Nebraska 2010 – Day 26

Lexington to Gothenburg: Grandpa is along for the ride

Monday May 31, 2010, 31 miles (50 km) – Total so far: 1,107 miles (1,781 km)

It is Memorial Day. My paternal Grandpa is on my mind today. I wish he had lived to see me finish a PhD and undertake this ride. He would have been so proud. My Grandpa intrinsically understood me and embraced my sense of adventure and intellectual bent. We did science experiments together in his garage and he tried to teach me all about electrical wiring and how to use all sorts of tools. He always encouraged me to ‘follow your bliss’ and said that I had the spirit of a modern day Amelia Earhart. You see, my Grandpa was a machine designer by trade but a pilot by hobby. He had commenced building a biplane long before I was born. All of his kids and grandkids worked on that plane with him. We all have fond memories of working with him out in his ‘shop and sitting in the plane pretending to shoot down the Red Baron. Grandpa had a wonderful collective relationship with his grandkids and fantastic individual relationships with each one of us, too. He was such a sweet, kind and generous man.

Em and Grandpa Father’s Day 1982
My older brother and me standing next to Grandpa’s biplane when he had it housed at the local airport in 1990.

But in my teenage and adult years, I’ve often wondered what he would have been like if he hadn’t fought in World War II. Because of his war experience, he was distrustful of government and told me countless times of the futility of war and the stupidity of world leaders. My Grandma told me about how he used to have horrible nightmares after he came back from the war. He often told his war stories as life lessons to his family. But he didn’t tell us all of the stories. We found out after his death in 2002 that he had earned four Bronze Star Medals during the war. Four stories he never told. He was such a gentle and wonderful man, but I wonder how much silent torture he endured within himself because of the war.

So today I’m thinking about my Grandpa and his sacrifices in World War II. As I pass through Cozad, there’s a Memorial Day service going on in the park downtown. I pedal on and cross over the 100th Meridian.

Memorial Day Service at the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Cozad
Cozad sits on the 100th Meridian. Think: John Wesley Powell and exploration of the west beyond this line.

Then, about six miles outside of town on the right-hand side of the road, I see this older gentleman with grey/white hair… standing in the centre…(wait for it)… of a biplane, adjusting something on the top wing. There’s an older woman standing on the ground looking up at him. There’s a grass landing strip and a windsock attached to the house, so it must be a private airstrip.

Holy shit. Now, I’m not religious and I’m not really superstitious, but the coincidence is crazy. I’ve passed all sorts of private and municipal airports on the trip and not seen many planes, and I’ve definitely not seen a single biplane. And then today, when I’ve been thinking almost exclusively about my Grandpa .. Well, after I collected my jaw off the pavement, I just thought to myself, ‘Thanks, Grandpa, it’s great to have you along for the ride.’

I stop for the day just up the road in Gothenburg. Gothenburg has a huge grain holding facility for Frito-Lay. If you’ve ever eaten a Dorito or Tostido west of the Mississippi, the corn has come through this town. Monsanto recently opened a research centre here, as well. The town has a German and Swedish heritage and plenty of houses with really interesting architecture. The city park has camping with a clean shower block, so I head there as most people are starting to leave and head home.

Gothenburg has a nice campground in the city park near Lake Helen (built in the late 1800s to provide hydroelectricity and a water supply for factories).

After getting my tent set up I go to explore the town. The downtown is intact and there’s plenty of business around. The homes are all kept up and there are heaps of people out working in their yards. It’s such a perfect little town I feel like this must have been the set for the Truman Show. It’s so neat and tidy and perfect, it’s almost creepy. At least there’s a trailer park out near the campground, so I know the town is real.

Memorial Day 2010 Gothenburg, NE


Ave speed: 11.3mph

Max speed: 20mph

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