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Riding the KATY Trail

One or two of you may have noticed that the Blue Skunk's been quiet for a few weeks. I had a book manuscript to get done, had lots of work in the district to finish up at the end of the fiscal year, and wanted a break. Maybe the needed break was the primary reason for not posting.

This entry has nothing to do with education, technology, or libraries. Sorry. It's a personal post to help me remember a trip I took. Forgive my indulgence. I will say this, however: I find it sad that so many educators don't take a break, don't go on vacation, don't take time to decompress. What might look like dedication is an unhealthy decision - unhealthy for themselves, for their families, and for those with whom they work.

Take a break. We'll all appreciate it.


I used a whole week to take an actual vacation rather than just tacking on a day or two with a speaking gig. My son-in-law Aaron and I joined 348 of our closest friends on the 2014 KATY Trail Ride June 16-20 sponsored by Missouri State Parks. Over the course of five days we biked about 250 miles from St. Charles to Clinton, camping in Hermann, Jefferson City, Boonville, and Sedelia along the way. Great weather, a well-supported ride, and a terrific trail along with fine companionship made the week enjoyable.

A few scenes:

Frontier Park in St. Charles is along the Missouri River and was the site of our first night camping. The historic district was directly across the street where we had a beer at a local brewery and some good Greek food. Weather forecast called for rain all week so we spent some time in nervous anticipation - unnecessarily.

The KATY riders were early risers. This was the waiting line for breakfast at 5:30. These bikers already had packed their tents and gear, did whatever ablutions they needed, and loaded their bags on the truck. Breakfast was served each morning between 6 and 7:30 and  80% of bikers were on the road before 7. The cool early mornings were less breezy and fine for getting in 40 miles or more before lunch.


SAG stops at trailheads appeared every 10-12 miles. Water bottle refills, snacks, and welcome break from the bike seat were the primary attractions. Oh, along with warnings from attendants and other bikers about the horrors of the trail ahead - hills, bridges, mud, and open trail where one would be subjected to harsh sunlight. Of course the reality never really lived up to the warnings. 

Missouri is wine country. We had great German food and not-bad wine at the restaurant at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann after our longest day of biking at 64 miles. Many small towns along the KATY cater to bicyclists, Hermann among them. We toured the wine cellars after supper where mushrooms were grown during Prohibition. 

The entire trail is composed of crushed limestone rather than a concrete or asphalt surface. But the shade (I'd say 85% of the trail was through big trees that also blocked the wind) and lack of any steep hills made the path fairly easy going. Very little loose gravel and no rain which softens the path allowed me to use regular road tires on my 15-year-old Cannondale the entire trip. Are we in Missouri or in Middle Earth?, I found myself asking.

This ramp was how to get up to (or down from) the bicycle lane on the highway bridge into Jefferson City. Seemed like climbing a bridge and a couple miles with headwinds ended most days of biking. We toured the capitol in Jeff City with the mural by Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri's social history being one of the highlights - along with getting my photo taken with the bust of native son Rush Limbaugh.

The re-charging station at the campground was well used. All the city campgrounds we used were very nice. There was a shower truck, shade, and usually a place nearby to have a cold beer at the end of the ride. I used the MapMyRide app daily. A bit of battery suck on the iPhone, but fun to have a record of the miles, traveled, speed, elevation, etc. Aaron and I agreed to bring only out phones and Kindles - no iPads or laptops. Good decision.

KATY Trail is the oldest and longest rails-to-trails project in the U.S. - and once in awhile you'd see something like this that reminded riders of the trail's origins. The KATY going west ends in Clinton which is about 80 miles short of Kansas City with tentative plans to extending it. The KATY Trail Ride alternates between going west to east with east to west (we did east to west) with the west starting point being the most popular, booking up within hours of opening the online reservations. Riders I spoke to thought prevailing winds tended to be from the west (they were out of the south on our ride) and felt the trip seemed more downhill following the fall of the Missouri River. Personally, I think it's hooey with so little overall elevation change over so many miles it wouldn't be noticeable. 

We followed the Missouri the first three days. Signage that indicated incidents in the Lewis and Clark expedition were frequent. Daniel Boone had a presence in this area as well. We saw no barge traffic - really very few river craft at all - quite a change from the busy Mississippi. Loved the beauty and serenity of the Mighty Mo.

We traveled through surprisingly beautiful rolling farm land for the last two days - from Boonville to Sedalia. Areas of prairie restoration were common as were fields of corn and soybeans - all a lush green. While there were more elevation changes the last couple days, these were railway grades, not hills - very long at times (one about a mile and a half) but gradual. Not sure which I prefer - the long slow climb or a fast steep hill. 

Most days were short enough (and we left early enough) that even at my slow biking pace, we arrived in camp early in the afternoon, leaving time for some sightseeing, seeing a movie, or just reading a book. The afternoons actually felt like vacation! Johnson's first rule of travel: Always have a book to read.

Both Aaron and I found Sedelia surprisingly interesting with its history as a railhead for cattle drives. (This is where Rowdy Yates of Rawhide fame was headed.) Nice little museum in the old railway station. The Sedalia booster who gave the guided tour suggested an Amtrack adventure back to Sedelia over a weekend from Kansas City. It's now on my to-do list.

The last day of the trip, between Sedalia and Clinton, we encountered a few long grades and the "peak" of the trail. We finished happy and proud on our accomplishment. Of the many multi-day bike trips I've done, the KATY trail ranks high on the list. 

And I am especially happy to have completed this ride for another reason. Last summer, after three very long days of 20-25 mph head-winds in western Minnesota on the Minnesota River History Trip, I called to have the LWW rescue me. It was the first time in 40 years of multi-day biking that I quit early. So I needed this to be a successful trip if biking were to remain a part of my summers. I'm thankful for the son-in-law's encouragement and support.

I'm looking for another ride next summer!

Lessons learned from bicycling...


The teacher-librarian's role in 1:1


LaGarde, Jennifer and Doug Johnson. “Why Do I Still Need a Library When I Have One in My Pocket?: The Teacher-Librarian’s Role in 1:1/BYOD Learning Environments." Teacher-Librarian, June 2014.

I was delighted last week to receive the June 2014 issue of Teacher-Librarian magazine in which Jennifer LaGarde and my article appeared. Jennifer and I make a great team - she does the work and I take the credit. 

Anyway, if your schools has or is planning to have a 1:1 or BYOD environment and you are a librarian or supervise one, get access to this issue and this article! 

Very proud to have worked with LibraryGirl on this and forthcoming book on the same topic.

Articles I have previously published in Teacher-Librarian aka Emergency Librarian:



Graphic by Jennifer LaGarde.


BFTP: Ban the lectern

Bore: one who has the power of speech but not the capacity for conversation. Benjamin Disraeli

Computerized slideshows have been much maligned of late. No more bullet points. Death by PowerPoint. PowerPointlessness. You've heard them all. And probably seen more than a few examples of poor slide show use.

But let me tell you, the only thing worse than a bad speech with PowerPoint is a bad speech without it. Not long ago I listened to a very smart man with very good ideas give a very poor keynote. He started off by bragging of his "lack of slides," but then went on to read (yes, read) his talk directly from the text he assured us would be online verbatim in a few days. Uniformly formal, ceaselessly forceful, and demeaningly parental, this audience member left feeling unconnected, unmoved, and feeling like a kid who was read the riot act by the principal for about an hour. When the speaker later asked me what I thought of his talk, I tactfully replied, "It was challenging." I didn't elaborate that the challenging part was staying for all of it.

I wonder if the speaker might have been more natural and made a better connection had he not been provided a lectern on which to prop his notes. Just might a major cause of bad "speeches" be the lectern itself - that large slab of wood originally designed to protect speakers' vital organs from sharp objects thrown by displeased listeners? (I just made that up.)

While I always request a wireless lapel microphone so I can wander a bit when speech - ifying, there are time when the only voice amplification is hardwired right to the lecture and one is pretty much forced to stay behind it in one place. And as much as I try to overcome it, this restraint changes my message:

  • I am more formal.
  • I am more likely to "read" the slides on my laptop sitting right in front of me.
  • There is less give and take between the audience and me.
  • There is a physical barrier creating a "me, the expert" and "you, the receiver" rather than an open space that says "let's form a partnership though which we can solve some mutual problems."

OK, it is somewhat comforting to know that when using a lectern the second "Is my fly zipped?" check is not necessary and that most lecterns are slimming. But let's expand our suggestions for the improvement of public speaking beyond "ban the bullet points." Whether the message is read from paper on a lectern or digits in a PowerPoint screen, it's all poor communication.


Original post April 19, 2009. This one's for all my buddies in Atlanta enjoying the ISTE conference.