2017 Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska: Day 4, North Bend to Wayne

At 5:07 a.m., I took my favorite picture of the whole ride. It encapsulates for me the anticipation of a new day on the road.

morning in camp

A few minutes later, I was grabbing a breakfast burrito from the pavilion in the North Bend City Park. Thank goodness for good people who are willing to get up pre-dawn to feed a bunch of cyclists!

breakfast line.jpg

Around mile 10, north of Webster, I hear two young voices calling, “Bake sale! Bake sale!”

“Bake sale?” I check for traffic and pull a u-turn. Who can resist a random roadside bake sale staffed by a lovely young family?

bake sale

Some riders got their baby fix cooing over the youngest bake sale family member.

baby

The boy in the red shirt in the earlier photo had a job. He was the sign spinner. He had a tip jar.

tipes

Adorable, yes?

In Snyder, I took a minor detour off course to see what there was to see.

Interesting building. Kind of looks wild-west-saloon-y.

snyder building

Man Cave, complete with car-seat furniture.

snyder man cave

Snyder Post Office, with Pony Express mural.

snyder post office

Even the gas station / mini mart had a mural. (And a bathroom. Thank goodness. Though the door didn’t latch. There was a sign on the door warning people to knock first.)

snyder gas station

Once I left Snyder, the quality of the day went downhill. (Figuratively, not literally.)

The shoulder surface on Highway 91 was awful. There were those ca-CHUNK ca-CHUNK perpendicular cracks of the sort that drive a cyclist mad and/or break spokes and/or bruise the derrière. Attempting to ride on the smoother travel lane was tricky business because of high traffic volume, a couple of hills, and wicked bad parallel cracks between the shoulder and road surface that I swear could have swallowed half a wheel in some places.

A little while after we turned north onto US 275, the road surface improved, but it was still not a very fun place to ride. There was lots of high-speed truck traffic, and with the wind coming south-southwest, we sometimes caught nasty airwash. There wasn’t much sightseeing, either, because of the need to scan for the debris on the shoulder – items that one might expect from a route with heavy truck travel:  tire scraps, bolts, bits of tiedown equipment, soda bottles filled with urine.

Then there was the roadkill. I saw so many different types of birds dead on the side of the road, if I were so inclined, I could’ve gotten a good start on building images for a Macabre Roadside Nature Guide. This, my friends *was* a yellow warbler:

macabre roadside nature guide

The multitude of senseless deaths made me sad. The experience of being on that highway was so disagreeable, it made me start thinking about how the purpose of a highway is not to be pretty or even slightly pleasant. A highway is purely functional, meant to move people and stuff from point A to point B. (And there are traffic engineers who purposely propose bike paths right next to them! See Exhibit A and Exhibit B.)

To add misery to my day, the roadside had been recently mowed, and with the wind and all the trucks, the grass particles were blowing everywhere, kicking my allergies into overdrive. By the time I got to West Point, I was a sneezy, dripping, red-eyed mess.

In town, the allergen level decreased somewhat. I stopped at a community fundraiser booth to grab some food. (Fruit! Oh, man! That fruit on a stick was da bomb!)

west point snack

The chiropractic clinic where the booth was stationed let us drink their water AND use their bathroom. ❤

chiropractic office

I inquired about a nearby pharmacy where I could pick up some more allergy medication. There was a Shopko less than a half-mile up the road along the route, in a commercial development set back behind a truck stop. As I pedaled through the parking lot, I noticed the pharmacy had a drive-up window. Hmm . . . attempt to park my bike outside and walk through the store in my bike gear, or try the drive-up window?

I reckon that might’ve been the first time anyone’s ridden a bike up to the Shopko pharmacy drive-thru in West Point, Nebraska.

The miserable highway slog continued another 8 miles to Beemer, where there was a SAG stop.

trail's inn SAG

I took a detour to see a little bit of the town, and found this interesting-looking building. It was built in 1900 to be a Congregational Church, but is now apparently a private residence. (How cool would it be to have your very own belfry?)

beemer former church

Another 6 highway miles, and Wisner provided respite from the open road. A local fundraiser group had smartly placed a large grill and some picnic tables in a patch of shade upwind from the route. The aroma did all the advertising.

Not sure where they got the watermelon, but this group of cyclists was getting creative with the implements at hand.

wisner watermelon feed

In the background, a truck was unloading grain to the elevator.

wisner grain elevator

Did you know: Wisner has a Blarney Stone. Read more about it here.

wisner blarney stone.jpg

After Wisner, the highway curved, and now we were bucking a headwind with enough of a crosswind that, when amplified by the airwash from an oncoming truck, occasionally could have ripped my helmet off if it hadn’t been strapped on.

There was a couple of miles of out-and-back to Pilger in the ride guide, which was promoted as a way to support the people of that town who lost so much in the 2014 tornado outbreak, but there wasn’t any directional signage that I could see on the road, and with the awfulness of the highway and the wind, I wanted to get off that route as soon as possible. Turning north on Highway 15 was a relief!

Just 15 miles to go – and hills. My legs just weren’t as spry as they were in the Bohemian Alps. I stopped to rest for a moment and took a picture of this piece of ground, which made me think of a striped fabric pattern.

field pattern

The final mile or so of the ride was lovely – on a bike path on the southeast side of Wayne, which connected us to our campsite on the rugby grounds. I had no idea rugby was so big in Wayne. They host a massive rugby tournament every March.

I thought this barn structure serving as bike parking on the rugby grounds was very picturesque.

bikes parked rugby grounds

There was plenty of room to spread out the tents on the rugby grounds. More than plenty. Suburban-sprawl-level plenty. Like it or not, I was going to do a lot of walking at this campsite. After I hiked to the shower truck in back, I just lay in my tent for awhile. The week was really starting to wear on me.

I was getting hungry, though, so I needed to go find food. I couldn’t figure out the shuttle system, so I just started walking. Found some rhubarb pie and HOMEMADE ice cream at a Rotary booth. Eventually, I found my way to the farmer’s market and bought a couple of tamales: spinach and poblano. Tasty!

tamales

I was too tired to get up off the picnic table where I was sitting to chase down the shuttle when it went by, so I wound up taking a meandering walk through the downtown area.

Downtown Wayne sure put out the welcome mat for BRAN!

My hopes were lifted for a moment when I saw the words “brewing company” in this sign. Air conditioning and a place to sit and sip an interesting beer?? But no, the brewery was not open yet – only a gift shop. (Whoever does the merch layout in that gift shop is a mad genius. Very fun place to look around!)

not open yet

Interesting clay tile mosaic. (Also interesting that the town refers to itself as Wayne, America, rather than Wayne, Nebraska. Hrm.) (Also, heh – I’m featured in the photo at the top of the page – they caught me coming into the greeting station at the bike path. Funny how lots of other cyclists were mentioning the awfulness of Highway 275, too.)

clay mosaic

Interesting mural.

wayne mural

Random masked chicken? (Wayne puts on a yearly Chicken Show, don’t ya know?)

holy random chicken batman

The Majestic Theater was showing . . . Blazing Saddles? Hahahahaha! After 70 miles on a bike saddle, I found much humor in this movie selection. (Did they choose it on purpose??) I totally would’ve gone to see the show, but it started at 7 p.m., and the end of the movie would’ve gotten pretty late for me, in bike-tour time.

majestic blazing saddles

Instead, I sat on the bench in the shade of the canopy and watched for the next shuttle. I had ample time to contemplate the traffic on Main Street – Highway 15 – and I decided that having your main street be a major thoroughfare was kind of a detriment to pedestrian comfort. (Such an interesting color pattern to that brick on the building across the street!)

wayne main drag

I finally caught a (very bouncy) shuttle trailer back to camp.

I was glad I had the chance to see the rugby exhibition game Wayne staged for us. I’d never seen rugby played before. I got a primer from the ref: kick or run forward, pass backwards, and touch the ball down in the end zone for points (called a “try”) before attempting to kick for more points. I got a few more tips from a young woman in the stands who plays rugby. (When she’s not injured. She was on crutches from her third ACL tear. I love her spirit. When I asked about how a rubgy ball differed from a football, she went up to the announcer booth to grab one to show me. Lacking hands to carry the ball because of her crutches, she tucked the ball into the bottom of her shirt to transport it without having to ask for help, creating a “rugby baby.” 😀 )

For more info on how rugby is played, see here.

rugby 1rugby 2

Cyclists were beginning to drift off to their tents before the match ended. I drifted to my tent, but not to sleep. At least not right away. Sleeping is not one of my superpowers.

day 4 stats
70.2 miles
1,943 feet of climb
12.3 mph avg
(weather data from Wayne)
low temp 62
high temp 83
avg humidity 50%
precip 0
wind 7-15 g 20 SSW

Copyright 2017 by Katie Bradshaw

Bicyclist opinion, highway project prioritization meeting = round peg, square hole?

Sorry, folks – this is going to be kind of a longish and dullish post without pretty scenery pictures. Your eyes may glaze over.

But I have some thoughts I need to process after attending a Nebraska Department of Roads project prioritization meeting in Gering yesterday.

I didn’t really know what to expect, didn’t know whether it would be worth my time to attend (two hours on a weekday morning!), since this was billed as the second round of a project prioritization process.

Would my views as a bicyclist fit in?

Would there be an opportunity for me to express what I have heard over and over again from my fellow western Nebraska cyclists, what several of them asked me to bring up during this NDOR meeting? Specifically:

Roads need shoulders. Nice, wide, smooth ones. Shoulders should be maintained with the same level of care as the main traveled surface. A disjunct surface between the lane and the shoulder is bad. Surface cracks are bad – deep, spoke-breaking perpendicular ones, and also the deep, wheel-trapping parallel ones. We would much rather ride on the shoulder than in the traffic lane, but very few road shoulders exist or are in good enough shape to ride.

Alas, my answers to the above questions are “not really.”

I felt like I was trying to fit a round peg of an opinion into a square hole of a question.

The point of the meeting was to make comments on a list of 12 NDOR West Region Candidate Projects.

NDOR west region candidate projectsHere’s a screenshot of a portion of a handout from the meeting, which was the focus of the input NDOR was gathering:

NDOR west region candidate project list

For those unfamiliar with the term (I wasn’t), a “Super 2” is a two-lane highway upgraded with “passing lanes ~ every 5 miles, or as needed” and “variable width paved shoulders.”

For the the full NDOR West Region Candidate Project List, click here.

My top transportation wish-list item – replace the shoulder surface of Highway 71 in Banner County – was not under consideration. (To see why this is a priority for me, check out this video of a portion of my favorite riding route. The video is 2 minutes from my rear bike camera of spine-jarring, chain-rattling shoulder riding northbound on Highway 71 north of Highway 88. I weave back and forth on the shoulder a little, trying to find the least bad part of each crack to ride over. On some days, the assault from the shoulder cracks are too much for me to bear and I cross the rumble strip to ride in the lane, which is nice and smooth.)

I felt a little bubble of hope when NDOR Deputy Director Khalil Jaber mentioned the NDOR’s new tag line in conjunction with the new Nebraska slogan “Good Life. Great Opportunity.” (Thank goodness, something better than the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.”)

good life great journey

“Good Life. Great Journey.” Heck, yeah, man! That’s what it’s all about!

But then, the metrics set in.

We have these 12 potential projects, see? And we have limited funding. So we have to use engineering performance, economic performance, and stakeholder input to set priorities.

Engineering performance means things like safety, traffic volume, congestion, time savings, cost.

Economic performance means things like jobs created, the wages of those jobs, and “gross state product.”

Stakeholder input means, well . . . for a two-hour meeting on a weekday morning, from what I observed, it means primarily the opinions of:  1. people who are paid to be there as part of their jobs, 2. people who are retired and have the time to dedicate to promoting their interests. In the half of the room in which I sat, the most vocal and numerous participants seemed to be those representing the Heartland Expressway Association (made up of business and local government interests) and some folks from Chadron who are riled about an idea to install a roundabout or any possibility of a Chadron bypass.

The gist of the atmosphere I absorbed from the discussion in the room about “engineering performance, economic performance, stakeholder input” were not things I associate with a “Good Life. Great Journey.”

More trucks. Move more vehicles faster. Take pressure off I-25. Nationally-important travel corridor. People and goods hurrying through.

I get it.

Jobs are important. The economy is important. Without cash in hand, it’s real hard to make the Good Life happen. And when I’m heading somewhere in my car on a timeline – the Denver airport, for example – I’m perfectly happy to speed along at 70 miles per hour.

Time and money are easily measurable. I get that. I’ve worked in both the “hard sciences” and the “soft social sciences.” Quantitative data is more satisfyingly . . . quantitative . . . than qualitative data.

But the “time and money” equation leaves something out: quality of life. The qualitative stuff that’s hard to measure. A part of that “stakeholder input” that the NDOR, to their credit, is trying to capture.

Is a fast, efficient journey “great”? Or does a great journey meander and discover? It depends on who’s speaking.

For a bicyclist, or for someone who specifically chooses to get off the rat race of I-80 to take state highways, a great journey is perhaps more “discover” and less “efficient.” (Side note: Hey, Nebraska Tourism Commission – how about “Good Life. Great Discoveries.”? You’re welcome.)

When it came time for the breakout session to discuss the 12 project options, I wanted to bolt. I didn’t really have a good picture of all the possible projects on the prioritization list. (What the heck is a “viaduct” anyway? Apparently there are some in Melbeta, Minatare, Lewellen, and Bayard that need fixing.) But I stayed anyway, and put in my two cents’ worth.

We breakout session participants were each given three dots to place next to project options we wanted to discuss. I put dots on just two projects, roads I had cycled on before: US 26 east of Minatare, and US 26 west of Morrill.

My comments were basically: 1. I’ve seen a significant amount of bicycle traffic on Highway 26 between Torrington and Scottsbluff – both leisure riders and commuters. 2. Having worked in the tourism industry, I know a lot of tourists journey on Highway 26 along the Oregon Trail. Oh yeah, and 3. With the Scottsbluff airport suffering of late, Highway 71 south of Kimball has become more important as a back route to the Denver airport.

I felt like my bicycle comments were a microdroplet in the bucket.

When I approached one of the NDOR presenters afterwards to pass along some written comments from a fellow Western Nebraska Bicycling Club member who could not attend and I began to talk about the importance of good road shoulders for bicyclists, I saw the person’s eyes glaze over (whether from fatigue at the end of a long series of listening sessions across the state, or lack of interest in the concerns of bicyclists, I know not).

But a participant from the Chadron delegation did come up to me afterwards and express appreciation for the “non-motorized transport” viewpoint – the ability of pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate a potential Chadron roundabout was a concern, he said. “The video from the DOR didn’t show any bicyclists or pedestrians moving through it.”

Come to think of it, the illustration on the NDOR Super 2 highway fact sheet doesn’t show any bicycles, either. Or shoulders, for that matter.

NDOR super 2 highway

I get the sense the Super 2 highway may be a preferred option because it’s cheaper. My question is, how well will the “variable” shoulders of a Super 2 highway accommodate bicycles?

But the hopeful thing is, NDOR is open to further comment on this topic, until July 29, 2016, at least. One of the handouts at the session was a sheet full of blank lines, headed with “We want to hear from you.” The contact listed on the sheet is:

Sarah Kugler
Public Involvement Manager
Nebraska Department of Roads
PO Box 94759
Lincoln NE 68509-4759
sarah.kugler@nebraska.gov

I plan to send a link to this blog post to Ms. Kugler, as well as to Nebraska Senator John Stinner (who was present at the meeting) and to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (who had a representative present at the meeting).

If you have something to say about anything I’ve described or linked to, I’d encourage you to send your comments along as well. The deadline is July 29.

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

 

 

A scary pass, an educational opportunity

I ride my road bike on the road because that’s where it’s designed to be ridden.

Also, since my community lacks connected bike path infrastructure, to get where I’m going on a bike, I have to use roads.

Whenever possible, I choose low-speed, less-traveled roads. However, sometimes I have to ride on the highway to get where I’m going.

I have met several cyclists who no longer ride on paved roads. They stick to gravel roads exclusively. They’ve had too many run-ins with ignorant, inattentive, or ill-willed automobile drivers.

I’m not willing to give up road riding. I think things are getting better, with more cyclists on the road and more awareness of safe driving practices.

But I did buy a bike camera to record the traffic around me, just in case.

On a recent ride, I had a semi truck pass me far too fast and far too close for comfort.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 1.40.27 PM

You can see in this screen shot that I was in the travel lane (the shoulder here is in poor condition & had lots of debris), yet the semi was straddling the center line.

My bike camera captured it all. I had the license plate and DOT number, the company name, the time/date stamp.

But still, I wondered what to do.

Clearly, the footage is scary, but does the close pass violate the “3 feet to pass” law? They didn’t hit me, and I didn’t crash from an air wake blow-over. Would this be worth taking to law enforcement? Should I try contacting the company directly, or would that accomplish nothing but stir up a hornet’s nest for me?

Instead, I decided to turn this video clip into an educational opportunity, and a shout out to drivers who rate an “A+” in how they maneuver around bicyclists.

Here’s my little video (which I struggled long and hard with in iMovie to create – no video artist am I).

I’m sure this video will win me some criticism.

Like, I probably should have been riding further left in the lane to signal to the drivers behind me that they should change lanes to pass. But would that have only landed me closer to the passing semi? Traffic interactions are such a delicate dance!

Regardless, I hope that it makes people think about their interactions on the road and contributes to overall road safety.

The life you save may be mine!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw