The best philly chicken cheesesteak ever: Taylor to Thedford
Tuesday May 7, 2013, 74 miles (119 km) – Total so far: 939 miles (1,511 km)
Normally, a flat tire is not how you want to start the day. But the flat tire saves me from getting absolutely soaked first thing, so I see it as a blessing.
Of course, I had not detected the tire was flat until I had the whole bike loaded and ready to go. Seeing that rain is imminent, I just roll the bike down two blocks to the city park so I can fix it under a picnic shelter. Interestingly, the flat is not a puncture. When I pull the tube out and stick my pump on, the entire valve pulls away from the tube. The circle of rubber connecting the valve to the tube is ka-put. Hmmm… I really don’t know how long I’ve had that tube, anyway.
So I set about replacing the tube while the cold rain comes down in sheets a few feet away. It had rained overnight and again this morning before I packed up, and there are more showers forecast today. I’m not sure I’ll ever get on the road, though. My fingers and the tire levers just don’t seem enough to get that freakin’ tire back on the rim.
So I officially rate these tires as “6-EB” tires. What does that mean? It means I have to get angry to get the oomph to get the tire back on the rim. To call forth enough angst to do this, I have to think about memories from six ex-boyfriends (6-EB) to push that tire back on. I came up with this rating system back in college with my BMX bike. Most people who have ever had to remount a bicycle tire seem to like it. The Contintental Top Touring tires I had before these Schwalbes were only 3-EB tires.
Finally, tire goes on the rim, thumbs sprained and aching, and I take off into the drizzle with all the rain gear on. Today, I’ll ride through the last of the loess hills, paralleling the North Loup River for first 30 miles to Brewster. I get rained on a couple times, but luckily it is just rain, even though the sky looks quite dark and I hear thunder in the distance a few times. The road climbs up into the hills at times; at other times you ride right down in the river valley.
Just beyond Brewster, the Sand Hills begin abruptly, rising out of the flat ground like sculpted beach designs.
I have always wanted to visit this region. This whole tour sort of sprang from the desire to ride through this area.
The Sand Hills cover nearly 20,000 square miles in west-central Nebraska. There are few settlements in the area. Small towns of 200 or fewer lie 60 or more miles apart. The dunes are the largest vegetated dunes in the Western Hemisphere. The vegetation consists of a thin layer of grass that stabilized the dunes when the climate was wetter. The annual precipitation of approximately 18 inches maintains the cover, but it is possible that drought or shifts in climate or land use could see the dunes mobilize once again.
The prospect of the dunes moving once again fascinates me. We just happen to be here in a particular time when they are stable. What would it look like if they started to march across the landscape again? The dunes are such a recent feature of the landscape, it all seems feasible. Scientists have aged the dunes through core samples. The samples suggest that the dunes have moved several times, forming 14,000 to 11,000 years ago at the end of the last glacial ice advance. The dunes then moved again between 8,000 to 5,000 years ago. After about 1,000 years of stability they moved again, followed by another 1,500 years of stability. The last time the dunes moved was only 800 to 900 years ago. In geologic time, that is less than a mere blip!
The road is rough, and the climbs and descents are shorter and sharper than in the loess hills on the Loup River Scenic Byway. Yet, I don’t mind the climbs, or the headwind, or the fact that I’m riding perpendicular to the alignment of dunes. I’m just trying to figure out which kind of dune I’m riding through – there are seven varieties found here – each form occurring in distinct patches within a large-scale pattern. Which type occurs in any location is complex and includes such factors as wind direction, consistency and speed, the amount of sand available and the type and amount of vegetation present. I’m trying to ‘get my eye in’ for identifying dune varieties.
At Dunning, we turn west northwest on Highway 2. The headwind/crosswind we’ve been fighting for the last 15 miles now becomes mostly a tailwind. Whee! We start to cover miles with much less effort. The road now follows the Middle Loup River valley, so we don’t have to continually climb and descend dunes, either.
Yippee!! This is so fun, the landscape so different to anything I’ve ever ridden through. My head is on a swivel, or so it feels, as I try to take it all in. The road has a huge shoulder, and we fly for some time.
Sometime after Halsey, and the hand-planted pine forest visible off to the south, the shoulder deteriorates. The huge cracks are annoying to say the least. I ride in the road as much as I can, but there is enough traffic spaced just enough apart, that it’s not possible to do so for very long at a time.
We ride the tailwind to Thedford. Should we keep going? Nah, we’d need to do another 26 miles to get to Mullen, so let’s call it a day. I stop at the old motel on the west side of Hwy 83 to see how much a room might be. If it’s under $40 I’m going to take it, since there are no official places to camp in this town of 188 and it’s supposed to rain this evening and tonight. If worse comes to worse, I’ll see if I can camp outside the library.
As I ride into the lot, a guy over at the adjoining diner calls out, “Hey, get over here, get off that bike you skinny thing, you’re making us fat people look bad!”. Well, okay, I’m always up for a humorous greeting. So I head over to the guy, who isn’t actually fat. He’s the owner of the motel/diner. He’s got rooms for $40 and thinks I’m just very cool. Okay, whatever. He tells me he doesn’t have a room ready, but he can have his housekeeper do one for me right now. In the meantime, I should come have something to eat. Soft drinks and water are on him, and he says he makes the best philly chicken cheesesteak west of the Mississippi.
So I take up the offer on a room and a meal. He warns me his housekeeper is very good, but very slow, so it’ll probably be an hour before I can get the room. So I go back up to the gas station, and lo and behold, the no-name ATM actually takes my Aussie card! I have cash again! I head back to the diner and the guy fixes me what is the best philly chicken cheesesteak I’ve ever had. Eventually, my room is ready. Wow – it is clean, sorta. It is definitely in original condition from about 1950 or so. But it will do.
Later in the evening, I sit outside on the picnic table so I can pick up the wifi, trying not to make eye contact with the many railroad workers staying here. The motel owner comes out for a chat. He seems to like me. When he hears that I’ve done research on groundwater (“ooh, so not only do you do cool bike rides, but you’re a smarty-pants, too?”) and have a real interest in the Sand Hills, he offers to take me down to a look-out on Hwy 83 that has views over a wide area. Normally I’d take someone up on this offer, but other parts of our conversation and some other invitations he’s made have made me feel a little uncomfortable about going somewhere alone with him. I’m sure it’d be fine, and I’m sure he’s a super nice guy just trying to be kind, but I’m playing it cautious this time. It’s not something I regret later, so I think I made the best choice.