Range Roaming – Reflections on Nebraska and South Dakota

Here is the email update I sent to family and friends:

My spirit smouldered for the past few years, but it has been reignited. First, it was just a lick of flame threatened by the rain and cold of Illinois and Iowa, but now, closing in on Wyoming, my spirit burns with the life and energy of a wildfire that can’t be contained. It’s as if a symphony is playing ‘Ode to Joy’ in my heart and pumping it into every cell in my body. There is nothing more pure or simple than feeling so full of life.

Nebraska was all that I’d hoped for. The weather moderated after Lincoln and the wind could be dealt with most of the time. I travelled the Loup River scenic byway through broad, flat valleys edged by loess hills. Climbing through the tablelands and canyons between valleys was gorgeous and a great warm-up for the Sandhills. We finally felt in the touring groove.

The Sandhills were phenomenal – a stark, timeless beauty. My mind was blown away by physical and temporal scale there – the largest vegetated dune area in the Western Hemisphere formed in very recent geologic time, plus a complex human history added on top of that. Add in the remoteness of the area- towns of 200 people scattered 60 or so miles apart.

One day in the Sandhills I had the wind with me, the temp was perfect, and the road lightly travelled. Barchanoid ridge dunes rose several hundred feet high, forcing the road to follow their long, sinuous curves. The sky was a brilliant bowl of blue from horizon to horizon, and as I rode through that sea of sand, my soul was so full of happiness there were tears in my eyes. It was like being in a boundless, natural cathedral – I felt whole and connected, and my soul soared.

All along the way, I’ve had interesting and inspiring conversations with people from all walks of life. There are lots of ways to live a life and lots of ways to live your dreams. Of course many people continue to be generous and kind. And weirdly enough, I feel like I’m making more of a difference in people’s lives now than I ever did in my research. Several people have called me their ‘hero’ and have felt a nudge to get out and go ride or think about how to go after some things they want to do. It’s cool to plant the spark just doing something I love 🙂

I spent a few days at Ft Robinson State Park in northwestern NE. A lot of history went down there – it played a big role in the Plains Indians Wars. It’s a very sad story, and I went out to the site of the Red Cloud Agency for a few hours. With no one around, I sat in the field and spent the time in solemn and respectful thought for all that occurred there. It was important to reflect on how I’m connected to human history, not just my beloved natural history.

The next day brought record heat (94F-34C), so I took part of my route and turned it into a day ride. I headed out to a remote park called Toadstool in badlands topography. It was a 46-mile ride through the middle of nothing – no water, no houses, nothing but grass and clay. 30 miles was on a very rough, bad gravel road. Even unloaded it was a tough, tough ride and totally exhausting in the heat. But the reward for effort was getting to see fault lines, badlands, the type strata for the geologic period which people come from all over the world to study, and fossilised trackways of Eocene and Oligocene herbivores and rhinos. Plus a heap of respect from everyone who saw me out there on my bike, in that heat, on that horrid road. Word got around the small town, and people kept stopping me the next day to ask if I was the girl who rode out to Toadstool.

I then headed into the Black Hills, feeling proud of my hill-climbing efforts in the first couple days where I climbed 2000 ft or more in a day fully-loaded. I’m slow, but I pedalled it all. The scariest part was riding right by the wild buffalo on the side of the road!

Then I rode the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, incorporating the Needles Hwy and the Iron Mtn Rd, as a day-ride. It was beyond awesome! 56 miles of long, and sometimes steep, climbs and descents through Ponderosa forest and granite crags and peaks. It’s the most climbing I’ve ever done in a day (over 6500 ft), and it was exhausting, but it was SO fun! The Iron Mtn Rd (google it for a video) was like a roller coaster- a long climb up for many miles then flying down through curves, spiral bridges, single lane road and hairpin turns. I giggled the whole way down as I hung on tight, breaking the speed limit and doing 38 mph several times. The Needles Hwy was similarly spectacular. One of the best 8 hours ever in my life!

So all is well. I’m in a weather delay, again waiting out the hypothermia trifecta of strong winds, sub-45F temps and rain. It’s another cut-off low pressure system just sitting and spinning strong windy wet stuff at me. I also had a string of 4 flats in 8 days (all different causes – 2 front, 2 rear) that had my arthritic thumbs crying for mercy since it’s hard for me to remount these tires.

BUT, the crew and I love this! We’re loving life and being out on the bike.

I love the freedom, the adventure, new people, new places, the greatest freckle outbreak in Em history, the stars at night, sleeping in my tent, and just pedalling and pedalling – uphill, downhill and on the flat. Me, Verne, Kermit, The Wizard and the road. It’s an awesome dream and I’m so lucky to live it.

Many thanks to my parents who have mailed me my geology books and run around doing admin stuff for me back home. And many thanks to everyone else for their words of encouragement and cheers along the way.

Now, onto Wyoming!

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