Brent Allen, author of Motorcycles, Life, and… and The Elemental Motorcyclist and his wife, Julie, are on a road trip, two-up. They are heading to the AMA Superbike races in Elkhart Lake, WI, riding their Honda ST1300 from their home town of Nampa, ID (just southwest of Boise). They will be our guest bloggers while on the trip, and each will give their own impressions on their travels and give us a look into each of their own individual ways of looking at the same experience.
First, from Brent:
Tuesday, May 27/North Platte, NE to Omaha NE/08:15 to 17:30/1006 to 1321 miles
When we built our schedule for this trip we built in some “slop” time; time that we could use to make up for delays or mishaps. I thought it was a few hours of wiggle room as it turns out I built in a full 24 hours of oops time. Oops. Nice bit was this allows for some relaxed time to bushwhack our way to Omaha, spend the night and then park up somewhere between Des Moines and Road America on Wednesday night. Yes, I said bushwhack and I managed to get momentarily lost a couple of times. Technically I wasn’t lost because I knew right where I was, which was on a motorcycle in Nebraska; where in Nebraska was in doubt only for short periods of time.
Starting at the beginning: In North Platte we did not stay in a dive, it was part of a large chain and new to boot so I never worried about the window falling out or glowing mold around the toilet. It was the antithesis of the dive motel in Rock Springs. I will never cheap out on accommodations again. The dive motel saved me a whopping 22 dollars and I’ll end up spending all that on antibiotics and bleach. Lesson learned. After a hard Monday running on the interstate we decided to use US30 to continue travelling east. This is the Lincoln Highway and is mostly 2 lanes, parallels the interstate but passes through all the small towns instead of avoiding them. One of the cool things about this route is that for miles and miles and miles it parallels the railroad tracks as well. You can see the next town coming because two things pop up on the horizon: a water tower and a gargantuan grain silo. Once you see one of those two things you know that civilization, however small, is shortly arrived at. Let me offer this: If you’re bushwhacking in Nebraska due to a poorly marked detour don’t ask Siri for help, just ride to the water tower or siloes. You will find a town, the railroad tracks and US30. It works. I know. In the time it takes for Siri to figure out where you are (she has real issues if you’re moving) you’ll have time to spot a UPS truck two miles off, realize it’s moving toward that monster silo on the horizon, gun it, catch the UPS truck and return to the path to humanity.
By the by, in Nebraska they don’t feel the need to warn you if you’re turning down a dirt road, you just find an intersection, read the sign that says “SR459”, turn the corner and then realize the blacktop ends in 50 feet. After this happens the second time you really start to look before you turn.
The temptation is to say that every small Nebraska town looks the same but they don’t. There are similarities but each one seems to have its own personality that’s hard to put your finger on. Perhaps the easiest thing to point out is that no two silos or cluster of silos are the same. Some are single rows from 2 to 6 silos long. Others have two rows of 2, or 4, or 6. The amount and size of the silos seem to indicate how big a hub the town is. Some towns lay over the tracks and connect themselves with huge steel pedestrian crossovers as well as regular road crossings. And yes, there seems to be a good side of the tracks and a bad side—I can’t say that for certain because one side seems commercial and the other industrial so who knows. I was struck by how some towns streets run dead parallel to the tracks with a frontage road and others hit the tracks at oblique or acute angles. Some towns seem to be predominately brick and others are stucco or frame and plank. One town seemed to be nothing but steel buildings but that may just tell you I was on the industrial side of town, not the commercial/residential side. I’ve been on the wrong side of the tracks a few times in my life and this didn’t feel like it. The only thing that’s consistently the same is that they are all different.
A motorcycling warning if you choose to use US30 in Nebraska: the trucks are running hard because they can. Run with them. Slow if they slow. Pick up your speed if they pick up theirs. The only place in Nebraska I’ve seen a state trooper is once just over the line from Wyoming and then today I saw FIVE, all on US30, all near town, and none with an eighteen wheeler pulled over. Entering a city the speed will drop from 65 to 45 to 35 and sometimes to 25 so keep your wits and ride like the truck drivers do: be wise and obey the law coming into and leaving town.
Coming and going into towns you get a wonderful look at the houses and open farms. Outside Kearney on US30 I was blown away by the immaculate farms that lined the road. As we got farther from large cities the lovely and observant Mrs. Crash spotted several turkeys and a doe and fawn while we were out and about. I was struck by the sheer amount of water and how the trees cluster around the banks. When you’re running railroad straight it gives you a real feel for the wandering nature of creeks and rivers as the tree line snakes back and forth, towards and away from you and then you realize the trees cross the road with the water as you pass over it. At this time of year Nebraska is green and lush and full of life. The mystical part is that the tree line is filled with a green fog of growth and you can’t see more than ten or fifteen feet into the bush. Away from the cities barns, silos and the roofs of farmhouses peek over the living wall but unless the property owner has cleared the undergrowth you only get glimpses of well kept homes and yards as driveways and access roads slip by. But all those things, the homes, the farms, the water and the small towns are all hidden from the Interstate. You see none of the life of Nebraska if you simply stick to the system that President Eisenhower gifted this country with; take a trip off the transportation grid you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you see.
And, from Julie:
There are many colors in the world. (and they aren't all visual) let me explain...
What a bright, sunny, beautiful, visually stunning, completely entertaining day. Of course it always looks that way after a good night's sleep. It was already a moderately comfortable temperature at 8:15am when we climbed onto the Big Blue Beast and headed out of North Platte. Color me yellow.
Because we had pushed so hard the two previous days we decided to ease off a little and instead of riding I-80 which kind of feels like running through peoples back yards and only seeing the ugly underbelly of life, we took the Lincoln Highway, which felt more like driving down the street looking at the front yards. What and incredibly awesome choice. Not to far out of North Platte we stopped at a little c-store, gas station to fill up the bike. While we were refreshing ourselves and devising a loose plan for the day, the clerk carried out 3 cases of beer. Of course this peaked Crash's interest and he questioned her jokingly about having a party at her house later thinking it was hers. She kindly explained that no party would be happening THEY buy 3 cases every week. This left him scratching his head. Within a minute or two out of the store came two bent over, little blue hairs who climbed into the old beater Buick. The driver barely able to see over the steering wheel. Out they backed and bounced the oil pan on the pavement as they left the parking lot. Color me tickled pink!
Driving a little further (because on the highway there was one of those little stereotypical towns every 10 miles.) we passed through a town of 20,000 people. We live in a town of 90,000 people, we have 3 Subway stores. This was a town of 20,000 they had 4 Subways. Every town no matter how small or large had one if not multiple Subway stores. You could not swing a dead cat and not hit a Subway in Nebraska. Color me green.
The old buildings in these towns were amazing. Brick, lots and lots of red brick. Such amazing character each one had. Some with the date they were built on the peaks of the facades, others, my favorites, had old painted advertisements on the sides or backs of the buildings. There were amazingly intricate architecture of old churches and simple A frame churches, magnificent, regal courthouses and historically important one room log cabins or slat board buildings. We just don't build like that anymore. Color me brick red.
Dame's rocket for those of you who don't know is a flower many people grow in flower beds. It's a color between violet and lavender purple. After it blooms the seed blows away in the breeze. Dame's rocket grows wild in the medians here, and it was beautiful. I spent the time between towns watching waves of purple blow in the breeze created by the traffic ahead of us. There were periodically thickets of trees next to the highway which were mottled with shades of greens and the deep violet of the flowers. It made me think of home, my son, Christian, who loves gardening and flowers and has kept me up to date on my flowers with pictures. Color me purple.
We passed irrigation pivot after irrigation pivot (giant, automated, wheeled metal armatures filled with sprinkler heads that move across or around a field) in field after field of alfalfa, corn or wheat. Huge, awkward tractors where moving effortlessly between the rows of crops, cultivating and spraying. It reminded me of my Dad who was a farmer and did all of those things I watched as we sped along today. Evokes such emotion, I lost my dad a month ago. Color me blue.
We had the opportunity to see lots of wild life, ok, some of it was not so alive...apparently raccoons and opossums don't fair so well in rural Nebraska. There were unfortunately for them more than I'm sure either THEY or we wanted to see. We saw a huge Tom turkey strutting his stuff in the middle of a pasture, his blue face and heavy red waddle flopping a big brown tail fanned behind him. At first I thought he was confused and was flirting with one of the large black Angus bulls who he was near, but a little farther down the road there was a hen walking along. I surmised she wasn't as impressed with his display as we were. My favorite animal spotting today was a doe lying in the grass near the side of the road. Bouncing around her in a circle was a tiny fawn, perhaps a week or two old. It was covered with white spots and had large dark eyes. Momma was trying to lick baby as it bounced around her. In my head I could hear her half heartedly chastise her baby for wiggling while she was trying to wipe it's face. I prayed they stayed far away from the highway. Color me fawn brown.
I finished day three saturated in colors, permeated by the experience, filled to overflowing with emotion. A very colorful day.