I thought I’d have a great night of sleep in Nishna Bend, leading into a fresh ride out of Iowa. But not so much. I’ve actually had very few good nights of sleep on this tour. Most nights I’m lucky to get four or five hours of shuteye. Why? I’m constantly in a different, foreign place…at least that’s the theory. But often there’s some sort of external aggravator that forces consciousness. In the case of my night outside Harlan, IA, it was a strong wind that screamed through the trees of the wildlife preserve. It also screamed through my hammock, making the nylon flap rapidly and violently in random, unevenly spaced bursts. At times it was so loud it hurt my ears… And this is from a guy who’s seen Iggy Pop on stage. After two hours of trying desperately in vain to pass out I angrily took down the hammock and just slept on the ground of the picnic shelter I was in, and a few hours later woke up to this:
Almost worth it.
I was feeling good about getting off the toughest roads I’ve ever ridden, getting out of Iowa, and into a rest day in Omaha. But Iowa wasn’t done testing me. I had to grind through five tough miles of thick gravel that had my wheels spinning and sliding out from under me to make it to Shelby, where I’d catch paved roads to Railroad Highway, a long, flat stretch into Council Bluffs before crossing the Missouri River into Omaha. Giant bugs flew into my face out of nowhere, and the ominous black birds from the previous days were circling my head again. I pushed hard and made it to Shelby, an I-80 exit town. I stopped in to the Corn Crib for some Gatorade and was greeted by a fake person and a dry erase board:
But I was also greeted by a very friendly staff who seemed tickled by my story, and very helpful in their efforts to get me south to Omaha without the gravel. It was refreshing getting some good conversation and small town hospitality after a few days of neither.
I pushed on, but soon recognized a problem. My phone was losing battery power pretty rapidly and it wouldn’t charge either from my dynohub or my Mophie battery pack, no matter what I tried.
Keeping the phone going has been a constant struggle on the tour, but this was more alarming. The trouble I had in Delaware coming out of Philadelphia a million years ago made me think there was corosion inside the charging port, and I started to realize the last leg my phone was on was probably being cut out from under it. I brainstormed my options and realized I’d probably have to get a new phone or at least have it serviced at the Apple Store in Omaha, which would take time I don’t have. I turned the phone off to preserve the juice and memorized the relatively easy route into Omaha (memorizing routes isn’t my strong suit… a sad reality on this endeavor). But this meant no pictures for you or me. Oh well. Onward.
Railroad Highway gave me my first prolonged downhill in days, and I was cruising along at a good clip, baking in the Prairie sun. The wind pushed against me but at this point it’s something of a gift; it may make me pedal a bit harder, but I’m used to it by now and more importantly it gives me some relief from the sun.
Railroad Highway lead me into US-6, a road I have ridden in portions since entering Iowa. I had a long steep climb on the outskirts of Council Bluffs that beat me down but I then flew down the western side, which took me to a bridge that gave me the first signs of Omaha:
I was excited at another milestone city, but the feeling was tempered by nervousness about the phone situation. I meandered through Council Bluffs (it didn’t impress me. Pretty run down place) and then made it to the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, which took me into Nebraska, the second state I had never previously been to before beginning this thing.
The bridge gave me a glimpse of the stadium where the College World Series was being held, which I soon learned was a bigger deal for the city than I would have thought. I’m no sports guy. Even still, it’s part of the town’s culture and has been since the 50s, so it was cool to see.
I weaved through a riverfront park and saw some impressive public art…
…before making my way to my hosts just west of downtown Omaha.
My hosts were Cathy and Roger, parents of another solo cross-country rider I’ve been talking to intermittently online for a few months, Megan. When she learned I would be rolling through her home town she told me she’d help me out with a place to stay, and did she ever. Her parents were great from the moment I rolled up to the door. It was clear to me that they had a pretty good idea what I’ve gone through from following their daughter the past month as she tackles the Northern Tier, and it’s hard to overstate how comforting that understanding is.
After a quick shower Roger drove me out to the Apple Store in the burbs, which meant more novelty in a car! I had a great time talking to him, learning about the city in the Plains he calls home. We took a slight detour past Warren Buffet’s house where I got a bad picture of the heavy security:
And a better picture of the house itself:
Definitely a swanky house, but you’d expect something more ostentatious from a billionaire, no?
And then the Apple Store…
It was packed, as these stores always are, and I tried to stress to the green-shirted staff the severity of my situation. I still had to wait 45 minutes to get a technician, and Roger and I headed over to Cheeseburger In Paradise for a coke. It was disorienting being around a bunch of chain stores and restaurants. The few suburbs I’ve been through have been passed quickly without stopping. It’s mostly been urban cores and far more rural backwaters.
Back at Apple I learned that the metal bits in the charging port had rusted and there was no fix. This is exactly what I thought I’d hear, but the anxiety was still palpable. I was armed with a response: if this situation didn’t have a solution then I was done with Apple. I told him if I needed to spend $500 on a new phone anyway I was going with the iPhone’s waterproof competitor and not looking back, and I meant every word of it. The tech went back into the depths behind the white sheen of commerce, and after a few minutes emerged with a new phone and good news: the damage wasn’t covered under warranty but my problem was unique and severe, so manager approval was given for a free new phone. All my 1000 photos would be transferred and all I would lose is my dubiously acquired music that is safe on my hard drive back in Cincinnati.
Roger and I headed back into town and picked Cathy up for a party I made them late for. I felt bad but they assured me it wasn’t a problem. Cathy’s coworker and friend was getting ready to move out to Washington State and having a get together. I was tired but tagged along. It was great being at a gathering but I felt a bit quiet. I tried the fly on the wall approach and talked to people a bit but my mind was heavy with fatigue from the road, apprehension about the empty Plains ahead of me, and anxiety residue from the phone. Their friends took an interest in my ride and offered congratulations and support. It meant a lot to me. It had been some time since I got an “atta boy” other than in Iowa City with Andrew and Brian and Des Moines with Ben.
Back at the house we visited for a while before I started dozing, and then soon enough I was out. I was very happy to have slept for a solid eight hours before waking up in my rest day, which I finally spent doing just that. Resting.
It’s no slam against Omaha but there was nothing I just had to do there. I mostly wanted to ride through it and get a sense of the vibe having already driven the length of Kansas in the past. So I spent yesterday doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. And it was fantastic. This blog may be filled with pictures of empty rural roads and trails but my days are fuller than they ever have been. I haven’t had a day to veg out since Pittsburgh and I felt it. I napped, I got my replacement phone situated, I did laundry, I had breakfast and dinner with Cathy and Roger. I basically only left the house to hang my sleeping bag up on the clothesline to dry, which it did very quickly in the Nebraskan heat. I went to bed relatively early, then woke up this morning to head to Lincoln.