North Platte to Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area: Those frisky Nebraskan men
Thursday June 3, 2010, 74 miles (119 km) – Total so far: 1,248 miles (2,008 km)
An early start once again and I have to ride all the way back through North Platte again to pick up Hwy 30 on the northwest edge of town. One of the interesting things about North Platte is that many of the neighbourhoods look like they are composed of cookie cutter, cheapo housing blocks from different decades – sorta like ‘National Homes’ subdivisions from the 1960s. There are also several trailer parks in town, as well as the ubiquitous ones on the edge of town. It sorta gives the place an odd and rough feel. My mother, when she passes through town on her way to meet me in Colorado, will get the same vibe and note the same thing about the homes.
It’s a bit overcast this morning and I’m just putting in the miles. Not too much I’m interested in seeing today along the route. Sutherland is a bit of a one-street town, but there is camping at the lake south of town. Before this though, just on the outskirts of Hershey, a truck pulls up beside me and the driver asks if we can pull over to talk. Yep, sure. So the guy pulls over at the next street. He turns off the ignition and gets out to talk to me. Okay, this might not be just a quick chat.
And so I meet Joe. He’s probably in his mid-late 40s, with long black hair, a bit of a paunch and tattoos on his arms. Based on his appearance, I’m assuming he has some Native American heritage. He is a welder and is working night-shift doing repair work on the interstate at Ogallala. He was driving back to North Platte when he saw me. We chat about the trip a bit and I try to be encouraging about following your dreams, blah, blah, blah. He responds by telling me he’s had all sorts of adventures, how he was born in Ogallala but done lots of travelling and how we should meet up for beers in Ogallala. He then asks for my phone number. I look in my handlebar bag for the little slip of paper that has my phone number written on it, but it’s not in there, it must be in my pannier. I tell him I don’t know my number (which is the truth) and that it’s written on paper that’s down in my bags. He looks at me like I’m trying to blow him off. Duh, Emily – the penny hasn’t dropped yet that this guy is interested in more than chatting over beers. He is insistent and gives me his number, which I dutifully write down on a piece of paper from my handlebar bag.
He asks if I’m staying in Ogallala tonight and I say I’m not sure. Penny still hasn’t dropped. He then says, ‘well, it’s really easy for me, I can stay in Ogallala tonight – I just normally stay in North Platte because there’s more there and they pay us for the travel time’. Penny starts to drop. He then says, ‘I can get a hotel room there, and we can meet up before I have to go to work at 7. You can stay there if you like’. Penny drops. I didn’t mind the idea of catching up for a beer with a local, but not…ahem… what this guy is implying. I’m a nerd so I’m not used to ever being hit on. I’ve been married for nearly 10 years, and I had a good conversation with a random guy along the road a couple days ago that wasn’t suggestive whatsoever – so it took a bit to realize what was going on. So as the conversation winds down, he says, ‘So you promise you’ll text me or call me when you get to Ogallala? I just want to make sure you are okay and have everything you need.’ Ha! He then asks if he can give me a hug. Um… I don’t like hugs – not even ones from family all that much. I am now really ready to get back on the road!
I get to Ogallala around 11:30. Man, it’s a rough looking town. It probably always has been. Like Dodge City, Ogallala was a true wild west cow town and a terminus on the Texas Trail between 1875-1885. From 1879 to 1884, 100,00 to 125,000 cattle were trailed each year into Ogallala to feed gold miners in South Dakota, to stock the northern ranges and to sell to government contractors for the Indian agencies.
I head up the big bridge over the rail-line on the pedestrian/bike pathway and then over the interstate to Wendy’s for lunch. I somehow just beat a rush. They are doing major construction on I-80 for many miles and everyone coming in is pretty impatient and frustrated. One guy comes up and asks about the ride – he’s from Boulder and his brother rode from Boulder to Chicago last year. I then head across the road to the Dollar General and get two days worth of food so I can have a rest day at a state park tomorrow. I put in so many long days in the hills of southern IA and NE that I’m a bit ahead of where I need to be to meet Mom in Colorado Springs on the 11th.
I ride around most of town looking at the buildings and reading the historical markers before I hit up the information centre downtown. It’s housed in a restored classic gas station. I’m looking for a map of campsites at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala. The older woman is eating her Meals on Wheels lunch and says, ‘Come, sit down and talk with me’. It’s not a request, but more of a command. Well, okay. She then tells me all about the people she sees come through and how she likes to get out of the house and have a break from her husband, etc. She tells me how last year she saw a couple on a ‘double-seated bike’ with bags like mine who were riding from…oh, she can’t remember now. Luckily, 10 minutes later, a family comes in looking for a Walmart and I use this as a great excuse to leave.
There’s a steep hill to get up heading out of town, then it’s rolling hills (more downhill than up) to get to the Visitor’s Centre at the lake. Lake McConaughy is Nebraska’s largest reservoir (35,000 surface acres) and the Kingsley Dam was completed in 1941. It’s 162 feet high and over 1,100 feet thick at its base. I get a map of the campgrounds and somehow get engaged in a conversation with a farmer about water conservation (I’m used to this, I have interviewed lots of farmers about natural resource issues in my research). I then head over the 3.5 mile-long dam wall. It’s good that it’s not busy as there is no shoulder and nowhere really to move over. I fly down the road off the dam wall and into the primitive campground of Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area just below the dam.
The road is extremely corrugated and has thick, loose sand where it’s not wash-boarded, but somehow I manage not to crash. There are no defined sites, just big grassy areas with scattered trees between the lake (excavated for dam wall fill) and the dam wall. I find a spot that has some shade and a picnic table on the inside of the gravel loop road running next to the lake. I want a spot that will protect me a bit from the wind. I’m still a little touchy about that. There’s only a few people camped and spread out over this huge area. However, the other side of the lake is ‘chockers’ – absolutely brimming with people in RVs who want power and showers. I, on the other hand, break out my foldable camp bucket and the plastic cup I use to pour water over my head or other body part, get cleaned up and enjoy a quiet evening in my tent. Alone 🙂
Ave speed: 11.7mph
Max speed: 28.2mph