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.

horseback visitors

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

Up and over

Bugman and I managed our first “up and over” ride on Highway 71 through the Wildcat Hills on Saturday.

Hello, Banner County. It's been awhile since I've seen you from a bicycle seat.

Hello, Banner County. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you from a bicycle seat.

We saw seven other cyclists out there on the highway south of Gering that morning.

It was a beautiful day for a ride.

The blue flax has started to bloom along the roadside. The reeds in the borrow pits were studded with red-winged blackbirds. The notes of the meadowlark’s song have finally ripened and become heavy enough to cascade down from high places – telephone poles, fence posts, dessicated yucca spires – whenever the bird opens its beak.

The up-and-over ride is a great training ride. With a turnaround at the intersection with Highway 88 west, it’s a 38.5-mile ride from our house with 1,776 feet of climb. The north face of the hill is a bit more challenging to ride up than the south face, as Banner County rises in elevation the further south you go.

up and over profileAfter we got home, I showered, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and passed out on the couch. I forget sometimes the soporific effect of vigorous exercise.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Cyclist alert: summer 2015 Wildcat Hills Highway 71 construction

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A portion of Highway 71 through Nebraska’s Wildcat Hills that will be under construction this summer.

Not long after I posted about Highway 71 through the Wildcat Hills being my favorite local road cycling route, I was dismayed to see a press release from the Nebraska Department of Roads stating that the highway would be under construction this summer:

Weather permitting, work is scheduled to begin the week of April 13 on N-71 in the Wildcat Hills area, beginning at Reference Post 47+66 in Banner County and ending at Reference Post 55+84 in Scotts Bluff County, according to the Nebraska Department of Roads. … Work will include concrete ditch lining, new drainage structures, bridge deck preservation treatments and new asphalt. … Traffic will be maintained with lane closures as needed. Work is anticipated to be completed in November.

Depending on where and when that construction was going to take place, it could eliminate all of our south-on-highway-71 rides during the summer training season.

I called the NDOR project manager, Maryanne Jacobs, to ask how and when the project might affect cyclists using the highway.

For those who, like me, are unable to decipher the reference posts, the involved section of road starts south of Gering near the off-ramp bridge overpass and continues south over the hill to the missile silo site.

Maryanne said that the first phase of the project, underway now, would include work on the median and the northbound and southbound inside lanes. So, traffic will be one lane in each direction, but it sounds like bikes will still be able to travel in both directions on the shoulder.

During construction, the speed limit will be dropped to 55 mph. Hopefully people will heed the reduced speed limit. It won’t be too fun to have large-profile vehicles passing at 65 mph in the outside lane adjoining the shoulder we’re riding on. (Truckers are generally pretty awesome about understanding the impact of their airwash, but rental RV drivers scare me.)

The second phase, to begin in July or August, is the part that will really affect cyclists. One side of the road will be done at a time, so a section of either southbound or northbound Highway 71 will have the outside lane and shoulder closed. The closest hardsurface detours for road cyclists to get through the Wildcat Hills would be via Highway 88 East to Highway 26 at Bridgeport (a long ride!) or via Highway 88 West and Stegall Road (which has a horribly bumpy road surface in Scotts Bluff County) to Highway 92.

The good thing is, it sounds like the shoulder should have a nicer surface to ride on when this project is complete, sometime around Thanksgiving. Hopefully improved drainage will also eliminate the gravel bars that form on the road shoulder after a heavy rain.

If I get updates on this construction project, I’ll post them to this blog.

Also, mad props to NDOR! They apparently included a stipulation in their construction contract that the highway be open for the Monument Marathon in September – without the race director even having to ask them to. How’s that for a community and region coming together to support a sporting event?

(Also, also – I cannot think of highway management in Nebraska without thinking of Star Wars. NDOR?)

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

A valve stem and passersby

We were on the bridge over the Gering Valley Drain on Highway 71 when it happened.

Whump! Ping!

“Wow, that was a really big rock,” I hollered to Bugman.

“What rock?” he yelled back from the front seat of the tandem.

Whump! Ping!

I looked down at the back tire, and . . .

“Argh! Pull over!”

Flat tire.

Out came the rim tools, spare inner tube, and mini pump.

In a matter of minutes, Bugman had stripped the flat tire off the bike and found a hole in the inner tube. Meanwhile, I scanned the tire for any possible re-puncture points. I found nothing but a hole. Stupid road debris.

With the spare inner tube in place, Bugman started to reassemble the bike. I posted a picture on social media to alert local friends, just in case something went wrong and we needed help getting back home.

Wyobraska Tandem flat tire

Day taking a detour. ‪#‎flattire‬

We took turns working the mini pump. It’s not much fun to inflate a 100-PSI road bike tire with a mini pump. Especially on the side of the road. At least it wasn’t raining.

But then . . .

Bugman attempted to remove the mini pump to check the pressure, and  – WHOOSH! – all the air suddenly released from the tire.

“Aw, crap!”

“Did the valve stem tear?”

“No, it came unscrewed.” (Didn’t know that could happen!) “Do we have a pliers in the bike bag?”

“Um – nope. Just the multi-tool with all the hex wrenches.”

Maybe we’d need to call on friends for a rescue after all??

Just then, a northbound vehicle slowed. The white suspension-lift SUV pulled a u-turn and rumbled up next to us in the southbound lanes, the men in the front seat peering over at us.

“Need some help?”

“Yeah – do you have a pliers? Our valve stem came unscrewed.”

After pausing to retrieve an empty can that fell when he jumped down, the passenger walked around to the back of the vehicle and rummaged in a large toolbox.

“Here ya go,” he said, handing the tool to Bugman.

“Ah, needle nose. Perfect!”

Bugman tightened up the valve stem and handed the tool back.

“Thank you!”

The SUV chugged away as we focused on inflating our bike tire again – successfully this time.

I didn’t ask for the names of our roadside rescuers, nor even catch where the vehicle license plate was from. Like so many people who stop to lend a hand with no thought of reward, they melted back into their everyday lives.

I sent them good-karma thoughts as we resumed our cycling journey on our newly-inflated tire.

Thanks, guys!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Two-hill day

With lots to get done around the house today, Bugman and I left the house on our tandem at 7:15 a.m. for a short ride (35 miles) , with hills.

First, we headed to Scotts Bluff National Monument. When the park is open, bikes are not allowed on Summit Road, but before opening and after closing (9 a.m. and 6 p.m., respectively, at the moment), the Bluff is the best, most scenic hill training ride in the area.

Yep - we're going to rude up THAT. I'm glad the CCC built a road to the top back in the 30s. No way something like that would be permitted today.

Yep – we’re going to ride up THAT. I’m glad the CCC built a road to the top back in the 30s. No way something like that would be permitted today.

The section of road up to the first tunnel is the steepest. By the time we got up there, I felt like my lungs were going to explode.

The section of road up to the first tunnel is the steepest. By the time we got up there, I felt like my lungs were going to explode.

You can see part of the visitors center parking lot near the middle left of the picture.

You can see part of the visitors center parking lot near the middle left of the picture. The thin ribbon of road is what we just rode on.

Here comes another tunnel.

Here comes another tunnel.

And around a bend cut into the rock.

And around a bend cut into the rock. At this point, my stomach was unhappy, and I was glad I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast.

I love the rock formation in the distance at the right side of the image. It looks to me like a woman with a book in her hands looking out over the land.

I love the rock formation in the distance at the right side of the image. It looks to me like a woman with a book in her hands looking out over the land.

A view up the North Platte River Valley.

A view up the North Platte River Valley.

Almost to the top!

Almost to the top!

I didn't get photos save this one of a prickly pear, but there is a new flush of flowers blooming. At minimum I saw: prickly poppy, showy milkweed, yucca, spiderwort, plains sunflower, and stemless hymenoxis.

I didn’t get photos save this one of a prickly pear, but there is a new flush of flowers blooming. At minimum I saw: prickly poppy, showy milkweed, yucca, spiderwort, plains sunflower, and stemless hymenoxis.

There are paved hiking trails at the top of the monument.

There are paved hiking trails at the top of the monument.

Keep an eye out for rocks on the road - especially after a hard rain. The sign indicates no pedestrians or bicycles, but you can walk and bike the road when it is closed to cars.

Keep an eye out for rocks on the road – especially after a hard rain. The sign indicates no pedestrians or bicycles, but you can walk and bike the road when it is closed to cars.

Make sure you have good brakes on your bike before attempting the descent, though. You will use them! With the curves and potential for rocks (and rattlesnakes!) on the road, it's dangerous to go too fast. More than one cyclist has flown ass over teakettle on this road. Bugman road the brakes, and we kept under the 20 mph speed limit on the way down, except for a short stretch at the end where we got up to 24 mph.

Make sure you have good brakes on your bike before attempting the descent, though. You will use them! With the curves and potential for rocks (and rattlesnakes!) on the road, it’s dangerous to go too fast. More than one cyclist has flown ass over teakettle on this road. Bugman rode the brakes, and we kept under the 20 mph speed limit on the way down, except for a short stretch at the end where we got up to 24 mph.

End of Summit Road at the Visitors Center.

End of Summit Road at the Visitors Center.

After this leg-quaking ride, we continued south on Highway 71 and climbed the Wildcat Hills. Thus, the two-hill day.

Here's our elevation profile for today's ride. The hills are about the same height, but Scotts Bluff, on the left, has steeper sides.

Here’s our elevation profile for today’s ride. The hills are about the same height (4,592 and 4,610 feet, per our GPS) , but Scotts Bluff, on the left, has steeper sides.

One final image from today’s ride: a hawk sitting on a bent-down bare branch of a small tree, likely waiting for mice to come running out of some tall grass that was being mowed nearby.

hawk in small treeCopyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw

A ride north on highway 71

A sunny spring morning with predicted temperatures in the 60s. Time to go for a ride!

But where?

We had just gone to Mitchell. The hill up into the Wildcat Hills seemed a bit much to tackle just yet. A friend suggested heading north out of town on Highway 71.

I haven’t been outside of a car on Highway 71 since I ran in the torch run. Sure! Why not?

On the way out of town on 42nd Street, we passed Steve Frederick, who was out walking with his wife and dog. He’s been out walking a lot lately. (I have to give him props for the changes he’s made in his lifestyle. Good on ya, Steve!)

Not too long after we took to Highway 71 northbound, I began to regret our choice of route.

Outside of Scottsbluff, the road shoulder narrowed, and there was a not-insignificant amount of Sunday morning traffic.

It REALLY made me nervous when a pickup truck behind us decided to floor it and speed around us, leaving us choking in a cloud of diesel fumes, rather than slow down and wait for the oncoming minivan to pass.

There were quite a few semi trucks on the road, too, but at least all of them pulled fully over into the other lane to pass us, even if it meant they had to slow down for oncoming traffic. (THANK YOU, truck drivers!!)

We were stared at as we passed a feedlot. The young cattle got up and approached the fence, but the older cattle just looked at us. “Ho hum – we’ve seen cyclists before.”

feedlot

Near the peak of our route, at 4,300+ feet, a radio tower.

highway 71 radio tower

At the Sioux County line, what little road shoulder we had disappeared completely.

entering sioux county

The descent into Sioux County.

sioux countyWe didn’t really want to be on a shoulderless road with semi trucks and curves and hills, so at 12.5 miles, at the entrance to the High Plains Feed Yard, we turned around to head back home.

turnaround at high plains feed yard

Got some good speed southbound, up to 30 miles per hour downhill into Scotts Bluff County.

It was a decent ride, but the traffic made me nervous. I can’t say I’d recommend that route, unless there are no other alternatives to your destination.

Copyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw

To the Wildcat Hills Nature Center

After the 46-mile ride last week, Bugman and I wanted to try a shorter route, but with more of a concentrated climb. We decided to head to the Wildcat Hills Nature Center for a picnic.

We had hoped to get an earlier start to avoid the wind that was forecast to pick up later in the day. Alas, we dawdled and went out into 16-mph-gusting-to-24, building to 28-mph-gusting-to-35. (C’est la vie in Wyobraska.)

We passed another biker pausing for refreshment on the side of the road, and he commended us for dealing with the wind. I joked that I don’t feel any wind because Bugman blocks it all.

Here is my view forward on the tandem:

my view

I don’t see much more than Bugman’s back. This takes some getting used to. I just have to trust where my captain steers, and I have to learn to match my balance with the movements of the bike, which I can’t always anticipate.

We are working on our communication signals. ON, OFF, and SHIFT are pretty standard. I yell CAR when there is a vehicle coming up behind and CLEAR when we can steer a little further from the shoulder. (As an aside – I really appreciate it when cars change to the far lane to pass us – it makes me feel more comfortable. I also like it when they have their headlights on in the daytime – it makes them easier to see in a rear-view mirror vibrating from road bumps.) Bugman has been yelling BUMP to warn me of bumps in the road, which can dent your tailbone if you’re not braced for them, despite the Thudbuster. However, when you have the wind in your ear, OFF can sound a lot like BUMP. Today we sought a word with an “a” vowel sound, to replace BUMP and differentiate it from the other signals. Bugman suggested “pass,” only without the “p.” We’ll see if that sticks …

I might not be able to see what’s ahead of us on the bike (Bugman said that is an advantage on a steep climb), but I can see very well off to the sides, and I have the freedom to look around and take pictures.

View from the overpass

View from the overpass

The beauty of the bluffs is so much easier to appreciate on a bicycle rather than in a car zooming by at 65 mph.

The beauty of the bluffs is so much easier to appreciate from a bicycle rather than in a car zooming by at 65 mph.

Something I learned on this trip:

IIII hhhaaaaaatttttteeee rrrruuuummmmbbbblllleeee ssstttrrrriiiippppsssss!!!!!!

IIII hhhaaaaaatttttteeee rrrruuuummmmbbbblllleeee ssstttrrrriiiippppsssss!!!!!!

Post-picnic (menu: eggs, apple, sport beans) photo on the deck of the nature center, with Scottsbluff 15 miles in the distance:

at the nature center

I’m not wearing my helmet in this photo because it’s propping up the camera.

Concerned about curves, gravel, and traffic, Bugman controlled our descent down the steep grade from the nature center. The wind was at times knocking us sideways, but at one point, it was directly behind us, giving us a boost to our top speed of 27.8 mph.

Other ride stats: Total distance 29.65 miles, total climb 1,259 feet.

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw