Rock Creek Station to Red Cloud: Entering the ‘west’: Reptile road kill and Sinclair gas stations
Friday May 28, 2010, 90 miles (145 km) – Total so far: 954 miles (1,535 km)
I’m on the road again early to keep my deal with the wind. I’m taking the back way into Fairbury along the rolling hills of the Pwf Road. It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, although it’s already pretty warm. Just as I come to a stop sign on the edge of Fairbury, the naturalist from the park drives by on her way to work. She smiles and honks and waves out the window like I’m a long-lost relative. That’s a nice start to the day.
The railroad depot is off to the left and looks pretty impressive, more so because it’s still quite active and there’s a train going by at the time. This was the Western Division HQ for the Rock Island Railroad. They have a related museum inside if you’re into trains.
I’m looking for a gas station to top up my tires. I see a Sinclair and head there. However, the hose has a 45 degree head. I need the one with the 90 degree head, because I find this kind too difficult to use. I ask the guy who has been talking to me if he knows if there is a Casey’s in town. He gives me directions and wishes me well.
On the way downtown to Casey’s, I see the post office. It’s another beautiful old building with tons of wood on the inside. The postal woman is very friendly and patient and helps me with my diverse mailing needs: stamps, international postcard stamps, an envelope to fit all my old maps and brochures in and then posting this to Oz. I thank her lots and head out, noting that even though downtown Fairbury has quite a few nice 1920s-era buildings, the town just has a feeling of economic hardship. I then see a sign for ‘Americorps working here’ in a building window and that confirms it. Acorps doesn’t work where things are peachy.
Chocolate milk for me and air in the tires and then it’s back to the road. This, sadly, is the last Casey’s I come across on the trip. Shortly thereafter I also see my first dead rattlesnake on the road. And today, for the first time, I will not see any raccoon roadkill. I’m not sure where ‘the west’ begins, but for me, it was this day, when the roadkill started to be dominated by reptiles instead of raccoons and I lost the Casey’s gas station chain but started to see Sinclairs.
It’s a pleasant and gently rolling ride. I love the feeling of being a tiny speck in a huge landscape. Between Hebron and Deshler there is no shoulder and the road is pretty busy. The wind has picked up, too, so my attention is spent concentrating on the road and my mirror. Deshler is a happening little town that sits just off of 136. There are quite a few people about. I pick up snacks and the check-out lady directs me to the park. I can’t figure out why this little place in the middle of nowhere is so happening. Never mind, the shade of the picnic shelter feels good – there’s a hot wind blowing at 20 mph and the temp is into the mid-80s. I refill my Camelback – I’ve already gone through the 1.5 litres of water, a pint of choc milk, a 16 oz orange juice and a 16 oz rootbeer today.
On the way out of town, Deshler’s secret becomes clear. It’s a company town. The world headquarters and a factory for Reinke lie just outside of town. Think: centre pivot irrigation. They also build truck trailers or something, too. From here it’s a flat to gently rolling ride to the junction with Hwy 14. The cross-wind is a constant 20-25 mph, but I can at least keep on the road at those wind speeds. The 5 miles south on Hwy 14 are a bit tough, but the shoulder is wide and I just grind it out.
Heading west again on 136 I encounter steeper, rolling hills. It’s like Iowa has misplaced these, but my goodness, it is beautiful! You can see long distances at the high points and trace the tree-lined path of the Republican River not far to the south. Even with the rolling hills and the crosswind, I feel really strong. I know I’m in shape now! There’s no shoulder here, but the traffic is not too bad. I do keep an eye on the mirror though. And I do bail at the top of one hill because I know the car approaching behind me can’t see over the crest and it is likely he and the on-coming semi are going to converge right where I am. By the time the car driver might be able to see this, it would be too late. After the truck and car driver pass by me standing in the dirt and grass on the side of the road, the car driver honks and waves as he realises I’ve moved off the road for him. Yeah, yeah, I try to be considerate. Of my own life, at least!
After the junction with Hwy 78, Hwy 136 is a scenic and flat ride along the river. There’s not much to Red Cloud – the home of Willa Cather. I get a sub, chips and yet another drink and go across the road to a park to eat. Whew – 88 miles today with fairly strong crosswinds and temps in the low 90s – I’m done. Now, what to do about a place to sleep? I have both a trailer park and a motel listed in my tourist brochure as taking tents. So I cruise up north of town and pass the trailer park. It’s old and I’m thinking everyone is living there. From past experience, I’m not too excited to advertise my solo self to a bunch of somewhat transient guys living in a trailer park, so I enquire at the motel about camping behind the place.
I’m greeted by a young teenage boy who goes to fetch his mom. While I’m waiting, I count the number of kids in the family picture hanging above the desk. Wow – at least 8. The lady is a bit confused. The motel is full-up for a Willa Cather event. I tell her, no, I want to camp – as the listing in my tourist guide says they take tents. Oh. She is still confused. She asks if I’ve been to the trailer park. No, I’d like to stay here. She then says, ‘well, let me show you what we’ve got’, and takes me on a tour. There’s a grassy field behind the place with some electrical hook-ups and a few RVs back there. The ‘facilities’ include a laundry sink and a tiny bathroom, in a junky room full of the washers and dryers for the motel linen. This room is between the house and motel parts of the building. The woman asks if that’s okay. I tell her it’s fine. She then tells the young teenager to clean up his clothes he’s left lying on the bathroom floor and to lock the internal door to the house. She doesn’t know what to charge me – they took over the place a few years ago – and it’s obvious I’m the first tenter they’ve ever had. She asks where I’ve come from and what they charged there. So I pay the same as I did at Rock Creek.
After setting up my tent, I tiptoe around all the junk in the laundry room to take a shower. I try not to disturb the BVDs hanging on a hook, or any of the toiletry items in the shower stall. They obviously use this as another family bathroom. Once I’m back to my tent, a boy comes around and goes to make sure the two RVs near me are locked. Yeah, I’d got the feeling the woman didn’t trust me. Later on, the 9-year-old kid, Josiah, comes back and starts talking to me. He goes off to get his little sister and I’m beginning to think I should ask if I can get some money back for entertaining the kids.
I try to be educationally entertaining, showing them the Nebraska map and having them show me where they were born, where they like to go camping and such. I make the mistake of introducing them to Verne and Kermit. They know Verne from his movie and start to play with him like he’s in the movie – smashing him into the ground, throwing him and otherwise abusing my poor turtle. Oh, dear Verne, he’s going to have to have a session with Kermit, the mental health specialist, after this. I eventually rescue Verne, saying he’s probably tired and needs to go to bed. And finally, half an hour later the kids have to go inside. Man, oh man, I’m not fond of kids. It’s been a great, beautiful, long day, minus this awkward sleeping/ bathing arrangement and the kiddo entertainment at the end.
Ave speed: 11.8mph
Max speed: 26.1mph