Cloud ride at Scotts Bluff National Monument

This morning’s ride was magical.

As I pedaled through Gering for an early ride up Scotts Bluff National Monument before it opened to car traffic, I could see the top of the bluff peeking up out of a fog bank.

When I got closer to the bluff, I plunged in and out of the mist draped across the landscape, in full sun one moment, in shadow the next.

On my journey up Summit Road, I had to stop a couple of times to take pictures.

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Panoramic shot at the beginning of the ride.

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The scenery in front of the sun fighting through the mist tumbling across the bluff was otherworldly.

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Closer to the top, the fog started to break up a bit.

As I neared a final turn, a ray of sunshine broke through and illuminated the fog particles as they rode a turbulent wind gust, around and around and down.

I paused in the parking lot up top to capture the wind in motion, made visible by the fog.

I took a short hike to an overlook, hoping the fog would break up and I could get an amazing shot of the bluff tops hovering above the clouds. Alas, the fog thickened.

Here’s an example of what I had hoped to see, from a photo posted August 6, 2015, on the Scotts Bluff National Monument Facebook page:

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Photo credit: Scotts Bluff National Monument

The fog-filtered light atop the bluff – illumination without shadow – made the flora growing there seem distinct, distinguished.

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On my cautious, wet-brake descent, I stopped to take pictures of the tunnels. It was a little eerie looking to the side of the road and seeing nothing but cloud, easy to imagine being at a much greater height than I actually was.

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So glad I decided on an early morning training ride today. What a way to start the week!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except photo credited to Scotts Bluff National Monument

2016 OTD Hill Climb

Another Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb in the books – 1.6 miles, 460 feet of climb, and lots of cyclist camaraderie.

I competed this year, and I beat my previous time (from 2011) by 2:30! (Granted, I was riding my new carbon road bike instead of my steel hybrid.)

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Photo by Kay Grote

I’m mystified, though, why the turnout for this event is so low. Only 29 people competed this year, only 7 of which were women. (When there are prizes awarded for the top male and female in both road and mountain bike categories, those are pretty good odds for the ladies!)

I did meet a woman from Kansas who competed this year. I’m bummed I did not talk to her more and find out how she learned about the event. Her comment was that the air is pretty dry here. It is. A significant amount of “hill climb hack” could be heard during and after the event. But at least when you sweat, it cools you quickly.

Yes, it’s definitely a challenge. It’s all uphill. But if you take it slow and steady, it’s doable (remember: pole pole). And it’s in the cool of early morning on a scenic bluff.

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I mean, really – how can you beat this scenery?!? Sure, the bluff looks intimidating, but the course goes up a paved road with an average grade of 5%.

For locals, it’s a great cardiovascular fitness tool to bike (or run or walk) up Summit Road on Scotts Bluff National Monument – before the road opens or after it closes to vehicle traffic (check the SBNM website for operating hours).

For out-of-towners, it’s a great time to visit, since there’s so much to do during Oregon Trail Days. (If you’re staying overnight, though – book early. Hotel rooms can get scarce.)

And now, a few photos from the day.

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I biked from my house to the Monument, via the trail that runs across the property. I heard the calls of pheasant and goldfinch and western meadowlark. My shadow fell across fragrant sagebrush and yucca pods and Mexican hat wildflowers.

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Yeah, I had to get out of bed early to get to the Monument by about 6:15 a.m. via bike from my home near downtown Scottsbluff, but the payoff is the exquisite quality of the morning light, which makes everything – including end-of-bloom showy milkweed – radiate a dreamy beauty.

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I got a kick out of the contrast between the modern bike kits and the historic garb of the park rangers preparing for the Oregon Trail Days parade.

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Bikes, make way! Here comes a wagon for the parade!

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It’s easy to make a new friend while waiting in line for your time to start up the bluff. Riders are released at 30-second intervals. I could feel the adrenaline kick in when it was my turn to wait at the starting line for the beep.

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Up top, everyone cheers on the rest of the riders. Once you’re up top (as a participant or spectator), you wait until everyone is done, as downhill traffic is prohibited for safety reasons during the race. There is water and snacks at the top as well as a portable toilet. And great views. If the air is clear, you can see Chimney Rock about 20 miles to the east and Laramie Peak about 100 miles to the west.

After the Hill Climb was over, I biked through Gering towards home, but took a detour into the Gering High School parking lot, which is the staging area for the Oregon Trail Days parade. I didn’t want to hang around in my bike kit until noon to watch the whole parade, but I wanted to see some of the floats. The GHS parking lot was my sneak preview.

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Here was a part of the entry for Scotts Bluff National Monument – featuring a volunteer who would ride in full sun in the parade – in a suit! – portraying painter William Henry Jackson.

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Paint away, Mr. Jackson! More on WHJ here.)

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I just adored the Legacy of the Plains Museum float, which made great use of a bicycle “horse team” crafted for use in horse-driving training. It won first place in the historic float division.

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A closeup of the mighty steampunk steed. Doesn’t show well in the photo, but the tumbleweeds on the float are painted a bronzy-gold.

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How can you not appreciate the colorful Theater West float to promote its Willy Wonka production? It was crawling with Oompa Loompas, one of whom cried, “Wait! Wait! Let me put on my wig!” when I asked to take a picture.

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Loved the color – and the chuckle – of the Old West Balloon Fest float. I guess there weren’t enough portable toilets during a portion of the rebooted festival last year.

After I left the parade grounds, I swung by the 18th Street Farmers Market before heading home for a shower and some slices of fresh cinnamon swirl bread. Yum!

Think this sounds like fun? Start making your plans for July 2017. I think it will be July 8 next year.

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except cyclist photo by Kay Grote

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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?

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Bugman opted for blueberry pie a la mode.

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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.

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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.

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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

Inaugural Robidoux Quick & Dirty, a volunteer perspective

From the indications I saw as a Western Nebraska Bicycling Club volunteer on the sidelines, the first Robidoux Quick & Dirty gravel race through some of western Nebraska’s most scenic countryside was a great success.

I’ve participated in running races, and I’ve ridden on some long bike tours, but I’ve never participated in a bike race, so I was interested to see it all unfold.

I’ll unroll a bit of commentary and more than a few images here from the perspective of the three places I was stationed (or decided to station myself). This inaugural year, there was the 76-mile race as well as a 28-mile “fun ride.”

Part 1: The Meet & Greet

All race participants needed to check in at the start/finish area of Five Rocks Amphitheater during the meet & greet, and the community was invited to come out, buy a brat or a beer (Good beer! – they had Kinkaider!), and check out the bikes. It was a great evening.

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Entertainment from the Green Valley Homesteaders set the mood.

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Staking out the bikes with soft rope. Why? The better to see them, my dear!

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Loook at all the bikes!

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A great opportunity for geeky bike talk.

I still don’t know that much technical stuff about bikes, so I pretty much just looked at the pretty / interesting ones.

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Cue sheet ready to go for the morrow!

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Love the colorful spokes!

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Bike with panache – and a mustache!

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Wizard troll head, protector of the quick release.

Part 2: the official start

The RQ&D racers got a rolling start, traveling 1.5 miles from Five Rocks Amphitheater to the official start of the race on County Road R east of Highway 71 behind an escorting Gering PD vehicle.

I positioned myself at the CR R / Hwy 71 intersection to take pictures. Once I got there, I decided that the official start needed a claxon or something to announce the moment. No claxon had I, so I gave it a go with my (genuine South African!) vuvuzela. Thus was how I came to be juggling my camera and blowing the vuvuzela at the same time, which is why many of the pictures aren’t well framed or focused. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. (Hereafter called “the vuvuzela excuse.”)

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The CERT team is on the (volunteer) job!

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Here they come! The racers are in the distance on Five Rocks road, behind the Gering PD pickup truck.

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County sheriffs block the highway crossing. (Thanks guys!!)

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Closer!

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Closer!!

OVERWHELMED BY A MASS OF BICYCLISTS!

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I missed a bunch of the first riders. Vuvuzela excuse!

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Yeah, there were some super-speedy cyclists who train on Colorado mountains, but there were a lot of recreational cyclists and some families, too, who were just out to have a good time.

Part 3: Rifle Sight Water Stop

This was my official volunteer assignment: the 12:30-3 shift at the Rifle Sight Water Stop. I’ve never worked a water stop before at any kind of race, so I found myself a little nervous. What do I need to do? What should I say (or not say) to the tired riders as they come up that looooong hill on Rifle Sight Pass Road?

I was so wrapped up in providing sustenance, for a time I completely forgot my other duty: to take pictures of the riders.

My photographer memory was jogged by the water stop mascot – an attention-seeking black-and-white cat.

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Bugman gave kitty some water. She (he?) brought us a half-dead mole as a token of her (his?) thanks.

The cat got plenty of loves from the cyclists.

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And now, the few action shots I was able to capture between the time I remembered my duty and when I was relieved at the end of my shift:

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A WNBC jersey! I love this one. Ride strong, Lisa!

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I remember these guys were from Wyoming.

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Another WNBC jersey. Go, Allison!

And one last picture, of Matt Hutt, the WNBC brains and brawn behind the organization of the event, ringing a cowbell at the finish. He was everywhere on race day. Props to you, Matt!

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And a parting shot for you cyclist readers of this post:  check out the next WNBC-sponsored race: the Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb on Saturday morning, July 9, 2016, up Scotts Bluff National Monument. Casual riders welcomed!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

Y Not Ride, community ride 2016

This year’s Y Not Ride community ride was a bit challenging. There was a stiff breeze out of the east (25 MPH sustained, gusting to 35-40), and there was wildfire smoke from Canada, and some folks on the 54-mile route got caught in rain showers, but it was still a great kickoff to the cycling season. I appreciate all the volunteers & sponsors who make it happen! Thanks as well to the Bayard Depot Museum and Scotts Bluff National Monument for serving as rest stops!

A few pictures from the ride:

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A Western Nebraska Bicycling Club member passes us on our tandem. The fact that the smoke from the sugar factory stack in the background is going horizontal gives an indication of the wind.

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Cattle sloshing around in a marshy area. Note how hazy the air is. That wasn’t moisture. It was wildlife smoke. As the day went along, the smell of smoke got stronger and the density of smoke particles got thicker.

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The wildfire / air quality map from that morning, from airnow.gov.

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Hooray for the SAG volunteers! Also, hooray for the fact that this was our turn on the 28-mile route, and we could quit bucking the wind! (I do much prefer to have a headwind on the way out, when I’m fresher, so a wind out of the east wasn’t the worst thing in the world.)

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More cattle. The babies gamboling on the greenery were so fun to watch!

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Approaching the overpass bridge in Gering, you can just baaarely make out the outline of Scotts Bluff National Monument in the distance. Darned smoke! *koff koff*

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Rolling through Gering, 53 degrees, pushed along by the same wind pulling the flags out horizontal.

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A touch of sun illuminates the smoke-blurred bluffs.

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At the Scotts Bluff National Monument rest stop. I was rather wishing I’d brought my jacket as this point. Kind of chilly. But we were almost home! (Photo courtesy of water station volunteer.)

I’m looking forward to the end-of-season “Monument to Monument” Y Not Ride challenge ride in September! (Note: the M2M ride is a great supported 50- or 100-mile ride for out-of-towners who want to see two National Monument properties and some gorgeous High Plains scenery. Keep in mind, while it’s the “plains,” it’s not flat.)

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

 

Wyobraska bike events 2016

Given that there seems to be a proliferation of bicycling events in the Wyobraska region of late, I wanted to start a list page for folks seeking such info. Let me know of additional events I need to add.

For a list of local bike events and Western Nebraska Bicycling Club events, as well as non-local events WNBC club members are attending, see the group Google calendar.

Y Not Ride community ride starts at the Scottsbluff Y.

Y Not Ride community ride starts at the Scottsbluff Y.

Saturday, May 7, 2016
Y Not Ride, community road/path ride
Scottsbluff
This is a casual and family-friendly season-opener ride sponsored by the Scottsbluff Y. Route options include 3, 9, 28, and 54 miles. This is a supported ride with SAG vehicles and snack stops. The shorter routes are on bike path and bike lanes in town and cost $5 ($15 max per family). The longer routes are primarily on inter-community highways cost $10 ($30 max per family). All routes start and end at the Scottsbluff Y. April 18 registration deadline to guarantee a t-shirt ($11 short-sleeve or $13 long-sleeve). Otherwise, you can register at 7 a.m. the day of the ride, which starts at 8 a.m. Registration forms available at the Y or register online.

Sunday, May 22, 2016
Robidoux Quick & Dirty, gravel grinder race / recreational gravel ride [inaugural year!]
Gering
This is a race on rural, mostly gravel roads, but casual riders are welcome as well. Just be aware that, like most gravel grinder races, this ride is minimally supported. Also note: this course is not flat! There is over 4,000 feet of climb on the full race route. Registration for the 75-mile race is $55 and must be completed online by May 1. Registration for the 28-mile recreational ride is $20 on May 21, the day of packet checkin. Riders must check in Saturday, May 21, at the meet-and-greet, 4-7 p.m. at Five Rocks Amphitheater. Both rides begin with a rolling start from Five Rocks Amphitheater, which is also the finish line. There is a cap of 200 riders. To register and for more info, see the event website.

Sunday-Monday, July 3-4, 2016
Tour de La Grange, overnight road tour
Mitchell
This ride, organized by the Mitchell Evangelical Free Church, is a supported out-and-back ride on paved roads from Mitchell to La Grange, Wyoming, about 55 miles per day. Sunday night tent camping in a park or a dormitory stay – enjoy the fireworks and ice cream social. Gear transport and meals will be available. Registration cost $35. For information see the event Facebook page or the church website.

Early morning registration at the Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb.

Early morning registration at the Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb.

Saturday, July 9, 2016
Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb, road time trial
Gering
Racers in this perennial Oregon Trail Days event will ascend to the top of Scotts Bluff National Monument on the paved 1.6-mile Summit Road (average 5% grade). Registration opens at 6 a.m., and riders are released one at a time beginning at 7 a.m. There are road bike and mountain bike divisions for men and women. Cost is $20. Preregister by July 1 to guarantee a shirt. There is a cap of 90 riders. For more information, see the event website.

A rider southbound on Highway 71 passes through gorgeous High Plains scenery enroute from Agate Fossil Beds National Monument to Scotts Bluff National Monument.

A Monument to Monument Y Not Challenge Ride participant passes through gorgeous late-summer High Plains scenery enroute from Agate Fossil Beds National Monument to Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Saturday, September 10, 2016
Y Not Ride Challenge, aka Monument to Monument, road ride
Gering
This is the Scottsbluff Y’s season-closing challenge ride. Route options include 50 and 100 miles – ride from Scotts Bluff National Monument to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and back (100 miles), or use the shuttle and bike trailer service to ride one-way only (50 miles), either to Agate or to Scotts Bluff. This is a supported ride with a SAG vehicle with snacks/water. Sandwiches are served at Agate for participants between 10:30-noon. There are hills on this scenic paved rural highway route, most of which has no shoulder. Riders on the 100-mile and “to-Agate” 50-mile route leave Scotts Bluff National Monument at 7 a.m. Riders on the “to-Scotts-Bluff” 50-mile route leave Scotts Bluff National Monument on the bus at 10 a.m. (please arrive by 9 a.m. to load your bike). For up-to-date information about the event and registration, see the event website.

A new gravel bike race in Wyobraska

I’m proud to see how western Nebraska is getting into the “fun fitness” scene. First, it was the Monument Marathon starting in 2012. Now, it’s the area’s first “gravel grinder” bike race, the Robidoux Quick & Dirty, debuting this spring, May 22, 2016, shepherded along by members of the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club.

The RQ&D is a 75-mile bike race that’ll be run primarily on gravel roads (88% gravel, 12% asphalt) in the Wildcat Hills area of Scotts Bluff County in western Nebraska, which is just a 3-hour drive from Denver, CO, or Rapid City, SD. This is in the most scenic western part of the state, so it is not a flat ride (about 4,000 feet of climb), and it’s also at an elevation of about 4,000 feet.

I’ve not gone out and ridden the course myself, but I do have photos I took while I was in the race territory for other reasons in past years.

From A visit to one of the newer public lands in Western Nebraska:

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There are a lot of turkeys in them thar hills.

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Typical piney ridge in the Wildcat Hills.

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This is open range. Gotta watch that!

The route goes right past the parking areas for Carter Canyon Ranch, and also for Montz Point Ranch and Bead Mountain Ranch, as well as passing through Scotts Bluff National Monument.

From Monument Marathon and its western Nebraska scenery (the bike race shares a few portions of the course with the marathon):

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The path of the old Oregon Trail through Mitchell Pass is in part under the road going through Scotts Bluff National Monument.

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This nasty little hill comes just after a peaceful circumnavigation of a historic cemetery.

From Views from a hike:

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Yes, there is a portion of the RQ&D race that traverses private land. The landowners have given permission for riders to enter the property ON THE DAY OF THE RACE ONLY. Please respect what is effectively someone’s ranch yard – don’t ride this section of race other than on the day of the event. If anyone abuses this privilege, it will likely be revoked in the future.

This is really beautiful countryside to ride through. I much prefer to see it from a bike saddle than from a car window. You really get a feel for the place from a bike.

A few more details:

While this is a race and you can win prize money, much like the Monument Marathon the RQ&D also welcomes people who simply want to go out for a challenge and complete the course.

Unlike the Monument Marathon, which has a lot of on-course support, this bike race is designed for participants to be a lot more self-sufficient. There are a couple of water stops, but this ride is on rural county roads, and you’ll be on your own for a lot of the time. Pack supplies in on your bike (and pack out your trash, too). You also have to obey traffic signs (unless a course marshal flags you through), and you need an odometer on your bike, to help you navigate on this out-in-the-boonies race and to prove you’re not cutting corners. No non-rider family/friends allowed out there for course support, either.

Race day: Sunday, May 22, 2016, 8 a.m. start

Packet pickup: Saturday, May 21, 2016

Registration: open until May 1 or limit of 200 riders, whichever comes first

Fee: nonrefundable $55

For more information and to register, check out the race website here: Robidoux Quick & Dirty.

Happy trails!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw