I had been a professional teacher for 3 years, with summers free and an interest in cycling and yet I’d never done a bike tour. In fact I hadn’t even been riding much. Maybe it took me a few years to recover from working and getting through college, or maybe I was just lazy, but in the spring of 2oo5 I was riding. I was invited, or maybe invited myself, to go along with my friend JC on one of his yearly bike tours. I had heard about these week long bike extravaganza for as long as I’d known JC, which had been about 12 years. The idea of riding a bike for a week with a bunch of other people sounded really fun and really hard. JC convinced me I could do it, so I signed up for Bike Ride Across Nebraska 2005.
BRAN is a cross state tour, you park on one end and a bus will take you across the state and you ride back. One of the tricky parts is getting your bike across. That year BRAN required that you arrive at the East end with your bike in a box. This was incredibly important, it was implied that if you showed up without a box for your bike you would be slapped around and laughed at. Along with me, JC was also bringing his Nephew Jake who had done a bike tour with JC in the past but hadn’t rode a bike in a long time. Jake was young and tough so this wasn’t considered a problem. What was a problem was getting the three of us and three boxed up bikes to Waterloo Nebraska. The solution was taking JC’s F-150 farm truck. I’m not talking about today’s big work trucks which are like 4 door jacked up stretch limos. This was the real deal, a work truck.
On Friday June 3rd the three of us spent the next 9 hours very close together and the truck performed like a champ getting us to Omaha. One of the major topics of discussion that kept coming up was about a high school where the yearbook had been confiscated when it was discovered that students throughout the book were photographed making an obscene gesture with their hands called “the shocker.” To keep my blogs PG rating I won’t go into details on what “the shocker” is but if you’re curious look it up. It was the gift that kept on giving, we couldn’t stop laughing every time the shocker came up, and it came up a lot.
Somewhere around Omaha we me met JC’s friend from Louisiana named Lep and spent the night in a motel. Lep, his wife and their daughter were going to be on the ride with us and the daughter would be driving offering us the sweet promise of a bailout, though we assured each other we wouldn’t need it. In the hotel I gave JC some gas money which probably covered the cost of driving across Omaha and slept on the floor. We arrived at a school in Waterloo NE, where we turned over our bike boxes and boarded a bus for the other side of Nebraska. It took about the same time to ride the bus across Nebraska as it did to get there from Illinois. It seemed like torture, probably because we couldn’t carry on and flash the shocker at every passing car.
Eventually we arrived at Kimball and I knew I was “in it.” I mean I knew that I was really far from home. Far Western Nebraska is totally unlike anywhere I’d been. There were no trees, in every direction you could see for 20 miles endless rolling green hills broken up by the occasional eroded hillside. Kimball had a few thousand people but in this area it was a bustling metropolis. The shop building of the school had become the workshop where a few hundred cardboard boxes were laying around. We found our boxes and began to reassemble our bikes which essentially just meant turning the handlebars straight and putting the pedals back on. JC and Jake’s bikes turned a few heads as they were both recumbents, bikes with the pedals out in front and chairs instead of saddles, kind of like riding a lawn chair down the road.
In the process of twisting my handlebars I had snapped the wire on my bicycle computer. I looked around the shop and found a soldering iron and repaired my wire. A teacher from the school came up and I thought he was about to yell at me for messing with their stuff but when he saw what I was doing he stated his approval and reminded me to put the iron back up. This encounter was typical. the people in Nebraska were self sufficient, and seemed to admire a person who would just do it. Meanwhile the cardboard bike boxes were being tossed on a huge bonfire and crowds gathered around to watch it burn.
There was to be a rider meeting in the gym and we arrived fashionable late to find every seat taken. A guy known as “The Bran Man” jumped around the gym floor and lead the throngs in a rousing chourus of the “The Bran Song.” “Have I joined a cult?” Over the next 15 minutes those who had rode BRAN before were recognized. This was the 25th edition and there was a guy who had rode everyone along with many people who had rode 20, 15, 10, and 5 times. For many of these people this wasn’t just a bike ride, it was an institution. That night we slept on the lawn around the school. The wind kept pushing my cheap Wal-Mart tent down until it hit me on the face and the temperatures kept dropping. What have I got myself into?