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

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

Spring flowers for Juneathon

juneathon_participant_logoThanks to Red Hen – an Irish runner whose blog I started following after the Dublin Marathon – I learned about this thing called “Juneathon.” You run (or bike, or walk, or do jumping jacks – some kind of exercise) every day in June and blog about it. As simple (or fiendishly difficult) as that!

Several of my friends are doing a “40 day challenge,” which I already wimped out on, and I need to get in some more cross-training other than biking, so perfect timing with the Juneathon!

Here is my first official Juneathon post which, like redhenrun’s, will feature wildflowers.

I like biking south out of town on Highway 71. The traffic is easy to manage, and there is a good challenge getting up and over the Wildcat Hills. Last week, Bugman and I turned around at the westbound Highway 88 intersection. This week, we set a turnaround of the former Banner County Cafe.

Distance: 53 miles (85 km)    Total climb: 2,469 feet (752 m)

I just cannot get over how green the countryside is now. My eyes are drinking it up after the drab browns of winter.

One of the emerald views of the Wildcat Hills on the way up.

One of the emerald views of the Wildcat Hills on the way up.

The cloud cover came and went, but we did not get rained on this time.

The longhorns from the museum where I work are on holiday on their summer pasture in Banner County. Hellooo, ladies!

The longhorns from the museum where I work are on holiday on their summer pasture in Banner County. Hellooo, ladies (and babies)!

Some of my favorite birds were out in force: western meadowlark, western kingbird, lark bunting, mountain bluebird, loggerhead shrike.

A quick pic of the tandem at our hilltop turnaround, and then some wildflower photos. It’s Nebraska Wildflower Week, after all!

Bike resting on a "bobwore fence." It's so stinkin' beautiful here!

Bike resting on a “bobwore fence.” It’s so stinkin’ beautiful here!

Note: most of these flowers are small and unassuming. You typically have to get out into the grassland and hike if you’re not lucky enough to be able to spot them roadside from a bicycle saddle. While I saw all of these flowers today, some of the pictures were taken in other years.

western wild rose

western wild rose – it smelled so lovely next to this bush! Made me think of my grandma Rita.

shell leaf penstemon

shell leaf penstemon

wild blue flax

wild blue flax

scarlet guara

scarlet guara

scarlet globe mallow

scarlet globe mallow

lavender leaf primrose

lavender leaf primrose

And one more photo pf lavender leaf primrose in a background shot, to show how the blossoms fade from yellow to orange, and also to show off one of the cuter reptiles in western Nebraska - the horned toad (aka short-horned lizard). This photo was taken during a wildflower hike in Kimball County in 2010.

And one more photo of lavender leaf primrose, to show how the blossoms fade from yellow to orange, and also to show off one of the cuter reptiles in western Nebraska – the horned toad (aka short-horned lizard). This photo was taken during a wildflower hike in Kimball County in 2010.

Not all of my Juneathon posts will be this photogenic, but sometimes western Nebraska just can’t help it!

Copyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw