Scottsdale / Montrose
July 2002
Day 15


Saturday, July 14th, 2002
Start: Cozad, Nebraska
End: Iowa City, Iowa
495 Miles

In the morning, I check the water in the battery. It hasn't dropped a millimeter since Boulder. I'm very glad to see that, since it means there's no problem with the charging system of the bike. The battery was simply old.

We eat breakfast, and grab some tourist pamphlets in the lobby. One pamphlet tells the history of Cozad, located purposely on the 100th meridian between the "arid west and the moist east", where east meets west. I'd always thought that the Mississippi was the divide between east and west....

Another pamphlet tells of the Overton Trail along US-30, the route of the pioneers along the Platte River, and later the railroads followed the same route. That might be interesting, or it might be Hell.

Breakfast done, we clean up and head out - eastbound on US-30 rather than the Interstate. For a change, and simply because we've never gone this way before.

Sharon talked me into it... The reason I've never taken US-30 across Nebraska before because it would likely take forever to cross the plains via two-lane roads, and I've never had that much time. I'm negative about US-30, but Sharon is curious. And persuasive, so we end up riding US-30 from Cozad to Kearney.

It's not half as bad as I expected. Actually, it's quite pleasant. It's green, very green. And it doesn't feel like we're "out West" anymore, instead it looks almost like rural Ohio or Indiana. Traffic is light, and temperatures early in the morning are just on the cool side of comfortable. To our right, a busy rail line parallels US-30 and we get to pace more than a couple fast freight trains.

We pass through several small towns, but there's something sad about them.... They're not vibrant like Pemberville (where I live), instead they seem tired. The peeling paint, closed buildings and general disrepair suggest apathy on the part of the residents. The towns are simply tired; it's hard to say just how long some of them will continue to exist at all.

And a strange sight: bicyclists are riding across Nebraska on US-30 - bicyclists..! This absolutely amazes me. I thought that it would take forever to cross Nebraska on a motorcycle, and here are people pedaling across the state. Soft luggage, trim bodies, strong legs, water bottles, and self-contained - the Long Distance Riders of the pedal-pushing group.

I chuckle because a long time ago, the writer John Krakauer wrote an article on whitewater kayaking in Outdoor magazine, in a question-and-answer format. One question was "How does whitewater kayaking compare to sea kayaking?"

His answer: "Whitewater kayaking compares to sea kayaking the way hang gliding compares to bicycling across Nebraska." The answer has stayed with me, and been good for many grins, because I suspect it's spot-on.

But looking closer, these riders aren't just in great shape... they're also rather mature. There must be something about long-distance travels that requires a bit of maturity - probably just being able to afford the trip and the time off. Regardless of the years, these bicyclists are in incredibly good physical shape.

It's also been my experience that the slower you go, the more you see. Sitting still, studying the intricacies of a single flower, you can memorize that flower and comprehend the tendrils and the petals and the stem dripping milk in an entirely different way than if you saw a field of dandelions as you blew by at 70 mph. One way, you see intricacies and fine detail and symmetry. The other way, you see splashes of yellow and green, and then it's gone.

And as I keep thinking about bicycling across Nebraska, I realize that I would like to have the time to see the intricacies. That maybe the mature riders on the bicycles have the better machine and the better schedule, and maybe they're feeling sorry for me.

By the time we hit Kearney, I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'd like to bicycle across Nebraska myself someday, after retirement, and see the place up close and slowly. It's said that "God is in the details..." Maybe I'd find Him there, if I spent more time looking carefully.

At Kearney, we get back on the Interstate. We're not even close to being retired, and like it or not we don't have all summer. We're expected back at work Monday.

The day warms up as we motor down I-80 at a good speed.

And throughout Nebraska, there's construction on I-80. Lots of construction. Over and over again, when we finally seem to be making good time traffic slows to a crawl and then stops. Fans cycle on and off on traffic around us, cars in all lanes try to change lanes a little at a time. Hard to make a quick lane change at .1 mph....

It's hot and we're frustrated... The vacation is essentially over, and we want to be home. Soon!

Outside Omaha, traffic slows and then simply stops. Another detour... this time we learn from a car driver that it's due to a traffic accident. We decide to eat a late lunch on the chance the mess will clear up by the time we finish, and we won't have to detour onto the two-lane roads again. I don't want to take two-lane roads through Omaha.

Our late lunch at Cubby's Restaurant (exit 420 west of Omaha) turns out to be the worst food of the trip. Maybe of the year... We order, and the waitress returns to tell us they're out of that. We try again, they're out of that too. Another try, and we're shot down again. And again... There's very little in stock, according to the waitress. Finally she explains that their refrigerator had a repair call earlier in the week, and they haven't been fully re-stocked since.

Sharon asks her to tell us what they do have, since it seems that would be easier than running back and forth into the kitchen with each of our requests. What they do have is very little. Sharon and I eventually end up with our 6th or 7th or 8th or 9th choice or so.

When the waitress brings the check, I'm tempted to photograph it - the first 6-8 selections we made are crossed off, there's little room left for the food we actually ate. I've never seen a bill so covered in scribbles in my life...

Restaurant Review: the food was forgetable, but the selection and service made quite an impression on both of us.

Finding the Silver lining to our truckstop dining? Our accident avoidance plan works - finishing our late lunch we look out the window and traffic is normal on eastbound I-80 again.

On our way out the door, we run into another Concours owner gassing up - it's Monty and his significant other, we'd met them in Telluride. They live in Minnesota, and are trying to simply make time - no time to talk or eat or hang out. So a quick hello-goodbye will do. Funny-odd how you can run into the same people several times like that on long trips.

And then we enter western Iowa. After time spent in the desert, the green is almost shocking. Western Iowa is rolling farms, big farms, and in July everything is very, very green. And a mild farm smell, of earth and plants and humidity. The air is slightly hazy, and it gives the scenery an odd effect - rolling shapes, green and more green, but somewhat soft around the edges. Watercolors, or a soft-focus photograph. Very pleasant, but I'm almost certain that if I were to take a photograph nothing special would show up. Without the heat, the haze, and the subtle smells - it would be a rather dull photo, and not reflecting the pleasantries of the moment. Cameras can lie, under certain conditions.

We make a few stops to rest here and there, and decide that Iowa City looks like a good place to call it a night. We eat at a sports bar / restaurant, find a room, watch a little Weather Channel and fall asleep.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio