Nebraska City to Tecumseh: Not my best day – blown off the road
Monday May 24, 2010, 47 miles (76 km) – Total so far: 775 miles (1,247 km)
I can see a flag from my motel window. It does not look good. The wind has already reneged on our deal. The flag sticks out from the pole, but is not yet rippling straight out. It’s going to be a tough day if the wind is doing that at 5:30am.
The young guy at the front desk says, ‘I did RAGBRAI one year. Never again. I don’t think my butt’s ever been the same’. There’s an older gentleman outside having a cigar. He holds the doors open for me as I push the bike outside. I start putting the rear panniers on and he starts asking about the trip. He has a deep southern accent. He holds the bike for me and keeps telling me to be careful because it’s a cruel world out there. I say, ‘yes, but I run into a lot of people like you who are more than willing to help me out’. As I push off, he says, ‘I love you and I love what you are doing, but it’s a cruel world. You be careful out there’.
The only thing that will be cruel this morning is the wind. As the sun rises, I have 4 miles into the wind on a divided highway with a good shoulder. Someone honks and waves in encouragement as they pass me. I then have 7 miles on rollers going west. In the middle of nowhere, to the south, this huge church appears. It looks very out of place. I have to stop and take a picture.
40 minutes later, I turn south just before Lorton and it’s tough. The wind has already strengthened and the gusts are like slaps in the face. For a few miles the traffic out here in the middle of nowhere is quite busy and there’s nowhere for me to be on that narrow country road. I slow up a truck once and a few cars another time, until they can see over the next rise and then get around me. But at some point, the traffic eases and it’s pretty quiet as I fight my way south at 5 mph. Luckily some of the hills are steep enough they block the wind and I don’t get gusted in the face until close to the top.
I stop once to put on sunscreen. Just as I finish, a semi goes by blowing dust all over me, leaving a film of grit sticking to the fresh application of sunscreen. It’s going to be one of THOSE days. I push on through the 15 miles and stop to take a break just before the junction with 136.
I turn west on Hwy 136. Hello, haven’t seen you since Day 9. I have an 18 inch shoulder that’s in good condition, the traffic is moderate, but the wind is becoming obnoxious. It’s hard to hold a straight line, and the trucks really buffet me whenever they pass. In the 12 miles to Tecumseh I literally get blown off the road a few times just from the wind gusts alone. Even with my cycling gloves on, I’m starting to develop a blister near the knuckle of my left pointer finger from holding on so tightly to the bike.
Once into downtown Tecumseh – a fairly dead ‘square’ with brick-paved streets – I go into the supermarket to get a chocolate milk and a rootbeer for later. I sit on the bench outside and contemplate my next move. I listen to the weather radio. Not good. Wind Advisory. Wind south at 30 mph with gusts to 45 mph. Finally, I decide I can make it out to a conservation district park that is north of town. I call and get directions and stop on my way out to get a Subway sandwich for lunch and dinner.
I ride north with the south wind and fly. I have a decent shoulder, but Highway 50 is very busy and there are a considerable number of trucks. It’s a pretty tense ride and one truck absolutely does not move over AT ALL, even though there’s no oncoming traffic. That was waaaaaay too close to my rear view mirror, thanks. Finally, these five miles end and I head west one mile on a gravel road. Then it’s one mile south on a road that is really just dried mud. It feels quite isolated out here.
I finally get there around 1pm. The camping spots are along the fence in an old 10-foot wide shelter belt of trees. I push my bike up to the picnic shelter and a pretty tough-looking lady and her teenage son come up to me. In Australia, we’d unpolitically correctly call these people ‘bogans’. In America you may call them ‘rednecks’, or worse, ‘white trash’. She’s nice, though, and we chat about the area. They come here every weekend from a nearby small town to camp- and she says that the wind is nearly as bad today as it was on Saturday. She’s part of the local rescue squad and they had to scrape two motorcyclists off a road bend when they were blown over by the wind that day. I feel a little better that I’m not ‘wussing out’ today.
The teenage boy and three other kids all take off in the pickup truck (it’s a school day – why aren’t they there?). Soon a couple of guys in a noisy, backfiring car arrive to hang out with the lady. Over the next 4 hours I eat, catch up my journal and lie on the coolness of the metal picnic benches in the shade of the shelter. It is in the lower- mid 90s and humid. And windy. Another car arrives to hang out with the ‘bogans’ and they play CCR, Alabama and some country music for awhile. The cars coming and going and such makes me start to feel a bit uneasy. Something just doesn’t feel right. Are they dealing drugs? Then, several cars of teenagers come out for a swim and I start to worry that this could be a teenage hang-out after dark. Crap. I can’t get back to town on that busy road against this wind. And there are no houses anywhere nearby. Maybe this wasn’t such a good decision. I listen to the weather radio. Crap. There’s a severe thunderstorm watch, as well as a tornado watch and the wind advisory. I’m starting to wish I had another person with me. It’s the only time I feel this way on my solo ride – but someone to reassure me at this point would be good. I keep telling myself: C’mon Em, stop being a wuss. Stop being a girly girl.
As the hot afternoon wears on, the bogans and teenage swimmers finally leave and I start to debate about whether I should sleep on top of a picnic table in the open-sided shelter or set up my tent. I can kinda ‘hide’ in my tent, and no one would know I was a single chick when I’m inside it. But if there are storms, the roof of the shelter would keep me and the bike somewhat safe from hail. If a tornado comes, I’m just completely f**ked either way.
I finally decide to set up my tent. I’m immediately glad, because when I crawl in to pull out my sleeping bag, etc., I feel more ‘at home’, and illogically, ‘safer’. It’s so hot I trek over to the hand pump quite a few times and dunk my whole self under. I could try the lake, but the water seems quite muddy and I don’t want to get my clothes even dirtier on the first day after laundering.
A bit later some guys come to fish and I discover… that I have ticks all over my arms and the tent. At least 8 on me and at least 12 on the tent fly and screen. Craaaaap. I start pulling them off my arms. There are three different sizes. The teeniest ones are tiny red dot-like things, and with my freckled arms, they are extremely hard to spot. I was feeling uneasy about this place before (drugs, bogans, storms, tornados), I don’t need ticks, too!
After dark, someone comes and dumps their household rubbish in the dumpster and then everyone is gone. I am all alone. Soon after, several coyotes yip and howl together. I feel better. It’s still hot and my hayfever and asthma are playing up, so I know there will be storms coming. But if I survive any storms tonight, then this afternoon and night will have been worth it to have heard my first coyotes of the trip. I attempt to sleep, but it is just too hot and hard to breathe.
Around 10 pm, I watch lightning flickering and lighting up the whole southwestern sky. There are severe thunderstorm warnings for the county to the southwest. Then finally, around midnight, the storms are overhead. It’s a dry storm though, all lightning and wind. The wind buffets the tent around, the gusts are around the 45 mph of this afternoon, and I am nervous, but soon it moves on and it becomes noticeably cooler. And my sinuses clear. Finally, I sleep.
Ave speed: 9.9mph
Max speed: 33.2mph