Double L Cafe: a great destination for a ride

Ever since Bugman and I bought our tandem in 2013 and started long-distance road riding, Highway 71 south of Scottsbluff-Gering has been a favorite route.

downhill grade

For one, it has a shoulder, and its two lanes in each direction means that drivers can (and usually do) pull into the passing lane to give people riding bicycles on the shoulder plenty of space. Since the portion of the road over the Wildcat Hills was repaved in 2015, the ride has gotten even better on the new, smooooooth surface (though there are still gravel bars that form on the shoulder after heavy rain, and there are long un-repaved stretches of road in Banner County where the shoulder pavement cracks are terrible: ka-BAM! ka-BAM! ka-BAM! – so we sometimes still need to ride out in the lane).

For two, it’s a great workout to be able to get in (from Scottsbluff) ~750 feet of climb to the top at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center parking lot, ~1,300 feet of climb with a up-and-over turnaround at the Highway 88 west intersection, and even more if you continue further south into Banner County.

hello banner county

But the highlights of a two-wheeler journey south on Highway 71 go beyond road surface and climb.

There’s the scenery through the Wildcat Hills and the wide-open spaces of Banner County. I love how you can smell the ponderosa pine at the top of the hill, or the fragrance of grasses or wildflowers in other places. Traffic on Highway 71 is usually light, so you have plenty of opportunities between the roar of engine and tire to hear meadowlarks and crickets, and perhaps a spring peeper calling from a puddle or a hawk screeching overhead.

wildcat hills bluff

One of the emerald views of the Wildcat Hills in spring.

banner county cattle

Cattle in picturesque Banner County.

And then there’s my favorite part of this journey south over the Wildcat Hills: the destinations. While the sole remaining incorporated town in Banner County – Harrisburg – has no services, there are still a couple of places in this sparsely-populated county worth biking to and which – importantly in this largely shadeless, dry countryside – have beverages.

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There’s the Beehaven Farm Roadside Market about 33 miles from our house, which I’ve written about previously.

And there’s the place Bugman and I finally rode to this weekend, about 26 miles one way from our house, which just opened late in 2015: Laura Lee’s Double L Country Store and Cafe (previously incarnated as the Banner County Cafe or the Hilltop Cafe).

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A sign announcing the cafe ahead to southbound traffic: next 2 exits!

The small cafe building is set on the east side of the highway on a hilltop, surrounded by ranchland. At first glance, you might think such an isolated little restaurant is a dive. You would be sorely mistaken.

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Laura Lee’s place – or the Double L, as the staff answers the phone – has been extensively renovated into an oasis of charming nostalgia.

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Check out the penny-surfaced countertop!

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Mmmmm . . . old-fashioned candy!

oven

Even the stove used in the kitchen is charmingly vintage! (Her name is Milly, and she is 85 years old.) Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

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There’s also a gift shop that includes locally-made goat milk soaps and lotions, some vintage items, stationery, high-quality toys and kids’ items.

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And there are nice bathrooms, too. And country humor. (Which always has a grain of truth!)

While the building is fun to look around in, the real star of the show is the food.

After biking for two and a half hours over hilly terrain, Bugman and I had sure worked up an appetite – especially after we were passed on the road by a barbecue trailer!

BBQ truck

The wood-smoky aroma coming off this barbecue trailer just about made me faint with hunger. Thank goodness we were only about 4 miles from Double L!

We timed our arrival perfectly, getting there just before 11 a.m., when the breakfast rush had cleared out, and the lunch menu was just starting.

cafe view

The cafe during a lull between breakfast and lunch.

The awesome thing about Double L is that ingredients are super local as much as possible. To quote a post from their Facebook page:

All of our meat is raised within twenty miles from us! How many restaurants can say that? Our beef is from Holt Farm’s and Lazy W Diamond, pork from Ben McGowan, Bison from Rocky Hollow, chicken from Lazy W Diamond. Talk about knowing your farmer. Our farmers are not only suppliers but regular customers.

Another awesome thing is that “from-scratch” is a cafe philosophy: hamburger buns, bread, sausage, biscuits, pies, cookies – are all made in house. The folks in the kitchen know what they’re doing. Chef Gay Olsen was trained at the Denver Culinary Arts Institute and has been cooking professionally for over 25 years.

OK – time for some food pix. (Dang, am I hungry looking at these! Wish the cafe was open right now!)

bugman with elk burger

Bugman ordered off the summer special menu: an elk burger with meat from a Colorado elk ranch. This meal disappeared with a whooshing sound in approximately 47 seconds. 😉 (Note Bugman’s appropriate biking attire for the July 4th weekend.) I had what is becoming my usual: a whiskey cheddar burger.

And, since we biked two and a half hours to get to the cafe, we deserved dessert, right?

pie

Bugman opted for blueberry pie a la mode.

ice cream

I was torn: pie is the traditional biking fuel, but the cinnamon rolls at Double L are to die for. Then again, their ice cream sundaes are marvelous – the nut topping is candied pecans! I opted for a single-scoop chocolate ice cream sundae with caramel sauce.

Since we’d missed the 18th Street Farmers Market that morning to get in our bike ride, we picked up a loaf of bread from the cafe, too. It fit perfectly in our bike trunk.

baked goods

Mmmmm . . . bakery items! Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

When we headed back towards home, owners Laura And Dave Whelchel came out to bid us adieu (and to show their youngest kiddo our tandem bike) and to take our picture.

wyobraska tandem

Note the loaf of bread in the bike trunk. Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

Laura and Dave are great people. I first met them when I worked for the newspaper and covered Camp Grace – a summer camp for kids with special needs that they hold on their Banner County farm. (More about Laura and Dave’s awesomeness here.)

Another unique thing about Double L is that it’s nested in western Nebraska ranch country. A visit here can be a cultural experience.

Once, while I was waiting to pay at the register, I overheard a group of ranchers discussing cow insemination technique. On this visit, we chatted briefly with a customer as we were saddling back up on our tandem, and, as I clicked into my SPD pedals, and he asked, in true cowboy fashion, “Do your feet lock into your stirrups?”

In addition to keeping an eye out for bicycles on Highway 71, it’s good to keep a lookout for cattle and horses, too.

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Spring cattle drive on Highway 71 in front of  Laura Lee’s Double L Country Store and Cafe. Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

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There’s a reason the parking lot has a hitching rail – some customers arrive on horseback! Photo courtesy of the Double L Facebook page.

If you happen to be biking – or driving – in the vicinity of Banner County on a Tuesday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., I highly recommend stopping by the Double L!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except the photos courtesy of Double L

Wyobraska weekend adventure

Bugman and I need to get some long, multi-day weekend training rides in on the tandem. On Friday, my friend Jamie, who lives in Bushnell (60 miles from where I live), posted online, “Anyone want to go to the Pine Bluffs [Wyoming] Melodrama with me tomorrow night?

Hmmm . . . I’d never seen a melodrama before . . .

I replied: “Would you have space for a couple of tandem riders to sleep on your floor and a shower so they didn’t stink up said melodrama?

With a reply in the affirmative, Bugman and I packed up the tandem Saturday morning and set off southward on Highway 71, bound for the Sisters Grimm Bookstore.

Our first adventure occurred at the former Banner County Cafe (which has been purchased and is being renovated by our friends Laura and Dave).

There is very little shade from the hot sun when biking through Banner County. (There is very little of anything other than open land in Banner County. The population of the entire county at last count was 760 people – about one person per square mile, mathematically speaking.) Whenever we are headed out that way, we stop at the old cafe’s driveway to take advantage of the shade under a billboard.

As he’s done in the past, Bugman wheeled the tandem ahead to lean it against the billboard post. A little leery of the tall grass (this is rattlesnake country), I gingerly stepped towards the bike to get some snacks and water.

I stopped in my tracks and pointed.

“Um . . . there’s a snake.”

“Where?”

“Right there. Next to the bike. I think it’s a rattlesnake.”

The snake was not making a sound. It flicked its tongue at me a couple of times.

I retreated to a safer vantage point and took a picture of the serpent coiled and so well camouflaged in the grass six inches from the bike.

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Wide head. Yup. It’s a viper, all right. Crotalis viridis. Prairie rattlesnake.

I zoomed the camera back out to get a pic of the snake with the bike in the frame, and Bugman pulled out his phone to take a picture. The snake, apparently not fond of paparazzi, suddenly unfurled itself and beat a retreat into deeper brush, its rattles making a dry click with every undulation. It never did “buzz” at us.

Here was the picture Bugman got of its retreat.

rattlesnake and bike

Just after the snake left the scene, who should pull up but Laura and Dave! It sure was nice to see them, as we don’t often cross paths outside of the Scottsbluff winter farmers market. We told them about our snake encounter, and they were glad to be aware of the reptile’s presence. With all the time they have been spending there, they had yet to see a snake. Guess we’re just lucky like that!

A bit further down the road, we encountered another of the iconic fauna of these parts – pronghorn antelope. There was a herd of them – including babies! (awww!) – but I didn’t get a good picture. I rarely do. They’re always too far from the road for my little camera to capture.

pronghorn herd

Our next stop was at Beehaven Farm Roadside Market, owned by friends Jennifer and Rick. If not for Beehaven, I doubt we would bike down into Banner County in the summer. It’s a vital water stop, and also a great place to buy snacks.

Here’s a shot for Jennifer of the 3,000-foot-climb elevation profile of our ride (the Beehaven driveway is between miles 33-34 – the subtle flattened “bowl” to the right of the second major hill climb):

elevation of ride

On this sunny day, with the temperatures climbing into the upper 80s – low 90s, the offer of a couple of chairs in the shade of a large tree was very much appreciated. We drank soda, ate beef sticks, and hung out with resident canines Loki and Max.

Bugman took my picture eating beef sticks while beef cattle slurped at the water trough in the background. Not sure what that odd expression on my face is all about. Maybe irony?

Bugman took a picture of me eating beef sticks while beef cattle slurped at the water trough in the background. Not sure what that odd expression on my face is all about. Irony? Or chewing?

Bugman gives some head scratches to Loki, the friendly giant.

Bugman gives some head scratches to Loki, Beehaven’s enthusiastically friendly  giant / livestock guardian.

On the road again . . . the cattle started running along with us as we rode.

black cattle

Entering Kimball County – the furthest south we’ve been on the tandem in Nebraska!

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The welcome landmark of the Kimball wind turbines. Getting closer!

The welcome landmark of the Kimball wind turbines. Getting closer!

We stopped at a gas station in Kimball for a much-needed slush drink before pedaling west on Highway 30 the final 15 miles on a gradual upslope to Bushnell.

I neglected to take a photo of the Bushnell water tower landmark as we rode into town. I blame road fatigue for my omission, and also the fact that the roads in town are gravel, which can be a little dicey to ride on with a road-bike tandem. Instead, I will post a picture of the water tower as depicted on the souvenir t-shirts available for sale at Sisters Grimm.

bushnell water tower shirt

I also neglected to take photos of our destination (I again blame road fatigue), but you can get a glimpse of the horse-barn-turned-bookstore-and-loft-apartment here, on a This Old House remodel contest site (winner to be announced in October *crosses fingers*). There are such fun stories about the materials that went into the remodel. The clawfoot bathtub Bugman and I cleaned up in was previously located in a horse pasture. 🙂

Time to head the 10 miles across the border into Pine Bluffs, Wyoming!

We stopped for dinner at the Rock Ranch Grill – a steakhouse attached to the north side of a gas station in Pine Bluffs. It’s a good local place to stop if you’re traveling through on I-80. They know how to cook a steak here in cattle country! (I am getting hungry again, thinking about that steak!)

rock ranch grill

Then, off to the melodrama – part of Pine Bluffs’ annual Trail Days celebration. (Pine Bluffs was on one of the cattle trails out of Texas in the late 1800s.)

The event took place in the little theater in the old Pine Bluffs High School building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out the amazing concrete-dome gymnasium ceiling:

pine bluffs high school

As I mentioned previously, I had never been to a melodrama before. It was totally corny. The actors were cracking each other up. I enjoyed it immensely.

To give the little theater an old-timey western flavor, some signs were posted.

use the spittoon

Also, the percussionist wore a cowboy hat.

Also, the percussionist wore a cowboy hat.

Yes, “A Hard Days Night at Rock Ranch” was thoroughly enjoyable. I meant to take a picture of the program, but I forgot. The names of the cast of characters cracked me up, as did the awful Beatles-style wig on the protagonist. There was the heroine, Miley Cyprus, and her father, Cyrus Cyprus. The female villain was Bluebelle Lugosi. I forget the male villain character’s name, but the actor who portrayed him had the best sinister laugh. Muahahahaha!

melodrama

Then, it was off to crash before another 60-mile bike ride.

Here are some pictures from Day 2 on the road:

Jamie took our picture in front of the bookstore before we headed out.

Jamie took our picture in front of the bookstore before we headed out.

An old, lonely house on Highway 30.

An old, lonely house on Highway 30.

Uh oh. Roadblock ahead. We caught up to these combines quickly, as eastbound Highway 30 was a gentle downward slope all the way to Kimball.

Uh oh. Roadblock ahead. We caught up to these combines pretty quickly, as eastbound Highway 30 was a gentle downward slope all the way to Kimball.

The combines pulled over into a driveway for Oliver Reservoir so we could pass them safely. Thanks, guys!

The combines pulled over into a driveway for Oliver Reservoir State Recreation Area so we could pass them safely. Thanks, guys!

I often snark about artificial "country fresh scent," since a predominant "country" odor all too often is manure (phew-ey!). But surely what the developers of that faux fragrance had in mind was an alfalfa field in full bloom, with fresh-cut alfalfa hay nearby. Nothing like that aroma! I reckon most vehicle-bound travelers would miss that, with their windows rolled up tight.

I often snark about artificial “country fresh scent,” since a predominant “country” odor all too often is manure (phew-ey!). But surely what the developers of that faux fragrance had in mind was an alfalfa field in full bloom, with fresh-cut alfalfa hay nearby. Nothing like that aroma! I reckon most vehicle-bound travelers would miss that, with their windows rolled up tight. Their loss!

Reflections in downtown Kimball

Reflections in downtown Kimball

Back to Highway 71. Only 46 more miles to go!

Back to Highway 71. Only 46 more miles to go!

Back in Banner County!

Back in Banner County!

When we stopped for a water break, I had to capture one of the thousands of plains sunflowers in bloom at the moment. It was a VERY WARM morning. We had a tailwind of about 10 MPH, but we were traveling at about 10 MPH, meaning that we had no cooling breeze whatsoever. I was very glad we would be able to stop at Beehaven to refill our water bottles!

When we stopped for a water break, I had to capture one of the thousands of plains sunflowers in bloom at the moment. It was a very thirsty morning. We had a tailwind of about 10 MPH, but we were traveling at about 10 MPH, meaning we had no breeze to cool us down. I was very glad we would be able to stop at Beehaven to refill our water bottles!

At Beehaven - a renegade hen. Instead of laying eggs in a nest box, this plucky chicky had hidden her eggs somewhere on the property. Mother hen was very protective, herding her wee fluffy brood away from the photographer, and making a scene when the goats came too near and risked stepping on her babies.

At Beehaven – a renegade hen. Instead of laying eggs in a nest box, this plucky chicky had hidden her eggs somewhere on the property. Mother hen was very protective, herding her wee fluffy brood away from the photographer, and making a scene when the goats came too near and risked stepping on her babies.

A stop for lunch under the billboard at the hilltop cafe site, and we discovered we were being watched again - this time by avian eyes rather than reptilian.

A stop for lunch under the billboard at the hilltop cafe site, and we discovered we were being watched again – this time by avian eyes rather than reptilian. (You can barely make out the dove peeking from her nest in this picture.)

Then safely home again, and time for a shower, a meal, and a nap!

Copyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw

My legs are TIRED

For the last several weeks, Bugman and I have pushed increasingly farther south into Banner County on our tandem training rides. There are some decent hills on Highway 71, and we’re working to prepare ourselves for our upcoming Cycle Greater Yellowstone ride. We need to be able to do 76 miles with 4,293 feet of climb on day one, followed by six more days of riding.

Today, we did 67 miles with 3,074 feet of climb. (That’s 107 kilometers, 937 meters.)

My legs are TIRED!!!

The destination on today’s ride was BeeHaven Farm and Roadside Market, which is owned by a couple of lovely people – Jennifer and Rick Rutherford. Their dog, Loki, enthusiastically greeted us and would really have liked to have shared our snack of beef jerky. Sorry, buddy.

lokiOne more photo from today’s ride before I go pass out for the evening: two pronghorn antelope does in a young cornfield (the beige blobs in the center of the green).

pronghorn in cornfield

Juneathon Day 7 is done. Zzzzzzz . . . .

Copyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw

A ride to BeeHaven

When cycling long distances, it always helps to have a populated destination midway through the route.

Last weekend, Bugman and I chose a route up and over the Wildcat Hills into Banner County.

Now entering Banner County

Now entering Banner County

Banner County had a population estimate of 690 people in 2010. That’s not the population of the county seat, Harrisburg – the county’s sole incorporated municipality. That’s the population of the ENTIRE COUNTY.

Cattle in picturesque Banner County.

Cattle in picturesque Banner County.

The turnoff to Harrisburg. I missed it in the photo, but the Harrisburg sign has another sign appended beneath it: "No services."

The turnoff to Harrisburg. I missed it in the photo, but the Harrisburg sign has another sign appended beneath it: “No services.” There is a museum, though.

As I said, when cycling long distances, it always helps to have a populated destination midway through the route.

Especially if that destination has fudge…

Our Banner County route took us to BeeHaven Farm Roadside Market.

We bought some tasty items for our mid-ride luncheon feast: goat milk fudge (made in Banner County, NE), beef jerky (made in Morrill County, NE), and cheese curd (made in Weld County, CO). We also sipped some iced tea (aaaaah!) and chatted with proprietors Jennifer and Rick Rutherford.

I tried in vain to find a post on BeeHaven on my SCB Citizen blog. I could have sworn I’d written one, but I must have written it in my head and never tapped it out on the keyboard.

Here are some pictures I took at BeeHaven almost a year ago:

The fruit table

The fruit table

The jam cabinet

The jam cabinet

The produce cooler

The produce cooler

Jennifer took a photo of us with our tandem in the shade of the store building, which was once a bunkhouse:

Heehee! Bugman has bug wings growing out of his head.

Heehee! Bugman has bug wings growing out of his head.

She said we were not the first cyclists to stop by that week. A young man biking from, I think, South Dakota to Colorado had been a guest before us. Jennifer joked that she should put a sign out front saying “bicyclists welcome!” Rick quipped that the cyclists are probably the only ones going slow enough to be able to read the BeeHaven signs.

It can be a little hard to see.

beehaven

If you are headed south from the Wildcat Hills, Beehaven is on your left, south of County Road 10. If you’re coming north from Kimball, it’s about 14 miles, and it’ll be on your right.

Our visit to BeeHaven was an awesome and most-needed break. The elevation of the Nebraska Panhandle rises as you head towards its southwest corner. Once we got over the Wildcat Hills, we faced an even taller hill to climb, though at a lesser grade.

A screen shot of the elevation of our whole ride.

A screen shot of the elevation of our whole ride.

The ride back down that grade was pretty fun, except the part where we had to negotiate between the rumble strip and gravel patch at the turnoff to a disused weigh station when we were cruising at about 20 mph. We came pretty close to biffing it. Scary!

It was funny – I’d asked Rick whether he’d seen any pronghorn antelope on their land, since I’d seen them in Sioux, Morrill, and Kimball Counties, but never in Banner or Scotts Bluff Counties. He said that, yes, he’d seen a few. And then, on our way home, we saw three of them!

The dot at middle is one of the pronghorn, the dot towards the right is another one.

Hard to see, but there are two pronghorn antelope in this photo – one at center, one at right.

It was another exhausting ride – 67.68 miles – but a pleasant one.

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw