Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | July 9, 2016

Days 26-27: Nebraska! Hot — and bothered

Day 26
Destination: Crawford, Nebraska
Friday’s mileage: 57. Total: 1,469

WYOMING MAP done

The route through Wyoming.

Today was another milestone day. We left Wyoming and headed into Nebraska. That’s our fourth state. That might not seem like much, but when you’re crossing horizontal states on a bike, it feels pretty significant.

So, let’s do an accounting. I’ve biked for 24 out of these past 26 days. I’ve climbed in the neighborhood of 60,000 vertical feet. The highest elevation I’ve reached was at the Continental Divide in Wyoming – 9,500-plus. The hardest climb was the Teton Pass, which topped out at 8,500 feet but was a beast of 10-14 percent incline. We’ve camped the past two nights, ending up Friday night in Fort Robinson, on the western edge of Crawford, Nebraska.

NEBRASKA SIGN

Hello, Nebraska! State No. 4 on this great ride.

Let me say a few words about Nebraska. As far as most of us know, at least those of us who have crossed Nebraska on I-80, it’s a flat, corn-belt state that you hope to speed through on your way to Colorado. May I offer an alternative route? Jump on “historic HWY 20” and travel through northwest Nebraska. You’ll be treated to rolling hills accented by jagged rock formations and the wild and fabulous Toadstool National Geologic Park in Harrison.

It seems to be horse country. And cattle country, for sure. But there are some beautiful places that deserve further exploration at some future date. It’s really quite beautiful.

We camped in the equestrian section of Fort Robinson State Park, a 22,000-acre  complex. We were the non-equestrians back in that part of the park, but we had a nice shady spot with a beautiful view of the Pine Ridge bluffs surrounding the area. We enjoyed a solid breeze on the hot, hot afternoon (temps rose to the mid-90s by the time the sun started to set). And the night was cool and comfortable.

One more thing. When we left Lusk, Wyoming, we passed through Van Tassel just before the border with Nebraska. Van Tassel (population 15!!!) is the least populous town in the least populous county in the least populous state of the U.S.

As I started Friday morning, I sprinted to the border 24 miles away. I hustled through “downtown” Lusk, hit Hwy. 20 and started flying. I dominated the rolling hills on the shoulder-less road but lightly traveled road. I was passed by a few cars and a few semis, who all gave me plenty of room. I averaged just under 25 mph for that hour. It was fun. I felt great. I slowed down a little in Nebraska, but that’s OK. I’ve got time. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s the journey, not the destination that counts.

cute old guy near border shaking hands

Larry Davis gave both Melody and me a little pep talk before we headed off to Nebraska.

When we arrived in Van Tassel, I stopped at a historical marker and met Larry Davis. He was on his way home to Southern California after an 8,000-mile driving trip. He gave me a ton of positive vibes about the trip and cheered me on. He talked about how important the natural world is to him and how much he enjoyed seeing all manner of nature – in the Northwest and along the Trans Canadian highway – during his trip. That’s what gets him fired up. What gets me fired up? Meeting people like Larry. It’s been a good ride.

Day 27
Destination: Rushville, Nebraska
Saturday’s mileage: 60. Total: 1,529

Listen, I shouldn’t have done 60 miles today. I should have done about 30 and gotten off the road. But if I had done that, then you wouldn’t get to see this:

104 degrees

Mileage 38. Temperature 104 (Fahrenheit — about 40 Celcius, for our non-American friends). I went another 22 miles, just to see if I could actually give myself heat stroke. Alas, I failed.

And that reading isn’t the worst of it. Just after I took that picture, I started pedaling again and the temp continued to rise. It jumped from 104 to 106, then 107 and 108. I thought I was hallucinating but it didn’t go any higher.

Before things heated up, Melody and I had a nice morning chatting with two college students who had pulled next to our campsite at 2 a.m. and slept in their car. The girls were going to go hiking and mountain biking in the vast Fort Robinson State Park. So instead of an early start in the relatively mild temps, we visited. We made breakfast and we talked about travel and education and life and stuff. And that delay, well, that kind of contributed to me riding in the heat, as I did.

After cruising through the first 90 minutes of the ride, I, of course, was hungry. Failing to spot a proper pie shop, I instead opted for a burger and milk shake joint, Donald’s Hamburger’s in Chadron. Good call.

Donald's in Chadron

Burger, chocolate shake, fries and a big lemonade. The power of positive food.

On the way to my ultimate destination, I rode beautiful rolling hills and past vast fields of what I think was wheat (a k a amber waves of grain, see: America the Beautiful, the song — fixed. Thanks, Steve Brandt). I said this with enough reservation that you ought to be able to tell that I’m a city kid. So any of you country bumpkins feel the need to correct me on the grain type, feel free to do so in comments.

fields of grain

America: We grow things here.

Along with the heat, I got harassed for the first time on this ride. At least, I think I was harassed. Twice, in the span of about 30 minutes, a pickup once and a car once sped past me, the driver honking his (pretty safe to gender stereotype here) horn belligerently (my interpretation) as he passed by. They were trying to “surprise me,” I guess, in a most unpleasant way. I’ve been buzzed a few times by trucks and cars, but these were intentional acts by jerky drivers. I hope it’s not a Nebraska thing. It’s a damned wide state.

The only good thing to come from it? I was so flipping angry that for a good 10-15 minutes after they passed, I raced forward hoping that I would see them again. I had devised all manner of aggressive responses to their cowardly act. I suppose, in retrospect, it was a good thing I never did catch them. It is pretty common for folks to be “carrying” out here in these parts. But I was hot. Hot and bothered. A dangerous combination on a hot biking day.

***

As always, please check out our website, 55andalive.com, for more photos, videos and Melody’s take on our great adventure.

 

 

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Responses

  1. Don’t mess with freaking morons. Their fuses are as short as their dicks.

  2. Odds are fairly high that it was wheat but it’s pretty hard to distinguish from barley or rye at a distance. However, we now have our first evidence that the heat got to you — amber waves of grain are from “America the Beautiful”!

  3. In our phone conversation you never mentioned that you felt threatened by some drivers. Well, we also read. Trying to catch up to a pick-up on your bike? Yes, the heat got to you that day!
    Ride safely.

  4. Amazing. So sorry to hear about those two honkin’ jerks … but hopefully your meeting with Larry Davis — and those incredible vistas — made up for it.
    And although I know it’s a meager contribution, here’s an addition to your playlist for today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91gJ9yc6MTk 🙂

  5. Hi, Mark. Those amber waves were indeed wheat. 🙂 I grew up in Nebraska and was a copy/layout editor at the Star Tribune during your time there. Ron Wade just put me onto your blog because he remembered that I grew up in Nebraska. I hope your trip will take you along the Niobrara River. It was one of the first national scenic riverways (like the St. Croix). The Sandhills are gorgeous! I’m from another part of rolling hills — the Missouri River valley about an hour south of Omaha.Enjoy the ride!

    • Thanks, Suzanne! So nice of you to write. I’m soaking it all in. It’s all a treat. Hope you’re well!

  6. Mark, Are you planning on going through Omaha? I have some old Ironman buddies and bike guys that may give you a place to crash and tune up your bike. Let me know if you are and I will put the word out.

    • I also have a lot of old radio friends that work for and with me if you want some media cover.

      • Hi, Mike! We’re definitely going to end up in or around Omaha before the ragbrai. Probably a couple of days before. We’ve been using the website “warm showers” some. Any help that comes our way would be most appreciated. As for media, we’re game. People can check out the 55 and alive website and see if there’s an angle to mine there. We’ve made it into a small newspaper group in western Wyoming — next week’s editions — and I’ve been a radio guest on a sports chat show out of the bay area. Long story about how that worked out. We’re finding ways to make this trip more than just a bike trip, but in the end, that’s the driving narrative of it. If you’ve got folks who are interested, we’re happy to do anything to help them fill some airtime. Thanks for the offer, in any event. It’s very kind!

      • Mark, Let me put the word out. I ran radio stations there for many years and still have a bunch of friends there and probably along your route. Also, if you need a place to hang I will put the word out also. No promises, but what you are doing is very cool and if I can help all the better. Cheers!

  7. Thanks for giving some love to my second home. I’ve always thought Nebraska is unfairly disparaged. I still miss that landscape. Sorry for the lack of hospitality shown by some of the natives. After five years there I can tell you there’s a lot more good than bad, which I’m sure you’ll discover. Safe “driving” to you. Give the land (and Melody) my best.

  8. OK. So, now I just read Melody’s post. Never mind … In my defense I will say that I lived in the eastern part of the state… Sheesh!

    • Haha. It’s a beautiful state. A few bad eggs can’t spoil that. Thanks for the notes, Annie. Melody says hi.


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