COLUMBIA — When Eddie Naeger started biking the Katy Trail on Jan. 26 in Clinton, it was 50 degrees outside.
By the next night, the temperature without wind chill was 0 degrees.
The graphic designer from St. Louis wanted to make a solo trip on the 237-mile-long former rail-bed trail in January to push his limits in cold weather.
His Cyclocross bike weighed more than 100 pounds after he packed it with his tent, sleeping bag, food bag, water bottles and bike repair equipment.
“I knew it was going to be really bad,” Naeger, 31, said. “I was adequately nervous about the trip."
He camped most nights in his tent , with temperatures often falling below zero with the wind chill.
Naeger's day job is working at the outdoor equipment retailer REI, which provides employees a $300 allowance to review gear every five years or so.
Survival was a bigger concern earlier in the week, he said. The conditions instigated a constant battle to retain heat in his fingers and toes so he could keep pedaling. He relied on warming pouches in his boots and double-layers of socks, but keeping in motion was crucial, he said.
“As soon as you stop, there’s this fine line between dealing with the discomfort of my toes and knowing when you need to stop because you’re now at a dangerous level,” Naeger said.
On the first day out of Clinton, Naeger camped beside the trail about 3 miles southwest of Sedalia.
He described the wind during the night: "I thought it was a truck. There were branches falling off trees. It honestly felt like a tornado was coming."
In Pilot Grove, when it was 1 degree, he had permission to camp in the city park but found warmth in a nearby Casey’s General Store.
The employees were very hospitable, he said, letting him come in periodically during the night when he felt it was too dangerous to stay outside.
“The folks in there said, 'What are you doing, you freaking nut?',” Naeger recalled.
On Tuesday, he spent the night with nine friends and relatives in a rustic cabin near Cooper's Landing in Columbia.
One of those friends, Jenny Kettler, said it was inspiring to see Naeger make his trip in January. "It gets people to be active and think that the outdoors are accessible during wintertime," she said.
The next overnight was a tent on the property of the Rendleman Home Bed and Breakfast in Rhineland, 47 miles east of Columbia. Owner Doug Rendleman said he was surprised to see a cyclist in the winter.
"This time of year, I mostly only see my neighbors out walking, if that," Rendleman said. "I generally don't start getting anybody until later in the year, and they're mostly people from Minnesota or Alaska."
In a phone interview Friday, Naeger said the frigid temperatures early in the week helped him maintain focus.
“There were a couple of those days where I was like, ‘get to the next town and get warm’,” he said.
Solitude was the intention of the ride, but Naeger said he came to appreciate his interactions along the way. One day he came across a few armadillos, but when he started chasing after them he accidentally kicked one. "There’s plenty of things that kinda keep you going.”
Looking back on the trip, Naeger said the warmth of the people he met along the way made the harsh conditions enjoyable.
“When I do it again — probably not when temperatures are in the teens — I fully intend to experience that side of it. Stop at pubs and talk to people, get to know people and share stories,” he said.