I awoke to someone kicking my tent, and something about morning, but it was still dark, my watch said 5:30. It was cold for a morning in June as I untangled myself from one of my Mother’s home made quilts which I had folded around myself like a taco. I’d decided the quilt would be better then a 20 dollar Wal-Mart sleeping bag, and I think I was right, but I would have been much more comfortable with something to insulate myself from the ground. I had no air mattress or sleeping pad.
JC and Jake watched with amusement as I tried in vain to figure out how I got all my stuff into my bags. The most difficult part was the tent, Wal-Mart tents come in handy little canvas bags that are nearly impossible to make the tent fit into. The plan was to be on the bikes and riding by 6:30 but I had blown that out of water.
Eventually I got my gear stowed and we were on the move. At this point in my cycling career I thought that cycling specific clothing was a laugh. I had sprung for a couple pair of bib shorts for this trip, and I had SPD mountain bike shoes and gloves, but everything else was just 100% cotton. The morning was cool enough to need a long sleave shirt. It’s funny how much of this ride I can remember, I guess the first day in brand new place and all the excitement of my first tour ingrained it in my memory. For instance I remember cruising down this amazing road that cut through Wildcat Bluff and catching up to this gentleman who had mounted some weird bar attachments to his road bike so that he could sit bolt upright. I pulled in tight behind him and it was like following a semi truck. Eventually he noticed me in his rear view mirror and started giving me dirty looks so I slowed down.
It warmed up and turned into the perfect day to ride a bike, light westerly winds pushed us towards the famous Chimney Rock landmark where I stopped for a photograph. The photo was taken by a guy on a bike that I just couldn’t believe. This guy was riding an old girls ten speed complete with pink bar wrap. He had used duck tape to secure items to his bike which I found hilarious despite the fact that my long sleave shirt was tied around my waist. The next day I would come to regret my thoughts concerning this gentleman.
I felt really good on this day it was 73 miles which was what I considered a long ride, but not a killer. I don’t remember much about Bridgeport, but we camped on the football field. I remember one of the tour officials getting on the loud speaker and announcing, “If you need a helping hand you’ll find one at the end of each arm.” Funny unless your arm ends in a hook. I remember that we rode our bikes a short way to the North Platte river and swam in the shallow waters. It was a strange experience as the water moved incredibly fast and was a major regional river, yet it looked little more than a significant Southern Illinois creek.
The next day was a 106 miles to Arthur and I started in high spirits. I left my companions and began drafting a group of women who passed us despite JC’s warning of the long day. I didn’t say with them long and eventually I reconnected with the guys 65 miles into the ride. Around noon we stopped at a local diner for a huge hamburger. From that point on I was useless. For the next 40 miles I struggled to maintain a 12-14 mph pace along the otherwise scenic banks of the McConaughy Lake. JC told me there was little he could do for me and rode off leaving me to struggle alone. Eventually my friend on the junk girls ten speed passed me. I struggled to hold his wheel at a whopping 8 mph. I eventually had to stop, I couldn’t keep going. The guy on the junk girls bike with ducktape all over it was faster then me. I rolled into Arthur at dusk with 108 miles on my bike computer.
The third day was 85 miles from Arthur to Arnold. I didn’t ride, and neither did Jake. We were both so exhausted from the previous day’s efforts that we slept in and hitched a ride with our friends in the van. JC rode, he was fully capable of putting huge miles on his bike and besides that there was only room for two of us to hitch. That evening in Arnold I felt great having had a day to recover. The locals treated us to hay rides all over town and into the surrounding country side. I took the last pictures of the trip this evening. I don’t remember why I didn’t take any pictures for the rest of the trip but if I had to guess it would have been because of a dead battery and left behind charger.
Either this day or the next I broke a spoke on my wheel. There was a bike shop on the ride and a mechanic. He was crazy, I mean he was a super awesome guy but he was nuts. He had so much enthusiasm, he was just bouncing off the walls. You could tell that he lived for this. He did so much for everyone. I took my wheel to him and told him I broke spokes on a regular basis always on the drive side. He started plucking the spokes and listened to their tones. “This is a great wheel but it’s out of whack, way too tight.” He told me for 30 dollars he would replace the spoke and make it stop breaking spokes. I thought that was kind of high but I went ahead with it. That wheel never broke a spoke again, never even came out of true for as long as I owned it.
Honestly from this point on the rest of the trip is a fog. I can’t remember the location and time of things about the next 3 days, but I do remember several items.
I know it rained hard in one town and I opted to sleep inside on a gym floor one night, which was good and bad. I was dry and the polished wood floor wasn’t completely uncomfortable, but waking up in the middle of the night and hearing 100 people snoring was kind of strange.
I know a tornado passed through near the area we were riding in once but it didn’t seem like anyone thought it was a big deal.
I learned that cotton sucks for cycling. It rained hard one cool day and I got completely soaked in all my 100% cotton sweatpants and sweatshirts, imagine the fun of dragging ten pound cold soaked cotton all day. JC told me that “cotton kills” I decided maybe clothes designed for cycling weren’t so stupid after all.
Nebraska was so strange. You would see some trees and a water tower in the distance and come across a town about ever 10-15 miles. The town would consist of 5 houses, a post office and an empty brick building on the square.
I remember that one day, maybe the 5th day, the night i had slept in the gym it had rained all night and looked like it was going to rain all day. JC, Jake and I all three faked having a cold so a SAG driver would give us a ride to the next town. We spent the next several hours riding around in the back of a box truck and picking up soaking wet riders off the side of the road.
The People were incredible. I’ve done a few other tours but I remember the people of Nebraska the best. They were few and so glad to see us, often times when we showed up our 600 riders would double the population of the town. They threw huge diners for us every night, tons of great food for 5 bucks. They could have fleeced us, I mean where else are we going to go?
There was no doubt that the ride was a long tough slog, 7 days of riding, well over 500 miles, no rest days. Yes we cheated, some of us more then others, but it was still tough. Still, Bike Ride Across Nebraska hooked me on bike touring. It was an eye opening experience seeing new territory by bike. If you’ve ever considered bike touring joining a ride like BRAN is a great way to do it.