Today is/was a day off from riding. That means a day of cleaning and lubing the bike and trailer, reshuffling gear, reprovisioning, washing laundry, and carbo and electrolyte loading and replenishing, the last being my favorite part.
When setting out my plan (and I apologize if I’ve written this before), I worked in an extra day off the bike at roughly one-week intervals. Alexander Majors (of Russell, Majors & Waddell, the firm behind the Pony Express) insisted on resting his freighting crews every Sunday to observe the Sabbath. (He also gave his crews bibles, which were popular because the leaves were the right size to use as rolling papers, but that’s a another point.) Regardless of the reason (though some would say because of it), the histories suggest that any freighting and emigrant crew that took regular rest days made their destination more quickly and in better shape than those who did not. It just seems like simple good sense to rest once in a while.
That being said, I did not sleep well last night despite the bed being comfortable and the motel quiet. Maybe I’ve grown accustomed to train whistles, I don’t know. But I was at the laundromat just after it opened at 7; from there I went out to breakfast at Good Evans which had the blandest pancakes I’d ever eaten. (Seriously. Zero integrity. Maybe they could borrow some toxic lard from Grandma’s Depot in Horton, KS.) Power-washed the sand and dirt out of the bike and trailer at a self-serve car wash, then went shopping. At this point, everything is pretty much lubed and charged and stowed and ready to go tomorrow.
In the process of running these errands I’ve wandered about Kearney. It’s interesting how transportation has shaped this town. It built up originally in the 1870s around the transcontinental railroad, a few blocks north of where I’m staying. The Lincoln Highway was built north of that in the early 1900s, so the town spread up that way. Around 1960, US 80 was built south of the town, so now we get the high-speed corridor of Second Avenue running from 80 to the Old Town core (where you can still see blocks of brick street).
While I’ve had time to look around, I’ve also had some free time to look back on the first 350 miles of the trail, and I cannot say at this point that I would return to ride it again. All of it is accessible by car, and much of it probably better experienced by that means. Which is not to suggest that I regret the ride, or think it a mistake in any way. I have enjoyed my solo time on the bike, and I really welcome the break in my day-to-day routine. Biking this section is just not something I need to experience again.
And, really, experience is the key here, in the sense that, all of my encounters with people, from Carla and her kin who stalked me halfway across Kansas to see if I needed any help, to Dale and Marilyn who saved me in a particularly low time, and even to Johnny Carson here in Kearney who gave me a laugh by being such a cranky old bastard . . . These are experiences you can’t orchestrate. Yes, they are less likely to happen if you seal yourself up in a car. But I could just as easily have missed these chance meetings rather than to have been so fortunate as to receive the grace of these good peoples’ gifts as I have. It’s the being out that makes these experience possible, not the being out here, exactly, doing this, specifically.
So while I do not see myself riding this section again, I would never suggest anyone not ride it for themselves. To the extent riding a national road is as good a reason as any, as good an organizing principle as any, if you will, I would even encourage it. What I would add though, is be more prepared for the challenges than I was, because Kansas and Nebraska are not as flat as you think, and some of these miles are pretty damn tough. Oh . . . and bring a butter knife.