Kim Horgan is known as Kansas City's biking Instagrammer.
The freelance photographer had already done a lot of adventuring — and Instagram-posting — but after winning Amtrak's "Take Me There" contest in April, she had a chance to take travel to a new level and discover some unexpected similarities between biking and train travel.
As the contest winner, she was fashioned as a train "ambassador." She brought her bike with her as she traveled from Kansas City to Chicago to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, chronicling the journey for more than 7,400 followers from Oct. 1 through 6.
"The bike had become kind of this thing where we were adventure partners," Horgan said.
Because Amtrak wanted videos and photos of Horgan, she had a more animated adventure partner in a friend who came along and helped with her media, but Horgan still rode solo once they reached West Virginia.
And regardless of her mode of transportation, what meant the most to her were notes she received from other women, many of whom want to strike out on their own but are nervous. So she makes her mishaps public so that others won’t think what she does is unattainable.
For instance, not too long ago, Horgan took a solo bike trip along Missouri's Katy Trail — a woman traveling alone not tucked safely inside a car, train or airplane. But the only noteworthy trouble she ran into was of her own making.
The Katy Trail State Park is built along the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. At 240 miles, Missouri State Parks says it's the longest developed rail-trail park in the nation. Many areas are very isolated.
Horgan said she has a thing for abandoned structures, so at the sight of an old grain silo, she turned off the path.
The remaining sides of the silo were low. When she leaned her bike against one section, the wind took it right down to the bottom of the big hole.
"So, I jumped in after it. Then once I got down there, I realized I had no cell service, and really maybe no way to get back out because it was straight concrete walls," Horgan said.
Fortunately, she found enough stackable items that she was able to climb out.
She posted her small fail on Instagram, where her stories are relatable and not about being fast (she's not) or about traveling to the most exotic locales (she doesn't). She said she's just a "mediocre person" riding her bike.
In fact, if she can be said to have a message, it's something like: You, too, can have adventures alone and love it. That's what the women who write to her are responding to.
"I know it's not always 100% safe to be by yourself; I don't think that should stop us from doing whatever we want," Horgan said. "I think the key is to try to be safe and be aware and make good decisions — other than the grain silo."
Besides, she added, "I can't even describe how much I enjoy just the peace of it, the ability to kind of clear your head and it kind of relieves you of all the stress."
This was her experience riding the train, too. She discovered that traveling by train, like traveling by bike, offers both a different pace and a different vantage point on her surroundings. Neither mode confines a person to the highway or to city streets.
"When the train stops in small towns, you're seeing their Main Street, and you see kind of the backsides of school buildings and community centers and you see people going about their lives, sitting on porches," Horgan said. "It's a really interesting view and the nice thing is you can just sit there and watch it go by.”
Then there's the decreased tempo. Bike travel and train travel are similarly slow — slow enough, she said, that train travel was like being in another time, seeing fellow travelers playing cards, reading or talking to companions.
"Everybody seems to be, at least in my experience, a little more relaxed," she said. "No one's in a hurry, people aren't pushing and shoving; everybody knows it'll take you forever to get there."
Kim Horgan spoke with KCUR on a recent edition of Central Standard. Listen to the conversation here.