The day comes good about mile 40: York to Loup City
Sunday May 5, 2013, 97 miles (156 km) – Total so far: 797 miles (1,283 km)
It’s a day that starts out sluggish but ends with nearly 100 miles completed. Kermit, the mental health counselor, has a lot to do with my attitude readjustment today.
We start out under cold and windy conditions again. The northerly wind is only around 10 mph, though, so forward progress is somewhat slowed but achievable. The landscape is pretty flat and barren – 10 miles west of York we reach the limits of glacial till in Nebraska, though I have trouble picking out any terminal moraine. I guess 2.5 million years of erosion make detection of such things a bit more difficult. In my home state of Indiana, the limits of glaciation are pretty dramatic (glaciation ended thousands of years ago instead of millions!), and there is a very distinct terminal moraine near Bloomington. Nebraska is a whole lot more subtle.
I just slog along in the morning, not terribly inspired. Around 10 am we reach the Platte River. Since we left it at Louisville, it’s modern course has taken a big loop to the north while we have cut straight west.
I’m just a bit late for the Sandhill Crane migration. I try to imagine the noise and sight of a huge conglomeration of these ancient birds perched along the sandbars in the braided river. Today, it is just quiet, the shallow river moving along in multiple, shifting channels. Not many birds to see from the road at all. Just on the other side of the river is the town of Grand Island. I think about sitting by the river for a snack before facing the traffic of a town of 48,000 people, but in the end, I’m just ready to get on with things.
As I ride into town, Kermit comes to my rescue my attitude. There he is on a billboard, stating “Live your dreams. Pass it on.” And that is all I need. Sure, the weather has been unseasonably cold and wet so far, but we’ve had some good days. Overall, we are actually having a good time, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing right now, or for the foreseeable future. While I stand there taking a picture, I tell myself, “well, jeez Em, pull your head in. Quit your complaining. Just shut up and go live your dream!”. From that point forward, the day comes good.
The road I want to take is closed, so I have to detour onto the very busy main road. This area obviously used to be a main drag as there are plenty of businesses and older motels. I get off this busy, 4-lane road as quickly as I can, meandering in a general northwest direction through an area of beautiful old homes from the 1920s and 1930s, before reaching parts of town that aren’t quite so nice.
Somehow I do manage to get up to the newer part of town where there is a 1970s-era mall and a whole bunch of new development. From there, I find some bike route signs that lead me into a neighbourhood. From there, I follow my intuition heading northwest, and soon enough reach an intersection with Highway 2. It may not have been the quickest nor straightest route to get through Grand Island, but it worked. If I’d been able to find somewhere with wifi on the way into town, I may have been able to map out a route, but ‘follow your nose’ seemed to work okay, too.
At Cairo, pronounced Kay-ro, I leave the flat fields behind, heading north on State Hwy 11 into a hilly terrain of loess. The loess tablelands and canyons, as well as the Middle and North Loup Rivers, will be our scenic partners for the next few days. Just after crossing the Middle Loup, we turn off onto Hwy 58 to follow the river upstream.
So how old is this landscape? My roadside geology book states that the loess deposits are of three different ages. The youngest and lightest coloured was deposited between 23,00 and 13,000 years ago and can be up to 120 feet thick. The next major unit is thinner and darker, deposited 40,00 to 24,000 years ago. The oldest unit was deposited 140,000 to 135,000 years ago and comprises one of thickest and most widespread units in the state.
So what happened between 40,000 and 140,000 years ago when there was little to no deposition of loess? My book states that there was a period of stability where conditions weren’t conducive to loess deposition. Since loess is basically just wind-blown dust from deserts that has settled, it indicates that conditions were wetter or there was less wind in that period.
It’s exciting to be riding in a relatively new landscape for a few days before we enter an even more modern landscape in the Sand Dunes. I enjoy looking at the shape of the hills, and inspecting the soil in the roadcuts, when I stop for a water break.
As the afternoon wears on, the clouds give way to weak sunshine. The 10mph northerly never lets up, but it never increases either. We are riding up the valley of the Middle Loup River. Loess hills line the edge of the valley on both sides. The river is not often in view, but the feel of the landscape is different to places I’ve ridden before. Traffic is light and mostly considerate. By mile 80 I’m starting to feel fatigued, but the crew and I push on. We are only averaging about 10 mph, but I’m soaking up the unique landscape, so it doesn’t really matter all that much.
Finally, we get to the town of Loup City. It has a cute little main street and a park on a town square, but it is all absolutely dead this late on a Sunday. I have no idea where the county park is located, so I need to find someone to ask directions. I head back out to the main road and find a gas station. I get some drinks and snacks. The console operator is very friendly and gives me good directions (head north out of town, hang a left on Hwy 92 where there will be a sign, head west, park is just before the river. If you cross the river, you’ve gone too far. The park has a sign, too).
Plenty of people drive through the park, or come to walk their dog, but there is little indication of where you can and can’t camp. As dusk arrives, I stake out a spot under a picnic pavillion, hoping to keep some of the dew off my tent overnight.
Everybody leaves and the silence is sweet and satiating to me. Verne and Kermit love camping next to the river, and we all enjoy the waning rays of sun as it slowly settles in for the night behind a row of trees on the other side of the river.