was a major disappointment on a day custom made for bicycling.
On the trip back I encountered a very friendly local couple. Actually, they encountered me. They noticed that I had stopped to take pictures of the still-saturated flood plains of the mighty Missouri. I was surprised to find the water level that high a full three months after the heavy rains in Montana and the Dakotas began to wreak havoc throughout the Missouri Valley. They offered to take my picture with the river in the background. I accepted.
We talked for quite a while. The husband, let’s just call him Karl, knew quite a lot about the trail and the communities along it. He and his wife – I’ll call her Lori – were riding a tandem mountain bike. Karl estimated they did this about 100 times each year. They knew where to eat, which communities to visit, and all the interesting events that took place along the trail throughout the riding season. They also knew how to avoid the locust needles that no doubt caused my flat. Karl and Lori were my kind of adventure cyclists.
Karl mentioned that Jefferson City – the capital of Missouri – had just installed a four million dollar pedestrian and bike bridge linking the Katy Trail to the downtown. It was a must see, so I rode back to the van, finished pumping my front tire, and proceeded to the bridge.
I had never seen anything like this before. The planners decided the best alternative for spanning the river was adding a railed deck alongside the Route 54 truss bridge. To reach the bridge – which I estimated to be about sixty feet or more above the flood plain – a giant, square, chainlink fenced, switchback ramp was built. The slope is gradual enough to pedal, walk, or push a stroller up without getting winded. By my count, there are eleven sections that gradually rise to the bridge deck.
Riding along the deck is a bit unnerving. On one side – eighty feet straight down – is the swollen Missouri. On the other is the highway. The decking boards are about four feet square, so you feel like you’re riding a wave as you pass over each crack. Add the vibration of the bridge as cars and trucks rumble along transferring their weight out along the deck supports and you become fully aware of your unnatural surroundings.
There are three observation areas that offer quite the impressive view. Straight ahead is the river flowing east toward the Mississippi. To the north is the tree-lined shore. To the south is the capitol building.
While I didn’t get to pedal to destinations unknown or explore any town that boomed and busted with the fortunes of the railroad, I did get to ride across a spectacular bridge to the state capitol. Once more I was reminded of all of those that had come there before me.
Some were stewards of the land like the Natives. Some were true trailblazers like Lewis and Clark. Some were opportunists like the railroad barons. Some were just happy to work like the railroad workers. Some were dedicated to renewal like the generous donors and volunteers that converted the Katy. Some were just along for the ride like the train passengers.
Me, I was just there to take it all in and ponder the significance of a flat tire…