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The Great Plains
Pedaling through Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri
Thursday, September 4, 2003
Today we biked 59 miles in near-perfect weather. We had to change three flat tires thanks to the horrendous condition of the U.S. 20 shoulder, but no wind at all. Hardly a breeze, which made the sunny day seem a lot warmer than it was. Even now the temperature is about 85 degrees and rising, but no wind! And out here on the prairie, that's important.
Crawford, Nebraska is beautiful. It really is. Beyond the border hills of golden grass roll along as far as the eye can see. Every 20 miles or so an island of cottonwood trees interupts the yellow sea, and we know we've entered a town. I laughed this afternoon when we looked at the map and I saw we'd enter national forest, but soon enough we were spinning downward into a canyon of sheer pink cliffs dotted by pinion trees. Back in the late 1800s, the U.S. military set up an outpost here to keep neighboring Native American tribes at bay. Nestled beneath towering trees in a well-watered state park is the area where the government sent Indians to a concentration camp of sorts, a prison for those who refused to return to their respective reservations. The area is eerily beautiful - and frightening in many ways. We decided not to stay there and went on to Crawford - where we found an enormous city park with free camping and only two minutes to downtown. I think I'm going to like Nebraska.
posted by Jill at 6:15 PM

Friday, September 5, 2003
Just writing a quick posting from Chadron, Nebraska because we still have 45 more miles to bike today. We stopped into town today to buy groceries and have a calorie-fest at the Pizza Hut buffet. Because we're pretty sure it will be four or five days before we pass through another town big enough to have a grocery store, we decided we should pack in the energy as much as possible in town, since we can only stock up so much on groceries. Buffets are a good idea when you need a quick and vast amount of food - unless, of course, you're in Chadron Nebraska and you don't like sausage. The all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta all afternoon consisted solely of different varations of sausage pizza, so Geoff and I had to make do with the salad bar and garlic bread. We still ate a vast amount of food, so we're here at the local library digesting it before we set out on our afternoon ride. It's 93 degrees here, but it "feels like 91" ( according to weather.com), so I'm guess we have a long afternoon in front of us. Next stop - Cody.
posted by Jill at 1:39 PM
Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The last five days have shattered my illusion of Nebraska as a flat state. The valleys of Utah are flat. Western Nebraska is a rolling sea of sand hills - in fact, the entire area is called "The Sand Hills." They're too small to go around, but big enough to require steep grades going up and down and up and down and again, my dream of reaching a flat coasting section of this bike trip has yet to be realized.

We surpassed 1,000 miles yesterday, and it wasen't easy. After spending the night at a cozy town park in Cody, pop. 171, we turned south into a fearsome headwind that after three days of fierce fighting has yet to let up.
On Sunday we only made it to Merritt Dam, 40 miles down the road. On Monday the wind had already accelerated to 15 mph by 8 a.m. By the time we hit the road it was a persistant 20 to 25, with gusts up to 45 mph, right into our face. Sure, it's annoying to ride for 40 miles at 5 mph because you don't have the stregnth to push any faster. Sure, it's infuriating to work just as hard on the downhills as you normally would pedalling uphill, and then have to walk a good portion of the uphills. Sure, its disheartening when a gust stops you in your tracks. When you're lucky enough to round a curve so the wind is slightly at your side, the gusts justs blow you off the road. Sure, all of this is frustrating, but the noise will drive you insane. Forever just blowing, blowing, blocking all other sounds until you can't hear yourself think.

We only made it 35 miles on Monday after putting in enough effort for 70. We rolled into a tiny town called Brownlee, knowing that we would never make it another 25 miles to the town we had planned on biking to that day. The town had nothing, but a local woman was nice enough to let us camp in her field, where we continued to get blasted and blasted most of the night. We couldn't cook so we ate tuna sandwiches, even though we had the same for lunch. We set up our tent and crawled in before dark, and the wind never stopped.

That is, until a thunderstorm blew through in the middle of the night, dumping a little bit of rain and leaving with such a violent wind that I couldn't fall asleep for fear that a tornado was coming. At 7:00 the next morning it was gone. Completely gone! (That is, it was gone until 10 a.m.) But thinking we were in the clear we set out early and actually got to enjoy the smooth, single-lane rural road that connects Highway 97 and 83. The wind on Tuesday wasen't terrible - we got in 60 miles that day. Today the headwind was bad again in the morning but we only planned on making it to Broken Bow, so it wasen't a hard day. Heres crossing my fingers that the wind decides to start coming from the west, or better yet, the northwest. I'd even take northeast. Anything to stop that incessant prevailing south southwest wind that seems to come out of nowhere.

Well, that's enough complaining about wind for one day. Nebraska really is a beautiful state when you don't have to squint from all the dust. We're about to leave the Sand Hills for good and it may be flat - river valley flat - for at least a little while. Either way, it's nice to get back into a more populated area where there's at least one place to get a Pepsi every night. We're also continuing to look for a cable connection so we can publish all of the pictures and articles we've collected and written along this journey. Keep posted, cause we haven't had much luck, but we're trying!
posted by Jill at 3:54 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2003
Here we are in Broken Bow, Nebraska and it looks like the wind may be at our backs today. We just published some new photos and articles from the Rocky Mountains section of the tour. Click on "Photo Archives" in the sidebar to see the new photos and the "Trip Articles" link to see our new articles.
posted by Jill at 9:45 AM

Friday, September 12, 2003
We're now in Minden, Nebraska. we've made it to that point in our travels where we figure summer heat is mostly gone and we can start heading south for awhile. just over a week ago we were almost touching the extreme northern border of nebraska and now we linger closer and closer to the southern border. in a few more days we'll drop out of the state and into kansas, the neighbor to the south.
initially this southward movement was very intimidating as the wind was pounding up from the south for several days. now though things have calmed and the wind, when it does kick up, has been from the north and the west. the hills have flattened out and we're really cruising along now. it's nice to cover 25 or 30 miles by lunch time without even working up a sweat, but in a strange way i also really enjoyed the gruelling push into the wind and up and over the seemingly endless "sandhills." as jill already mentioned the noise and the persistence of the wind was almost too much to deal with at times, but the area we traveled through at that time was unique and beautiful and will become one of the more distinct memories i will take with me from this trip.

it's easy to look back on those windy days now and say that they weren't too bad, but at the time it was very frustrating on occasion. one thing it has done for sure though is help us really appreciate and enjoy this tailwind that we have with us now.
posted by Geoff at 11:35 AM

Friday, September 12, 2003
Well, I got my wish. The wind turned in our favor after a heavy thunderstorm moved through, and the last two days have been a coasting dream. We averaged 15 mph while we were pedalling all day yesterday. Despite the fact that we didn't leave Broken Bow until 11 a.m., then got two flat tires around lunch, we still put in 73 miles before 5 p.m. After we broke away from Highway 2 we left the Sand Hills for good. The last distinguishable contours of land took us through rolling fields of golden corn stalks stretching out into the horizon. It was one of the most scenic stretches of the trip, though moderate traffic and no shoulder kept us on our toes.

We came to Kearny last night, pop. 27,000, and became instantly overwhelmed. This is the biggest city we've stopped in since we left Salt Lake, and as we raced down the busy street we didn't know where to go or what to do. There are so many luxuries small towns offer that we've come to take for granted - openly friendly people, lush town parks that allow camping, one grocery store right in the center of town. In large towns, it's harder to find grocery stores and places to camp because there's a much larger area to search through. On a bicycle you're small and unseen, and you just have to hope for the best as you pedal alongside streams of racing cars. It took us most of the evening to navigate our way around town, but we finally settled down at a local RV park that actually had a really nice tent area right on the river. Today we crossed the Platte into the flatlands - as flat as they come, and still hoping the weather stays in our favor.

It's strange to think that I pedalled every day of the last 24. Strange to think that it's been that long since the last time I sat in a car and felt the ease of movement along hundreds of miles of highway. It's strange to think that I'm 1100 miles from home, that I got this far with my own two legs, that I've held a long sweeping gaze over every mile I passed, and still I don't really understand, or just can't comprehend, how far I've come. Every day is so different, so dictacted by the whims of weather and terrain. Sometimes I feel joy, and sometimes I feel miserable, but I'm out here, experiencing life in a way I never have before, looking at the world in a way so few take time to, working my body in a way I never dreamed possible, and this gives me a lasting sense of peace. This trip is 1/3 over; it's only just begun, and it's exciting to imagine just how far I still have to go.
posted by Jill at 11:25 AM
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Arrived yesterday in Kansas - home of sunflowers and the windy, rolling prairie. Much of our movement is still dictated by wind, and there's a big storm coming in tomorrow that is unfortunantly going to be right in our face. Ah, well. Such is life. When you finally accept that there are some things in life that you can do nothing about beyond turning and facing them with all the determination you have, only then can you be at peace with the raging wind.
We took a much-needed rest day on Sunday in Fairbury, Nebraska - where we feasted on sweet rolls and watermelon and watched about 10 hours of baseball (thanks to Geoff and several ESPN channels.) Actually, it's funny to think that on our "rest day" we still biked 30 miles before lunch. Most days we pedal 50 to 70; and most of the time, our distance is based inversly on how tough the day is. Our easiest days top 75 miles. Our hardest sometimes don't even break 40. It's nice to be on an open-ended trip, because we can go as far as we want and stop when we can no longer move. On our "rest day" the 30 miles traversed mild hills and flat prairie with a light wind at our sides. Today our first 30 miles climbed in and out of creek and river beds while a moderate cross wind hit came from ahead. And I'm so much more worn out today than I was Sunday afternoon. It's amazing how big of a difference the terrain makes. It's almost as if mileage dosen't even matter.

After the big storm comes through we should be into Missouri, and half way to New York!
posted by Jill at 1:32 PM
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Wind advisory effective today and tonight for all of Eastern Kansas. Expect winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. Not a great sign. We woke up early today and made it 24 miles this morning. It took us nearly 4 hours going straight into the wind. Then we turned east, where the sidewind continued to blow us into traffic. At one point I saw Geoff leaning into the gusts at a 20 degree angle - at least. He looked like a sideways biking man in some silly kids cartoon. So we see no reason to fight it. We are stopping in a little town called Horton, Kansas and plan to just go onto Missouri tomorrow. Such is life.
posted by Jill at 11:53 AM
Monday, September 22, 2003
"As the light changed from red, to green, to yellow, and then back to red again, I sat and thought about life. Is it nothing more than a lot of honking and yelling? Sometimes, it seems that way"
... Jack Handy

Missouri - what's wrong with their department of transportation? Since when does a thin strip of rough gravel and grass constitute a shoulder?
Why are all the highways strewn with glass and rocks? And how can nearly every single motorist believe they have unconditional right-of-way regardless of who they run over in their mad rush to get home?

Times have been a little tough since we arrived in the Show-Me State on Friday. We pulled in on a thin rural route about 50 miles north of Kansas City, and spent most of the afternoon barrelling through rush hour traffic with not even a strip of shoulder to sheild us from the barrage of merciless drivers. And these were not nice people. These were commuters - the worst of the breed. Many of them seemed to feel we were not fit to ride their commute route and let us know by blaring their horns and attempting to run us into the ditch. I stood my ground through the 30-mile nightmare, though it was hard to keep my composure. I began to feel a lot of grinding contempt for these rageaholic "Misery-ians" and their speeding murder machines. It was such a change from the entire first half of our trip, where motorists were either courteous or at least gave us the benefit of the doubt that we belonged on the road. We crossed the Missouri River, and we suddenly landed in the constant metropolitan crowdedness of the eastern United States. The change was so instant we thought we had crossed some kind of time portal into another world.

The next morning was not much better, and by the afternoon we were frazzled but at least we had covered most of our distance away from the city back into the true boonies. While Central Missouri is still much more crowded than anything we are used to out West, it's a far cry from those fake country towns that are really just suburbs in disguise. We found refuge in a little town called Alma, which celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. The people of Alma were so nice to us that we nearly forgot how much contempt we had felt toward Missourians earlier. On Sunday morning a group of Sunday School Students had gathered to take an early bike ride before cooking breakfast and going to church. Their leader brought them to us to ask questions and took our pictures. It was good to see people getting out on their bikes to appreciate this beautiful area they live in. I actually felt sorry for the commuters who were so mean to us - what about their lives is so miserable that they can't bear to give up five seconds to slow down for two cyclists who have nowhere else to go? What about their day was so bad that they can only think of getting home because every moment they're not home is so terrible? I think, as I move further east, I'll meet many more "commuters." But hopefully I'll also meet more people who are willing to slow down and enjoy their lives, rather than be recklessly driven toward pushing each unbearable second into the next.
posted by Jill at 9:03 AM
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
This is going to have to be a quick entry today because we have yet to find a place to camp. Finding a small patch of land to pitch a tent for the night is not an easy task in Missouri. Lots of private land, larger towns where parks "close" after 10 p.m. and very few RV parks. Last night we were rejected in the town of Eldon, and I got two flat tires in a row about two miles out of town. It was nearly dark, so we just wheeled our bikes off the road and camped on someone's property sheilded by a clump of trees. It was nice to look at the stars at night.

Today we reached the edge of the Ozarks and began to learn first hand just what Adventure Cycling means by a "self-propelled roller coaster." I know I've griped about hills in the past, but I sincerly believed that after my jaunt across the Rockies and over the Sand Hills of Nebraska that I'd be too strong to worry about silly little things like hills. Not in the Ozarks, no way. These roads cross the hills as God made them - no dynamite blasting or sneaking around the steeper slopes. The grades reach upwards of 12 and 14 percent. Their short but almost impossibly steep. I've had to swallow my pride and walk up some of them. Geoff made it up every hill, though. Going down is an adventure. Brakes will only do so much, but I've gotten used to going 30 or 40 mph on my narrow little bicycle. What makes it an adventure is all of the free roaming dogs, who bark and run alongside till I'm certain I'm about to lose a chunk of my leg, and the traffic that barrels up from the left despite an endless series of blind curves and hills. Traffic has gotten much lighter out here, but the trucks and cars that do pass are bolder than ever, and don't seem to have a very good sense of physics. If a road is scarcely wider than a single-lane strip of pavement, why do so many drivers believe that two trucks and a bicycle can be parellel at any moment in time with endless space to go around? Maybe this mystery will ever be solved.
posted by Jill at 3:17 PM

Thursday, September 25, 2003
We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day in the Ozarks - low humidity, sunny, temperature hovering just below 70 degrees. We had our first run-in with the local police force last night. We came to a city park in Steelville, Mo. that seemed like a nice place to set up camp. There were no signs indicating that the park closed at night and there were even RV hookups near the pavillian, so we figured we were free and clear. At about 1 a.m. some yokul with nothing better to do stomped up to our little tent and woke us up, telling us we'd have to move on, because camping wasen't allow in the park, and he couldn't believe our nerve, because "no one has ever camped in this park before." It sure looked like a few RVs had done some camping at some point, not to mention that nearly every park between here and Wyoming either allows camping or has signs indicating otherwise. When we asked him where he expected us to go he gave us some inane story about how there were a lot of skunks in the area, but said we could stay the night if we promised to get up at daybreak and leave right away. Fine with us. The yokul got to have his petty little power trip and we didn't have to set out on a shoulderless highway in the 1 a.m. darkness. So we got up just as the yellow light began to peak over the horizon and cranked out more than 35 miles before 11 a.m. We expect to get into some more famous steep Ozark roads this afternoon, but if all goes well we'll be joining up with the Adventure Cycling Route tomorrow, and maybe we find people who are more open to cyclists on the road. Or, maybe not.
posted by Jill at 10:18 AM