As the country's longest developed rail trail, Missouri's Katy Trail calls to die-hard bicyclists and dreamers like me. The 8-foot-wide, mostly level gravel path stretches 225 miles west of St. Louis toward Kansas City, rolling across old trestles, through lush farmland and beside soaring bluffs. It's a trail that begs to be explored, one I've hated to leave after short rides.
This time, with the help of an outfitter who ferries luggage, I don't have to. All I need to do is enjoy the ride. I'm pedaling the central section known for towering cliffs, tree-lined ridges and winery towns-a 112-mile journey from Rocheport east to Augusta. The first day I'm up at dawn, and Dixie Yates, owner of the Yates House Bed & Breakfast in Rocheport, already has the coffee perking. The sky is ominous to the west. Otherwise, I'd hang around and explore the village's shops and artisans' studios. I pedal east, past bluffs splashed with autumn hues. Blink-or-you'll-miss-it towns pop up every few miles. In Hartsburg, home of an annual Pumpkinfest, orange globes appear like goblins in the haze.
Later in soft afternoon light, it's easy to see why this country reminded 19th-century German settlers of their native Rhine Valley. Hermann, a historic village with church steeples rising above sturdy red brick buildings, beckons from across the river. Mat Wilkins, owner of The Captain Wohlt Inn, offers to shuttle me to Adam Puchta Winery, one of a dozen in this area.
In the morning, I follow the route east through wine country, past ornate stamped-metal storefronts in Dutzow and Marthasville. The trail leads directly to Augusta Valley Brewing Company. I have to stop for a cold one before the uphill ride to The Red Brick Inn, where homemade cookies, a hot tub and a much-needed bed await.