Date: Mon, 11 Sep 95 22:23:00 UTC
Copyright (c) 1995 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 4 Part 1 - Aug 26 to Sept 8 Valentine, NE to Des Moines, IA - 1409 miles cumulative
We continued our generally eastward trek staying on Route 20 through just aboout the rest of Nebraska. Temperatures continued to stay in the high 90's with an occasional rain to cool things down for a short while.
One thing we find most fascinating about traveling by bike is your ability to recognize even the smallest change in terrain, town structure, and people's behavior seems to be greatly enhanced. Until Valentine we had been riding through mostly dry rolling grasslands filled with cattle ranches. After leaving Valentine and the sand hills country the land flattened, the moisture in the soil and air increased, and greenery surrounded us. The dry brown grasses were quickly replaced with green fields filled with corn. Trees no longer were simply clustered around the towns and ranch houses. There were trees scattered all over. The towns even began to feel more *developed*. They were usually larger, provided more services, and just seemed a little more planned, if that makes any sense. In general the towns began to have a more midwestern feel. And all this change happened within a distance of only about 100 miles, 2 biking days.
It seemed that the people also started becoming more open and friendly. It started just a few miles down the road from Valentine in a town called Johnstown. We stopped to eat in a cafe and we soon started talking to a trucker who had stopped in for a soda, it was Sunday his day off and he was with his wife and son. After asking the usual questions of where we started and where we're going he told us about a group of about 1500 riders who were traveling from California to the east coast. "Yeah I started passing them at the state line. They were spread from there all the way to Valentine. There were so many of them they couldn't get off the road when we went by."
Before leavine I happened to mention that we've noticed that the professional Semi drivers seem to be the most courteous drivers we've encountered. He seemed to really appreciate my compliment. Actually I always try to mention that to any truck driver we meet in person in the hopes the message will get spread up and down the road. I just imagine the chatter on the CB;
"Breaker one two, this is Road Hog. Did you see those pedal powered bikes back there at mile 200."
"Road Hog, this is Yellow Runner. Yeah, I passed them yesterday at mile 155 also. Sure are loaded. Those bikes must weigh at least 100 lbs each."
"Red Denver here. I ran into those two at the Cafe in Johnstown. They told me that us drivers are the best thing they've met on the road."
"No kidding! We'll have t keep an eye out for those two."
"Yeah, but I tell you I wouldn't want to push a bike like that along day after day. No sireee. Not my idea of fun."
In the tiny town of Orchard we were pleasantly surprised to find an absolutely wonderful town park with free camping and a *shower*. Showers are extremely valuable to bike tourists. Here, for the first time a lady came over, cherry tomatoe gift in hand, to find out what we were up to. Evidently she and her husband got tired of the "big city" life in Denver and, after retirement, moved to Orchard to restore an old Victorian home they had purchased. Seven years later they were still at it. I'll admit for a person who just got rid of a house and all the work associated with it the idea of spending 7 years restoring a Victorian was not too appealing to me. She said that anytime a loaded bike tourist stops at the town park they find some excuse to come over and talk.
Perhaps the friendliest town we encountered was Plainview. This town's welcome started over 50 miles up the road with a sign advertising the free camping at their town park. So we decided to stop, have a soda, and wander around. As we passed by the Tourist information/Chamber of Commerce store front we paused to have a look at the photos in the window. The next thing we knew we were being dragged inside to have a closer look. The display on the wall and tables commerated the end of WWII and the town's contribution to the war effort. But the man showing us the display was so full of excitment as he showed us certain photos and artifacts, some of which were his. Perhaps the one item I found most interesting was a silk Japanese flag that evidentally was taken off of a Japanese soldier's body. They would have all their friends, relatives, comrades in arms, sign the flag and they would wear it near their heart for courage, divine inspiration, or something like that. It would just be hard for me to imagine taking it off the body to begin with. War makes people do unusual things.
Across the room from the WWII display were shelves and shelves of clowns, stuffed, ceramic, needle work, and what have you. Evidently Plainview has a clown town band and prides itself on being the clown capital of the U.S. It seemed to be a bit of a juxtaposition, clowns right next to WWII memorabilia.
But the folks and the Chamber of Comerce and in Plainview were probably the most friendly we've met so far. They would bend over backward to give us a hand. They were even willing to let us use their phone to dial into GENIE as long as it wasn't a toll call. We had to decline because they weren't within the local Sioux City GENIE number. They also directed us to some of the more interesting town stores, hey they're the Chamber of Commerce and that's what they're supposed to do.
The best store that we couldn't miss was the old five and dime, AKA variety store. If you've never seen a true, original small town five and dime you are really missing something. You walk into this old wood floored store with the 1800's style intricate ceiling and probably the original 1920's light fixtures. The 3000 some odd sq. ft. are crammed with 6 ft high shelves loaded down with everything under the sun that's not edible. There'll be everything from sewing notions, to hardware, clothes, and decorator supplies. If you can't find it in a five and dime it doesn't exist. Now you may say that this sounds a lot like today's modern drugstore like Long's or Payless. But they're different in their presentation. The drugstore is typically neat as a pin with everything stored by catagory on certain rows. The aisles are wide, well lighted, and have ample room for wheelchairs. A true five and dime is an inventory counter's worst nightmare. Stuff is haphazardly placed, the plumbing supplies next to the soap dishes, and the shelves are so often overloaded so that stuff spills onto the floor. There's hardly room for you to walk much less look at everything. Ah, but they can be a true treasure and bargain hunter's dream. We managed to find a replacement soap dish and tooth brush holder for $1.
Our last stop in Plainview was at Grandma Carol's Kitchen for lunch, this soda and pastry break lasted a lot longer than we originally anticipated. Grandma Carol's is run by Carol Hall who, despite the restaurant's name won't be a grandma for a few more months. After 32 years of a difficult marriage to a "nonchristian" man she finally got a divorce. Then a year ago she had a dream in which God told her to open this restaurant. "I swear if you had told me just the day before I would be doing this I'd have thought you were mad."
She was running the restaurant/gift shop completely alone. She did the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. So to make it easier she has the patrons do some work. When you come in you are expected to grab a plate, dish out anything you can find, get your own drinks, find the eating utensiles, and tally the bill when you're done. If you're really trustworthy she'll even let you pay the cash register and make change. It was like coming home to mom's house for a big smorgashbord but you don't have to cook or help with the dishes. As newcomers, we were a little timid at first. But, as the regulars showed up for the lunch hour they just dove right in.
There were tons of homemade style decorations all over, so finding the food was actually a bit of a treasure hunt. In between the wire basket filled with fruit and the tea kettle with the handmade cozy you may find a glass jar filled with chocolate chip cookies labeled 35 cents each. Over there on the decorative Franklin stove would be a pan with sauteed chicken breasts for the sandwich of the day. As a note, the entire lunch crowd with the exception of Brian were women. This clearly was not the sort of place that ole rancher, sweaty from driving that tractor around the fields, would frequent. To me her concept sounded like the perfect approach for a woman who loves to visit with new and old friends, loves to cook, and needs to have some income to support this lifestyle. Carol did say she'll give the restaurant idea 5 years and then maybe move into the B&B business which provides a very similar environment.
We were oh so tempted to stay in the town park for the night. But we had planned for a one day rest in the Ponca State Park just north of Sioux City, Iowa and really needed to push on.
All along Rt 20 in Nebraska we heard about the brand new bike trail currently under construction. They're tearing up the train tracks from Chadron to Fremont, some 300+ miles, and putting in a gravel path for biking/hiking. It is being sponsored both by the state of Nebraska and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. It was supposed to be finished by mid 1995 but as our trucker acquiantance in Johnston said "Things move slowly in Nebraska".
Now, I'm not affiliated with Rails-to-Trails in any way and I don't often tout the benefits of one nonprofit organization over another, But I do think that Rails-to-Trails is really cool. They don't just point out a problem they actually do something about it. They look for old railroad beds or canal tow paths that either have been or will be abandoned. They get ownership to the land through donation or purchase, regrade and resurface it, and turn the whole thing into one long biking/hiking trail. It's great and is of benefit to a lot of people. Perhaps as more and more of their trails become a reality, more and more people will get out of their cars for a while and try some bike riding and walking for a change.
End part 1
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.