I seemed to be a rarity on this year’s Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska – it was my first time on the ride. There are lots of people who have done BRAN multiple times – even one guy who’s done it all 37 times so far! Yes, BRAN has lots of “regular” riders. Hah! (Too bad it’s not Bicycle Ride Across Incredible Nebraska – BRAIN, which sounds less dorky.)
My favorite parts of the ride were the small-town hospitality and opportunities to talk to people and learn about parts of my adopted state I’d never seen before. I chose to ride this year in part because the route was south-to-north on the eastern end of the state, instead of the typical west-to-east. (I live in the far western Panhandle and know very little about eastern Nebraska.)
The theme of the ride was fun: “Five Nations, Five States” (if you did optional miles, you could ride in Omaha, Winnebago, Sac-Fox, Ponca, and Iowa Nations lands and in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota). I really liked the jersey design.
My least favorite parts of the ride were the three H’s (Heat, Humidity, and Headwind), and the fact that I hadn’t known to do more research on the routes ahead of time. I never knew if the next little town would have an open business that could provide much-needed bathroom facilities or foodstuffs. There were SAG vehicles with snacks and water, generally at three points along each day’s route, but bathrooms were not a given.
I know plenty of other rides operate with “choose your own adventure” food and toilets. I think I just got spoiled the past four years doing Cycle Greater Yellowstone (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016). CGY was more organized in general, with more information available ahead of time, which may be due to the fact that CGY is supported by paid staff in addition to volunteers. BRAN is entirely volunteer-operated – a huge task that deserves lots of accolades. Being a volunteer organizer of an event like this can be a thankless task. You hear a lot of the complaints and not enough compliments. So I will say here – THANK YOU to all the folks who helped make BRAN happen. Your work and dedication are greatly appreciated!
A couple of weeks before the event, a ride guide was posted online. The maps, elevation profiles and turning directions were very helpful, but I needed more of an overview earlier in the process to wrap my head around things, so I created my own overview map (using the Map My Ride maps and the shortest route options posted there).
The day before the pre-ride, I drove across the state and stayed overnight at an AirBnB in Craig (population 191), with a lovely couple who let me use space in their shop to box my bike. (It was my first time boxing a bike.) I got a lot of ribbing about “bringing a TV on a bicycle camping trip,” but my relatively wide Frankenbox meant that I could leave my handlebars and pedals on the bike. I only had to remove the seat and front wheel to make it fit.
On BRAN Day 0, I drove the 10 minutes from Craig to Tekamah, parked my car for the week at the Tekamah football field, and handed my bike off to be loaded onto the truck.
There was food and coffee for sale while we waited to board the bus. I struck up conversations and wound up meeting a couple from Missouri who would turn out to be my neighbors for the week in the Pork Belly Ventures tents. (I sprung for the tent service because I don’t have my own tent and because the last thing I want to do after a hard day of riding is haul my gear and set up my tent, especially if the weather is less than perfect.)
On the 2 3/4 – hour bus ride from Tekamah to Falls City, I had great conversation with my seat mate. He’s a fellow advocate of healthy living through daily activity. Here’s a thought to ponder: why are modern humans like polar bears in the Sahara? Because we are living in an environment we are not adapted to. Humans are built to move, yet we spend lots of time sitting – at our desks, in our cars, on our couches. We are maladapted for our modern sedentary lifestyle, and it shows in our rates of chronic disease and declining life expectancy. So, events like BRAN work for the good of humanity, yes? (Additionally, BRAN is a fundraiser for Rotary scholarships.)
In Falls City, our Day 0 camp in Pioneer Park was just getting set up as the bus arrived.
A quick rundown on camp amenities:
This was by no means a “roughing it” trip: there was a shower truck (with towels and soap provided) available for all riders this year. Alas, the truck always packed up by 8:30 p.m., so no access to showers or a handwashing sink after that time, unless the host town provided it.
There was also a water bar for filling water bottles, though there were some days in camp when I couldn’t find it. I wish it had always been by the shower truck, which was big and easy to spot. I was glad Pork Belly Ventures always had a water jug near our tents.
There were also wringers near the shower truck, for folks who washed their biking clothes in the shower. (Not me – I can’t get them clean and rinsed enough that way.)
There were plenty of device-charging stations, one provided by BRAN, and one inside the Pork Belly Ventures shade tent (which was a convivial place to kick back after a ride).
This year, Pork Belly Ventures had a coffee machine every morning, with free coffee available to all. In this photo, another camp amenity is obliquely present: the guy at left is one of the bike mechanics from The Bike Rack who staffed a bike repair tent all week.
I wandered around downtown Falls City a little bit before deciding to do some of the “pre-ride” miles that BRAN organizers had laid out, so I could check off some of the eponymous five states. The jaunt down to Kansas sounded fun – plus, there was a museum in Reserve.
I got a fellow rider to take my picture at the Kansas border.
I biked around town a little bit and found a magic door. Oh, what adventures await anyone with a playful imagination!
Reserve did have a trading post C-store, in the event supplies were needed. I didn’t need anything at that time, so I headed back to Nebraska.
Any fans of the Simpsons out there? You will know in what voice I read this sign to myself:
On the way back to Falls City, there was a cute-looking cafe on the west side of the road – Breezy Hill Cafe. Wish I’d stopped. It’s permanently closed now, I understand.
Back in Falls City, I hesitated. What to do now? I should probably find a meal, since all I’d had to eat past breakfast at 6 a.m. was some candied nuts and jelly beans. But . . . I encountered another rider who asked if I’d accompany her to the Missouri border, since she wasn’t sure she could find her way to and from camp. Well . . . I could get another state checked off, and what else did I have to do? OK! What’s another 20 miles when I’d already done 15? (I’d thought there was SAG support with snacks on the routes. Turns out it was just a SAG vehicle on the Nebraska part of the Missouri route, I think.)
We stopped briefly in Rulo. There was a bar there. I should have stopped for something to eat. Instead, I took a picture of something that tickled my funny bone:
Made it to Missouri!
I should have turned around when I made my goal. I should have turned around when I started getting tired. Instead, I kept going another 5 miles, hoping there would be a cafe or c-store in Big Lake. There wasn’t – at least not as far as I went. (Had I gone another mile or so, there would have been a c-store.) There was a bar, but I didn’t want to go in. I was at the point of weariness where I was starting to make poor decisions. I ate a granola bar, guzzled some water, and began the 15-mile slog back to camp in Falls City.
My bike wasn’t shifting quite right, so when I got back to camp, I had the mechanics look at it. Turns out my back wheel wasn’t completely set in the frame. Yikes!! The mechanic seated the wheel, and then clicked through the gears to make sure he hadn’t messed up the shifting.
I should have taken the bike out for a spin to check the shifting under load. Instead, I showered and headed into the Falls City Auditorium, where a potluck dinner was on offer. Yaaay, food!!!
That evening after the introductory ride talk, the hosts in Falls City presented a cycling film (American Flyer?) on a giant inflatable screen in the auditorium.
I was too exhausted to stay up, though. I went back to my tent and crashed.
day 0 stats
2,341 feet of climb
12.1 mph avg
low temp 62
high temp 87
avg humidity 68%
wind 4-13 g 17 S
I’m going to write posts on each day of BRAN and link them below. If you’d like a higher-res copy of any of these photos for personal use, shoot me an email.
I would note that these were my individual experiences, and that other people’s experiences on BRAN may vary greatly.
Another note, since I’ve got your attention:
If you live in Nebraska and own a vehicle, the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance needs your help! NeBA is working to make a bicycle-themed license plate available in Nebraska, which requires that NeBA get 250 prepaid pre-orders before the plate is put into production. Please consider signing up for a Nebraska bicycle plate, even if it’s only for the first year! The first 250 registration will make the license plate available to anyone ever after! It’s a mighty handsome plate:
For more detail on how to order, see here: http://www.nebike.org/license-plates/
For my Top 10 Reasons to Preorder a Nebraska Bike The Good Life License Plate, see here: https://wyobraskatandem.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/top-10-reasons-to-preorder-a-nebraska-bike-the-good-life-license-plate/
Copyright 2017 by Katie Bradshaw