Archive for the ‘Midwest Logs’ Category

Dan’s view from Nebraska

June 28, 2008

First, about biking (’cause that’s what we do here). A few hard days of riding have put us in Nebraska. Starting with a tough 90 mile day from Casper to the Nebraska border. Great start, no traffic, smooth pavement, generous shoulders and a fine tailwind. We went through Glenrock WY, yet another small town that has it’s act together.¬†Taking a short¬†lift on I-25 until US20¬†split away, we set out again pounding our way to Lusk.¬†The bikers were¬†feeling the urge to reach the NE border that day¬†so we left others to find the night’s accomodations and we pressed on for the next 20 miles.¬†We were greeted with a horror show of bad roads, bad shoulders and a dicey strong cross wind. The last five miles to the border were into the wind, cold and wretched pavement. Next day, at the border, we said farewell to my sister Lyss, her daughter Margaret and family and a friend. We¬†treasured¬†their company¬†as they were with us most of Wyoming. Margaret’s son, Peter A. (Bubba), finishing off the Wyoming leg strong with a fine, gutty ride the last day!

So, we crossed into Nebraska, the three of us and started to enjoy slightly better pavement but a building NNW wind was causing problems. I could really bore you with details (if you’ve read this far you’re interested) but; let me say we all¬†had something akin to “enlightenment” when, at one time or another, our front wheels skidded¬†a foot or so to the right.¬†Scared? I probably was less so than the boys due my sailing experience. I’m serious! This strong wind (20-25, gusts to 30mph) the past three days has created big problems, as well as some incredable average speeds!

Next, one story (’cause that’s what you want to read?). So we are in Shoshoni, Wyoming at the end of the day, at a store for cold drinks, a chocolate milk. I am in my bike duds, spandexshorts, snappy jersey, wraparound sunglasses bristling with rearview mirror.. ¬†the whole smear. I come up to a gent (my age), Stetson, big rodeo buckle, shirt.. the whole smear. He’s¬†looking at the bubmobile with a slight smirk¬†on his face. So when he saw me I could’nt resist. “How’s it going, Cowboy?” Just like in the movies he pushes the Stetson up an inch on his forehead.¬†He got a kick out of that.. we had a great conversation. O.K. partner, I’m outta here.¬†

Valentine, NE

June 28, 2008

There is a town in NE called Valentine and we are here for the night. It’s in Cherry Co., which¬†is not at all what you would expect – lots of cherry trees dotting the countryside¬†like we do in Door County, Wi. ¬†In fact, there are virtually no trees to be had, cherry or otherwise. It’s mostly rolling sandhills with lots of long grasses on top. I understand these hills cover some 19,000 square miles. The hills are sand dunes –¬†“the largest tract of stabilized dunes in the Western Hemisphere”. Besides the hills, there are thousands of Angus cattle,¬†in herds, hanging out and mostly close to the highway. They wander¬†about on an open range. Can’t imagine how they are ever found when the harsh winters set in.¬†There¬†are more cattle than people with an average of one person per square mile. I looked for signs of life while following the bikers, like some kind of structure but there is nothing like that for as far as you can see, at least not¬†from Hwy 20 – no farms, no houses, no gas stations, no shacks, nothing until you get to¬†the very low populated towns that are many miles apart. It is incredibly beautiful though,¬†for the long grassy sandy hills¬†blow in the wind, especially on a day like today with winds up to 30 miles an hour. You’d think you were on¬†a hilly, sandy beach along Lake Michigan, except there isn’t any water in view, at least not from Hwy 20.¬†

Our friends Gail and Nick biked across the U.S. a few years ago. Gail has been a big help to me in planning my role for this journey. One of the things she said was, ” you’ll be eating more pizza than you can imagine as you go across the country”. I wasn’t sure what she meant at the time but I sure do now. Every small town has some kind of pizza parlor. They may have nothing else but you can always¬†count on¬†pizza. I think we eat it or something like it every other night. Ian is the only one willing to¬†plunge in¬†again and he worked at a pizza place all last year! Oh for a Big Mac!

Others are wanting to write too so will sign off. Surely someone will tell you about our experience at Fort Robinson.


Report from Western Nebraska

June 28, 2008

It’s been some time since I’ve written a post, in fact I can’t really remember the last one. There’s a good reason for this, I’m thinking, which is that every day is now blurring into every other. I think it has to do with the ritual that we go through every day: we get up early, go down to the motel breakfast, come back to the room to haul a huge amount of stuff down to the van, come back to the room to gear up for the ride, then get on the bikes and start the day. Our daily ride consists of 10-20 mile increments, interspersed by 10-minute breaks to replenish our water supplies and eat a bit in order to avoid bonking. After anywhere between 60 and 90 miles, we quit, depending on time/weather/exhaustion and proximity to a town.

And boy, have we been through a few “interesting” places. Most are dusty farm towns that appear to have seen their best days sometime in the early 20th century, before agricultural mechanization took its toll on rural employment. A few have managed to carve out niches in tourism, when the town exists in proximity to a particularly scenic spot or river.

Yesterday we did stumble upon one of the most pleasant surprises of the whole trip, when about 30 miles into our ride we rode smack through the middle of an old fort by the name of Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The original purpose of the place was to monitor Plains Indian activities during the late 19th century, after which it became a training base for cavalry. Its heyday apparently occurred during the early decades of the 20th century, when the fort’s major buildings and structures were built. Many of these not only are still standing but are kept in outstanding condition by the state of Nebraska, and in fact together constitute a very impressive collection of stables, barns, quarters for officers and enlisted men, and parade grounds. To make the place even more interesting, the state operates a kind of resort there, using all of the structures and grounds to attract tourists, offering not only lodging but jeep tours of the land around the fort (to see the wild bison that roam a nearby state park), horseback riding, rafting, mountain biking, huge campfires, and other such attractions. All of us were duly impressed by the place (dad chowed down a buffalo burger at the fort’s restaurant and pronounced buffalo “delicious”) and hope to come back sometime to stay a few days, although how exactly any of us are going to do that is an open question.

I think one other observation is due. We have now, for some reason, passed the point at which the land gets enough rainfall to support agriculture that isn’t dependent on irrigation. You have to be here to appreciate just what this means — from central Oregon through far eastern Wyoming, there was only high desert (the only exception being the Tetons and Yellowstone, which are at much higher elevations and thus attract snow/rain). For some reason, rain becomes more regular around the Nebraska border, and the land reflects this. The grasslands begin here; today the wind whipped the grass in ways that can only be described as waves on the ocean. This is, of course, beautiful, and after many, many days of riding across the desert, refreshing. But it’s more than that, for me anyway: it is yet another reminder of just how dependent we are on nature, despite all of our technology and wealth. Water is the only reason why we have anything at all to eat, and the west is absolute proof of that proposition: irrigation, which of course is a farming strategy that is based on mining a finite resource, is the only reason why there is any agriculture at all in much of the west. And, without the rains that begin somewhere over eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, we would be unable to feed ourselves. Goodness knows what climate change will mean for the distribution of rainfall patterns over the North American continent; despite what has happened in Iowa this year, if we had to choose, we should always choose more water over less.

O’Neill, Nebraska

June 29, 2008

I’m writing this evening from yet another small town, this one by the name of O’Neill, Nebraska. As the name implies, O’Neill prides itself on its Irish heritage, complete with lots of Catholic churches and shamrocks painted on public buildings and water towers. Yet another surreal moment in our small tour of this big country, finding an Irish enclave in the middle of Nebraska.

Today’s ride took us 75 miles from where we stopped yesterday, which was to the east of Valentine. We are now well past the halfway point of Nebraska. While today’s ride had its share of crosswinds, it was unlike yesterday, which had the highest winds we’ve encountered on the trip to date. During yesterday’s ride the crosswinds were at times so strong that we couldn’t stay on the bikes; I was pushed right off the road, into the grass and right off the bike. It was my second wreck of the trip to date (the first was on the very first day), but both were at very low speeds, so my injuries can only be described as minor. Nonetheless, it is a very unsettling feeling during the 1/4 second it takes between beginning the fall and hitting the ground, kind of a small terror really, wherein you know you’re going to hit the pavement and there isn’t anything that can be done about it.

We are now into farming country, there’s no doubt about it. The grass is green everywhere, there isn’t much in the way of irrigation, and we’ve been riding past trees for a full 3 days now. Trees were, of course, something of a rarity across most stretches of eastern Oregon, Idaho, and much of Wyoming. Here, they’ve begun cropping up with ever-greater regularity, first in hollows and lowlands where water collects, then along the flat stretches alongside the highway. Interspersed with the grasslands, the effect has, at times, reminded me of the East African savanna, which I’ve seen with my own eyes. I know there’s the idea that suggests the reason why we are so attracted to parklike settings (meaning light woods and grass) is that we, as a species, evolved out of this specific landscape setting and thus our genes “view” it as home, in a sense. Whether that’s pseudo-scientific garbage or a serious theory is unknown to me, but it’s worth pondering.

Well, it’s off to bed. Tomorrow it’s another day in the saddle, hopefully with a nice tailwind.

The Midwest!

July 3, 2008

Do you know how I know we are in the Midwest? It’s not because things are green again, and it’s not because there are lots of big trees and woods scattered about, and it’s not because we are in Iowa, and it’s not because someone named this section of the country the mid-west, and it’s not because things look so familiar to me that I feel right at home. Nooooooooo, it’s because of that never ending, never get used to¬†HUMIDITY! As soon as we entered this state, Wham! the humidity hit and immediately, you knew where¬†you were without even thinking about it – and that this heavy feeling will now be with us across the rest of the U.S! Just coming off the sunny, cloudless, DRY climate forever, it was somewhat of a shock when the humidity thing happened. Welcome home gang.

We are in a nice, little town called Storm Lake. It does have a small lake and my guess, it’s quite a tourist area. Today, Thursday, we are riding to Fort Dodge where we will spend the 4th as a rest day. We were told that they have great fireworks. We’re also hoping they have a parade that morning as well.

I have decided one thing though on this trip. I will not make “driving” my second career. When this trip is over with, I¬†just might take¬†up biking too! Let me tell you, the ole Bubmobile and I are now one…….we are inseparable. I can get in and out of places along some of the most desolate highways that shouldn’t, no, really can’t be done¬†with a car. (It’s ok Rob. No major dents)! It’s my buddy and if any of the bikers dare to treat it discourteously, I can get rather upset. It’s not healthy, I know, but when you’re in that thing day in and day out, from sunrise to sunset, strange things happen to you. Dear friends, I’ll need all the help I can get when I get back. Be ready!

We’re now 1/2 way home so it’s all downhill from here. Take care everyone – love your notes. Again, if you want them posted, you have to click on comments (at the end of each blog we write) and we will post it for you. Talk to you soon.


Lectures to myself: the west

July 3, 2008

Contained within this post are a group of loosely organized but¬†related thoughts about a series of not necessarily¬†important obsevations. Except that, I have found when you ride a bike saddle for a number of hours,¬†your thought pattern is often neither¬†relevant¬†nor logical.¬†Whatever, the west is behind us as of today. So, other than the map; How does one know this?¬†Well, in riding a bike ones sense of smell is very much a unique factor particular to a bike’s slower speeds. I can smell a lot. The good stuff; flowers, grass, sage, lupen, rain, crops, good food cooking somewhere like fresh bakery etc. Then there is bad stuff; road kill, exhaust, live stock, black top, pesticides,¬†bad water etc.

Lesson 1. For the rest of my life I will take with me those great smells from the rain-soaked forests of Coastal Oregon (stick your head in a bag of mulch and take a breath), the dry fragrence from Idaho’s sage and late spring¬†blooms and the¬†sweet grassland¬†as we desended into Nebraska. Smelled hay again, great. Smelled the road kill but you expected to when you saw it coming along the road. Tough ones were smelling the ones you could not see. Just guessing as to what it might be.¬†So, what’s the key to knowing you are back in the midwest?? You smell HOGS! Pigs, swine, porkers. They are here and lot’s of ’em. On the trucks, in the barns, pens, you name it. It’s hog heaven.¬†¬†¬†

Lesson 2.¬†You learn and re-learn a lot about yourself on a journey like this. For one example, I’ve had to¬†adjust¬†my opinion about truckers and¬†their disdain for bicyclists. In the west, I was thinking I would see my life flash in front of me every time a big-rig passed. A couple of times that was true,¬†however, that was by far the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of the time these drivers would¬†leave the lane open if they could allowing maximum distance between us. I saw, more than once, a¬†big rig passing us slide into the center of the road so the oncoming truck put one set of wheels on the shoulder in order to pass. Some of these trucks were mammoth, mining trucks with huge trailers¬†behind.¬†¬†Perhaps the worst catagory of rigs are the livestock and logging drivers. There are also a bunch of RV idiots.

Lesson 3. After three western states have seen my tiny little tires roll over them; I ask myself: “What is a road¬†trip, anyway?” Roads, hmmm. Having worked for the Wisconsin State Highway Commission about 50 years ago, I recall some basics about road engineering. For example, Oregon (apparently not having gravel) crushes¬†feldspathic rock to make¬†roads. Problem is the¬†crushed stone is very sharp and then mixed with coal-tar (black-top) and smashed “flatish” by monster rollers. They think this is a fine surface. Most other states¬†call this the “base coarse”. To shorten this some, all states have some unique “pain” built into their roads, which on a bike is felt very clearly and distinctly. Nebraska, it should be noted,¬†has shoulders¬†which¬†pavement consistes of 50′ of smooth surface followed by a crack. The crack varied from county to county. Some cracks¬†1″ wide but usually about 4-6″ wide and¬†deep. So,¬†it was like this: pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal WHAM!¬†pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal WHAM!¬†¬†pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal WHAM!¬†¬†pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal WHAM!¬†¬†pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal WHAM!¬†¬†etc, etc,

So, ” A road trip”…….. ¬†romantic adventure? or a pain in the butt?¬†

(Peter coverd some of this earlier and I will write on IOWA roads shortly) 

July 3 — Fort Dodge, Iowa

July 3, 2008

Well, here I sit, writing from a hotel in Fort Dodge, Iowa, which is a small city smack dab in the middle of the middlest state in the union. We’re going to be here tonight and tomorrow, for the fourth, then onward to Illinois starting on the 5th.

I haven’t written since Nebraska, which already seems like about a million years ago. Traveling across the U.S. like we are doing is kind of a surreal experience. We constitute a road show of sorts, an itinerant band constantly moving eastward at an average speed of 17 mph. Each day brings a new set of roads, a new set of hills/valleys/mountains/plains and a new set of small towns and cities. After awhile, everything blurs into everything else.

The one exception is the land itself, which despite the slowness of our progression west-to-east actually impresses itself upon you in an immediate fashion. Because we are moving so slowly and under our own power, we are highly attuned to changes in the landscape. Part of this is practical, meaning that because our own legs rather than gasoline are doing the work we really notice it when the road goes upward, even at small grades of 2 or 3%. Part of it, however, is sensory, meaning that because we are moving slowly and exposed to the elements, we notice all kinds of things that ordinarily would be lost on the motorist, like temperature, humidity, and all the other myriad things that impress upon the senses. For instance, on the big, big ride over the Cascades during week 1, every one of us rode into Bend, Oregon full of commentary about how the landscape had changed dramatically over the course of a single day, from the temperate rainforest west of the Cascades to the snowy passes of the Cascades to the ponderosa forests just at the base of the western slopes to, finally, the scrub of the high desert around Bend. Since eastern Wyoming, we’ve noticed how the land has become steadily greener, a function of increasing rainfall (I wrote about this the last time).

Now, in Iowa, we are riding through the classic midwestern landscape of lush fields, humid skies, and prosperous farms. Grazing cattle appear to have been replaced by pigs being raised in industrial operations. Corn has replaced grasslands. Towns are still small and, for the most part, poor and dying, but they are no longer dusty. Occasionally they do surprise, however. Yesterday we landed in a place called Storm Lake, so named for an actual lake next to the town, and a real one to boot (meaning not a reservoir). Storm Lake has an odd local economy, consisting of a long tourist tradition dating to at least the early 20th century and a more recent slaughterhouse operation smack in the middle of town (devoted to ending the lives of all those pigs we see on the farms). Normally these two things — tourism and slaughterhouses — don’t go together, but for some reason Storm Lake has managed to combine them. We spent the night in a brand-spanking-new hotel/resort thing that had a rather fun waterpark. Such is life in the middle of Iowa.

Stuff

July 4, 2008

We are now in Fort Dodge, Iowa, the evening of the 3rd and taking tomorrow, the 4th of July off. We were going to view the fireworks tonight but the ‚Äėgang‚Äô of 4 decided to nix that plan and instead, relax at the motel. I can hear the fireworks but can‚Äôt see them. I‚Äôm sure they look like all the rest we‚Äôve seen for so many years now. Peter, Ian, and I are all wired in and Dan has fallen asleep watching TV. It must seem like a very boring evening to you but after a day on the bikes and in a car, it is a bit of heaven just to do nothing.

 

 

 

Tomorrow we golf, do the laundry, and see a bit of this city. At night, we‚Äôre taking Ian to some drag race at a local drag racing track. Should be interesting for I haven‚Äôt seen an auto race since going to the Indy 500 in Indianapolis a long time ago. Guess the cars will be different though ‚Äď probably some rent-a-wreck type of vehicle. But I‚Äôll get into it with ear plugs and a glass of beer!

 

 

 

During the bike trip today, we took our lunch break in a park by a lake in the town of Twin Lakes. The park reminded Ian of one in his home town on Wisconsin Ave. I can see why. It was a wonderful time and everyone got very relaxed being in such a great spot. In fact, admittedly, it was hard to get up and begin the journey again. But we did.

 

 

 

We‚Äôre finding the Iowan‚Äôs very friendly. Farmers wave to us; truckers give the thumbs up sign. The back roads are in good condition but without shoulders. The guys have to ride in the middle of the road when there isn‚Äôt traffic . But there is very little traffic so they‚Äôre able to bike without much interruption. It will be interesting to see how we manage to weave our way through this state – what did the floods do to the roads/bridges and which of the many country roads will we take? By the way, I have a Sirius radio in the van and it is wonderful. I get to listen to my favorite news stations and keep up with the politcal scene. Since I’m a political junky at heart, it’s the greatest thing in the vehicle. Thanks Sue.

 

 

 

One of the things I’m so impressed with is the long lines of windmills that dot the horizon in this part of Iowa. You can look to the right and to the left of the highway and there they are, spinning away at will. They are fascinating to watch and when they move, you know they are producing precious energy that we so desperately need in this country. In fact, all of us have mentioned from time to time how Idaho, Nebraska, and Iowa should all have windmills everywhere because there is so much wind out here. It seems to blow all day and into the evening. It would seem the landowners could make a good profit by selling the energy they generate and the states, thus the residents, would be less dependent on oil. Having said that, the sun seems to shine all the time too in many of these western states. We haven’t seen solar panels to harness the sun and we wonder why. Maybe I’ll research this when back home this fall.

 

 

 

It’s late and time for bed. Must wake Dan up and move him to another bed. Ian and Peter are on their own.

Take care and have a great 4th too.

 

 

Iowa: hot, windy, hilly

July 7, 2008

I’m writing this evening from Rock Island, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi from Davenport, Iowa. We just finished three of the hardest days of the ride thus far, which is a real surprise as all of us are much fitter than when we started. Basically, the problem is that for the first time we’ve encountered a wicked combination of elements: wind, hills, heat and humidity. Whereas in the west we had a lot of climbing and sometimes heat, we never had to face climbing into a headwind under a blazing sun in high humidity. The mountains may have disappeared, but oh my are there hills in Iowa. Today we must have gone over 25 short but steep climbs on our ride in the southeastern part of the state, with grades that occasionally hit double digits. This, combined with heat in the upper 80s and humidity somewhere above that, made Iowa a real beast.

But the worst part of it, by far, was the wind. Now, we’ve had our share of wind on this trip, but until this week we didn’t have to fight headwinds. Upon reflection, that’s a bit of a miracle, given that we rode about half the country without running into headwinds. Our troubles began three days ago, when our route shifted from a due-east route to a south-by-southeast route. This coincided with a shift in the wind direction from southwest to south or southeast, meaning that we were either riding with a stiff crosswind (never easy — see my post from Nebraska on this one) or, far worse, a strong headwind. Today we must have ridden half the route straight into a headwind, which frankly was so exhausting that it sapped our will to continue.

Which brings me to a related subject: wind power. This week we saw three huge wind farms, the first real wind farms we’ve seen the entire trip. Each one of these had at least 50 windmills, and the largest might have had 100. We also saw many trucks carrying the parts for new windmills (a single rotor on one of these things measures at least 75 feet in length, and these are small windmills, at least by European standards). After riding through states like Nebraska and Iowa, I’m convinced that wind power is a real energy alternative and should be seen as such, instead of some kind of effete novelty. Anyone who’s ridden into the face of an unrelenting wind (I am tempted to call it “merciless” after this week’s riding) understands just how much power really exists up there; all we need is to tap even a fraction of it in order to go a long way toward solving our energy and emissions problems. In any case, I hope more states and the federal government get on board creating the kind of incentives that the state of Iowa must be providing to build wind farms.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to take a state rail trail that is allegedly 39 miles long; we’re hoping it lives up to billing, as its path takes us precisely in the direction we want to go. And, of course, we really, really hope the wind shifts a bit or, failing that, simply dies down somewhat.

Ian’s 18th Birthday

July 8, 2008

Today, July 8, is Ian’s 18th birthday (Happy Birthday to you)¬†and we were hoping to celebrate, in a great big way, to make it a memorable one. But, he¬†caught the flu bug a couple of days ago and doesn’t feel like¬†doing much today either. What a bummer.¬†But, on a more positive note, we decided¬†we’ll all¬†celebrate when we get to West Lafayette, IN. (Not only will we celebrate his birthday but we’ll celebrate¬†his mom’s¬†as well. ¬†Mom/daughter Julie¬†(who had her own birthday on the 3rd of July….not 18 though but still looks young and terrific)!¬†will join us as will our son Eric, wife Karen, and their kids, Kirsten and Cameron (all the way from Texas). It will be a reunion of sorts and anytime we can¬†be together is a very special time. Eric intends to ride a couple of days too even though he’ll be involved with some kind of tri-athelon competition right before. Good time for the gals in the family to be together.

We will also see old friends and neighbors when there. (Once we cement the dates, I’ll be phoning all of you soon about this)! Can’t wait for that too. And to see our¬†Marilyn Ave¬†house will bring back wonderful memories for all of us. We’ll have to make a toast or something in front of the old place. We had great times there with wonderful memories and fantastic people. (The more I write about this the more excited I become)!

In the meantime, a nephew of ours, Alex, who is working in Rockford, will¬†be joining us for one day of riding sometime this week. His dad, Harry, from Madison, Wis. (who, by the way, designed this website and is always there for us) will be Alex’s van driver so he and I will be¬†following the riders while they trek the eastern part of this state. That will be fun too.

Then on to eastern Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and then Delaware and the dip in the Atlantic. It’s unbelievable that we’re reaching the end. It really doesn’t seem possible – probably because we are having a great time with lots¬†of laughs, much kidding,¬†yet knowing¬†all our individual idiosyncracies are accentuated and exposed.¬†But noone cares. Each of us is threatening to write our own book about this bike trip. Mine will definitely have something to do with¬†living with three men on an impossible journey.



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