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Senior Correspondent

While we don't have oceans or mighty mountains here in Missouri, we are extremely blessed living in the middle of the Country. Here in the Heartland, we have beautiful rivers, lakes, rolling hills, wineries, forests and fertile farmland. A low flying plane trip illustrates just how sparsely populated we are here. I like to think we are a well kept secret.
I have a lot of favorite things about living in the Heart of the Heartland. Top of the list would have to be The Katy Trail. The Katy Trail is America's longest Rails to Trails project, 225 miles of trail from one end of Missouri to the other. It is the longest non-motorized public portion of the entire Lewis and Clark Trail. People come from all over the world to hike and bike the Katy. Brett Dufur, author of "Katy Trail Guidebook", says "The Katy is our longest welcome mat from which to experience the heritage of our state and nation along the Missouri River…the first highway of westward expansion." Brett's guidebook, in its 10th edition, is one of my all-time favorite books. Pouring through Brett's latest book, I learned some very interesting facts about the Katy. 
In the 1880's, rail was a great alternative to stage coaches and steam boats. As our country was being transformed by the Industrial Revolution, The M-K-T (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) railroad connected Missouri to the west. A critical link in moving people and products from the western part of our Country to the east however was missing. The Katy main line was the missing link of rail. It was built in the 1890's, specifically to connect the west with St. Louis, and of course, St. Louis was already well connected to eastern parts of our country. The Katy main line completed the rail system in our country, catapulting the U.S. to a place of world dominance in the Industrial Revolution.
Missouri towns along the Katy line flourished, as trains packed tight with passengers, hobos, and freight rode the rail. Trains on the Katy carried soldiers to war, businessmen to their destinations, football teams to games and college students from school back home for the Holidays. St. Louis papers were tossed from the trains onto the stations of small towns that depended upon them to receive the news from the state, country and world.   
The Katy line was in operation for 100 years, servicing approximately 40 whistle stops throughout Missouri, before other modes of travel and freight distribution made the mighty trains obsolete. Twenty plus years ago, the Katy Rail was transformed into the Katy Trail and my bicycling buddies (aka The Biker Babes) and I began our exploration of the Heart of the Heartland. We discovered the natural abundance of our state as we rolled along slowly on our bicycles imagining a time in American history which was barely mentioned in history books.
We began by bicycling short distances, a few miles here and there, exploring a little more trail year after year. We discovered that the solitude of the trail, as it winds its way through wetlands, fields of crops and river bluffs, provides the perfect environment to explore more than the wonders of nature. It is somehow easier to think through and talk through life's many challenges and mysteries on the trail.  And we even found amazing sanctuaries for Sunday morning worship during our weekend explorations. Somehow, we would always feel a bit stronger and clearer by just being on the trail.
After nearly a decade of limited explorations, it was time to cut loose and explore the entire trail. The Biker Babes became a little more focused on how many miles we could cover in a day, where the next provisions were coming from and so the exploration took on a new dimension. And finally in 2001, we took our first annual trip across the State on the Katy Trail.  We were so proud of ourselves! This trip has become a part of nearly every summer since. The Biker Babe daughters, nieces and nephews have grown up bicycling the Katy with us. Kids are all grown and have gotten on with their lives. And while they no longer live near the Katy Trail, we dearly hope they will always take a little "Katy" with them wherever they may be.

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