2017 Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska: Day 7, Winnebago to Tekamah

A hint of the day to come arrived at 1 a.m. with a sharp snap of the tents. Wind! The flapping and shaking continued all through the night and into the morning.

I fueled up with a parfait of cold oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit, served in a styrofoam bowl and eaten with the plastic lid because the spoons hadn’t arrived yet. That cold oatmeal seemed to be exactly what I needed.

I rolled out of the powwow grounds at 5:30 a.m., and as I departed I thanked the security detail who’d been on patrol all that windy night.

When I turned south onto Highway 75, there was a mile-long hill with about a 5% grade. It was breezy and cool on that narrow, tree-lined section of road, and very little traffic at that time of morning on a Saturday. (Thank goodness, as there was no shoulder.) Very pleasant. I didn’t find the hill to be all that bad. It helped that I had Eye of the Tiger playing on my mental soundtrack. I would have sung it aloud, except I couldn’t remember enough of the lyrics.

The rolling countryside was beautiful in the early morning light, the hills and trees playing peek-a-boo with bucolic vistas.

morning corn field

However, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to appreciate these visual gifts, because when you were on a hilltop with an opening in the trees that allowed you to see the view, you had to contend with a vicious crosswind that required you to focus on not getting blown into traffic or off the road.

Out of Winnebago land, into Omaha territory.

omaha reservation

I was really appreciating the hills, because at least I sometimes got a hint of respite from the wind on the uphill, and the higher speed I was able to achieve on the downhill was a psychological boost.

I had to kill my momentum on one of the downhills and come to a fast halt because of what I saw coming up out of the right-hand road ditch up ahead:  a pack of stray dogs!

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As anyone who has ridden a bicycle with any regularity in a rural area knows, loose dogs can be a horror. They can come silently sprinting out from a farmstead to try to tear a chunk out of your leg, or they can run growling and barking directly into your path. And who hasn’t heard one of those awful stories of packs of feral city dogs attacking people and severely injuring or killing them?

I was facing a pack of six largeish dogs, and I was alone. My adrenaline spiked. I knew there was no way I could outrun them by turning around and fleeing up the hill I’d just come down. I dismounted my bike and prepared to use it as a weapon if need be.

Thank GOODNESS the dogs were uninterested! Five of them continued their line of travel across the road into the east ditch. One of them paused on the road shoulder and took a few steps towards me and stared at me before deciding to join the rest of the dogs off in the shrubbery. W-H-E-W!!!!! I waited a bit longer before continuing on, hyper-alert and ready for a sprint-for-your-life moment if needed.

An artist with a studio down one of the hills had set up a rest area for us. The cups of fresh-cut fruit were sorely needed. It’d been only about two hours since breakfast, but I was expending a lot of energy with the wind and the hills. Only about 20 miles to go!

About three miles later, on the west side of the road, there was an overlook that was said to be a “can’t miss opportunity.”

overlook 1

It was lovely, but better photographed in afternoon light. I probably would have appreciated it more if I wasn’t so tired and eager to be done with the ride.

overlook 2

We descended the final hill into Decatur, which contained this neato little stone house:

stone house

Fifteen miles to go, but it seemed like a hundred. We were now on flat road in open country, and the road had shifted south, so we were now bucking direct sustained headwinds of 20-30 miles an hour, gusting towards 40.

It. Was. Awful.

Soul-sucking.

Demoralizing.

At one SAG stop, someone suggested singing songs about the wind to deal with it. One gal said she’d make up her own song, and the title was “Wind, Kiss My A**.”

It was getting warm, but I was staying cool because of the speed of the wind flowing over my body, evaporating my sweat.

I didn’t eat enough. I didn’t drink enough. I just wanted to get done. Every moment was an “are we there yet?” moment.

I alternated stand-and-pedal, slow slogging, and stopping to take breaks. I thought about trying to flag down a SAG vehicle, but we were nearly there, right? And I’m not a quitter.

Finally, finally, I could hear the cowbells at the finish line! Made it back to the Tekamah high school football field!

I leaned my bike wearily against my car and went looking for my luggage. There was lots of luggage, but none of it was mine. None of the Pork Belly Ventures luggage was there!

Turned out, it was over by the picnic shelter on the other side of the grounds – a quarter-mile away. My car keys were in my luggage. I did not plan that well.

Shoulders slumping, utterly exhausted, I trudged over, found my keys in my bag, and trudged back to my car. I put my bike in my car, drove over to where my bags were, and took a shower. (Thank goodness the shower truck was there!) I tried to avoid eye contact with people. If anyone asked how my ride was, I’d be liable to say something sour and sarcastic, or burst into tears.

I was hungry and thirsty, but all I could see of the freewill picnic the Rotary folks put on were soda and meat-based items – the idea of which turned my stomach. I drove into town and got a veggie sandwich – extra cheese! – and devoured that along with chips and bottles of sports drink and orange juice. Better!

With the help of a quick nap and a half-gallon of coffee or so, I was able to drive back home that night, to fall into a 12-hour slumber in my own bed!

Weeklong bike trips are the perfect vacation – you have fun and see the countryside, but you can’t wait to get back home.

day 7 stats
36.6 miles
1,169 feet of climb
9.5 mph avg
(weather data from Tekamah)
low temp 73
high temp 95
avg humidity 54%
precip 0
wind 21-31 g 38 S

Total ride stats
455.5 miles
17,113 feet of climb

Copyright 2017 by Katie Bradshaw

2017 Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska: Day 6, Wakefield to Winnebago

Wakefield is known for its eggs, and the people of Wakefield sure know how to assembly-line an omelette. I was really impressed with their omelette corps, who were cranking out custom omelettes before 5 a.m.

The process was step 1, fill a cup with your preferred omelette toppings, step 2, walk towards the line of omelette cooks and try to figure out which one of the people shouting “I’m ready” you should go to. To make sure they could get people through the line quickly, each omelette cook would get a new omelette going as soon as their pan was empty. There were also cups of fresh fruit, muffins and coffee. Great breakfast!

wakefield omelette breakfast

I really don’t have much recollection of the first part of the morning. Strava says there were hills, and a recreation area near Hubbard is called the Danish Alps.

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I do recall the gas station at Hubbard. There was a SAG stop in Hubbard, mile 20, but I really needed a bathroom, so I went to the gas station instead. Hubbard has a Hoot Owl Days celebration, which explains the owl theme. There were several cyclists in there, and a local woman had us pose for a photo. “You’re doubling the population of Hubbard,” she laughed.

hubbard gives a hoot

Highway 35 was another of those roads with a kaBANG kaBANG kaBANG irritating series of perpendicular cracks on the shoulder. I got in with a group of cyclists that would ride in the travel lane until one of us spotted a vehicle approaching from behind, and yelled “car!”, and we’d all file back onto the shoulder to make way. There wasn’t much traffic, so this worked out OK, but it was wearying to either have to be so alert for traffic or to ride over the jarring cracks.

At the rest stop around mile 30, there was bad news – a cyclist had been hit. An emergency vehicle roared past. Sobering, because you think, “Gosh, I hope that person is OK.” and “I wonder what happened.” and “That could have been me.”

This rest stop was a decision point. We could head north on a route that would check off Iowa and South Dakota (70 miles for the day), or we could go a shorter route straight to Winnebago (57 miles for the day). My stupid internal demand for completion demanded that I do the longer route so I could say I did all five states on the Five States BRAN theme. (In restrospect, I should have done the shorter route.)

There was a pair of cyclists who’d been riding together who each chose a different route. The one who wanted to do the longer route was a guy who’d been riding about the same pace as me the whole week. He asked if I wanted to stick together on the route. Given the crash, I thought that wouldn’t be a bad idea. I agreed we could check in with each other along the way.

The pavement-marked route up to Iowa was different from what was posted in the ride guide, and followed Highway 77, which, though it had nice, wide shoulders with decent pavement, had to cross on and off ramps for Interstate 129. That was not very fun, and I’m surprised we were sent on that route. Google Maps screen cap below – I was too busy paying attention to traffic to take any photos.

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 7.10.12 AM

At least I was used to dealing with crossing on/off ramps from my rides on Highway 71 south out of Scottsbluff.

There was also a confusing left turn to follow Highway 77 in traffic-y South Sioux City, and then an awkward jog to get onto the sidewalk to access the path over the river bridge.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

iowa

In Iowa, there was a whole lot of very lovely path to follow on the Riverfront Trail, which was good, because, as I learned, BRAN’s insurance didn’t cover us outside of Nebraska, and there was no SAG support or official route marking. The main downfall of being on the path was that there weren’t any places to eat, unless you crossed over or under Interstate 29 into downtown Sioux City. I hadn’t done enough research to know what options there were, and I didn’t know the neighborhoods and didn’t have a way to lock my bike, so I just kept going on the path.

On the bridge overhead, an ambulance screamed north into Sioux City. Our fellow cyclist?

I lost track of my ride buddy when I stopped to check out some kind of visitor development adjacent to the path. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there are two buildings here at “The Crossroads” – one is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, and the other is the Betty Strong Encounter Center. So interesting to have two centers on the same campus, one featuring a tale of Euro exploration, the other focused on intercultural encounters, such as the one between the explorers and Native Americans.

the crossroads

compass

sign of the cross

There was one point of confusion where the path ended in a “sidewalk closed” sign, but I happened to glance over as another cyclist was returning via a parking lot, and he indicated the direction I should take.

Lots of green shade, birdsong and wildlife on the path. Very pleasant, especially considering that the temperature was climbing. Beware: turkey crossing!

turkey crossing

I found my ride buddy again. He was sitting on a bench, researching area restaurants on his phone, so I continued on.

I paused to eat a packet of jelly beans before heading out onto Highway 12 to continue towards the South Dakota border. I luckily caught up with some other riders, whom I was able to follow onto the correct route, as I’d mis-remembered the street to turn on. They were faster than I was, though, and I caught a red light, so I lost them again. I missed a turn, figured out my mistake, and found my way to the Big Sioux River bridge.

big sioux river

Made it to South Dakota!

in south dakots.jpg

I’d hoped there would be a restaurant or c-store I could pop into, but I could see nothing but casinos on the South Dakota side of the river. Nope. Not going there by myself.

As I turned around to cross back into Iowa, here came my ride buddy again. We stuck together back to The Crossroads. I went inside to use the bathroom (there was tile on the floor in the stalls that had been photo-printed to look like grass!). I hoped to find a cafe or even a gift shop with snacks (nope). There was, however, a display of gorgeous photo portraits of Native American youth from the St. Augustine Indian Mission. They were wearing regalia, and each young person stated what they wanted to be when they grew up. Most of the boys wanted to play professional sports. One of the girls wanted to be an astronaut. I’m totally pulling for her!

My ride buddy wanted to find a restaurant in Sioux City. I just wanted to get back to camp as soon as I could. We split up again, and I set my sights on a cluster of fast food restaurants in South Sioux City. Ice cream sounded really good.

I crossed the bridge back into Nebraska, and got caught at the awkward sidewalk transition, where busy traffic kept blocking the crosswalk. I took a left to detour to the Dairy Queen. Some other cyclists started to follow me, so I paused to clarify that I was going off route to a Dairy Queen. A father-daughter pair decided that Dairy Queen sounded better than McDonald’s, so they accompanied me to the restaurant. I was very happy for the company.

I ordered a peanut buster parfait, and the daughter expressed concern at my lack of solid food. “There’s peanuts,” I said. My appetite was never really big when I started to get hot and tired. She shared some of her french fries with me.

We left the pleasantly air-conditioned restaurant, and we three made our way back to highway 77, where my faster companions bid me adieu.

This is where the horrible part of the day began for me. Open, flat road. No hills for ride-down respite. With headwinds gusting to 32 miles an hour. Twenty miles of this. For a little while I caught a “train” and rode in the lee of some other cyclists at their invitation, but I couldn’t keep up with their pace, so I dropped back again. For awhile I pulled another, apparently more tired, cyclist in my wake.

It was a godsend to arrive in Winnebago.

I paused to admire the lovely murals on the side of a discount store. I later learned this was part of the Ho-Chunk Village development.

mural dollar general

There were welcome signs along the way through town, but I was too tired to photograph any of them.

Because of traffic and fatigue, I missed getting a picture of the gorgeous large-scale art on the side of the Winnebago Public School, and I can’t find a photo of it online, but the welcome pamphlet I got when I arrived in camp had a photo of it.

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There was a DJ with a sound system who was calling out a welcome to the cyclists coming into town. Very cool.

But I wasn’t at camp yet. The route went all the way south through Winnebago and then a mile east. I kept seeing white vans go by with colored flags attached. Must be a shuttle system?

We were camping at the powwow grounds. It was glorious. So much shade!

camp shade

Wearily I settled my gear and trudged to the shower truck. There was a 40-minute wait, because the water source here was from a well, and there was not enough water pressure to fill the shower truck tanks fast enough. An announcer on the loudspeaker encouraged riders to take a shuttle to the school if they wanted to, but I was just too tired to manage that level of thinking. I would rather sit and wait. I was grateful for the cold soda the Pork Belly Ventures crew offered me.

I was really bummed I had gotten into camp so late, somewhere around 2-3 p.m., as the shuttles I’d seen earlier were tours, three different ones, to the public school and student academy, the Ho-Chunk Village development and statue garden, and the Little Priest Tribal College and a museum.

As I was sitting there, I overheard the woman next to me talking about the person who’d gotten hit. She didn’t see it happen, but she came up on the scene, and the whole experience shook her enough that she had taken the direct route to Winnebago, abandoning her plan to do the long route to South Dakota that day. The cyclist had apparently been unresponsive initially, and the young driver involved had been freaking out, “Is he going to die?” At announcements that night, we heard that he’d suffered some scrapes and bruising, and was being held overnight for observation, but was expected to be OK. The story was, the young driver was trying to be courteous and give the cyclists ample space as he passed, and he was in the oncoming traffic lane when another car turned onto the road oncoming, causing the driver to overcorrect, which sent him into the shoulder, where he clipped the cyclist with his pickup truck mirror.

I was kind of freaked out, too, thinking about all this, and the fact that, while most riders had their BRAN tags on their bikes as ID, not all of them did. And then thinking about all the time I spent riding by myself on the highway that day, and all the off-route riding into Iowa and South Dakota, and how nobody would really have known where all the cyclists wound up if someone had disappeared. If I had disappeared, nobody would have known until late that night, if my tent neighbors happened to notice I was missing, or if my husband had gotten worried by my lack of texting and contacted the BRAN folks.

Yep. The week of riding was really wearing on me, physically and mentally.

Finally, the showers were back up to pressure. As I headed into a stall, I noticed a butterfly slurping up the moisture on the shower curtain.

butterfly in shower

It was pretty dry there. I was grateful the Winnebago folks had a water truck to spray down the gravel area upwind from camp. Otherwise things would have been a lot dustier.

Once I was cleaned up, I went in search of food. The food setup at the powwow grounds was so fantastic! In a short walk, I was able to procure and consume:

  • a rhubarb bar
  • fresh strawberries
  • a slice of pizza
  • hominy-and-beef soup with frybread
  • rhubarb cake

And I wished my stomach were bigger and I could have walked around eating all night!

There were craft vendors, too. I bought a couple of beaded bracelets, and wish I’d bought more. I kind of caught the tail end of some cultural and language demonstrations. There were some Winnbago tribe t-shirts for sale as a fundraiser, and by the end of the evening, a significant portion of the cyclists was wearing one. Here’s me modeling mine:

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The evening featured a cultural demonstration of song and dance by some of the Winnebago youth. The Sacred Voice song (music video here) gave me chills. The demonstration of the different dance styles (some good explanations here, plus hoop dancing), was followed by an appreciation of the work and care the young people put into their dancing and regalia – a blanket was spread on the ground, and the audience – cyclists and Natives alike – walked up and placed money on it. There was also a singing of the Lord’s Prayer accompanied by Native sign language.

powwow grounds

Just such a beautiful place to camp! And they even provided wifi. That evening around camp, several cyclists could be found with glowing screens in their hands.

wifi

I heard that Winnebago was the winner of $6,000 in Nebraska post-secondary school scholarships in the “Best Host Community” rider vote, and I’m glad.

day 6 stats
71 miles
1,380 feet of climb
11.3 mph avg
(weather data from Sioux City, IA)
low temp 62
high temp 94
avg humidity 48%
precip 0
wind 14-25 g 32 SSE

Copyright 2017 by Katie Bradshaw