Monday June 2, 2014, 10 miles (15 km) – Total so far: 668 miles (1,075 km)
The Missouri River floodplain is more than seven miles wide between Onawa, Iowa and Decatur, Nebraska. The river flows in the very western edge of the floodplain here. With the river defining the boundary between Iowa and Nebraska, the floodplain lies mostly in Iowa. But the floodplain feels like a no-mans-land. Iowa feels like it ends at the edge of the long, lumpy Loess Hills to the east. And you don’t really feel like you are in Nebraska until you’ve climbed the river’s western bluff into the gentle hills of Peoria loess that blanket Pleistocene glacial till.
The Missouri River’s current course here at Decatur is most likely inherited from an ice lobe that extended from a continental ice sheet more than 1.5 million years ago. The ice pushed the ancestral Missouri further south. When the ice retreated, the Missouri followed the glacial topography. The Missouri’s course further north at Ponca, where we’re going tomorrow, was influenced by a much more recent glaciation around 30,000 years ago. An ice lobe extended south through South Dakota, and the Missouri followed the western margin of the lobe down through that state and then curved east along the Nebraska border following the southern edge of the lobe.
Today, I’m only making a short jaunt across the floodplain into Nebraska. High winds out of the northwest are forecast, and that is precisely the direction I’ll be heading. So, instead of fighting into the wind all day and not getting far, the crew and I are just going to hang out by the river.
The bridge over the Missouri has an open metal decking which allows you to look down to the river below you as you pedal across. Decatur is Nebraska’s second oldest town, settled in 1851. It has not grown much. There is a fire station, gas station, steakhouse, very small grocery store and a small bank.
I cannot find anything I want to buy in the tiny grocery so just buy a pint of milk. The woman running the shop talks to me at length about her four daughters, their accomplishments and her hope that they’ll move back closer soon. It turns out the gas station has a better selection of junk and healthy food at cheaper prices. It also has pizza.
Decatur is pretty dead, and it seems many of its residents are, as well. Every bench in town, from the main street to the park, is dedicated “in loving memory” of someone. Even the posts in the campground are dedicated to someone whom has passed away. While it may be a great way to raise funding for infrastructure, it is just a biiiit creepy. I can’t find a single bench to hang my hand-washed laundry on that isn’t dedicated to someone. So Harold helps me dry my laundry while the crew and I relax and enjoy the Missouri for the afternoon.
On this trip, we’ll end up flirting with the Missouri all the way to its source on the Continental Divide in western Montana. It’s a nice but very windy afternoon to get acquainted with the river and reacquainted with one of my favourite states. So, hello, Nebraska, I’ve come to see you again.