Cycling the Monument Marathon course

I am a member of a  dedicated planning crew for the Monument Marathon in Gering-Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Last year, the first year of the race, Bugman and I rode our commuter bikes on one of several rides necessary to certify the course through USA Track & Field. I took that opportunity to take pictures and write a blog post about the course: Monument Marathon and its Western Nebraska Scenery. I did a short writeup after the event, too: Inaugural Monument Marathon in the books.

Now that Bugman and I are riding a tandem long distances, I figured we ought to do a Monument Marathon ride. Since on my first cycle tour of the course I picked and chose the most interesting or illustrative views, I decided that this time I would document the course in a more objective fashion by taking a picture every half mile.

“That’s going to be a lot of pictures,” Bugman said.

Yep. At 26.2 miles, two pictures per mile = 52 pictures.

But my first post on the marathon course contained 62 images. It’s pretty countryside! It needs to be documented and shared!

Bugman and I biked up to the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, cooled off for a little while, then headed out on the course. I turned on my GPS audio cues and took pictures every half-mile, give or take the distance crossed while I fumbled with my camera.

Here are the results of our efforts:

mile 0

Mile 0: looking west/southwest. Wildcat Hills Nature Center parking lot. Paved surface.

Mile 0.5

Mile 0.5: looking north / downhill. Highway 71. Paved surface.

Oops! Missed mile 1.0 – the wind was whistling so loudly on the downhill I didn’t hear my GPS.

mile 1 point 5

Mile 1.5: looking east. Homes in the Wildcat Hills. Paved surface.

mile 2

Mile 2: looking east. Paved surface.

mile 2 point 5
Mile 2.5: looking east/southest. Paved surface.
mile 3

Mile 3: looking west into Gering Valley. Paved surface.

mile 3 point 5
Mile 3.5: looking west. Paved surface.
mile 4

Mile 4: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 4 point 5
Mile 4.5: looking west. Paved surface.
mile 5

Mile 5: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 5 point 5

Mile 5.5: looking east. Paved surface.

mile 6

Mile 6: looking south. This is on Sandberg Road, after the turn off Highway 71. Paved surface.

mile 6 point 5

Mile 6.5: looking east. Hard to see in the photo, but there is a tractor on the road up ahead. Luckily, he turned off the road before we caught up with him. Paved surface.

mile 7

Mile 7: looking north. Paved surface.

mile 7 point 5

Mile 7.5: looking south. Gering Valley (irrigation) Drain. Paved surface.

mile 8

Mile 8: looking northwest. The turn from Sandberg Road to Lockwood Road. Paved surface.

mile 8 point 5

Mile 8.5: looking west over a corn field to Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

mile 9

Mile 9: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 9 point 5

Mile 9.5: looking east. This might have been the place where there was a junkyard on the west side. Editorial decision to face east for the photo. Paved surface.

mile 10

Mile 10: looking northwest at the turn into Gering. Paved surface.

mile 10 point 5

Mile 10.5: looking north. The race’s entry into Gering is via an industrial area. Paved surface.

mile 11

Mile 11: looking south. Paved surface.

Mile 11.5: looking northwest towards the Oregon Trail Park ballfields

Mile 11.5: looking northwest towards the Oregon Trail Park ballfields. Paved surface.

mile 12

Mile 12: looking northwest at the turn from a residential neighborhood onto Five Rocks Road. Paved surface.

Mile 12.5: looking east, back over my shoulder at the 4-way-stop intersection of Five Rocks Road and M Street / Old Oregon Trail. The measurement point was at the intersection, but I was too busy paying attention to traffic to take a picture.

Mile 12.5: looking east, back over my shoulder at the 4-way-stop intersection of Five Rocks Road and M Street / Old Oregon Trail. The measurement point was at the intersection, but I was too busy paying attention to traffic to take a picture. There are some late-1800s pictures of this road early in Gering’s development. Before it was a city street, it was a part of the Oregon Trail. Pony Express riders traveled this path, too. Paved surface.

Mile 13: looking south down the tree-lined drive to the Gering cemetery

Mile 13: looking south down the tree-lined drive to the Gering cemetery. Paved surface.

Bugman and I stopped for a break at Legacy of the Plains Museum / Farm And Ranch Museum, so our mile markers will likely be a little off from this point forward on account of the distance traveled in the museum parking lot.

Bugman and I stopped for a break at Legacy of the Plains Museum, so our mile markers will likely be a little off from this point forward on account of the distance traveled in the museum parking lot.

Mile 13.5: looking northwest at some property belonging to the Legacy of the Plains Museum / Farm And Ranch Museum, with Scotts Bluff National Monument in the background.

Mile 13.5: looking northwest at some property belonging to the Legacy of the Plains Museum, with Scotts Bluff National Monument in the background. Paved surface.

Mile 14: looking northwest at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Gosh, the yucca bloom are striking this year!

Mile 14: looking northwest at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

Mile 14.5: looking north. Perfect timing to catch the pioneer wagon and "oxen" on the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Mile 14.5: looking north. Perfect timing to catch the pioneer wagon and “oxen” on the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

Mile 15: looking north. Over the hump of Mitchell Pass.

Mile 15: looking north. Paved surface.

Mile 15.5: looking northwest

Mile 15.5: looking northwest. Paved surface.

mile 16

Mile 16: looking northeast. I *love* that some people around here still raise longhorn cattle. Paved surface.

mile 16 point 5

Mile 16.5: looking east. Paved surface.

mile 17

Mile 17: looking west. In that clump of trees is the charming Barn Anew B&B. Paved surface.

mile 17 point 5

Mile 17.5: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 18

Mile 18: looking south across a field of young sugar beet plants on Ridgeway Drive. Mitchell Pass is on the left of the frame (which was back at about mile 14.5). Gravel surface.

mile 18 point 5

Mile 18.5: looking south? southwest? Gravel surface.

mile 19

Mile 19: looking south from the irrigation canal road. The route from about mile 19 to about mile 22.5 is on a dirt-and-gravel private road on Scotts Bluff National Monument property that is primarily used for irrigation canal maintenance. It was pretty difficult to navigate a tandem on, since the surface varies from small gravel to large gravel to packed dirt to loose, sandy soil with the occasional tire ruts. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 19 point 5

Mile 19.5: looking south at a prairie dog colony across the irrigation canal. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 20

Mile 20: looking south. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 20 point 5

Mile 20.5: looking south. I think it was somewhere around this point that we hit a patch of loose soil and I wound up planting a hand on the ground. This surface is OK to run on – you just have to pay attention, but in places it’s not OK for a 350-pound tandem-with-riders on two thin road tires. We walked the bike for a bit. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 21

Mile 21: looking south at the north face of Scotts Bluff National Monument. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 21 point 5

Mile 21.5: looking north towards the badlands as Bugman walks the tandem through another sandy patch. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 22

Mile 22: looking northeast across a pasture towards the edge of a neighborhood of mobile homes. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 22 point 5

Mile 22.5: looking southwest at the neighborhood around the Monument Shadows golf course. Paved surface.

mile 23

Mile 23: looking west at Scotts Bluff National Monument from a bike path. Paved surface.

mile 23 point 5

Mile 23.5: looking west from the bike path. Paved surface.

mile 24

Mile 24: looking south from the U Street Pathway at the Gering bale facility (the processing center for the municipal landfill). Paved surface.

mile 24 point 5

Mile 24.5: looking west from Five Rocks Road. Paved surface.

mile 25

Mile 25: looking south on Meadowlark Boulevard – part of a zigzag through a neighborhood. Paved surface.

mile 25 point 5

Mile 25.5: looking west from the tree-lined cemetery road across a bean field towards the south bluff of Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

mile 26

Mile 26: looking west – just before the cruel twist of landscape referred to among the race planners as “Devils’ Dip” or “Chupacabra Canyon.” Almost there! Gravel surface.

Through these gates and through the parking lot the finish line lies at Five Rocks Amphitheater

Through these gates and through the parking lot the finish line lies at Five Rocks Amphitheater. Gravel surface.

So there you have it: views of the Monument Marathon course from a tandem bicycle in approximately half-mile increments: a mix of nature preserve, pasture, farmland, Oregon Trail landmarks, industrial areas, and neighborhoods on asphalt, concrete, and dirt/gravel surfaces.

This is a high-quality rural race organized by volunteers to benefit the local community college foundation. It is one of only four marathons in Nebraska – the super-rural Sandhills Marathon is a small race with a registration limit, the others are urban biggies all the way on the other end of the state in Lincoln and Omaha. The culture here has more in common with Wyoming than with the rest of Nebraska (Husker football fan-dom excepted).

If this sounds like your type of adventure, register for the race through the main webpage. We’ll be glad to see you!

For tips on what to do and see in the area, check out the Scotts Bluff County Tourism site  or peruse some of the archived posts on my other blog, SCB Citizen.

Back to the biking for a moment, and a bit of reflection. A little over a year ago, biking 26.2 miles knocked me out. This year, we rode 47 miles to cover the race course plus the distance to and from our house, and I was only mildly fatigued afterwards. What a difference a year makes!

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Ride to the Wildcats – with wind

This post has a lot of photos of cars, and also of some birds.

I shall ‘splain.

Last Sunday, Bugman and I needed to be done riding by about 1pm, so we decided to go for difficulty over distance. Destination: Wildcat Hills up Highway 71. Total distance: 29.79 miles. Total climb: 1,259 feet.

We’d already biked this route a couple of months ago, so we figured it would be no problem.

While it was windy last time we’d ridden up there, the hills had blocked the wind on the ascent.

Not this time. We were riding uphill into a 15 mph wind, gusting to 30.

We wound up having to stop stop for a breather midway up the hill.

Between the hill and the wind, this also meant that on the way home, we coasted for the first five miles and never dropped under 18 mph. That was with Bugman applying the brakes on the downhill. (We are not comfortable going more than 30 mph on our tandem.)

But the notable parts of our ride, other than the gorgeous scenery of the Wildcat Hills, were the antique cars and the birds.

The antique cars were part of the Sugar Valley Rally. I think we on our tandem might have been as much a curiosity to the antique car drivers as they were to us. Several of them waved as I held up my camera.

The birds were around the feeder at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, near the deck where we picnicked. We saw, at a minimum: lazuli bunting (first time seeing one!), spotted towhee, red crossbill, American goldfinch, black-capped chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, pygmy nuthatch, some kind of swallow, various “little brown jobbers,” and a turkey. I only got decent photos of the goldfinches and the turkey.

And now, the photos.

Bugman, waiting patiently for me after I had to run back into the house to get my camera.

Bugman, waiting patiently for me after I had to run back into the house to get my camera.

CARS, with Highway 71 scenery. (I did not get all 60-some cars in the rally. I only caught somewhat clear images of 15 of them.)

SVR 1 SVR2 SVR3 SVR4 SVR5 SVR6 SVR7 SVR8 SVR9 SVR10 SVR11 SVR12 SVR13 SVR14 SVR15And now, the nature photos:

beautiful day in wildcat hills

Beautiful day in the Wildcat Hills

"Goldfinch confetti"

“Goldfinch confetti”. There were at least a dozen of them bouncing around looking for seed.

"Oh crud! I've been spotted! I'll just melt back into the shrubbery ..."

“Oh crud! I’ve been spotted! I’ll just melt back into the shrubbery …”

Bugman in a faceoff with a swallow perched on the corner of the soda machine. The bird's nest was in the adjacent rafters of the nature center deck.

Bugman in a faceoff with a swallow perched on the corner of the soda machine. The bird’s nest was in the adjacent rafters of the nature center deck.

Downhill!

Downhill home!

Copyright 2013 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