Day 5: The Plains Experience

“That will be a boring day” replied the guy at the cool early morning 8.00 o’clock start in Columbus Nebraska when I told him we were heading for Wyoming. How wrong he was! An unforgettable ride of about 400 miles on 2-lane roads seeing and stopping for Lincoln Highway sights of all kinds ending 11 hours and about 400 miles (> 600 km) later in Sidney Nebraska just about an hour before the Wyoming stateline.

LH in Nebraska is almost a straight line over 2-lane US 30 – at least that is what the Lincoln Highway road signs say. In fact there are deviations left and right into the countryside and Hollywood-style western main street minitowns – but they are not indicated except to the historic gas station at Ogalala. Note for Brian Butko: not even the very scenic and special Gothenburgh stairsteps are roadmarked on US30, but with your Companion maps they are easy to find. However the Nebraska chapter of LHA may consider to roadsign the off-US30 LH sections.

The Gothenburgh stairsteps is one of the day’s highlights. From a bird eye’s perspective, the original LH section of many many miles winds its way as a series of stair-like 90 degree right and left turns through wide nothingness with primarily corn. Farms are few and far between, a number clearly dilapidated and falling apart; others seemingly just abandoned with everything of the last inhabitants left inside and outside. Special historical encounter is 2 old all-wood bridges: both bridge supports in the water as well as the deck. They have survived the onslaught of renovation clearly visible at most other bridges in the stairsteps.
Late 19th century Fort McPherson was there, too. There is a Union soldier statue,now, only garding the front yard of a farm. The fort’s claim to fame: “…made white settlement possible…”the plaque says. At what costs? I think. Especially at the nearby national cemetary where many soldiers rest who died in the Indian War. And why are there no Indians buried there, too? Somewhere we came across the statue of an Indian in front of a courthouse – in Iowa I think. The fierce-looking Indian holds a broken spear high above his head. The plaque reads: “…. showing his interest in peaceful living with the settlers….”. It is the white winners’ mind-resting myth re the proud Indian’s realization he had no choice after his tribe’s families were ethnically cleansed.

Most impressive is the empty vastness of Nebraska. The Indians must have known all along that the world is round. Left and right from LH flatness the globe’s rounding seems to be visible. Human anchorpoints here are not church steeples or highrise buildings. They are the incredibly immense silos and elevators which appear on the far horizon. The skyscrapers of the plains, David calls them. At their base, as if in miniature train format, a few weathered and neglected buildings housing maybe a gas station, a bar – at best a little town of a few thousand people with their few brown brick bank-saloon-jail-general store main street buildings that all fit in the prototypical western movie.

The most visible and audible link between the statewide line of monstrously large silos/elevator complexes is the Union Pacific railroad that runs only 50 yards/meters south of the Lincoln Highway. Freight train traffic is nonstop, mostly coal from Wyoming to the Chicago power plants, David explains – angrily adding ”there is no such thing as clean coal” as the coal industry claims. Each train is at least 1 mile (1.6 km) long. It seems that the distance between the consecutive trains is shorter than the length of the average train itself. Sight and sound at close range are awesome.

The more west we get, the more western the west gets. Men wearing cowboy hats. The pick-up trucks are larger than anywhere else in the USA. The land becomes prairie as it once was – but the massacring the herd of miliions of buffalos hasn’t left one single visible as tribute to the mighty animal. End of the afternoon. Almost no cars on the road, just two triples cruising at 60 mph towards the sunset. And the antelope just off the shoulder. And the group of pheasants that fly up, one taking collision course with MS; I have to duck to avoid it, could have grabbed it out of the air. An old bridge in the middle of a grassy field away from the road – the triples become off-the-road bikes and plow to the bridge. The few scattered sheep-like clouds that add extra depth to the overwhelming dome of blue sky overhead. The smelly cattle – often Black Angus – waiting in muddy pens to be trained or trucked to the slaughterhouse. Clouds of starlings in their spectacular dancing flights over the corn fields. Wild sunflowers along the roads and fields.

MS has the time of her life. And so I. Despite the one mishap today: I lost the lightweight blue reflecting sunglasses that Chuck Cotham (Upchuck on the forum) gave me when I visited him on 2008 Dixie Highway and that ever since were my standard bike gear. RayBen takes over.

There are lots of reasons to ride through Nebraska.
What boring?

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