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Pleasant Hill to Windsor on Rock Island Spur Trail: a battle of wind and rocks and summoning inner strength

Pleasant Hill to Windsor on Rock Island Spur Trail: a battle of wind and rocks and summoning inner strength

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Pleasant Hill, MO

It was a glorious morning; one of those mornings on the trail that I dream of when I’m sitting at my computer at work wishing I was riding my bike. Sunshine. Perfect temperature. No wind… yet…

We biked the quick 3 miles back to Pleasant Hill and had a delicious breakfast at the same country diner we ate at the day before. Fried eggs, sourdough toast, grits and coffee all for $13! Can’t beat these small town diners for great bargains.

The Pleasant Hill Trailhead

The Pleasant Hill Trail passes right in front of the diner and we followed it several blocks to the trailhead at the beginning of the Rock Island Spur. This 47 mile section of trail has just recently been completed and meets the Katy Trail proper at Windsor our destination for the day. The original western end of the Katy is in Clinton and Craig and I started our journey from there the first time we biked the entire trail in 2008 (see my journal of that adventure HERE). This time we decided to try out the new section and skip the old section from Clinton to Windsor. There isn’t a lot of information about this new section online and we weren’t sure what to expect…

Before the day got tough…

Rock Island Spur is very remote, passing through only two little towns in the entire 47 miles. It is a beautiful trail through woods and farmland and would have been thoroughly enjoyable except for two big challenges we encountered today… wind and rocks.

The wind started picking up about 30 minutes into our ride and just kept ramping up. After about an hour it had reached a formidable 25mph with even stronger gusts shoving us across the trail. If we had only been heading 30 degrees to the east we would’ve enjoyed the most fantastic tailwind ever. But instead we combatted a dreaded crosswind. And it was incessant, accosting us without mercy for the rest of the day. Occasionally the trail dipped down into a ravine giving us a blessed intermission from the battle. And the tree lined sections of trail provided a partial wind break. But open field areas were almost impassable. We had to tightly clench our handlebars and struggle to keep from shooting off the side of the trail. An hour of this is annoying but fighting with it all day long was demoralizing and beyond exhausting. Normally we would never bike on a day like this. But when you only have seven vacation days your options are limited.

Yours truly!

Then about 26 miles into our ride the trail surface abruptly changed from the usual fine oil and chip seal surface to larger loose gravel, very difficult to bike on and torturous on our hands and behinds. The wind was bad enough but now the gravel!? What idiot decided to use large loose gravel to surface a bicycle trail?!?!? This is not okay! I jumped off my bike and just walked the half mile left to the tiny town of Chilhowee. I needed a break!!!

And so we left the trail to bike through the morose five street hamlet of Chilhowee. It was a sad little town indeed. We counted four burned down houses in the three blocks we traversed. A glassy eyed girl in short shorts and thigh high heeled boots pushed a baby stroller down the middle of the empty street. Craig remarked that if a gang of meth heads could create a town, it would look like Chilhowee. I hesitate to hate on any of these little towns. I know it’s tough to live out there but this little burg needs a lot of help.

Making friends on the trail! This is father and daughter duo Gary and Kristen Chaney and another new Trail friend whose name escapes me. They just finished biking the Katy from east to west. Check out their Instagram pics of the trip at @HuntingGMan

The one bright spot we found there was the Chilhowee Corner Store where we treated ourselves to two chocolate milks. The cashier was a nice lady, perhaps the owner, and they are planning to add bicycling products to cater to the trail riders. I wish her well. I hope Chilhowee will survive. Maybe the new trail will help. Trail traffic and business can really revive these little towns if they embrace it.

Soooo back to the onslaught of rocks and wind for hour after hour after hour after slow excruciating hour. The pain started in my hind end and slowly spread to my front end and eventually to my entire body. I was miserable, emotionally drained, and bone-weary. I shook my fist in the air and cursed the wind a few times. I cried a little a couple of times. I prayed a lot. We took a lot of breaks. Just stopping and raising my butt up off my seat was agonizing but so was continuing to pedal. It was really really hard – one of the most difficult days on my bike I’ve ever had. Craig was even struggling and that’s when I know it’s really bad ‘cause he is one TOUGH dude.

But we just kept on pushing those pedals, trying to encourage each other, find our pain caves, and not complain too much (what good does complaining do?). Took Aleve about ten miles away from Windsor and that helped a little. Stopped at Casey’s in Leeton and replenished our water supply (oh yeah, forgot to mention that we also ran out of water and had to bike almost an hour with no water in the heat… could this day get any worse?). At one point Craig leaned over to me and said, let’s get a hotel room tonight; I’ll buy!! I agreed to that one immediately!! Thinking about a bed and hot bath propelled me on. And slowly we ticked off the miles.

Finally, FINALLY we reached Windsor. HALLELUJAH!!! The hotel was only a few blocks from the trail and we have now bathed, walked down the street to Sonic for dinner, and are relishing this comfy room. AIN’T NO SHAME!!! We earned this small luxury tonight!

So now that we’re clean and resting, we are congratulating ourselves for surviving this hellish day. Are we gonna quit now? Hell naw! Tomorrow’s a new, and hopefully less windy, day!!

(NOTE: We later discovered that the rocky twenty mile section IS planning to be resurfaced in a few weeks. There was evidently a holdup on acquiring funding. So it should soon be much more bikeable. )

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