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Pedaler’s Jamboree 2014

Pedaler’s Jamboree 2014

The most fun annual event on the Katy Trail is the Pedaler’s Jamboree from Columbia to Boonville, Missouri, held every Memorial Day weekend.  Craig and I have participated every year since the first Jamboree in 2009.  This event combines two of our favorite things… a leisurely two day bike ride on the Katy Trail with fantastic live music at every stop along the way.  Mike, the fellow who organizes this event, does a phenomenal job of booking some great musicians and bands… lots of roots music, folk, blues and indie rock.  No cover bands here.  He gets the good original stuff hiding in the fringes that music aficionado types truly appreciate. This year I was especially looking forward to William Elliott Whitmore and SHEL.  We also discovered some exciting bands we didn’t know before, particularly The Ben Miller Band, the headliner band who blew our socks off Saturday night.

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A chaotic beginning at the Flatbranch Park in Columbia

The event begins at the head of the MKT Trail which connects the city of Columbia, MO with the Katy Trail.  There is no “leader” on this ride.  Participants begin whenever they wish that Saturday morning.  A sag truck carts everyone’s tents and bags to Boonville so most riders begin by dropping off their stuff into monstrous piles at Flatbranch Park.  Almost 3,000 folks joined the Jamboree this year so Flatbranch Park was packed and chaotic.  Lots of folks in whimsical costumes with decorated bikes, also lots of spandex, families, old, young and in-between.  The first couple of years of the Jamboree, most of the riders were the costume clad, laid back, herbal hippy types.  It was a nice carefree vibe.  As the spandex has increased each year the atmosphere has gotten a little less peaceful with larger groups of boisterous partiers.  The two may or may not be connected.

Craig and I always carry our own gear so we never need the sag wagon support but this year we were accompanied by Craig’s oldest daughter, Amy, her boyfriend, Brett, and our neighbor, Sherri, who all deposited their gear into the stuff mountain.  And then we were off around 10:00 that morning.  The first mile of the MKT Trail through Columbia is paved and winds along next to a creek and through several tunnels safely below the streets.  The pavement ends as it leaves Columbia and we continued on the compacted gravel trail 9 miles through scenic woods and fields to the Katy Trail.

Even with our staggered beginning times, that many cyclists on the MKT Trail is quite the traffic jam and I felt sorry for unfortunate cyclists out for a Saturday ride who were trying to cycle the opposite direction.  I’m sure it was a frustrating battle.  At one point a flustered old lady fought her way through the gridlock screaming “SINGLE FILE!  SINGLE FILE!! SINGLE FILE!!!!” at the top of her lungs.  I could hear her shrill screeches far down the trail behind me.  Poor lady.  I think she managed to bellow at all 3,000 of  us and we were all laughing about it even the next day.    Yelling out “SINGLE FILE!!!”  was sure to deliver a hearty guffaw the rest of the weekend.

On the MKT Trail

On the MKT Trail before the rain began

Dark clouds had hovered threateningly above us all morning and sure enough, the rains commenced about 3 miles into our adventure.  First light sprinkles and then a soak-everything-to-the-bone downpour.  Cyclists stopped beside the trail to fish rain ponchos out of their bags.  It was too warm for my rain jacket so I left it stored. I pushed my fedora down to my glasses and pedaled on.  Water collected in the rim and created a waterfall in front of my face every time I looked down.  My dress hung in sopping bunches around my legs.  But there was no wind or lightning.  It was chilly but not cold.  It could have been much worse.

At the MKT/Katy Trail junction a hundred or so cyclists huddled under the trailhead shelter.  But there wasn’t room for us and we were already drenched so we pedaled on.  I did finally pull out my rain jacket to loan to Amy who was only wearing a tank top and shorts.  My cycling capris, dress and wool sweater were soaked but warm.  My only wardrobe failure was my Merrell baby doll shoes which were slowly filling up with wet gravelly sand from the trail surface.

Our first music stop was at Catfish Katy’s in Huntsdale.  The rain had lightened a little by then and we stopped for a bathroom break and a few swigs of Fireball to warm us up.  The River Ghost Revue quartet played mandolin, banjo, guitar, and upright bass, safe and dry under a canopy.  The banjo player sported thick blonde dreds down to his knees.  We enjoyed their American folk instrumentals for a bit before continuing our soggy trek down the trail.

The rain ended before our next stop but the damage was done.  The worst of it was the sludgy trail surface paste that now covered our bikes, gear, water bottles and our bodies from the knees down.  The unfortunate fenderless pedalers were now all marked with wide coffee-with-cream colored stripes down their backsides.  YAY for fenders!

Your author posing for a photo with the amazing William Elliott Whitmore!

Your author posing for a photo with the amazing William Elliott Whitmore!

We arrived at Rocheport around 12:15.  Perfect timing!  I was excited to see William Elliott Whitmore who was on schedule to begin at 12:30.  As we rolled off the trail toward the stage area, Craig pointed and said, “There he is.”  Sure enough, there was William Elliott Whitmore standing right in front of us.  I yelled out “William Elliott Whitmore!”  He turned around and I said, “We rode hard to get here in time to see you!”  He laughed and said, “It’s a great day for a ride!”  “Well I don’t know about that” I said and squeezed a couple of cups of rain out of my skirt onto my muddy shoes.   He put on a fantastic show, just him and his banjo and stompbox.  Great music!  People took off their shoes and danced in the mud.  A young hooper (Sherri called him “Mr. Sparklepants”) entertained us side stage with a very graceful hula hoop routine.  Whitmore was funny and personable.  It was great to meet him before the show.

Dancing in the mud to William Elliott Whitmore

Dancing in the mud to William Elliott Whitmore

After the show and a Haughty Hillbilly sandwich (bacon, fried green tomato, arugula and pimento cheese on a biscuit) from the Biscuit Truck it was time to head on down the trail.  Rocheport is the halfway point of our 35 mile ride to Boonville.  The next section we call the “slog section” because it is 6 miles of flat, boring, swampy fields before the next town.  That section usually drags on and on especially if we’re baking in the hot sun.  However today the slog was gentle with us.  The rain had cooled down the day and I didn’t mind pedaling through this section at all.  I was on a role for some reason, pedaling on ahead of the others in my group.   The rain had stopped, the temp was perfect and I was just feeling good!  I told little jokes to all the folks as I passed.  Some people thought I was hilarious (or idiotic… hard to tell) and others (usually the ones wearing spandex) looked at me like I was some crazy weirdo.  But I was not deterred!  The two beers I imbibed at Rocheport may or may not have had something to do with this unusual behavior.

Taking a break along the trail

Taking a break along the trail

Halfway through the six mile slog is a unique abandoned silo encased entirely with fired clay tiles.  It is quite beautiful really; the tiles are various shades of golden browns.  There is nothing else here but a dirt road crossing and a lone bench but it has become a favorite stopping point along the trail for photos and a quick break from pedaling.  I stopped here and waited for everyone else to catch up.  Mobs of other pedalers were also waiting here.  Some were dancing to music from a boom box someone was lugging along in a trailer behind his bike.  Others talked and took photos of the silo.  A strange young man had safety pinned a plastic lobster to the front of his jeans.  Interesting people watching.

Finally we reached the end of the slog and pulled into the Katy Roundhouse campground.  They have covered their small stage area with a menagerie of found objects, machine parts and cow bones to create a funky sculptural frame for the musicians.  We didn’t stay here long this year but enjoyed tunes from the Flood Brothers band as we visited the porta-potties.

Boonville is only a short three miles from Katy Roundhouse so we cranked out the final bit and crossed the bridge into Boonville.  We left the trail and biked down several street blocks to Kemper Park, where we would be camping and enjoying the evening’s music entertainment.

Boonville is a cute little rural town with a population of less than 10,000, filled with historic victorian homes and lots of character.  It was settled by Daniel Boone’s sons in the 1800s when they discovered a large saltlick across the river.  It was a battle hotspot during the Civil War but I doubt that the sleepy little town has seen much action since then until a few years ago when they got their very own casino, the Isle of Capri.  I’m sure that has probably livened things up a bit although I would argue not for the better.

Kemper Park is home to the former Kemper Military School and the historic 19th century buildings still stand.  The abandoned campus has been used in several movies.  Today the large fields behind the campus are used as a park and contain several soccer and football fields and baseball diamonds.  A YMCA is housed in one of the buildings and the State Fair, which is held there every year, has plans to refurbish some of the other buildings.

Temporary tent city in Kemper Park

Temporary tent city in Kemper Park

We rolled into the huge grassy field that would be our home for the evening, staked out our spot and began our tent setup routines. As usual, we arrived before most of the other Jamboree participants and had our choice of camping spots.  A huge covered stage had been erected at one end of the field for the evening’s performances, and sound checks were underway.  Tent booths were lined up along the old campus buildings with vendors selling food, drinks, clothing and crafts.  We settled on a Jamaican booth with chicken curry and meat pies for dinner.  YUMMINESS!!  Then we claimed a patch of grass in front of the stage, rolled out our blankets and set up our folding chairs.  Craig broke out his vintage portable bar and mixed up several cocktails.  Bring on the music!

Dead Bed Bad Attitude Band

Dead Bed Bad Attitude Band

The Dead Bed Bad band was playing an interesting musical mix that they call “indie psych pop.”  I loved their sound but the sullen front man had a jerky attitude which kinda’ ruined their show.  He complained that they had to cut their show short (due to the rain delay) and had to “get off the stage to let the other bands play” and threw his water bottle off the stage before stomping off to sulk behind stage.  Too bad.  They really sounded good.

Then it was time for SHEL!  I LOVE this band.  SHEL is four young sisters who are amazing musicians and vocalists; they combine mandolin, violin, keys and percussion with beautiful vocal harmonies.  Their songs are simultaneously haunting and whimsical with surprising arrangements.  I’ve followed them online for a while and was thrilled to see them live.  Their show was even better than I expected.  Their musicianship was flawlessly tight and violinist, Sarah, the spokesperson of the band, was engaging and funny.  I was mesmerized.

SHEL!

SHEL!

Eva, the lead singer and mandolinist, makes and sells these quirky, artsy top hats that the girls wear in a lot of their promo shots and videos.  During the show Eva took off her hat and threw it out to the crowd.  It arced high over my head to the left far out of reach but then bounced off someone’s hand and landed right in front of me on the ground.  I WANTED THAT HAT!!  So I dove to my knees and grabbed it.  Then some little hoohah chickie-B ran up to me and grabbed the hat right out of my hands and held it up in victory.  Ooooohh!!!  I considered going after her for one quick moment but then I remembered that I’m not really the cat fighting kind.  Bye gones… I guess…  After the show I was standing in line at their merch table to get a tee shirt and who was standing right next to me but chickie-B hooheehah admiring her new hat.  Eva noticed and said, “hey you got the hat!” and gave her a thumbs up.  Oooooohhh!Grrrrrrr!!!  To sooth my indignation I bought myself a cool SHEL tee shirt with a bicycle design that said “If everyone rode a bicycle imagine how quiet it would be” (YAY!) and one of their handmade journals and chatted with Sarah a bit.  She’s such a fetching little cutie pie!

Eva and Liza from SHEL

Eva and Liza from SHEL before the HAT INCIDENT

The final act, The Ben Miller Band, simply blew my mind.   Three guys playing blues – incredible, punch your soul in the face wailing guitar blues – on instruments they have made. out. of. junk.  Yes junk.  But they ROCKED!!!!  I couldn’t believe the mighty sound Mr. Miller was able to strum out of his little cigar box guitar contraption.  WOW.  His bassist thumped on some two stringed plywood contrivance resting on an old washbasin.  The third band member ran around the stage playing everything from drums to washboard to trombone.  He was, said Miller, the “hardest working little man in the music industry.”  And I think he was correct!  Miller’s vocals were powerful too and his lyrics and between song banter was hilarious.  During one of their final songs I had to pick my jaw up off the ground when he broke out into Tuvan throat singing.  Oh my word, I have to see these guys again!!!

After the show we retired to our tents and I was soon slumbering away on top of the soft thick grass amidst the field of tents.

sunrise in the tent city

sunrise in the tent city

Morning came too soon and the temporary tent city gradually awoke into a buzz of morning conversations, unzipping tent doors, and rustling of folks doing morning routines.  Tent walls block no sound… Might as well get up.  We soon had our own tents unzipped, unsnapped, unstaked and stuffed back into their bags.  Craig and I filled our panniers and clipped them back onto our bikes while Amy, Brett and Sherri deposited their gear to be transported back to Columbia in the sag truck. Our usual routine is to bike up to a little diner right at the mouth of the Boonville bridge for breakfast but for some inexplicable reason they were closed this morning.   A quick pedal around the main town area (it’s not very big) revealed that none of the other dining establishments (there aren’t very many) were open for breakfast.  Hmmmm… what to do?  We were HUNGRY!  We finally decided to bike down to the casino and enjoyed a nice breakfast buffet there.  By the time we left, many other Jamboree pedalers had also found their way to the casino for breakfast.  As we were unlocking our bikes to leave, a well dressed couple approached the casino entrance and spying our mud covered bicycles asked us if we had ridden through concrete.  It certainly looked like it.

Heading into Rocheport with the Rocheport tunnel in the background.

Heading into Rocheport with the Rocheport tunnel in the background.

The trek back to Columbia on Sunday is never quite as fun and the Saturday experience.  Our butts are always a little sore and our brains a little fuzzy and hungover.  But the weather today was glorious and it was still quite enjoyable, even the six mile slog section.  A fellow Jamboree participant biked up next to me and asked me about my bright yellow Ortlieb panniers.  She was wanting to buy some for her bicycle tour on the C&O Canal / Great Allegheny Passage trip that July.  I told her that we had done that very same tour four years before and we enjoyed a good long conversation about it as we pedaled away.  You meet such wonderful people when you’re on a bicycle!

Festivities at Rocheport

Festivities at Rocheport

By this time my wardrobe failure from yesterday had spiraled into catastrophe.  My shoes had still been soaking wet when I pulled them on that morning and remained decidedly sandy although I had tried to scrub all the sand out with a washcloth.  The sand and wetness began working a nice blister into the back of my ankle and it HURT.  By the time we reached Columbia I was nearly in need of a wheelchair.  I was fine when I was pedaling but walking was painfully difficult.  When everyone else stopped to locate their gear in the stuff mountain and then walk to the parking garage, I took off alone to pedal to the parking garage rather than walk.  Or rather, I pedaled to where I thought the parking garage should be.  Only it was the wrong parking garage which I finally realized during my third loop of the top level where our car should have been waiting.  I looked out to the town below and saw to my dismay that there were tons of parking garages in all directions.  And I had no idea which one was the right one.  After a frantic call to Craig to explain that I was lost but I had no idea where I was and please help me I cycled back down to the street, misread my iPhone GPS and tried to follow Craig’s directions to the garage which were incorrect because I had told him I was somewhere other than where I really was.  But don’t worry, the story has a happy ending.  I pedaled around in several more discombobulated circles but finally heard Craig yelling “BLUE!” and spotted him from the top of yet another garage waving frantically at me.  He pointed to the garage entrance and said “GO IN THERE!!!”  I WAS SAVED!!!

We reunited with the others and had a marvelous late lunch at the Flatbranch Restaurant and then departed for St. Louis.  We were all plumb tuckered out and ready for naps but what a marvelous weekend it was! IMG_3380

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