Nebraska 2010 – Day 24

Red Cloud to Lexington: Good tire karma

Saturday May 29, 2010, 122 miles (196 km) – Total so far: 1,076 miles (1,731 km)

It’s early, but I’m afraid of disturbing a family member in the laundry room bathroom at the motel, so I pack up quietly and carry out morning ablutions at the city park toilets on the way out of town. I’ve got a deal with the wind and my early start is part of that deal. The winds are forecast to be out of the south at 35 mph again, and I know from my experience on the ride so far that I can handle crosswinds up to 30mph, but I start getting blown off or into the road above that. It’s calm, now, at 6:00, so I want to put some miles in.

I get a breath of wind about 6:30 and say to the wind, ‘Go back to bed, don’t get up yet’. The wind ceases, like that bit of wind was a sigh as it’s rolled over and gone back to sleep. It is a weekend, no need to get up so early. However, the wind gets up at about 7:30, but doesn’t really start its daily windy activities until a bit after 8am.

By this time, I’ve made it to Franklin. I’m looking for a café for a decent breakfast. I cruise the downtown and see a non-descript building front with a sign saying ‘Down Home Café’. It has a wicker bicycle outside, so I think, ‘hey, that’s the place’. As I go by looking for a ramp up to the sidewalk, the owner actually comes out to reel me in, since he’s seen me riding by. Michael Williams is a cyclist and worked in (and maybe owned?) bike stores in Omaha for a long time. He and his wife moved here to get out of the rat race of Omaha when they found cheap property. They’ve been running the café for several years now, using organic produce they grow on their property.

It’s great to talk with someone who loves bikes and knows the thrill of riding. He doesn’t like Cannondales, but he doesn’t hold it against me . He wants to talk shop a bit, but I’m not a gearhead – I’ve always just liked to ride. The parts and accessories aspect doesn’t thrill me all that much. He asks the dreaded question about flats, and I tell him, ‘No, I’ve had none, but I wake up everyday thinking that today’s the day, especially after everyone I meet keeps telling me about the sandburrs. I almost replaced the tires before the trip because the sidewalls are starting to crack, but now I’m glad I didn’t. I’m carrying a spare tire in my pannier, but so far all it’s done is act as insurance’. He says, ‘No, if you haven’t gotten one by now, then you’re not prone. For whatever reason, you’ve got good tire karma’. Ahhh… so that’s what it is.

Breakfast is delicious and the whole-of-restaurant conversation led by Michael is a treat, so I spend more time inside than I should have. By the time I rejoin the road at 10, the wind is pretty strong and everyone is on the road heading up to the big reservoir. Michael had warned me that he doesn’t ride 136 in this section because of the traffic and poor road condition. He’s even offered to let me camp on his property to wait out the Memorial Day weekend if I want. No, thanks, I want to keep moving.

So yes, the pavement is poor and chunky, there’s heaps of Memorial Day weekend traffic and the crosswind is making things just that bit more dicey. It’s also quite hilly. The combination of all this on one particular downhill gets pretty crazy. My adrenalin kicks in and it’s like being out with the boys on a hard and fast night ride. Luckily, the big shoulder Michael told me about begins sooner than he indicated, and for the last bit into Republican City I’ve got a huge shoulder to myself.

In Republican City I grab a rootbeer from a gas station/bar. Wow, I do not fit in with the boating/fishing/camping crowd that’s in there! I take the drink outside and the owner comes out. We shoot the breeze (which is mighty hefty by now) and he tells me I should go down and have a look at the dam wall. He laments that it’s so windy today, because it means all the people here for the weekend won’t be able to get out on their boats much.

Harlan County Lake, NE. Second largest lake in Nebraska. Too windy for many people to be out on the water today. If you’re interested in water rights – the Republican River, which is dammed by this lake, has a very interesting history.

I head into Alma. The little place is absolutely over-run with people. The line at the Subway is out the door. I get directions down to the Methodist Cove camping area. There’s a great bike path from town to the campground. I’ve already put in 50 miles today. It’s a huge campground, but still, it’s all booked out. What to do? There’s plenty of open grassy areas that aren’t official tent sites, so I could ask the entrance station folks if I could just squeeze in for the night – being a bike tourist and all. But the gatehouse person doesn’t come back til 4pm. I could go around asking people if I could join their site. But these options just mean that tomorrow I’m going to have to ride into a predicted headwind after a front comes through tonight. I eat my sandwich and look at my map as I ponder my options. I ask Verne what he thinks. We decide, ‘let’s get the heck outta here’. Hwy 183 runs north up to I-80, and the crosswind we’ve had all morning will be a tailwind.

With the decision made, we grab some drinks at a gas station for later and figure we’ll make the rest up as we go along. The flag at the gas station is rippling straight out, cracking like a whip. Well, here we go . It is frickin’ amazing!! I’m in the big ring and not putting much effort into the pedals, and I’m flying along at 27 mph on gentle downhills and flying up uphills at 20 mph. I’m averaging 23 mph. Oh my god, this is fun! I also have a huge shoulder, and even where there are sections with intermittent cracks I just fly over these.

Sunscreen application stop. Verne and Kermit pose on a train caboose in front of the Holdredge water tower. AMTRAK still comes through here.

I make it to Holdredge in no time. The two motels I see have no vacancy and the free town camping site is pretty bleak, so I stop to put on more sunscreen and then we head on. Flying. We cover the 40 miles to I-80 in under 2 hours, even with the 5-10 minute stop in Holdredge. Amazing! I contemplate camping at Sandy Channel State Rec area by I-80. It looks pretty pleasant, but there’s no facilities, I’m not carrying extra food or water, and there’s storms predicted tonight. When strong storms are predicted, I like to be somewhere with a shower house or some sort of building so I can take shelter if necessary. So onward we go. We cross over the interstate and turn west at Elm Creek. It’s back to fighting the crosswind, which would be strong enough to push me off a road with no shoulder. However, Highway 30 has a huge shoulder for me to weave around in, so it’s do-able. On occasion I’ll get a quartering push, but it’s not predictable so it’s more a nuisance than a help.

Just south of I-80 we cross the Oregon Trail again. I took this photo because the tree behind the plaque helps to illustrate the wonderful tailwind we were getting north-bound.

The train tracks next to the road are quite busy. It appears that coal goes east and cars go west. I notice that whenever the trains go by – which is about every 10 minutes or less – the train cars break the wind and it’s easier to ride for the few minutes when they are passing. So I take up sprinting whenever they go past. It’s like interval training, only fun. I stop and take a photo of the road when I hit 100 miles. It’s my first-ever century, loaded or unloaded. Does it count when the wind has given you 40 miles?

View of the road at the point of my first century. Hwy 30 has a big shoulder and parallels a busy Union Pacific train line.

Shortly after this, I see a recumbent crawling along up ahead going east-bound. I cross over and meet ‘Bones’. He’s been on the road for 10 years and over-winters in Fort Collins. The guys at the bike co-op there have helped him with his rig. He started in early May and is retracing the route he did ten years ago, but progress has been slow since he’s had so many headwinds (all those days I’ve had southeasterly quartering tailwinds!).

Meet Bones. He’s been on the road for 10 years. He used to ride an upright but switched to a recumbent after he was hit by a car in CA and the upright was written off.

I slog it out to Lexington. It’s pretty bombed out downtown and I talk with a Somali refugee outside of a pool hall for a few minutes. He likes America, he’s seen some terrible atrocities back home; it can be hard to find work here. We wish each other well. I’m taking a rest before I have to pedal into that headwind back to the interstate and the motels. I slowly climb the bridge over the railroad and chug into the wind at 3.6 mph. Eventually a bike path appears and I finally get up to all of the interstate exit businesses.

I decide I’ll ride to the motel closest to this side of the interstate and work my way backwards with the wind until I find somewhere with vacancy. I get to the Comfort Inn and the woman says all she has left is a Queen smoking room, but she has sprayed it with Lysol. I decline but she offers to help me call around. She hands me the receiver and dials numbers of the surrounding hotels. Two of them are booked out but the one person thinks they still have non-smoking rooms at the Super 8. So the lady rings there and yes, they do have a non-smoking room. Please hold it for me, I’ll be there as fast as I can pedal. I apologize to the Comfort Inn lady for sweating on her phone and she says, ‘no problems, I have disinfectant wipes. Good luck on your journey’. Then I’m off, pedalling into the wind again to get up and over the interstate to the Super 8. It’s been a 12.5 hour day, but boy, was it fun 🙂

Ave Speed: 13.4

Max Speed: 29.4

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