ROCHEPORT — Debbie Mitchell was one of the first in line to check in for the Total Eclipse of the Katy Trail Bike Ride.
Mitchell wasn't alone in her quest to cycle the 36-mile route from Rocheport to Jefferson City. Her husband, Tom, said has spent "the 30 best years of my life" with Debbie, and he joined her for the ride — and the eclipse.
At 8:25 a.m., the couple retrieved their event bag, which included a water bottle, T-shirt, route map and ISO-certified eclipse glasses. Five minutes later, their helmets were strapped, and their feet pedaled their bicycles forward in the heart of the eclipse's path of totality.
"We're cyclists, and we always want to go," Tom Mitchell said.
The Mitchells were among about 500 participants registered for the sold-out event that has been planned for more than a year, Katy Trail Coordinator Melanie Smith said.
Participants from as far as Pennsylvania and Montana traveled to the small town of Rocheport to witness the first total eclipse in North America in decades.
Mark Rutkowski, from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, heard about the event via the internet and said he would be riding the Katy Trail for the first time. But he's a regular rider, he said as he unpacked his gear and prepared to walk from the grass parking area to the check-in tent.
Holly Marklin, her husband, Al Marklin; and her daughter, Payton Chapman; were other experienced bicyclists who made the trek to Rocheport.
Originally from Montana, the family has "transplanted to Columbia" and decided to take part in the event because "it's more fun than (sitting on) our roof," Payton said.
After grabbing a bite to eat and fueling up with coffee from Meriwether Café and Bike Shop, which sits across from the trailhead, the family made their final preparations.
The Marklins usually ride 30-60 miles weekly on the trail. But these 36 miles will be different from the casual rides, road riding events and other Katy Trail organized "fun rides" in which they take part.
"This is a huge draw to me," Marklin said. "I love seeing everybody and enjoying it."
Depending on how much the family "doddles," stopping to enjoy live music and food along the trail, Marklin said they hope to make it to Jefferson City in time to see the eclipse in totality, which is slated to start at 1:12 p.m.
Until then, they'll be riding off into the sun. No matter where they are, though, they'll be among thousands looking toward the sky.
Supervising editor is Sky Chadde.