Day 42: Riding through Southern Nebraska and getting out of it, vol. 1

I woke up around 5:30am in Aurora to beat the heat and wind (not the first time you’ve heard it, I know, but when I actually succeed at it it feels like a victory worth documenting), feeling much better than when I fell asleep. It’s amazing what a night of AC can do for me after days and days of sweltering heat. It was a perfect time to catch the sunrise with a foreground of a phone booth with no phone that said “pop machine” where there was none.

I love seeing this stuff!

I wanted to be on the road by 6:30 or 7. Did that happen? Nope. I got sucked into the morning news on NBC coming out of Hastings, my destination for the night. Since no one wanted to talk to me I figured it would be some sort of way to get a vibe of what I was riding through. The adjectives “quaint” and “antiquated” come to mind. The big story was a visit to the Hastings Fire Department where the Fire Chief made sure everyone knew the rules for fireworks with July 4th coming up. Again with Nebraskans and their obsession with rules…

I made it out of the hotel around 8 and visited the latest entity in my preoccupation with regional gas stations for Clif bars and water, Nebraska’s own Pump & Pantry, complete with a plastic, anthropomorphized wolf (or is it a dog?) on the roof:

Clearly I didn’t dig Nebraska (don’t worry, it’ll get worse). But I did like this chain. Lower prices and super cheap Nebraska-grown bags of popcorn. Much better than Casey’s General Store, whose footprint on the Prairie I noticed was waning.

Just when I needed and least expected it several locals engaged me in conversation as they got their coffee on the way to their day. I genuinely appreciated the well wishes. It made me realize how much I enjoy and get energized by small town gas station talk. It had been a while since I got it. 

A man started talking to me and I could immediately tell he’d had some of his own adventures, and he seemed a lot more chill and laid back than his fellow statespeople. He told me he had through-hiked the Appalachian Trail at one point, and we shared a knowing look and nod to each other as if to acknowledge the respect for the dedication and fortitude an epic endurance-heavy adventure requires. I felt like we were in a club, and in effect, we are. It’s been a recurring theme that’s come up – few I talk to, be they close friends or strangers, really know what it’s like to do what I’m doing. In that moment, he got it. And I truly felt comforted. He was Alex, the owner and head brewer at Prairie Pride Brewing Company. He gave me a Gatorade, wished me well, and went about his day. Thank you Alex. I won’t forget it.

I pedaled south out of town to begin a short 50-mile day that would take me southwest in a series of right angles on gridded farm roads towards Hastings. I happened by yet another irrigation sprinkler, but this one was passed with perfect timing: 

Cornfield sprinkler rainbow!

A bit further down the road I noticed the first street sign I think I’ve ever seen with quotation marks on it:

I couldn’t help but wonder… So if you send something to a house on this road, is it P Road or ‘P’ Road? This also highlights something I’ve noticed since entering Iowa: if it’s creative, original, or historical road names you want, this is not the part of the country to be in. Quite a few are just a series of numbers like “County Road F32” or “7300 Road”. The alphabet streets are heavily used as well, and they’d continue to be.

Further down the road I saw a plane flying in circles, and it would take nose dives down along the crops before pulling back up, doing a 180, and repeating it:

A crop duster! At least I think so. I got very excited by this. I pulled off the road to watch it for a while:

It had tanks on its underbelly and would spray who-knows-what all over the crops, just a few feet above them, then pull back up to spray somewhere else. I was mesmerized by this. It also reiterated how little I know about agriculture. But it sure was fun to watch.

I was approaching the end of another right angle and about to make it onto the next when I saw something else that seems indicative of where I’m at:

Rural Nebraskans really have a thing for the dead. Lots of cemeteries in these parts.

And then it was off the pavement and onto gravel. Again.

Am I out of line by being completely baffled that the US has this many paved roads in 2016? I really had no idea before I started riding the region, and I’m no closer to understanding it now than when my wheels first got on the gravel in Iowa.

These cows didn’t mind as much as those from the day before in Hampton:

The gravel was a mixed bag (hehe). The wind was coming strong out of the north, and I was going south. On the southbound portions I’d be flying at 25mph (a lot faster than usual), make a right turn, and then have to lean heavily into the wind in order to stay upright and not fall over. The southbound portions were a blast, then I’d hit an intersection, and see this:


Very thick and loose, and I had to dance on the bike to keep my balance through it. But I left my mark on these roads:

I kept pedaling till I made it to US-34 which would take me right into Hastings. I just beat a train:

There were no gates to block the tracks so cars just kept going through within inches of the engine. I imagined the drivers doing this with indignation. Nebraska…

More agricultural industry:

Whatever this place was (there were no signs), it was much more massive than the picture suggests.

I’ve seen all sorts of things on the side of the road since May. But in this territory, corn is king:

I made it into Hastings and looked at my lodging options. There were a few campgrounds but the heat was still pretty intense, so I asked at another Pump & Pantry about cheap hotels. There were a couple right down the road that weren’t much more than the campground so I went for it. It was me, some cobwebs, and dusty plywood walls for the afternoon and evening. I took a nap and cleaned up in time to watch the Democrats stage their sit in over gun control legislation at the Capitol Building where I was just over a month before. I’ve got all sorts of thoughts on that but I’d rather not go there. Plus, this post is long enough as it is.

-J

3 thoughts on “Day 42: Riding through Southern Nebraska and getting out of it, vol. 1

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