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Riding the Katy: A 70th birthday adventure

Jim Robins
Jim Robins ready to ride the Katy Trail

James “Jim” Robins, of Ballwin, decided to undertake riding the entire Katy Trail on his bicycle in the summer of 2016, with his 70th birthday occurring in the middle of his adventure.

“I covered the complete Katy Trail in six segments,” Robins explained. “I drove my pickup truck to near each starting point … then I rode west for a predetermined number of miles; then rode east back to my truck. That way, I rode my bike over the entire trail westbound and eastbound.”

Robins is a decorated Vietnam veteran, having served in the U.S. Air Force’s 6994th Security Squadron and joint venture, as a crew member in an EC-47 Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross plus an Air Medal. After retiring from Maritz, he became an avid bike rider, using the many trails in St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

The rides

“The Katy Trail’s eastern end at Machens begins literally in the middle of a farmer’s field,” Robins said. “There is no place to park a vehicle there. For the beginning of the trip, I started in Old St. Charles downtown on the Katy Trail at the St. Charles Station. Then, rode from there to Machens, then Augusta back to St. Charles to my vehicle.”

Katy Trail map
Katy Trail map

His segments were:

  • Machens to Augusta, 78 miles.
  • Augusta to McKittrick, 70 miles.
  • McKittrick to North Jefferson, 84 miles.
  • North Jefferson to New Franklin, 90 miles.
  • New Franklin to Sedalia, 82 miles.
  • Sedalia to Clinton, 72 miles.

Robins cautioned future Katy Trail riders that the segment from Sedalia to Clinton is open to horseback riding.

“As a result, a bicyclist must be alert to trail conditions, including grooves and holes churned up by the horses, creating a rougher ride,” Robins said. “Of course, horses also create other hazards by the smelly deposits they leave naturally in their wakes.”

Robins rode a grand total of 476 bicycle miles.

“I had to drive my pickup out and back for each segment, and getting to the trail for each one was not always straightforward,” Robins said. “I drove my pickup truck 559 miles getting to and from those segments, with each segment getting progressively farther west.”

State Capitol from the Katy Trail

Along with the variety of sights he saw, Robins said highlights of riding the trail were the people that he met.

State Capitol, Jefferson City (Jim Robins photo)

Robins rode a 2003 TREK full-carbon road bike.

“Most people use a trail or mountain bike for the Katy Trail, but I only have two bikes and they are both road bikes,” Robins said.

Just as Robins choice of bike was less conventional so was his decision as to what supplies to bring along.

“I vape,” Robins disclosed. “So I had to carry my vape supplies in a bag. And I gotta have my coffee! So I carried a bag on the front of the handlebars and made iced coffee each night before the next day’s ride.”

But other decisions were more traditional.

“As the planning got underway, the decisions for what to carry were somewhat organic,” Robins said. “I would think about a potential or probable issue and then determine how to handle it if it came up. For medical, I just packed Band-aids and single-pack wet wipes. Bike maintenance – typical stuff that cyclists carry, including a pump, spare tube and tools to change a tire or make adjustments. I added [a] pair of surgical gloves and a paper towel.”

For safety, he said he mounted a headlight and taillight just in case he needed to ride on streets for any length of time. Some portions of the trail are connected via city or town streets and roadway bridges.

To hold most of his supplies, he decided to use a back-of-the-bike rack bag instead of saddlebags.

“Food! This took a lot of thought and experimentation. I carried an ice pack for several long rides prior to the Katy Trail and then switched over to a ‘frozen water bottle.’ It worked longer,” Robins said, “lasted all day. The bike bag I carried was insulated so I had no worries about ‘spoilage.’ So, for food each day I carried a sandwich, peanut butter bars, peanut butter crackers, dried fruit [dates, figs, prunes] and a banana.”

Robins realized his cellphone was too valuable to leave on the bike during the numerous times he needed to use a restroom. Same for money, driver’s license, credit cards and truck key. After researching what others use for long bike trail rides, he purchased a waist pack that he now carries on all rides, not just the Katy Trail.

The riders

Robins said he met a number of interesting people along the trail.
“I met a woman with her 11-year-old son riding the whole trail. They had started at Clinton and were riding to St. Charles, where they were to be picked up by relatives. They were riding about 40 miles a day, then taking a room for the night,” Robins said.

“I met a young man traveling from New England to San Diego, mostly on his bicycle. He rode by train part of the way and rode the bike the rest of the way. He was halfway across the Katy Trail when I met him. His plan was to ride to Kansas City and catch another train. He had clothing, a tent and a sleeping bag on his bike.

“I also met a group of seven or eight riders that appeared to be a club. Most were retirement age and were catching up on stories with others prior to their ride. One of them told me his group, in the past, had ridden most of the Katy Trail at about 40 miles per day, and had stayed overnight at bed-and-breakfasts along the way.”

Finally, he said, “I met a couple that would get on the trail at their home stop, ride to the next station, and ride back home. They did that frequently throughout the summer.”

End of the Katy Trail in Clinton, Missouri (Jim Robbins photo)
End of the Katy Trail in Clinton, Missouri (Jim Robins photo)
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