Rita Von Seggern likes cycling across states.

So far, she has peddled the length of Nebraska, Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota, and — after the Big Bike Across Missouri (BAM) ride last week on the Katy Trail — Missouri.

“It’s just a fun way to see the state,” she said. “When you’re on the ground and you’re actually riding through it to take the time to look and see everything — I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Nebraska, so I just really, really appreciate being back in the heartland, with the corn and the beans and seeing the small towns.”

Von Seggern said she liked reading about the history of the trail and the preceding railroad at stops along the way.

Put on by Missouri Life Magazine, Big BAM rides are organized to support cyclists as they bike across the state. Earlier this year, a ride along Route 66 took bikers through Franklin County. 

Cyclists have enjoyed the Big BAM on the Katy for several years because it is a “fully supported ride.” With the cost to register, bikers had access to campgrounds, showers, some food and shuttles that carried supplies to each stop, then brought bikers back to their vehicles at the start in Clinton.

Peggy Bell-Cole, of New London, Pennsylvania, had planned on doing a self-supported ride across the Katy Trail before finding the Big BAM on the Katy, when she thought “that’s a lot easier.”

No stranger to cross-state rides, Bell-Cole said she previously biked from Pittsburgh to D.C., along the Erie Canal and across Nova Scotia Canada, in the Tip 2 Tip event.

She said she “keeps looking for four to five day rides.”

Not a race, bikers on the Katy were encouraged to stop along the over-200-mile trip to enjoy small towns and local restaurants, shops, wineries and breweries.

With sections open as early as 1990, the Katy Trail is America’s longest rails-to-trails project, converting 237 miles of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad into a state park. A 2011 economic impact study by Missouri State Parks showed that the Katy Trail is used by about 400,000 people annually and has $18.5 million economic impact on the state. The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation estimates that number could be $29.2 million in 2022.

The riders, 117 of them, completed the trail west to east from Clinton to Augusta in five days, with an optional sixth-day add-on to the eastern trailhead in Machens. On the first day, Oct. 10, the group traveled 36 miles to Sedalia. The next stint was also 36 miles, to Boonville. 

For the first two days of the ride, the bikers had to deal with rain and a slippery, rutted trail, but the sky and the trail dried up for the latter part of the ride. The first part of the trail crosses through western Missouri’s expansive farmland with fields on both sides before continuing along wooded bluffs and rich bottomlands near the Missouri River.

Riders said the scenery on the trail got prettier the farther east they traveled and the weather, though chilly in the mornings, became perfect for biking.

From Boonville, riders faced their longest day of the trip, 48 miles to Jefferson City. On Oct. 13, the fourth day of the Big BAM, cyclists pitched tents in Hermann, and grouped up for drinks at the Hermann Crown Suites. 

From late morning to early afternoon Oct. 14 cyclists cruised though southern Warren and St. Charles counties, stopping for snacks or water in Treloar, Peers, Marthasville, Dutzow and Augusta.

Gary Mugridge, of West Palm Beach, Florida, said he could’ve done without the rainy days, but “The last two days, I would stop and just enjoy the moment. It was gorgeous, the wheat fields, the corn fields.”

Marty Merkt, of east central Florida, enjoyed the difference in fall foliage from his usual rides. Dodging sticks and walnuts, Merkt said his eyes kept being drawn to the changing leaves.

“What really stuck out the most was when the trees stuck out (over the trail),” he said. “It made like a tunnel and they were changing color just as we were coming through and that was gorgeous. That part I loved. Coming from Florida, we don’t see the changing leaves, so this is like heaven for me.”

It was Merkt’s first time riding a long distance on gravel, and he was pleased with the way his new bike was riding.

“The guy who owns the bike shop follows my Facebook posts and I put pictures of the bike all muddied up from the first day,” Merkt said. “He said ‘make sure to lube the chain.’ I rinsed it down and lubed the chain twice.”

Elaine Mendez was struck by the steam off the river in the morning.

“We don’t have anything like that to compare it to in California,” she said.

Husband and wife duo David and Elaine Mendez, are used to warmer weather at home too, though the terrain in Claremont, California is its own challenge.

“Everytime we leave our house we know we have to go back uphill,” Elaine Mendez said. “We have more elevation in California, it seems, than the Katy Trail. Well it was a railroad — so it had to be flat.”

Being strong peddlers helped when the cold air made their bikes’ tire pressure drop.

Born-again Christians, David Mendez said the couple likes to spend the hours on the trail praying, and Elaine Mendez said she was impressed with the generosity of people along the trail.

“Missouri people are so nice,” she said. “Today I stopped at a gas station because my hands are freezing. I bought my mitts and the lady who worked there offered to buy me hand warmers. She was so nice.”

Patrick White, of Carl Junction, rode in tandem with Tobias Swoveland, of Webb City. White had previously ridden the Big BAM in 2018, but it was Swoveland’s first time peddling the length of the Katy Trail.

Earlier this year, the pair rode through Franklin County in the Big BAM ride along Route 66.

“It’s a different type (of ride),” White said. “This is more casual, relaxed.”

“You don’t have to worry about vehicles coming up behind you at all so that’s nice,” Swoveland added.

Riding the Katy Trail is challenging.

Von Seggern’s shifter cable broke, so she was stuck on a high gear, and White and Swoveland had to stop in Marthasville to clean a scrape after Swoveland took a tumble while taking off his long sleeves. 

Riding on the gravel surface also requires different equipment than road biking. White used an entirely different bike for each event, while Swoveland changed out his thin road tires to give him more traction.

Jerry Whittle, of Belleville, Illinois, is a veteran of the Katy Trail. This was his 11th time riding from its start in Clinton to its terminus in Machens. He has gone both ways, but said west to east, with a slight downhill and the wind at his back, is his preferred route. 

“In no hurry,” Whittle peddled along at about 11 miles per hour. “My racing days are over,” he said. Whittle tries to ride about 4,000 miles in a year and said his usual pace would be about 100 miles a week this time of year, many of them on the Katy. 

Whittle called the trail “a treasure” for the area during a water break in Marthasville.

His favorite segment of the trail is the area around Augusta and Defiance, so after a quick sip and bathroom break, he locked his feet back to the pedals and stepped off onto the final part of the Katy with limestone bluffs to his left and the river to his right.

As the end of the ride neared, participants began putting up tents for one final night on the trail and loading bikes and gear into cars. However, Jeff Smiley, of Massillon, Ohio, was sorting out his gear, planning to reverse course and ride back to Clinton on a solo trip.

“(It’s my) first time out here and I like challenges,” Smiley said as he explained he hoped to reach the start of the trail in two days, riding about 120 to 140 miles each day, depending on how he was feeling.

“I’m retired now so I can just do things on my own time,” Smiley said.