I swung my leg over and jumped off, my bike skidding to a halt in the gravel. I spotted it as I hot-footed over, gliding away with urgent speed. I grabbed its tail before it could make it into the grass.
Then I noticed the poison glands above its jawline as it coiled to strike at my hand. So I did the first thing that came to mind.
And no, I didn’t let go.
The Katy Trail runs roughly 225 miles from St. Charles to Clinton. It is the longest continuous bike trail in the United States, having been constructed on top of old train tracks, and my friend Wells and I were going to bike the majority of it in a week.
At least, that was the plan. By the time we got our bike rentals, we were down a few days and a few hours due to scheduling problems. But we were determined. We headed out at 1:30pm on Sunday into 95 degree weather, our gear packed into a small trailer hitched to the back of my bike. We even wore helmets. That’s how determined we were to do things right.
The helmets came off in about 5 miles. But we were still determined.
The miles flew by. A quick back of the hand calculation put us at 9mph, well over the 7mph I had projected we would need to travel. We pedaled hard and switched every couple of miles. I bemoaned the lack of proper biking packs to carry our gear and the lack of proper biking gear. If we weren’t going to do this particular part right this time, I could always fix it for next time.
It was around 6:30 when we ran into a couple at a trailhead. After some smalltalk, they mentioned that our destination for the night, McKittrick, was barren of any campgrounds. We could stop at the town of Hermann, which was a hop and a skip away, but we had better get there before “bug hour,” the hour or so just before dusk when bugs swarmed the trail. We had already had a taste of the bugs on the trail, literally, so we weren’t interested in finding out what bug hour had in store for us. We thanked them and attempted to power through the last ten miles to McKittrick with our road weary bodies.
Looking back on it, that was probably a mistake. But, like the 95 degree weather, it was unavoidable. Our already tired muscles were about to be stressed even more. We were determined to make it.
We finally arrived at McKittrick and checked the map to Hermann. Everything looked fine until we noticed the words “1 Mile Omitted.” Our “hop and a skip” ended up being almost two miles uphill.
“Maybe we should think about turning back tomorrow,” Wells joked.
“Yeah!” I brightened up considerably. Hanging out for a week in St. Louis suddenly sounded like a really great time.
“Well, let’s just see how we feel tomorrow,” Wells offered.
“…okay.” I sighed. I was pretty sure I’d still be determined tomorrow.
Determined to eat real food instead of granola bars, in a place with air conditioning. I didn’t know it then, but the next day was going to disappoint.