By 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, there was an hour wait for a cheeseburger at the Trailside Cafe in Rocheport. Bicyclists filled the booths inside and sat outside waiting for their lunches.
The population of Rocheport more than doubled as nearly 300 bicyclists passed through on the annual Katy Trail Ride sponsored by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri State Park Foundation. Participants included families, fathers-and-sons, women and bicyclists of all experience levels.
“I’m not a real fanatic,” David Blanchard, 41, said. “I’d consider myself at an intermediate level. This is my first ride of this magnitude.”
Blanchard, from Paducah, Ky., was especially enticed to participate in this event because it was an opportunity to ride the entire trail. Blanchard said he wanted to ride the Katy Trail because it is the most famous path on the Rails-to-Trails program.
The participants will ride the entire 225 miles of the trail from St. Charles to Clinton in west central Missouri. On Wednesday, the bicyclists traveled 51 miles from Jefferson City to Boonville. Stops along this leg of the trip included the towns of Hartsburg, Providence, Rocheport and New Franklin.
Rocheport is mile marker 179 on the trip. Seven Rocheport volunteers worked in shifts to give out water and bananas provided by the department. The majority of the riders were passing through the town between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., so many stopped for lunch. The volunteers directed the bicyclists to local restaurants.
About half of the riders are from out of state, and this is the first time some have biked in Missouri.
Alex Reimer, 13, and his father came from Toronto for the event, which is their first time in Missouri. Alex has been biking for four years.
“The trail is so beautiful,” he said. “The scenic spots here are amazing.”
The two train together in the spring and fall to compete in the summer. This ride is their first event for the season.
“My favorite part of bicycling is spending time with my dad,” Alex said.
Leehman Holder, 61, stopped in Rocheport to wait for a friend who had mechanical problems four miles down the trail. The trip marks the first time in 15 years Holder has seen his friend. Being a cyclist, Holder accepted his friend’s invitation to join him on the ride and bicycle in Missouri for the first time.
The Katy Trail reminds him of a trail he rides back home in Vancouver, Wash.
“At this part of the trail the Missouri River is about as wide as the Columbia River,” he said, “but the trail I usually ride along the Columbia has Mount Hood in the backdrop.”
As Holder took a break, rangers with the Natural Resources Department helped his friend with his flat tire.
Two rangers are riding with the participants and another is driving as close as possible along the highway. These officers are part of the bike patrol unit and are brought in for this event from throughout the state. There will be 14 rangers involved in this event, according to Sgt. Larry Forister.
The rangers are to give any mechanical assistance, first aid or law enforcement needed during the trip.
“We’ve never had a serious incident,” Forister said. “Most of the problems riders have are personal injuries.”
The group has nightly meetings to alert riders of trail conditions and of any washouts along the trail.
Some riders already know the trail well.
“I’ve done the trail twice,” Mary Hunt, 45, of Grandview, Mo., said. This is her second time on this organized ride, and she has noticed a new trend.
“There’s a lot of women who are doing it by themselves,” she said. “I think it’s great.”
The riders will finish on Friday in Clinton.