Day 43: Riding through Southern Nebraska and getting out of it, vol. 2

I was rested and ready to hit the road for Holdrege early in the morning, graced with another beautiful sunrise:

Early rising clearly has perks beyond cooler weather and lighter wind. 

I was also able to see a creative repurposing of the swimming pool:

This wasn’t an isolated bit of landscape architecture. People fill up holes with dirt and plants that were never intended for them all over the country. 

And then it was back on 34 for Holdrege, another straight shot down the freeway. 

I was feeling great on the bike as soon as I got on it. The wind wasn’t assaulting me for a change and it was to be a much cooler day than those previous.

A few miles out of town I pulled off for a “natural break” and noticed some signage:

I had no idea I was on the remnants of the Oregon Trail, but was excited to learn it. Heading west against the odds is as American as apple pie. I’ve thought about it often as I’ve pedaled along, but doing it where so many have before gave me a wee case of the feels.

I was zooming down 34. The wind was at my side, just enough to not slow me down. Nature being on my side (literally! Haha) meant I was able to feel how strong my legs have gotten from the thousands of miles in them. A smile of contentment was on my face hidden under my overgrown, sun bleached beard for many miles, and it was the first time that was the case since cruising through Chicago.

Hartwell had some “ads” up for Minden down the road:

And then another further along for Pioneer Village, complete with cows catching shade underneath:

The day was going great, but it was about to get a lot better. I had been listening to a lot of back episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast since riding through Iowa, because hearing the master interviewer do his thing helped tamper the loneliness. But I needed music, and I opted for The National’s recent 59-song Grateful Dead tribute, Day of the Dead. Something clicked. This is a ridiculously good collection of the band’s finest, all by contemporary artists. The tracks are free of the Dead’s improvisation (for the most part), showcase how timeless and essential their songs are, and how they’re firmly planted in American mythology. The reimagined classics surprisingly put me in a headspace that brought everything into focus: the sky was huge above me, the heavy agriculture of the Prairie was evidence of how far I’d come from the urban Atlantic coast, and I remembered that each stroke of the pedals was bringing me that much further west… And that much closer to Boulder, where I’ll see these songs played live by the original counterculture road warriors themselves. I rode with that joy and satisfaction for hours. It was up there with the Pumpkinvine Trail and finishing the C&O trail as periods where I was working on a different level on the bike. I won’t forget it any time soon.

It was mildly interrupted when I made it to Minden and its Pioneer Village, which has had six million visitors since the 50s, as ads highlighted:

I stopped in to check out the gift shop. I wanted a small sticker for the bike to remember the transcendence on the road surrounding the tourist dive, but no dice. Since I hadn’t done anything touristy in a bit (and with a true love of kitsch) I asked how much tickets to the museum were. $14.50. Uh, no. So all I saw is all you’ll get to see:

Apparently this is some sort of privately curated toast to human progress. Time was on my side and I would have loved to see it but not for that price. Onward….

Just like the train! I’be been riding along train tracks since this thing started. Except for days I’m on canal towpaths I’m generally riding parallel to train tracks at least once a day. Hearing the loud, constant roar of the wheels on the tracks over my music did me well as an exciting interruption to the indifferent fields around me.

And then I saw a sign I’d been waiting all day to see, having scoped out my day on the map in the morning:

Bring on the funk!

Ever the George Clinton and Parlianent Funkadelic fan, I was ecstatic about this, doing fist pumps to myself and saying “yes!” Out loud. I started grinding out on the pedals to get to Funk sooner. 

Do you like water with your funk?

The Funk grain elevator, funkiest of them all…

Funky signage!

Oh yeah baby. Lovin’ the Funk!

A few more miles and I was into Holdrege, and I first passed the airfield:

No offense to Dr. Brewster, but what’s a flying doctor?

Given how good the riding was getting there, the early arrival time (2:30pm), and the brick streets and old buildings, I was excited to get into town. Plus they had a public campground right in town where I could camp cheap and safe:

I know I stick out like a sore thumb in small town America, so I try to play by the rules. So I checked out those rules:

I immediately started cursing Nebraska and their rules, but quickly gained composure and pedaled over to City Hall to talk to them about it. I may have felt great but 50 miles on the bike is 50 miles and I wasn’t about to spend money on a hotel room in a town with a prejudice against tents (and for no good reason).

Was City Hall helpful? Only in terms of getting my blood boiling. No tents, no exceptions, and it was made very clear to me that there were no tents allowed in any city park. I told them I was only there to learn about their town and spend money in it. I also said that Nebraska was full of the most unfriendly people I had met crossing the country and received far more hospitality in New York City (trying to play into the stereotype of small town intimidation of the big bad city). I stormed out the door looking for options.

There was a state park in Alma on a lake 25 miles south with a campground. It was going to be a breakfast stop the next day coming into Kansas, but it seemed I’d get there early. I hit the road and didn’t look back. 

I’m not stretching my truth here. This sign was ten miles down the road. 

The wind was blowing hard out of the south and I just pushed through, fueled by a waning anger at Holdrege. I made it to the campground and was greeted by another hissing deer:

The tent went up and I rested after my third 80-mile day, hoping that Kansas the next day would be kinder… And oh was it!

-J

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