“You’re entering some pretty godforesaken country you know. There’s nothing out there.”
-A man that sat down uninvited at my table while eating breakfast at Just A Little Small Town Grill as I was leaving Montezuma, IA after I told him I was going to ride through Nebraska on my way to Colorado
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I left the Lincoln outskirts with more jitters than I’d had at the beginning of a long day since I started riding in New York. I was pedaling into the vast, empty, flat farmland of the interior of Nebraska, and I didn’t know what to expect. The heat looked like it would be off the charts, I knew I’d be pushing into heavy winds, and I was entering the least populated patch of country since starting the tour. Additionally I hadn’t really heard any touring stories about Nebraska. That’s part of the reason I chose to include it but I’ve come to appreciate just a bit of foreknowledge at this point.
The goal for the night was Aurora, NE, 75 miles due west of Lincoln, all along US-34. It was to be a longer day than I’d like but the next two were going to be shorter, and there was a free campground in the town.
The day started pretty much like this after breakfast at Camp A Way:
Long, flat, desolate. But it wasn’t so flat. There were some hills to reckon with coming out of Lincoln, and they didn’t stop until making it to Seward after about 22 miles. I was greeted with a bunch of flags:
Not sure why the town felt the need to put up a flag from every state in the Union, but alright.
I stopped for some brunch at Cafe On The Square and the decor worked for me immediately:
Across the street I got a Gatorade since it would be a while till the next town, and the heat was building. Quite the center of commerce:
I pedaled out of town along 34 and came to a bridge over Big Blue River…
…which was neither big nor blue:
The wind wasn’t pushing against me too bad at this point but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. The heat, on the other hand, was slowing me down and quickening my exhaustion.
Eventually I was finally able to get a picture of a type of farm equipment that had been perplexing me and intimidating me since Iowa:
I have no idea what these are. I just know they’re massive, loud, and a pretty common fixture on the back roads of the Prairie.
Since I was riding through nothing but farmland the intricacies of farm activity became the prime scenery. Like irrigation sprinklers in full force:
But for the most part there was nothing around for miles. Cornfields as far as the eye could see with grain silos and occasional farmhouses and prefab metal barns full of heavy farm equipment. I suspect a lot of us have driven through this before but on a bike in the baking sun for hours and hours it almost becomes surreal.
Even the smallest thing could stand out among the unending fields, like this sign, which I don’t understand:
Me not understanding things in the country I was riding though kind of became the trend. I realized I have no idea how farming actually works. Like, what is this?
The terrain was littered with these generators, and they each emanated a smell of gasoline that contrasted with the much more predominant smells of manure, fertilizers, and chemicals (I eventually figured out they’re generators to power irrigation systems, but at first I had no idea).
There also seems to be a lot of research going on out here, especially relating to crop hybrids:
The day was wearing me down. Temperatures were hovering around 100, the miles were long, and wherever I stopped I was treated very poorly by locals. I was viewed with suspicion and stared at, which I’ve gotten used to, but generally I acknowledge the perpetrators with a smile and it’s returned. Not in Nebraska. I had never felt a colder reception, and it was a very strong feeling that was off putting to say the least.
34 took a turn, and with it, the wind was hitting me square on. This came at a bad time, because I had been slow and the sun was hitting me square on as well as it was slowly making its way down in the western sky. I was starting to get cranky. But then an airplane!
The airport excited me because there was a place to prop up my bike, stretch the legs, and look at something other than corn and dirt. But I couldn’t stand long because four or five fliess would latch on to the skin around my ankles and bite me, and they HURT. The only thing I could do was keep moving.
But that was beginning to be a problem. The pavement changed and then I got these seams every 50 feet or so:
They’re not fun to ride over in general but on a fully loaded bike they’re very uncomfortable with a heavy BA-BUMP that occasionally made me slip on the road. Another issue is I was developing saddle sores for the first time since I was 16 and they caused a great deal of pain. All I could do was just keep on keeping on while trying to distract myself with happier thoughts. It only did so much though. I was wincing in pain as I pedaled through the 100 degree heat. After a few miles the pain was intense and I had to stand up on the pedals (not something I do a lot) to give my body some momentary relief.
The heat and pavement kept beating me up for a while:
Until I made it to Hampton, and a lot of cows:
That ran off as soon as they saw me:
Just like their human counterparts, Nebraskan cows wanted nothing to do with me.
All these small Nebraskan towns (“small” is an overstatement here; there weren’t more than a few hundred inhabitants in a lot of them) seem to revolve around a grain elevator. I started thinking of them as rural Nebraskan skyscrapers, the centers of commerce in their respective places, just like high rises in cities.
The last 10 miles of the day were the hardest, and I started to feel like I was losing it. I actually hallucinated that a line of tar on the road was a snake trying to bite me. I swerved to the left, lucky that these roads are barren without a car to run into.
I made it to Aurora on my last legs. I really wasn’t in good shape, and I was worried about setting up camp in the heat and evening temperatures dipping to a mere 90. I saw a hotel on the main drag and asked how much a room was. $50. I couldn’t afford it but I took it. I needed rest, a shower, and to air out my saddle sores. I was out cold and recharging for the next day into Hastings.