Through the Plains: Colorado through Kansas, Nebraska, & Iowa

Day 13: Kit Carson, CO -> Colby, KS; fighting winds and boredom

The day started at The Kit Carson Inn with breakfast of homemade muffins from Pam and a short chat with Gene.  Gene had attended UNC (the University of North Carolina) and I’m an NC State grad, and he shared a story in his slow Southern drawl of a football game between our arch rival schools back while he was attending in the 1970’s.  We could have talked for much longer, but it was time to make miles.

Although I was continuing to descend out of the Rockies, it was difficult to tell.  From about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs, I dropped more than 3000ft over 150 miles into Kansas- or less than a 0.5% average grade.

The winds started as the terrain flattened onto the Plains- which begin in eastern Colorado.  Winds can be 40+ mph, which would have made cycling nearly impossible if they were crosswinds.  Fortunately,  I didn’t encounter anything nearly that bad, but the wind did add to the challenge of riding all day.

I received texts from both my co-worker Pam Baker and her husband- who sponsored Kansas- right as I crossed the state line and took pictures for them.  It was very cool that people were watching that closely!

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The Kansas-Colorado border- notice how the wind is blowing my TDSU17 banner.

Today felt like a short day, stopping after less than 8 hours of riding, but I had surprisingly few options to stay for the night in western Kansas.  I was able to find a motel in Colby, the largest town (population 5400) I passed through in 120 miles of riding today.  It was one of the worst places I stayed, but what can you expect for $45?  I could have stayed in better, but with so many nights on the road, I couldn’t justify $100+ a night for something like a Holiday Inn Express that I’d be in for only a few hours.

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Yep, it’s windy, just as expected.

I rode and rode all day, and there’s not much else to add.  My biggest challenge ended up not being wind or monotony, but dealing with saddle sores.

 

Day 14: Colby, KS -> Minden, NE; almost halfway done!

Day 14 took me through the northwest corner of Kansas and into Nebraska- more pedaling all day with little to break up the monotony.  But I was grateful at the same time- cities made for slower progress and so I was able to make good mileage every day.

As I looked at the results after the ride, I discovered that I averaged 155 miles per day in a 4 day stretch through Kansas and Nebraska.  Before the ride, I didn’t expect to have more than 1 day in the entire ride over 150 miles.

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Sunrise on the prairie- with the ever ubiquitous grain elevator

 

 

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Watching the sun rise over the prairie- love the early morning time

I also traded texts with my co-workers Jason and Michael as they drove to Emporia, Kansas, only a few hundred miles away, for the Dirty Kanzaa 200.  DK is a 200 mile, 1 day bike race- nearly all of it on gravel roads.  Insane!  I distinctly remember laughing out loud at Jason’s text back: “You are kicking ass!” (hope that doesn’t offend anyone).

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Plus there are always interesting sights no matter where you are (I love traveling in general), from grain elevators to planes on trains:

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The pile of grain looked monstrous in person

I made many short stops- such as this roadside park, which often led to spontaneous conversations.  More than one person immediately guessed that I was riding across the country.  I passed out business cards for TDSU17, but I don’t think any of them generated donations.

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I stopped for the night at Pioneer Village in Minden and got a note from Pat Morrissey- a co-worker who came here as a child and whom I’d see in a few days when I got to the Quad Cities.  The accommodations were dingy.  It’s not a good sign when a 100+ room motel has no more than 3-4 guests- but I was only there a few hours.

The winds were strong at times but manageable.  I was now well on my way to getting past the last major geographic hurdle.  The Appalachians would be a hurdle, but a much smaller one, especially coming just a few days from the end when adrenaline and the excitement of the finish would carry me over.

In this section, I also saw the first sign of Indianapolis- literally:

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Dinner was a small, local grocery store.  It actually was a great option- for about $20, I had plenty to eat (including my usual 2 desserts!), plus I could rest and eat at the same time.

By the end of the day, I had covered 160 miles for the day and 1762 miles total- just about halfway already!  As I reflect back, it was probably around here that I gradually gained confidence that- barring a crash or other unforeseen incident- I’d finish the ride, and maybe even close to the planned schedule.

Day 15: Minden -> Lincoln -> Gretna, NE; clicking away miles in Cornhusker country

My original planned stop was Warmshowers in Lincoln, but it fell through when the host’s mother passed away a few days ahead.  I had already shipped supplies (Clif bars and energy food), so I stopped to pick them up and they cheerfully filled my water bottles also.  They even offered to let me camp in their yard, but I wasn’t carrying camping gear.  The hospitality displayed even while the family was dealing with their loss was yet another small but significant act of kindness I was grateful for.

While navigating through Lincoln, I did enjoy a fantastic network of bike trails.  Lincoln was one of the larger cities that I went directly through (probably only Chicago was larger).  I could have stopped in Lincoln for a 150ish mile day but found an inexpensive Super 8 motel northeast of the city and decided to keep going.  I’m glad I did.

I only took about 25 pictures in the entire states of Kansas and Nebraska, despite ~450 miles of riding.  The view most all day long was the pretty much unchanged.  But it did get hilly in eastern Nebraska.  The Warmshowers host had given me detailed input on my route, so I could bypass a hill that local cyclists used for training.  Good advice!  A steep hill at the end of a long day would not have put a smile on my face!

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Hilly terrain (worse than it looks) near Lincoln
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One of my favorite pictures of the entire ride- a small hilltop church outside of Lincoln, near the end of a long day.

180 miles at over 15mph was the second longest ride of my life.  I realized later that the 2 highest mileage days of the ride were back to back: 340 miles in 2 days.

It was an improvised route with an improvised stop for the night that couldn’t have turned out any better.

 

Day 16: Gretna, NE -> Winterset, IA; rolling thru the Iowa hills

After a bit of a late start (740am) after 2 long days, I skirted Omaha for about 20 miles before crossing the Missouri River into Iowa- which was sponsored by my co-worker Chris Hruska and his wife Amy (Iowa natives).

The welcome sign says “Fields of Opportunity”.  Fields are right.  Fields of grass that could use mowing!

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Surprisingly (to me at least), today would turn out to be the 3rd hilliest day of the ride with 6700ft of climbing.  And hard- instead of the Rockies with long climbs where I could get into a low gear and chug away rhythmically, in Iowa it was constant up and down.  My SRAM eTap electronic drivetrain monitors all kinds of data, including battery level and shifting.  Today, I shifted over 2000 times!

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Look at the difference between Colorado and Iowa, despite a total elevation change (climbing) that was within a few hundred feet.  Completely different days!  Even with the high altitude, Colorado was much easier.

 

Iowa elevation map
Iowa elevation map- 6725ft of ascent
CO elevation
Colorado elevation map (Day 10)- 6070ft of ascent

I stopped to air up my tubeless tires at a small bike shop, just off a short section of rail-trail in the little town of Silver City:

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I had chosen Zipp’s first carbon tubeless wheels for the ride, and it was one of the best decisions I made.  I could get low on air, but still ride.  I made it through the entire ride across America on all kinds of roads with zero- zero- flat tires.  That’s unbelievable to most people (including myself).

 

Day 17: Winterset -> Columbus Jct, IA; long, lonely days are coming to an end

I seemed to encounter little rivers and streams every morning that very briefly broke up the monotony of the ride- this wasn’t the most scenic of them, but provided an excuse for a quick stop:

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Today was another sort of milestone day.  After 16 days of solo riding, I had company to look forward to in the days ahead.  In fact, after seeing friends only once (in Colorado Springs) since Day 2 , I would see or ride with friends for the next 6 straight days.  Not since the short stint with a stranger on Day 2 had I ridden with anyone else.  My co-worker Pat was joining up tomorrow, then into Chicago to meet WBR colleagues, then the ride through Indy where I knew I’d have a crew of friends to ride with, then family in Ohio.

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the rolling hills of Iowa- hillier than it looks. Up, down, up, down. All day.

I continued to receive encouraging texts on most days from friends and co-workers- here’s just one:

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That was a huge mental lift when they popped up on my Garmin as I rode.  It was like a little tailwind.  My co-worker, Scott, who sent this one also saw me stopped for a while in the middle of nowhere, and sent a note checking if I was ok.  It was just a mid-afternoon rest stop, but again a nice thought that people were keeping an eye out for me.

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A little shade is a huge pick-me-up for quick rest stops.

The hotel was another poor one- the room # written on the door in magic marker is not a sign of a high class place!  But it was clean enough, another dinner from a local grocery store, and just keep moving.

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One of the very few times I took a few minutes (literally- about 5) to play tourist- at a historic swinging bridge:

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Next up: Illinois, Indiana, and lots of familiar, friendly faces

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