Bicycle touring is big business in some areas.

Jack Day is celebrating his 70th year of life by bicycling 7000 miles from Des Moines to Key West to the Canadian border of Maine and then back to Des Moines. The spring snows delayed his trip a little but he started a few days ago and spent a night in Kirksville. I met him for coffee and showed him the dissected human nerves in the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine before he headed on to Moberly. Since his trip was only a few days old, he didn’t have a lot of stories yet, but he told me about bicycling across America a couple years ago, about the Discovery Trail that passes by his house, and about his son the triathlete who inspired him to bicycle. He did have one story about coming out of Iowa on a quiet little back road. His heart sank when he saw the sign, “Pavement Ends”, and he cursed through a few miles of gravel before reaching Missouri. After leaving Kirksville he collected another story in the form of a strong south wind (gusting up to 35 mph) that fought him all the way to Moberly and kept him there an extra day.

We don’t get a lot of bicycle tourists through Kirksville, but that could change now that Hwy 36 is a US Bicycle Route with an optional spur into Kirksville. Jack had a little trouble finding a place to stay in town. Several months ago, he contacted the city and the newspaper, both of whom consulted me. He has a tent but he knew that toward the beginning it might be a little cold to use it—he didn’t realize then just how cold it would be! He had looked into Warm Showers and Couch Surfers, but it appears the Kirksville area folks on those sites are not interested in hosting a bicycle tourist. Understandably, rural Midwesterners are not used to hosting complete strangers in their homes. On the popular bicycle routes this is common practice and I’ve talked to several people who love hosting bicycle tourists and go out of their way to look for them passing through. Luckily, I found a friendly soul who was willing to give it a go, so Jack had shelter that night.

Kirksville city ordinance bans camping in city parks. Newton, KS is a college town the same size as Kirksville, but it allows camping in city parks. Newton is on the most popular Trans-America route and a little further along on our Amtrak line. I called the Newton Parks & Rec director to learn more. “We allow them to stay 2 nights,” he explained. “We’ve never had any problems with bicycle tourists. They are respectful and they clean up after themselves.” (And they buy a lot of food.) “Once in a while we get vagrants,” he admitted. “After 2 nights, the police escort them out of town.”

Kirksville is putting together a bike/ped advisory group, and once that is in place I will recommend that we change our city ordinance to one that will promote bicycle touring. More bicycle touring in general means that some will choose to stay in hotels instead of camping in the city park, and all of them have to eat. Bicycle tourists eat prodigious quantities. Like any other tourist, bicycle tourists help the economy—and more of their money goes into hotels and restaurants because none of it goes into the gas station!