Nebraska

Saturday, July 22, to Gering, Nebraska

Torrington to Gering slide show

Sunday, July 23, to Alliance

56.62 miles, 5:35. Maximum 22 mph, rating: 6

Riding to Alliance was fairly slow because of east wind.

We had rollers and headwinds as long as we were going east, becoming a crossing tailwind when we turned north. Better than a 10 mph average for the day! Jacky set an excellent pace all day – I pulled for a while into the headwind.

Harold Emmons said there was a terrible hill at Angora. We watched for it, kept wondering where it was. We decided later that it must have been the little grade we both ascended without our granny gears.

Yesterday, I didn’t get hungry at all because of pancakes at Torrington. Today, I had an egg and sausages and toast and cereal, and I was still quite hungry.

Marian lives on Missouri avenue east of downtown Alliance. Charles, the younger of Marian’s kids, was in the front yard as we rode up. Before I was off my bike, he was telling me about the things that needed fixed on James’ bike. So I spent a while doing whatever I could (less than it really needed) on James’ bike, then Charles’ bike, then Marian’s bike. James is really into trick bikes.

Marian fed us pork steak, devilled eggs and potatoes and gravy for ‘dinner.’ Then the boys went to see Batman, while we watched the ABC show on the finish of the Tour de France. A terrific win by Lemond! We were lots faster – or at least lots more enthusiastic – the next day.

I sunned and talked to the neighbor kids – Rachel and her brother and cousin.

The condom story

The Ballard kids had all kinds of questions. They wanted to know whether we had a bicycle built for two. We said yes, and they didn’t understand why we weren’t riding it, rather than separate bikes. Coming to the obvious conclusion, one of them asked whether we intended to sell our condom.

While Marian struggled to suppress her laughter, I explained that condoms have practically no resale value, especially after being used several times.

Marian took us all to Bridgeport. We played, wandered and lazed amid several sandpit lakes, then pigged out on two large pizzas. As the day wore on, the kids grew progressively younger.

We spread the sleeping bags on the living room floor. Hardest surface yet. The yard would have been more comfortable. Well, the price is right. No complaints.

Monday, July 24, to Chadron

58.60 miles, 4:30. Maximum 40 mph, rating: 8

Marian baked muffins, fried sausages, and fed us melon. Charles got up to say goodbye, and Marian rode with us to the edge of town.

We had a strong tailwind and made good time. I think this is the first time we’ve really exploited a tailwind, with 14-18 mph uphills.

A combine (that’s COM-bine) caravan was stopped by the road. I stopped to ask if I could help. Woman alone in the lead pickup, locked her door as I came up, then cautiously rolled down her window to talk with me. I must be pretty frightening.

Turned out they had broken something, they were fixing it themselves, and they were frustrated because they wanted to be in North Dakota by nightfall.

Alliance to Chadron slide show

Tuesday, July 25, to Cody

103.13 miles. Maximum 26 mph, rating: 5

Ruth and Dan were up before we were. Sausages for the third day in a row! When people want to serve a fancy breakfast in this part of the country, it’s sausage! Also cinnamon rolls. Got out about 6:15.

We decided to take US 20 across Nebraska. The wind was such that the parts of US 20 that trend north were easy, the others were not.

We stopped for a large cinnamon roll at Hay Springs. The counterman knew the Peterson family. His wife was off to Chadron to attend a class on Marie Sandoz. She was working on a sociology degree, following which she intended to study law in Washington state. His interest was to try to stimulate tourist interest in northwestern Nebraska. He told us the eagle feathers story.

Eagle feathers

The Indians used to hunt eagles for their plumage, but they didn’t kill the birds. The brave would hide under a pile of brush and branches, baited with a dead rabbit on top. When the eagle landed, he would grab it and pluck as many feathers as he could get, protected from the furious bird only by the brush.

No wonder they were called braves!

We stopped at Gordon about 11 for a nap in the park. An Indian couple came over. The man said he had been riding freights for eight years. He said California and Wyoming weren’t bad places, and Nevada was easy to ride, but Utah was tough, and Grand Junction was impossible because a bull had been killed there. He said some conductors let the ’boes ride in the cabooses, where there’s coffee.

Wildlife count: I flushed a grouse. Several birds, woodpeckers, I think: red head, black body, white breast.

The country is clearly sandhills, with a few fields and some trees here and there. It’s interesting to see blowouts on the hills. With rollers and the wind, we earned our beer.

Our original destination was Merriman, at 80+ miles. Got there about 3. Bought OJ, cheese, etc at a gas station and ate them at a miserable campsite. Decided to go on to Cody. Early in the day, we had had a headwind, but going northeast into Merriman on a new road, we had a good tailwind. We slowed way down going to Cody. Got there at 6:30. Had a pression at Paul’s Place, watched two or three innings of the softball game, went back to Paul’s Place for pizza and beer, and camped in the city park.

Un pression

Before we were even in the Sierra, we established a tradition of having a draft (pression), or at least a bottled beer, at the end of the day, and drinking a toast. It was always easy to think of an achievement of the day, and a bit of a disappointment when we couldn’t comply with the tradition.

Twice, people told us they had passed us during the day.

Wednesday, July 26, to Ainsworth

85.26 miles. Maximum 31, rating: 6

We heard kids playing in the park outside our tent last night. This morning, we woke to find our bananas missing. Breakfast was cookies, granny bars, raisins.

Pretty fast riding. Passed three small towns and lots of construction.

A woman in a car stopped us two miles east of Kilgore and invited us to her place for breakfast. But we hate backtracking and declined. She was disappointed, suggested we might like a couple hours of lazing around watching TV, whatever! Thanks, lady, but we’re afraid you don’t quite have the idea.

10:30 AM:

Entered the central time zone west of Valentine. Had a real breakfast, pancakes and cereal. Lori, the waitress, wrote “Have a nice trip” on the check. We found a grocery store and stocked up on bananas, etc.

The Niobrara valley is surprisingly picturesque. There’s water, hills, grass, green, even some trees.

This is exceptional in Nebraska, as shown by the picture of a typical hayfield, below.

Turned southeast – tough going from Valentine to Ainsworth. We made a root beer stop at Johnstown, where the city park has a time capsule and a notebook for visitors to sign. We wrote our story. I got a picture of the Johnstown fire department – notice the message on the door!

We’re spending tonight at Ainsworth. It was a hard day, with cross and head winds, and bad roads. Coming into Ainsworth reminds me of the area around Lincoln, near Seward. Fields, trees, green – it also reminds me of coming out of the desert in Utah. Did we just cross a boundary from the Empty Quarter into the Breadbasket?

Jacky got her first flat, a small piece of glass in the rear tire. We repaired it surgically, without removing the wheel from the bike.

We were advised to skip South Dakota. The Indian reservations are said to be boring, and not necessarily safe for palefaces.

Some turkeys in a red pickup threw water at us – first (but not quite the last) assholes of trip.

Left the motel at 7 to find a restaurant ‘immediately.’ At 8:15, we were back at the steak house next to the motel – excellent prime rib, baked potatoes.

Thursday, July 27, to O’Neill

66.81 miles. Maximum 26 mph, rating: 7

Got a late start (7:40) because of the time zone change. We ate cottage cheese and devilled ham on crackers in the motel room. We rode fast to Bassett (17 miles) and had drinks and muffins.

Going through counties quickly – Cherry, Brown, Rock, Holt.

No adventures on the road today. There was little wind, and we made good time. Very fast: 2:09 for 32 miles!

Stopped around 11 in Stuart to check out the museum – they didn’t open till 1. Took a picture of Dave on a buckboard.

One of Nebraska’s jetliner airports – with a grass strip in the background.

We had lunch at Atkinson. A codger there was impressed with our venture. Should have ordered the special (fried chicken) – sandwiches and salad took longer.

Stopped an hour or so later at a rest stop in Emmet and napped a bit. Got to O’Neill about 2 PM.

Because the last two days were hard, we called it quits at O’Neill. We were stopped by Dick Hagen as we rode into town. He’s from Olivia, Minnesota, here in his capacity as marketing director of a seed company. He also has a radio show, and had cycled cross country himself two years ago with an American Lung Association group, Seattle to Atlantic City.

He interviewed us for his radio show, and took a picture he said he’d submit to the Olivia newspaper. He gave us a business card and invited us to call if we came through Olivia. We also discussed routes through Minnesota, all of which, strangely enough, included Olivia.

Vegetation along the road: alfalfa (a clover?), yellow clover, purple clover, bindweed, sunflowers, black-eyed susans, bachelors’ buttons, grasses. Very few Mexican sandburrs, somewhat to my surprise. My childhood memories of Nebraska include vast and profuse quantities of sandburrs.

After laundry and stretching, we stopped at Valentino’s and had their pizza and pasta buffet (cherry pizza for dessert). Dumped off the clothes and walked downtown. Even though it was Thursday evening, everything except the Mexican restaurant was closed. The movie theater display said “see you at the drive-in.”

We spent some time at the library. I browsed through Wild Towns of the West. It had some really interesting anecdotes about towns where we’ve been, and other towns we’ve heard about.

Friday, July 28, to Randolph

71.79 miles. Maximum 26 mph, rating: 6

The road goes southeast from O’Neill for 13 miles. I drafted Dave and we went fairly quickly. We had a late start – 7:40 again. Still trying to adapt to central time.

Stopped in Orchard at a city park rest stop, ate bananas and dried apricots. A lady from across the street came over and asked about the trip. She had moved to Orchard from Denver a year ago. Said she often wondered about doing such a trip.

Chose Plainview for lunch (Dave still thought he needed breakfast). Went off the highway to downtown, where we found a nondescript ‘pizza and ice cream’ shop – one of very few businesses not closed down. It proved to be very nice – newly renovated – lots of congratulatory flowers. They had Mexican food too. Not quite Cal-Mex, but close.

Just as we did yesterday, we crossed four counties today.

There was a front going through. Most of the morning we rode under a band of cloud stretching from northwest to southeast.

They run short of names out here: we crossed the east branch of the north fork of the Elkhorn river.

A slow day. We started out with the idea of camping at Laurel, but at Randolph we stopped in the park for raisins and water. Dave said he didn’t want to camp without a shower, so I suggested we stay here instead of taking a chance on Laurel.

The local cop also ran the motel – actually, his wife ran it, but she was away somewhere, so he was trying to keep track of things. He had to phone her to check on which rooms were available. When we got there, the water was turned off while a plumber worked on the pipes, so we didn’t get to shower until later.

I called John and Meredith. We walked to the city swimming pool, bought groceries, had a beer. By then, the hot water was back on at the motel, so we showered and returned downtown to eat bad fried chicken and cold pie at Jean’s dinette. Great people watching.

Saturday, July 29, to Sioux City, Iowa

56.17 miles. Maximum 37 mph, rating: 8

Thunder, lightning and rain woke me about an hour before the alarm. So we snuggled up and didn’t get up as soon as we had planned. Still left about 6:15 after cinnamon rolls and apples. Rode with lights on for about half an hour. Tough pushing the generator.

Raining pretty hard, and lots of electricity in the air by the time we reached Laurel, so we stopped for coffee and toast. Café was full – no one eager to go out into the weather.

The rain let up, and for about twenty miles east from Laurel, we had short steep choppy hills, none of them more than 200-300′, but adding up to a fair amount of climbing.

Along one stretch of road under construction, the construction crews had thoughtfully provided a warning for a pile of debris off on the shoulder.

Stopped about 11 at Willits, unincorporated, for a sandwich. The café had a sign: “sorry, no gas of any kind – thanks anyway – Michelle.” My computer conked out for about six miles in the rain.

The skies cleared up completely. On to South Sioux City, onto Highway 75/77, over the bridge, and into Sioux City, Iowa.

Nebraska gets the bad roads award so far – probably 75% of the roads we travelled had transverse cracks. Interesting that we saw no deer, dead or alive, in Nebraska.

Downtown Sioux City reminded both of us of San Francisco, the Embarcadero and financial district on a weekend. Looked nice, but no people around. We stopped at a bike shop, where we got a couple of new jerseys. We thought we might be able to extend the laundromat interval from three days to four. It turned out we didn’t have quite enough accessories, and although we subsequently went four days sometimes, it was awkward.

On through the main downtown. Got a room at the Best Western (a consistently high quality hotel chain, by the way). Walked to the waterfront. Bought very tart apples at the farmers’ market. Watched a few rounds of an arm wrestling contest.

On the riverfront, there was a carnival, a marina, and an old riverboat housing the tourist information office and a river navigation museum.

Sergeant bluff, Floyd river – everything’s named after Sgt Floyd, the first casualty of the Lewis and Clark expedition. As far as we could tell, the only noteworthy thing Floyd ever did was die at Sioux City.

The Shriners are in town. We watched them parade in their funny little vehicles and fezzes.

We walked around town. There are some nice old buildings in downtown, but it certainly isn’t vital. Lots of the flags were at half mast, probably because of the air crash here about ten days ago.

Just as we were about to give up and go eat in the hotel, we found El Napolita, a good Mexican restaurant, in a hole in the wall (but of course).

On the way back after eating, we saw the start of a hot air balloon race. I counted eleven balloons, launched perhaps 30 seconds apart. Really pretty, filling the sky with their brilliant colors.

Not too much later, we saw them silhouetted against a hazy setting sun, an unforgettable sight.

Silos

Wheat country implies grain bins; the same country grows hay, and you see haystacks, bales and rolls. This describes western Nebraska. You also see small numbers of animals grazing in fields.

This scene does not change significantly when the crop includes alfalfa, except that the animals are more likely to be in feedlots.

In corn country, where we are now, you see silos. There is a mix in eastern Nebraska, but by the time you’re in Iowa, there are no haystacks or grazing animals at all, and there are silos everywhere.

The favored silo in Iowa is a blue cylinder. In Minnesota, it’s gray (concrete), and in eastern Ontario, you see both, but mostly concrete silos. Don’t know whether there are functional differences, or just marketing territories.

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