30th Leg – Out of the Sagebrush and Into Riverton


I made about 90 miles today, from my roadside range campsite to Riverton.
I slept surprisingly well in my highways edge sagebrush nest. The traffic was just far enough away that the lights and sound did not startle me awake. The dawn bird chorus on the range were different from what i have heard before, but just as reliable a wake up call. I broke camp just before sunrise.


I had a long way to pedal today to get to anything but sagebrush range. Although there are a few towns named on the map, like Powder River, Hiland, and Moneta, google showed no businesses in any of them except for a bar in Hiland (pop 10). Some of these towns had boarded up bars and motels, relics of pre interstate and air travel days when families might drive down Route 20 to get out west. Surprisingly, the bar in Hiland also advertised rooms and a general store – google does not know everything.

After pedaling 30 miles of range, with 35 more miles to go to Shoshoni, I wasn’t sure I could handle the monotony of four more hours of sagey treeless green hills with occasional clocks of cattle or a few antelope. At a bend in the highway, though, the vista opened up to snow clad mountains on the horizon, which gave me something to pedal for.
More rugged terrain appeared as the road descended a broad draw towards Shoshoni. Shoshoni, the first town for 94 miles, had only one lunch option – a cheesesteak and ice cream place. I had a chicken cheese steak.

After Shoshoni, the landscape changed dramatically, as the moist valley had trees and green irrigated crop fields, and the ever closed mountains gave a backdrop. I checked in to the Rodeway Inn at 420 pm, and arranged to meet a friend from the Nyack Boat Club, Bill Mayo for dinner


Leg 29 – High Noon In Casper, Sunset on the Range

6/3 (posted late)

Made 85 miles today, from Douglas to a rough roadside campsite on Rt 20 between Natrona and Powder River.

The day posed several challenges, but the pieces ended up fitting together, mostly. A strong 20 mph headwind was forecast – but not until after 11 am, and dying down after 5. I had a Waterkeeper finance committee call at 3 pm, som8 had to be someplace indoors and with a good cell signal at that time. And, of course, I needed to make my miles for the day, so I wanted to make my call as far west as possible to get back on the road and make my miles before dark.

img_5288So I set out early, hoping to make Casper, at 48 miles, before the wind picked up. The straightest way was on the freeway, so a picked up my sip and ride coffee at the Shell station and rolled onto the shoulder. Riding on the freeway here actually feels safer than the secondary roads – even though the speed limit is 80, you have so much room on the smooth shoulder that the cars and trucks don’t come close.  Except for the traffic noise, it is less hair raising than the two lane roads with little or no shoulder and a 70 mph speed limit.

To the south, a ridge line rose, while to the north, the vast range spread out. As I went west, patches of snow began to appear on the ridge, In Glenrock, Rt 20 split from the freeway and I was on back roads again. As forecast, the wind was light, and I made good time. Just before I got to Casper, another cyclist, packed light, passed me, going East. “Transam?” he asked.”Yes, you?” “Nonstop” he said, and then he was gone before I oiled get an explanation.

I got to Casper at 11, just as the west winds were beginning to gust. I had a list of things to do in the big city – mostly to get better cold weather clothes for the mountains, and to get my hair cut if I had the chance. I saw a barber shop, but it was closed. I stopped at a coffee shop to get my bearings – and some cappuccino.. 

All the barber shops seemed to be closed, but there was a bike and outdoors shop about 3 miles into town, so I headed to Mountain Sports and got a warmer base layer, a warm hat, and cold weather cycling gloves – things I will need for the continental divide. I also put air in my tires for the first time since Pennsylvania.

img_5296I found a barber that was open, but could only see me at two, and I decided to chance it. I killed time in the city park until my appointment. Dan the barber has a sister teaching English at a university on Long Island in New York, and his parents have moved there too. He cut my hair and trimmed my beard meticulously, so I was in a hurry to get to the restaurant I had picked for my call,

So I sped down Casper’s rail trail along the North Platte, with no time t appreciate it. I was heading for the Beacon Club, which appeared to be the only restaurant open west of town. Just as I topped the overpass before the restaurant, my nose started to bleed, just gushing. So I showed up with a bloody nose and asked for a bunch of napkins and a menu and a quiet corner to make my call. It turns out the Beacon Club was more of a video poker joint than an restaurant, but they had food, and it all worked out.


But 55 miles was not going to be enough for the day, The problem is that there is no town or lodging or camping on Rt 20 between Casper and Shoshoni, 94 miles west. I was going to have to camp rough again. Now the Sheriff had to,d me two days ago I could camp on BLM (federal) land, and I found a public lands map online than seemed to show large blocks of BLM land around 20-30 miles west of Casper.  It when I got there,  it all looked like the usual cattle fencing. I stopped to look at the fencing around the place I had hoped to camp, to see if there was a way through. A pickup truck slowed down and stopped on the road. “What are you doing messing with that fence line?” the woman inside shouted at me. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I thought this was BLM land.” “No, this is private land. My boyfriend owns it.” “I’ll move on,” I said. “You’re just lucky it’s me talking to you and not my boyfriend, he would fix your ass if he saw you messing with his fence.”  “I’ll move on”, I said, and I mounted my bike and started riding towards the setting sun. 


The pickup truck followed a little, then headed down the road. I stopped to check my options. There was a highway rest area, but it was another 18 miles away. I looked at the map of BLM lands – it seemed that the block was mostly on the other side of the road, where the cattle fence was perhaps 100’ from the roads edge. So I went about a half mile down the road and waited on the south side of the road for dusk to set up what I hoped was an inconspicuous camp in the sagebrush, fearful that the woman’s boyfriend was going to come looking for me to set my ass straight. The sunset was beautiful, and my campsite smelled of sage.

Leg 28 – Freewheeling Down the Freeway Into Douglas, Wyoming

6/2I rode my bike 86 miles today into freakin Wyoming. I rode a bike to WYOMING! Need I say more? Somehow, that is more impressive than the Mississippi River or Nebraska, as charming as the cornhusker state may be.

 It was a 30 mile ride to coffee in Lusk, Wyoming. There were some really interesting looking coffee shops, all closed for Sunday. So I got coffee and a roll of mini chocolate donuts, and took my shoe off to rest my left pinky toe.

Winds were light, but favorable, with Douglas at about 83 miles as the most likely destination. Newsflash: Wyoming is pretty flat, except for the pointy parts. I was really looking forward to seeing mountains again. Sailors know that you will see clouds that mark an island at sea scores of miles before you see the land itself, and sure enough, by Lusk, cumulus clouds in an otherwise clear sky marked the distant mountains. West of Lusk the hazy blue line of a high mountain rose from the plains.
Wyoming roads seems smoother than Nebraska roads, and the miles rolled by. I stopped at a shaded picnic bench at about 50 miles for lunch and a butt and toe rest. My legs and knees are holding up fine, but my butt is painfully sore after 30 miles or so, and the stabbing pain of the soft corn in my left pink toe is the only malady that makes me want to just stop. I saw a podiatrist years ago, she gave me a lifetime supply of foam toe separators that work well enough for ordinarily life, but are not up to ten hours a day of athletic activity. I generally avoid pain medications (hey, pain is just your body’s way of saying take it easy), but I would welcome a daily shot of Novocaine to numb my toe, which is trying to tell me “Stop Wearing Shoes!.” I googled topical analgesics last night, but nothing OTC looked like it would help much. But I have some ibuprofen with me, which I had resisted so far. But when I read that Vitamin I also helps protect against altitude sickness, I popped one tablet with lunch.
And the afternoon ride was much easier. They should ban the stuff as a performance enhancing drug. The pain was still there, but it just wasn’t painful any more. Even my butt pain was tolerable, and my finger numbness went away. 
In fact, I was rolling down the smooth Wyoming version of route 20, waving at the eastbound touring cyclists that were more plentiful here, and calculating whether I could stretch the day to Glenrock, when I realized I had flown past the Antelope Road shortcut to Douglas. I wasn’t going to pedal back uphill five miles, so I just rolled on down to Interstate 25.
Bicycles are allowed on the interstates in Wyoming, because many places that’s the only road. And as long as I was rolling on the interstate with the sun shining on my solar panel (despite the thunderheads over the mountains) I decided to play my cross country road trip playlist on my iPhone. Here it is, arranged roughly from east coast to west.


I could use some more western mountain road tunes. And River Driver isn’t really a western song, but it should be the anthem of the Riverkeeper/River Pirates ROGUE river trip that is the penultimate destination. Its refrain is also good advice for a long distance cyclist:
I’ll eat when I am hungry and I’ll drink when I am dry,

Get drunk whenever I’m ready,

Get sober by and by,

And if this river don’t drown me,

It’s down I mean to roam,

For I’m a river driver and I’m far away from home.
I pay close attention to what my body is telling me- when I feel the least bit hungry I eat trail mix from my handlebar cup. When I feel dry, I drink water right away. I haven’t been ready to get drunk yet (saving that for the Rogue), but a 24 oz single sure soothes the muscles.
So I found myself freewheeling down the freeway on the long grade into Douglas, to the sound of the Dead’s “Truckin.” 

Douglas has free camping by the North Platte River. With showers! A sign said “No Camping on the Lawn” with the explanation that sprinklers would come on at night, so I set up my tent by the gravel road to the river. Mike and Patience, and their two dogs, were sitting out the rain showers under the bridge. They didn’t know that camping was allowed at the park. They have been hitchhiking around with no particular destination. It was tough to get a ride out of Casper because there are so many homeless people. Mike said he knows how to ride the freight trains – you get in the unmanned pusher locomotive at the end of the train, and you can sit in the seats and put your beer in the fridge. One of the dogs has ridden with them

Leg 27 – On a Beautiful Day in the Nebraska Buttes You Can See Wyoming!

On a mostly sunny day with light, favorable winds, I made almost a century- 97 miles – to Harrison, the last town in Nebraska before the Wyoming border.
My night in the Gordon City Park was mostly quiet, though at 2 am some loud teenagers woke me up. It was, after all, Friday night in a dark corner of the city park. But after a half an hour their voices faded as they walked away, heedless of my presence.
Yesterday’s dawn bird chorus at 5 am CDT was today’s dawn chorus at 4 am MDT. I slept in a little before rousing myself and breaking camp, hitting Rt 20 again at around 6 am.

With a light easterly wind, i aimed to get s far west as I could, near or even across the Wyoming border. Early on, it all seemed possible, as the smooth a pavement and tailwind made for effortless 12 mph riding. Without bumps in the road, my but sores hurt less, and without pushing hard, my feet hurt less. But no good pavement lasts forever, and by the end of the day I was again an expert on trying to pick the best line through butt jarring lateral expansion cracks, seeking smoother pavement in the travel lane (when I could and when it was actually smoother), bumping across the rumble strips, and suffering the torture of another seven mile stretch of “milled pavement” riding into Crawford.

Today I saw the most dramatic change in scenery of the trip. The day started on a flat range that seemed to go on forever. But shortly west of Hay Springs, the road dipped into a valley that was surrounded by ridges covered with pines. West of a Chadron, the horizon had actual blue hills of some sort, and the first butte appeared to the south. By Crawford, there were dramatic butte spires on both sides.  

I had lunch in Crawford (72 miles) at Stanned’s Drive In, then spent some time researching my camping options for tonight and next week. Lusk, Wyoming, was way too far for tonight, but Harrison, NE had both City Park and RV site camping. I started plotting my strategy to get over Wind River Pass next week and discovered that although the distances were doable, camping options in the right places were not. I spent some time on the phone with the Latrona County Sheriffs office to figure out where roadside camping would be permissible.

By the I was done with lunch, it was two pm. I went to the Dollar General across the street to get something for dinner, since I knew it would be the last store before Lusk, fifty miles on. Thunderheads were forming as I left Crawford, so I ducked into the Fort Robinson historical site for shelter, though it turned out to be nothing but a sprinkle.
West of Fort Robinson, the road began to climb and climb and climb through another pine sided valley. A sign reading “Scenic View, 2 Miles” told me I had a long way to climb. When I finally reached the summit, I checked the altimeter on my cycling app – about 4600 feet. The last few days I have been steadily gaining elevation. Now I had reached the level of the summits of the high peaks of the Adirondacks! This is a good thing, since I have to start acclimating for Wind River Pass next week, at 9500 feet.

The top of the climb turned out to be a rolling plateau rather than a peak, and a climbed and coasted the hills on the rain slickened road into Harrison, where there was a sign with a tent and a trailer on it directing the camping traveler to a city park with unlocked restrooms with working outlets, covered picnic tables, and a tree grassy space for tents. I call that glamping!


Leg 26 – An Average Day of Headwinds on the Open Range


On a day of average headwinds, I made an average day of 80 miles, to Gordon, Nebraska.

I slept fitfully in my highway edge campsite, though most of the night I heard . only frogs, some night birds unknown to me, and comfortably distant coyote calls. But from time to time I would be startled awake by the glare of headlights on my tent and the growl of a night cattle truck. At five am CDT, morning bird song confirmed the dawn, and I rose to break camp and get started.

It was a long way to coffee this morning through the open grasslands of the sand hills of Nebraska. A mile down the road I saw I could have done much better for a campsite. A few more miles down the road, a sign said “Entering Mountain Time.” In Cody, 23 miles down the road, there was a grocery – Cody Market proclaims itself to be the only grocery store in Nebraska run by High School students. The woman at the register was decidedly not a high school student. She explained that no high school students wanted to work at 800 am. Coffee was a Keurig machine in the corner, with coffee mate. But they had fresh vegetables.

img_5243-1The road rose and fell with the sand hills, and the open land had few trees and fewer towns. I saw occasional antelope. In Merriman, at mile 46, I planned to have my picnic lunch at the State historic park, but that was a mike out of the way, and a picnic table with a hand scrawled sign “RV Parking Here” beckoned. No RV had parked there in a long time, but there was a little shade. I rested my feet and took a nap on the picnic bench. When I awoke and got ready to leave, I realized I was low on water, so I went back to the Hideaway Bar. I asked if they had ice cream, and they laughed, so I had a beer instead, and they filled my water bottle.

Leaving Merriman, I crossed paths with the only other cross country cycler I have met on the trip. Will was bicycling from Portland, OR to Watertown, NY, though his accent was British and he admitted to being Welsh. 

The next 30 miles were a rising upwind grind of open range. I saw many cars with bikes on the back headed west. Sunday is the start of the Bike Rice Across Nebraska – an annual mass ride that attracts 400 riders, I am told. Many drivers beeped at me today, assuming I was headed for the BRAN ride.  Iowa has a similar event, called the RAGBRAI.

img_1627Though I was considering open road camping again, the highway map showed camping available in Gordon. Calls to the town were not returned. But Will told me he camped in the City park last night and there were other cyclists there. All you had to do was check in with the police. When I got to Gordon and called, the after hours number sent me to the Sheriffs department, where they told me I should camp at the fairgrounds, not the park. At the fairgrounds, a grizzled old man behind the rodeo told me that everyone camps at the park. So I went back there for the night, tucked behind the closed swimming pool.


Leg 25 – Riding On (and Off) the Cowboy Trail Into Valentine, and Beyond

I made 83 miles today, from Bassett to the range somewhere west of Crookston.  I will have to add pictures to this post later, since I have no bandwidth out here in the wild.

I slept late this morning – my body must have needed some extra rest after two arduous days. I took advantage of the fast WiFi to download the copy edits of my book to review at some point and catch up on emails. After a leisurely breakfast of eggs over sausage and potatoes, I took some time to soak my finger and make some bike adjustments. I did not actually hit the road until ten am.
As of this morning, I am about 40 miles ahead of my goal for this point in the trip. Those miles are like money in the bank – I want to save them for when I really need them. So with a light headwind forecast, I would ordinarily want to make my average eighty miles today, and save those “ahead” miles for the big climbs and high altitudes in the Wind River Range next week. But there were no good overnight options: there was camping and hotels at the end of the “improved” Cowboy Trail in Valentine, but that was only seventy miles away. The next camping was in. Cody, 105 miles away. My body was not ready for another century, so I figured on a leisurely tour on the soft and slow Cowboy Trail, and its most spectacular section between Long Pine and Valentine.
Although the wind was supposed to be against me, it was light, bright, and sunny all day. The trail out of Bassett seemed like good riding at first, it soon got soft, so I switched to the adjacent paved Rt 20 until it climbed over the trail at an overpass. The trail through the open range looked intriguing so I backtracked to get back on the trail, it it was still soft riding and soon reached a closed section.
I rejoined the trail in Long Pine, and soon reached the first of the day’s two spectacular trestles over the Niobrara River.

Just before Ainsworth, I saw the white tail of a surprised deer bouncing away from me across the grasslands. Only it was springing up like no deer I had ever seen. I realized then that I just saw my first antelope of the trip!
In Ainsworth I looked for a barber shop, but it was closed for lunch. North of town m the trail seemed overgrown, so I pedaled Rt 20 again until Johnstown, where the trail was good riding and went cross range away from the road again. I started to look for a picnic spot, but there was no shade or dry ground to sit on. Eventually, after the trail rejoined Rt 20, I found a nice looking tree, it when I got up close I realized it was surrounded by poison ivy. A little farther down the trail, o hit a soft patch of sand on the edge of the trail and went down on my left side, ripping the scabs off my Iowa gravel road rash. It was not until Woods Lake that I found a place to sit and eat and clean up. I was hoping Woods Lake might have a store with ice cream for dessert, it there as noth8ng to the storefronts in the tiny town but a post office.
I was making good time, so I began to consider pushing on beyond Valentine and camping rough on the unimproved part of the Cowboy trail where it parallels Route 20.

Beyond Woods Lake, the Cowboy Trail eventually departs from Rt 20 and carves through the Nebraska sand hill rangelands. The little hills looked like sand dunes and I half expected to turn a corner and see the ocean.

The Cowboy Trail reaches its climax just south of Valentine, where a long trestle crosses the deep gorge of the Niobrara River. It was spectacular in the late afternoon light!
In Valentine I stopped at the Subway for my usual charge-ups, but all of their outlets were on the ceiling, and they had no public WiFi. The staff seemed less helpful than at the other Subways on this trip.
I confirmed that sunset was not until after nine, bought some yogurt and bananas at a nearby supermarket, and headed west into the sunset on the unimproved cowboy trail. Which is just route 20. Although the state maps show a dotted line where the cowboy trail extends another 150 miles west to Chadron, and Google will tell you to ride a bike on it, and I confirmed on Google satellite view that there was at least a trace of a right of way set apart from the road. It looked like I could camp on the old right of way, maybe hidden from the road by the occasional tree or brush. What I found in the dwindling twilight west of Crookston was cattle fencing running up to the highway right of way, and no way to get to the invisible right of way without trespassing on cattle land.  ultimately settled next to the cattle fence in a slight depression hidden from westbound traffic behind a dune. I set up my tent with a strong SEP field, checked with my flashlight that there were no reflective strips on the tent to attract attention from the occasional traffic on the road fifty feet away, and listened carefully for any sign the passing cars and trucks saw something to slow down for. I will look harder for other camping options for tomorrow night.


24th Leg – Roll, Roll on the Range

I made about 90 miles today, to Bassett, Nebraska, and the wonderful Bassett Lodge hotel.
Last night, my right index finger was infected and swelling. It looked like a splinter, but I have not been near much wood on this trip. I suspect something got lodged in my finger when I used my gloved hand to scrape road gravel that got stuck in my tire treads. I have not seen many medical clinics, and an uncontrolled infection would be an awful way to end the trip. On Robin’s telephonic advice, I soaked the finger in hot water for a while and squeezed it out, then covered the splinter hole with a band aid and antibiotic ointment. That seemed to relieve the swelling.
There was a light rain falling this morning and it was not expected to end until eleven, so I went ahead and repacked all my stuff spread out in the motel room to get a start in the rain. The wind was supposed to be from the northwest at 10-20 mph, so average headwinds. Based on the Cowboy Trail guide website, it looked like I could make it to Newport, where you can camp in the public park, about 78 mikes away. I stopped at the Conoco gas stop for a sit down cofffee and donut before heading out in the cold rain. 
Because the Cowboy Trail was indicated as closed north of Neligh, I just went ahead and rode on Route 275 with its hard pavement and wide shoulders. A few miles up the road, I gave the trail a try, since it runs right parallel to the road, but the wet fine gravel was very hard pedaling, and I quickly resumed the pavement.
With the rain and the headwinds, the first part of the day was slow going. The landscape opened up to attractive open rangeland, with contented looking cattle grazing, O’Neil, NE at 40 miles seemed like a good lunch stop, but I did not get there until just before two. O’Neil is a good sized town, with a b7nc( of national chain restaurants on the road into town – I passed up the Pizza Hut, the McDonalds, and even the Subway because I saw a billboard before town advertising a lunch buffet at the Chinese restaurant. But I arrived at the China Dragon just too late for the buffet. 
As I headed west out of town, hungry, I remembered seeing a billboard for a “family” restaurant a mile west of town, and the Westside Restaurant t did not disappoint. When I finally got the chatty waitresses attention and told her I would start with the soup and salad bar, she looked at my bike clothes and said “wait, let me get you an extra large bowl and plate.” So I loaded up on ham and bean soup and.salads, and the two piece broasted chicken, and thought I would never be hungry again.
During lunch, I was frantically researching places to stay tomorrow night, in the Valentine area. I know there was a historic western hotel somewhere on the Cowboy Trail, but it did not seem to be in Valentine. When the waitress asked me where I was planning to stay tonight, I told her I planned to camp in Newport. She said I shouldn’t count on it – many of the parks around here are under water right now. She suggested I go to the Bassett Lodge, 45 miles on. But that seemed a bit too far on a day of difficult progress.

 But as I pedaled up the road through the Nebraska rangeland, I realized that the Bassett Lodge was the classic hotel I had been looking for. I convinced myself that 45 more miles were doable in the diminished afternoon winds and partly sunny skies, and the long daylight hours at the western edge of another time zone. So, at mile 50 for the day, I called ahead and reserved a room, and told them I would probably arrive at 730 or 8. I stuck to the paved road, since traffic was light, travel was quicker, and the scenery was the same.
The waitress was right- Spring Valley park in Newport was under water. This year, this part of Nebraska is one big wetland. The songs of marsh birds filled the air as a rode, and ducks took wing in the drainage by the road.

 By six I was starving, and had eaten the last of the trail mix in the feed bucket on my handlebars. But I was able to pick up the pace for the last ten miles, and arrived right at eight.

Bassett looks like an old west town, but the streets were deserted, as was the hotel. I worried about getting something to eat, but the desk clerk assured me that the bar down the street would be open. So at eight forty, i landed at Corral’s Bar, which was empty except for two men at the bar. I told the guy at the bar that I had an important question: Was Nebraska the Midwest, or West? He said it was sort of a transition state – the east end was Midwest, but the west end was West. When he left, he warned me to watch ou5 for the ghosts at Bassett Lodge. 

The menu consisted basically of many different kinds of hamburger. I asked what the biggest dish was, the barmaid said that the cheeseburger was. I thought of the contented looking cattle staring at me all day, and decided to indulge in a rare beef meal. And a side of fries. And six wings. And when I got back to the hotel I bought a package of chocolate donuts from the vending machine.
The road seemed to rise gently all day, and by the end of the ride, it looks like I gained about 500 feet of elevation, to about 2300 feet – so I am finally close to the elevation of the great eastern divide of several weeks ago.


Leg 23 – Across the Missouri and Another Century to the Cowboy Trail

ED8AF7D0-6119-43A4-AD50-FFF0DBF22BE7.jpegAnother easterly wind, another century ride – 112 miles including some backtracking. I wound up in Neligh, Nebraska, for the night.

The forecast for last night just called for showers,  not thunderstorms. But at 2 am it poured, thundered and lightninged, and then the wind picked up and shook my little tent like it would go airborne. I put my wallet in the pocket of the shirt I wore to bed, so that if I had to make a run for the restroom in a tornado, i would at least have my ID and credit cards. But my little tent stayed put in the storm, and I stayed dry. The wind seemed to squash it down.

When I woke up, it was still raining. When it let up a little, I checked the radar. It looked like it would be clear for an hour before another heavy line of rain came through. So I decided to strike camp right away without cooking breakfast, so I could wait out the next line of rain under the roof of the camp office shelter. So I ate two bananas and a grapefruit for breakfast.

After waiting for the rain to clear, I finally hit the road at around 920 am. With an east wind blowing, but possible severe thunderstorms in the afternoon, my goal was to make the seventy miles to Norfolk, Nebraska before 2 pm when the severe risk started. I figured I could visit the bike shop there and have lunch and assess the prospects of pushing on up the Cowboy Trail before dark.

058E45FB-B98D-4A02-9178-9F3ACBB82ABB.jpegI soon reached the Missouri River, and took a mile detour to get a good picture of the bridge to Decatur, Nebraska. As it turned out, I could get coffee and a donut in Decatur (Google made it look like no shot at coffee until Norfolk itself). I sat down with my coffee and donut next to a slim, white haired woman with blank eyes, who was staring out at the cloudy sky. “We just can’t get a break from this weather,” she said. “There were tornadoes this morning south of here.” I asked if people were ok, but all she said was they tried their best  people to safety, but it was so hard with the morning storms. She wished me luck on my ride.

Breaking news: Nebraska has hills. Real hills.  So my downwind pace was limited a little by having to crawl up the hills every mile for the first fifteen miles or so. After that, the hills lengthened out, so that the uphill crawls were faster and the downwind downhill freewheeling went on for miles. I was soon making a good fifteen mph pace, on track to make Norfolk just before two.

The Nebraska landscape is somehow distinct from the Iowa landscape across the river. It feels more open, despite there being more trees, maybe because the hills give a commanding view. There seems to be more green, fallow fields, or just grass or hay growing. And more cattle in pasture, just as Iowa had more cattle in pasture than Illinois. At one point, a semi trailer laden with huge rolls of hay passed by me. A few miles later, I saw what looked like smoke,  it it turned out to be dust from some kind of grinding machine that looked like a wood chipper turning out compost. The. I realized that the giant rolls of hay were feeding the grinder.  And a few miles later I saw cattle in a feedlot devoid of grass, with a pile of that compost-like ground hay next to them. Do you think that counts as grass fed beef?


The rising and falling ride to Norfolk was otherwise uneventful, and just before 2 pm, I arrived at the Cleveland Bike Shop in Norfolk, which just happens to be the first bike shop I have seen since Cleveland. I asked Nick, the owner, to check my tires for wear, and he thought they had plenty of life in them.  Nick pulled up the weather radar for me, and there were no thunderstorms headed for Norfolk. He also recommended the Rodeo Mexican restaurant as a good, cheap place to eat – and gave me directions, since there was no sign on the door. I went to Rodeo for a great burrito, and confirmed that there was no longer any threat of severe weather.


2CA3EABF-4BF2-4450-86EB-9572258C5D31.jpegWith the east wind blowing, I resolved to start up the Cowboy Trail – a 187 mile rail trail that runs west from Norfolk to Valentine. I wanted to make a century of this precious downwind day, so with five hours daylight left, I set on Neligh, 35 miles up the trail and a place with camping available in the public park, as my destination.


Portions of the Cowboy Trail are closed due to flooding damage, and I carefully took screen shots of the State map showing which portions were closed. The first ten miles were beautiful rolling alongside the Elkhorn River. Then I reached the first closed section at Battle Creek, and returned to Route 275 – a busy highway that at least has wide, smooth shoulders to ride on. It was smooth rolling downwind, so I did not return to the Cowboy Trail (which was softer gravel here) right away. But in Oakdale, it looked like the trail cut a straighter line to Neligh than the road, and I was ready for a break from the traffic. I stopped to check my screenshot of the state map, and confirmed that this section was open. Signs on the trail said otherwise, but the state website had to be right, right? 


A mile down the trail there was tape across a trestle, and I ducked under it. The next trestle was more problematic: the approach was completely washed out by flood waters still roiling the bank. 

E3AD0ED3-6118-4F5C-BA56-18DBF935E737.jpegSo I had to backtrack and cut across a dirt farm road to get back to 275. It started to rain again, and I decided to treat myself to a night indoors at the Neligh Deluxe Motel – an old fashioned travel motel with tiny rooms but more personality than the various “Inns and Suites” I had been staying at.


22nd Leg – A Cross Wind Blows Me Off the Road But I Make the Missouri River Anyway

I made 73 miles today, to Lewis and Clark State Park in Onawa, Iowa, despite the wickedest winds I have encountered so far on this trip.
As promised, the morning brought heavy rains, so I slept in. But by 830, the rain let up and the weather looked clear, so I got up, struck the tent, and hung the tent up to dry in the breezes. There was even some sun poking through. Winds were forecast to be south south west at 20-30 mph.
A long line of RVs were lined up at the sewage dump station across from my site, as they headed home on this showery and windy Memorial Day. I hit the road at about 920. The first part of the ride was a breeze, as I headed North to resume I-175 in Lake View. The coffee shop there was packed, they seemed surprised I wanted coffee to go in this weather. I dropped the cup in the handlebar cup holder, stuck my metal straw in, the meandered through Lake View until I found my way back to 175.
Down the hill out of town I immediately started having trouble keeping the road in the strong crosswinds. I could barely stay up on the bike, and sometimes a gust would just spin my front wheel off to the right and point me straight down the grassy roadbank. I heard a sound familiar from offshore sailing – the sound of a gale shrieking in wire rigging – only the wires were the telephone wires. I struggled on, terrified of catching my wheel on the drop off from the pavement and falling left into traffic, like I fell yesterday. I put on my flashing taillight for visibility in the spitting rain and tried to take the lane, but I still could not steer straight and kept getting blown off the pavement.

I stopped about three miles out of town, to take a picture of the Boyer River bridge to add to my collection of every river crossing across the country. I realized that part of the problem was the tent on my front rack, which would catch the wind and turn my wheel. So I moved the tent to the rear rack. But now I had to get rolling again going up the hill from the river. I wanted to wait for a clear road to get my wobbly start, but every time I looked behind me there were headlights coming at me from behind. For the first time in the trip, i thought I might have to stop for the day. I thought I could ride a bike in any weather, but I simply could not ride my bike in this crosswind. But maybe, I could at least make it to Ida Grove, at about 30 miles. I could stop at the next town and sit somewhere out of the wind until conditions got better. Maybe I could bike into the evening when the winds calmed down and still make a motel in Onawa.
After trying, unsuccessfully, to get rolling straight a couple more times, I looked wistfully at the grain tanks and tree line at the top of the rise in the road. And I started to walk my bike. After all, I could still walk. And 2 mph is what I considered an acceptable pace on a steep hill (which this was not). And even if the tree line was not a town, there would be some shelter from the crosswinds there. So I walked a half mile up the hill. There was no town, and the grain tanks provided little relief from the wind – but the trees – beautiful merciful wonderful trees, did. All of a sudden I was biking in the calm again, rolling along at my ten mph pace. The trees came and went and the crosswind gusts came back, but never as fiercely as by the Boyer River. It turned into a normally adverse day instead of a impassable one.
When I got to the town of Odebolt, I did not stop after all, or in Arthur, either. I was looking forward to Ida Grove, where things surely would get better. After all, a grove is trees, and trees are shelter. And I knew 175 would start to follow the Maple River in Ida Grove, a major river which would surely have a valley with trees and lees.
I made Ida Grove at around one – a hard fought 25 miles at barely a seven mph pace. Ida Grove has castle turrets all over it for some reason. And a lighthouse. And I crossed the Maple River, but there was no wooded river valley. But as the road wound southwest out of Ida Grove and the wind veered to the northwest, the crosswind# became a quartering breeze and I started ticking off miles again.
In Danbury, at 45 miles, I stopped for a sandwich and a donut at the deserted BP QuickStop ($3.50). I checked the price of the Super 8 in Onawa and the mileage to the State Park, and decided it was worth a shot. When I planned this trip, I thought I would camp four nights out of five west of Pittsburgh. Hotels are expensive – even cheap hotels add up on a 45 day trip. And hotel stays have carbon impacts (can’t research this right now). And motel rooms are isolating and lonely. And I can get started earlier from a campsite for some reason.But so far I have actually been about 50-50 motels and camping. Camping just hasn’t worked out because of rainy and cold weather, lack of available camping near my daily mileage goal, or my leaking sleeping pad (replaced in Cedar Rapids). So I was hoping for another night in a state park.

As 175 ran south into the Loess Hills of western Iowa (the first actual hills I have seen since Pennsylvania), the breeze became even more favorable and the sky cleared to a blue background studded with cumulous clouds. I started spinning down the road at fifteen mph. Around one bend, I saw a field full of brilliant purple flowers – bluebells, I think. By 615 I was shopping for dinner at a real grocery store in Onawa with actual fresh vegetables, and by seven I pulled into Lewis and Clark State Park. The park is on an ancient oxbow of the Missouri River, and has a replica of the Lewis and Clark expedition keelboat. I picked out a waterfront site in the near empty campground.

So I think it is fair to say I have reached the Missouri River! Tomorrow I will cross it to Nebraska


21st Leg – A Rough Start to an Easy Century


The wind blew from the east, so I made another 100 miles today. Plus about five miles for detours to towns that were closed anyway and the Runtastic gps mileage tax.

img_5144I had a peaceful night, though I woke occasionally to the sound of owls, cattle lowing, and some coyotes howling very close by. A couple of times I thought the dawn twilight had arrived, but it was just the lone light bulb illuminating the desolate public park in the woods. The birds were not fooled, and when the dawn birds began to sing I knew it was really dawn.

My left hand is still weak, but it has been getting a little stronger – I like to think it is because of all the exercises I have come up with. I can work the left gear shift with my fingertips again. Every evening I go through the routine of unwrapping the guitar (it’s wrapped in my sleeping pad) and trying to fret a few chords, then giving up in frustration. I almost put the guitar in a box and sent it home when I passed the FedEx place in Cedar Rapids. But that seemed like an expensive option for a worn guitar. This morning, after a night’s rest, I could fret a C chord, so maybe there is still hope.

But I could not waste this morning’s easterly breeze on guitar playing, so I packed up and headed west. I did not have a clear plan for the day, given that I had no internet access to figure out camping or lodging options. So I just set out to make some westerly miles, assuming I would find a cell connection or WiFi on the way somewhere. My goal is to make a Century whenever the wind blows from the east, to make up for the inevitable westerly headwind days to come.

The locals had warned me that the first part of the ride would be rough. First, I had two miles of rutted dried mud roads to deal with. Then, the “paved” route 65 was being repaved, so it was in the grooved, roughened state the scrape it into. This was supposed to last another 5 miles or so. The mud road was hard enough to be smooth riding, but the ruts could be a problem. At one point, as my front wheel tried to climb out of a rut, it skidded sideways, dumping me on my left side in the gravel, stuck to my toe clip. My left knee, thigh and arm all got muddy scrapes. I picked myself up, and road the remaining 100 yards to the paved road, then cleaned the scrapes with a napkin soaked in my alcohol stove fuel.

I had little idea of where the towns would be or whether they would have services. I just knew that 65 was paved, it went west, and eventually reached Iowa 175, which was even more paved, and I could follow to the Nebraska border eventually. After pedaling twenty miles without my morning coffee, I saw relief ahead – trees and a water tower meant town. There was even a couple jogging on this Sunday morning – surely a town with joggers would have coffee, right? I greeted them, and asked if coffee could be had in town; the answer was “no, not in Randall” but apparently there was coffee in a town 5 miles south. But I wasn’t going south. I asked if there was any coffee if I kept going west. They said no. They wished me luck, and I pedaled west.

There was no privy at the county park I stayed at, and, besides lacking a shovel I didn’t want to dig a cat hole in a community park, so this morning I figured I could relieve myself when I found coffee. As the miles rolled by with no relief in sight, I remembered a bit of doggerel that my elementary school friend David Lynn was fond of – it went something like this: “When days were old, and knights were bold/And toilets were not yet invented/ They dropped their load beside the road / And went off quite contented.” The logic of this school rhyme eventually won out, and I added my nutrient leadings to the fertilizer runoff of central Iowa.

Eventually, D65 ended and teed at Route 17, not 175. I had no idea whether to go north or south, and still no internet connection. So I stopped and pulled out my ipad, since I had at least take some screen shots of the Iowa highway map at the hotel the night before last. It took a while to find the screenshot of the right place, and I went north two miles to find Route 175 west. I also looked at end of the day options, and Black Hawk Lake State Park looked promising, if I could get a site on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. With no cell phone connection, I couldn’t call ahead, though.

I img_5151Stratford, at mile 40, finally had coffee at the gas stop. I spent a long time in the rest room cleaning up from my mishaps, then headed west with my sipping cup of coffee, thinking that with 40 miles under my belt I could soon start looking for a lunch place with WiFi. Surely a town called Dayton, home of the Dayton Rodeo, would have a lunch place. But they were all closed on this Sunday, and I did not want to succumb to lunch at the Casey’s General Store chain. I detoured a mile to Gowrie, same story. Also in Farnhamville, where a sign invited the traveler to turn right and visits the Lucky Pig pub and grill, quite closed. The American Legion members, in full dress for a memorial ceremony, told me that the only thing that would be open today anywhere was a Casey’s the next one in 8 miles. So I stopped to pick up a picnic lunch at Casey’s General in Lohrville. When I asked the clerk about camping at Black Hawk, he said he didn’t know, but that there was public wifi at Casey’s. So I switched my order to a sit down lunch, and got caught up with the internet. Black Hawk reserves some sites for “walk ups”, so there was some chance, at least. With no phone signal I still could not phone ahead.

As promised by Owen yesterday, today’s ride was mostly quite flat, except where the road dropped into deep river valleys like the Des Moines river. So it was easy riding, mostly. I saw a few large hog CAFOs – some quite unlucky pigs. You really can hear their squeals of anguish all the way from the road.

584552E2-E9B2-4698-AD2E-76F94FC952A4.jpegAt mile 95, I went shopping at the last chance before the state park – the “Sparky’s Market” at the Sinclair station in Auburn. The healthiest dinner I could put together was Kraft mac and cheese plus a can of green peas. But at least they had 24 oz Bid singles. 

The traveler at the mart was really dubious about me finding a campsite at the State Park – he was coming from there and it looked really full. But when I got there, there were plenty of empty sites to choose from – not lakefront, perhaps, but perfectly adequate. And four bars of AT&T service, which I have not seen before in Iowa. A hot shower and a change of clothes is a nice treat for the end of a good day.


Thunderstorms forecast overnight and tomorrow morning, and headwinds, so I may get a late start.