June 4, 2021
Marysville, KS to Rock Creek Station, NE
43.7 miles/2,000 feet
As mentioned in my previous post, this is the real update for Day 4. Yesterday just got away from me, as I’ll explain.
The day started the night before, which is to say, I did not sleep well in Marysville’s Central Park. For two reasons. First, being a city park, bright lights lit the area all night. I somehow managed to camp under one and had to lay my shirt over my eyes to simulate nighttime. Also, it was loud. Very loud. People passed through the park until around 11. Some RVer also camping there . . . Well, you know how some people talk on their phones in cafes, or on hikes, and they talk so loudly that they may as well be shouting to the person on the other end of the line? I had one of those about 50 yards away. Also, the park sits next to the train yard, and I’m here to tell you: freight trains come and go all night long.
I also made a newbie mistake. I left my pack in my tent and didn’t empty the water bladder, and somehow managed to sit on the bladder and dispense water into the tent. Luckily, I didn’t soak the sleeping back, but really, it was just luck. One more thing to have to deal with.
Nice breakfast at the The Empty Cup the next morning. Decent start until a half-mile down the road I realized I had left my water bottle at the campground. No sweat, it was still there (though I had left it over an hour earlier). But a dumb mistake and another delay.
Marysville sits on the Big Blue River, and over a small divide runs the Little Blue River. Hollenberg Station is on that river, and the building there is “believed to be” the only original station on the original site, in Nebraska at least. The center was closed, which was too bad because I was looking forward to this being one of the better station visits on the trip. Also, I’d read that the people who run it are very nice and knowledgeable. Nevertheless, I rode around the site, checked out the old building (“Yep. It looks old all right.”) and headed on up the road.
After leaving Hollenberg, however, my energy level quickly dropped. It was a windy day, the wind out of the south, which meant it was a tailwind or crosswind all day, but it was an enervating wind, one that sucked the hydration out of me on the cross and didn’t cool me at all when blowing from behind. The forecast was for 90º, and it felt at least that hot. Not a cloud in the sky until a few cumulus formed in the late afternoon.
Now, I am usually pretty good about riding in hot conditions. But (like the saddle thing) my body needs to acclimate first, and I have not had that opportunity. So I was sucking down water but still suffering. And now worrying about having enough water to last the day.
Just shy of the Nebraska state line I saw a tractor pull into a farm, so I stopped to ask for water. The man told me it wasn’t his house, just where they kept the fuel he needed, but that his cousin, Eunice, who did own the house probably wouldn’t mind. So I topped off and got back on my way, loving the sound of that name, Eunice, because it seemed so perfect. Really, what else could her name have been?
I passed an unmarked Pony Express station site, then a huge Oregon Trail memorial with wagon ruts marked nearby. The funny thing about wagon ruts is they look just like tire ruts—at least these did—and while I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the claim, it was hard to be impressed. Or maybe it was just my mood.
Because not long after this, I started to despair. Suddenly, it hit me that I was going to be out on roads like this for a very long time, looking for stations that might not be there, fighting the wind, the heat, not sure where I’d sleep every night or whether I’d even be able to find a place. It struck me in a way it never had that not only might I not complete the trip, but that I might not even want to complete the trip. I have always been unsure I could do the whole thing. In fact, the morning I left St. Joe I actually stayed in bed as late as I could because I knew once I got up, the trip started and this was it. But that’s a different, more intellectual fear than the physical realization, this feeling in my gut, that I just might not be up to the journey I had set for myself.
I pedaled along wondering how I’d ever make it five or six weeks. This was only Day 4! I could no longer push the bike. I had to choose the gear that would allow the pedals to turn with the least effort. I stood whenever I could and coasted. I limped along the last ten miles or so to a campground and it felt like it took forever.
As I approached the campground where I had planned to stay, two things happened that perked me up. First, a cloud passed overhead, covering me in a shadow and cooling the air. Have you ever thanked a cloud for blocking the sun? I did. I couldn’t believe how grateful I was. Seconds later I was coasting downhill and a deer bounded across the road. I took that as a good sign.
Belatedly, my slow-working, semi-bonked mind belatedly realized that a few seconds sooner and that deer would have wiped me out. I would never have seen it coming.
I arrived at the campsite, found a spot, and decided to pay $25 for a spot with electricity rather than $15 for one without because the electric spots were closer to the showers. Only, after I dropped my envelope, I found the 110 outlet didn’t work.
And this is where things got interesting, and why I couldn’t write about this last night.
The camp host and his wife pulled up in a golf cart and he said he’d bring a voltmeter over and check the socket and sure enough it was dead. The said he had a 30 to 20 converter and would bring that and well he couldn’t find that either. Then he noticed my bike, and he’s a cyclist so we got to talking. His name is Dale, and he’s 80-years old, and two years earlier he’d been in a bike wreck and shattered his femur and hip socket. Bottom line is his doctor said he’d be in really bad shape if he fell again, so Dale got a tricycle. A serious, carbon fiber rocket ship trike. At 80. Dale wasn’t sure why he healed so well, except that maybe it was because he rode in a mission-supporting fundraiser every year and he thought maybe the Lord just wanted him to raise more money for the church.
I went off to take a shower, and as I was returning to my site, I was thinking about how I really needed to eat to get my levels back up, but also how the dehydrated meals and the Clif Bars and such that I had were not appetizing at all. As I passed by Dale’s RV, Marilyn, his wife, stepped out and stopped me and asked if I’d like to join them for dinner. I saw Dale standing over the grill and another couple sitting in the rocking lawn chairs on the side of the RV (If you haven’’t been camping lately, all camp hosts seem to have the largest RV complexes you can imagine). I thanked Marilyn and told her I didn’t want to appear rude, but that I was vegetarian. She said, well, do you like potatoes and onions and carrots and cole slaw and would you maybe like some fruit? I said I did and thanked her and that I would be back shortly.
I hung some clothes to dry and went back to Marilyn and Dale’s, and was introduced to Denny and Connie who were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary the next day and we talked a little until the chicken was ready, then we sat at a picnic table and said grace and got to it. Marilyn kept asking did I want some of this or some of that, until I said, “I will eat everything you put in front of me, so don’t offer unless you’re sure you can do without.” And sure enough, she kept passing me food whenever my plate started to show some white.
At some point Connie went to their RV and brought back cantaloupe and rhubarb cobbler. And, like cousin Eunice, of course it was rhubarb, right? Complete with Miracle Whip.
After dinner we went back to the comfy chairs and talked some more and by and by it got to be evening. Before I left, Marilyn said she’d send Dale over with a cup of coffee for me in the morning.
Which is why I didn’t have time to work on the blog yesterday.
I have, in the past, confessed to Lisa that I can be, in the words of Capitan Louie Renault in Casablanca, a rank sentimentalist. Sad but true. To run into people this generous, who seemed to sense what I needed even if they didn’t, especially after the afternoon I’d suffered through, or put myself through, was too much. My eyes teared up with gratitude on the way back to my camp.