June 5, 2021
Rock Creek State Park, NE to Hebron, NE
40.8 miles/1,660 feet
Upper 80s/15 mph
I realize that I forgot a couple of milestones on Day 4. First, I hit my third state, Nebraska. Second, I passed the halfway point (175 miles) on the first leg of my ride (to Kearney). Not that either landmark made much of an impression at the time . . .
Day 5 started out great. As promised, Marilyn sent Dale over with a cup of coffee. He buys his beans green and roasts them, so he was pretty proud to share. Marilyn called across the camp to ask if I wanted orange juice, and I said no thank you, but she came over and stuffed a little bottle in my hand anyway which I sucked down. When it was time to go, we joined in a little huddle and they prayed for my safety on the road. It was a great send off.
I rode into the town of Fairbury, got coffee and a fritter in honor of the Tour de Fritter. Outside the store I talked to some guy who stopped to ask me where I was headed and he left me saying, God bless you and have a safe trip. Lot of blessings came my way that morning.
I went off-course to look for George Winslow’s gravesite. You can read more about it here. Though my map showed the site on a dead end road, it is actually on a knoll about a quarter-mile down an overgrown trail behind a locked gate at the end of a dead-end road. So I didn’t get to see it.
As an aside, Nebraska has a lot of roadside landmarks noting the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express, all of which ran pretty much along the same track through the state. The funny thing, though, is no non-native people who came through Nebraska on the trails wanted to stay here. No one knew what to do with all the empty space, the lack of water, and the abundance of wind. They just wanted to get through it as quickly as they could to the Oregon farms and the California gold. The plains weren’t settled by whites until the 1860s, and according to Walter Prescott Webb in The Great Plains, it only happened then courtesy of three inventions: the Colt revolver, barbed wire, and windmills. I thought about that every time I passed a landmark to the people who were just passing through.
After my unsuccessful detour, my fifth day on the ride became a lot like the fourth, except in one key regard: I did not feel despair. My energy quickly and steadily drained through the day. By the time I rolled into Hebron, my stopping place for the day, I felt like like I was knocking and pinging like a car running on fumes. I wish I had had more energy to enjoy the scenery along the way. Some of it was beautiful, and it bothered me that the beauty registered in the comprehension part of my brain but not the enjoyment part. On the other hand, I had every reason to be tired. The weather was hot (90º) and windy (15-20 mph), and there was a fair amount of climbing some more stupidly steep hills.
Whence the title of this entry, Grinding it Out. You may recall Robert Mitchum’s character muttering those words in tragic undertones while he waits for Jane Greer to show up in that Acapulco bar in Out of the Past. (“I knew I’d go every night until she showed up. I knew she knew it. I sat there and drank bourbon and I shut my eyes, but I didn’t think of a joint on 56th Street. I knew where I was and what I was doing…what a sucker I was. I even knew she wouldn’t come the first night. But I sat there, grinding it out.”)
So I wasn’t having a fun ride, but I was grinding it out and that was okay. I was going to stay in the Riverside Motel in Hebron, and all I had to do was make it.
Which I did.
I had made a reservation the afternoon before. We had a bad phone connection and the manager was a new father (I could hear his child crying in the background) and by the time it got to taking a credit card number he just said, “I trust you.”
He is Indian, and I had arrived just after lunch and the lobby smelled great. I had stopped to slam down more Gatorade and chocolate milk before I showed up, so I was able to stand patiently in the lobby while he detailed his extremely delicious-sounding (and smelling) lunch.
Lobby is dignifying the space. It was an empty room with a counter at one end that led to the manager’s living space. I did not get the manager’s name, but he was great. Mid-30s maybe, kind of a hipster beanie on (even though it was 90º outside). He said you told me you were coming on a bike so I turned on the air conditioner to cool the room for you. There are construction workers here and sometimes they have parties in the grill area so I put you all the way at the other end. If they’re loud, call me. No problem. You want to pay by credit card or cash? You should pay cash. Here’s why . . . He pointed to a little plastic stand with rate information . . . If you pay with credit card I have to charge you a processing fee and this tax. He pulled out a calculator from under the counter. Instead of fifty dollars, it comes to this. See?
I’m not sure I have fifty in cash, I said.
How much do you have?
I pulled out my wallet. Forty-six.
Give me forty.
Then he started showing my what a deal I was getting by showing me the invoices for other guests. He had this way of saying something and then widening his eyes and pausing while looking straight at me. I don’t know if he was making sure his point sank in or if he was forming his next thought, but it was a little disconcerting.
I got into the room, passed out in a chair for about 30 minutes, took my first shower of the afternoon, then found a Mexican restaurant a short walk away (I would be a very happy man if I could eat Mexican restaurant food every day from St. Joe to Salt Lake City) and ordered dinner to go and drank, I swear, a 30-ounce horchata. While dinner cooked I went to the adjacent gas station convenience store and bought a pint of chocolate ice cream. I went back to my room and ate the ice cream and a huge burrito drowned in some kind of white sauce I would probably never eat under normal conditions, alternating bites, so I could enjoy the burrito while it was hot and the ice cream while it was cold. Then I went through the bag of chips and salsa. I felt like I was the planet-sucking doomsday machine from Star Trek, sucking down anything that crossed my path. I took another shower. Kept the air conditioner blasting the entire time. It was heaven.