Monday, August 29, 2011

Jenn's Big Summer Adventure: Part 4 - Nebraska & South Dakota

Sunday (8/28) morning, I breakfasted with Craig and Cindy - they shared hot water with me so I could make up a jumbo serving of instant miso soup for my breakfast. They were pulling out earlier than expected due to a change in the weather forecast: big storms. All the RVs in their company were packing up and battening the hatches. I swilled my miso and tea while I packed up and made sure I was waterproof, but not quickly enough! The sky got dark very quickly and the storm came. A neighboring camper, a 31 year old veteran named Dave, invited me to share his canopy - we rolled my bike under it so I could finish packing & getting ready and he made delicious coffee on his camp stove. We had a nice chat while we waited out the storm, and I finished off some Kaia cacao mole raw granola. Dave gave me a giant orange backpack cover to put over my waterproof duffel to increase conspicuity in the overcast weather.

The storm passed quickly, and I headed out on Hwy 20 again - there was nearly no traffic, the roads were clear and the skies cleared up very quickly to a gorgeous, cloudless blue. Cornfields and more cornfields. The barns and houses weren't even painted all that differently from each other (like in Ohio, SW Michigan and Eastern Indiana - at least there's variety in "ooh, is the house going to be white if the barn is red?"). As I got closer to the state line, I saw a billboard mentioning "barn quilts" and found myself in yet another quilts country, on a Sunday, with all the quilt shops closed! Probably a good thing or I would have ended up with way more bulky souvenirs than I could manage! Anyway, despite the billboard, I wasn't clear on what "barn quilts" were until I saw the first few and grew to be genuinely impressed with the scale of this public art project.




I only caught half a dozen of these but apparently it's a pretty big public art project - in multiple states & counties - here's the area where I traveled through: and here's another area:

Today's ride was pretty boring - lots of corn fields. There are folks who swear by the beauty of this area - I heard it called "God's Country" more than once - as an atheist, I can only observe that their god must have a mean streak - or must be a different god entirely from the one who made other more beautiful places. It's like saying white bread and mayonnaise sandwiches are the height of culinary delight!

In addition to the barn quilts, I did get to see one other completely new and delightful thing: baby miniature ponies. I actually hit the brakes and did a u-turn to go back and look at them. They were so darned cute!!





The cute baby ponies were just east of Sioux City - I stopped for gas and saw across the parking lot a grocery store that proudly proclaimed "Worker Owned" and had "co-op" in the title. I excitedly went over to find something for lunch and was dismayed to discover that it was a giant, generic, homogenous boring big grocery store with all the freaking produce wrapped in saran wrap, on styrofoam trays and nothing local! WTF? Seriously, people. How can you be in the middle of agriculture and have NO local produce in a "worker owned" co-op? Lame.

At least there was some amusing art for sale in the parking lot after I finished my Izze soda, bread & hummus:


I would have loved to have brought Miss Liberty along on my motorcycle, but, alas, she was a bit frigid. I could just see my landlord's expression if he came around and saw a 6' high replica of the Statue of Liberty in the front yard!

As I left Sioux City, I realized my good fortune in choosing Hwy 20 - flooding was evident this far south, and apparently roads and bridges had problems earlier in the day farther north.

I thought I'd get as far as Valentine, but the winds were hitting me crosswise and after not stopping at the last little town, found myself curiously far away from any place that seemed to offer fuel. I pulled off in a tiny "town" which turned out to be about 10 houses in the middle of a cornfield the size of Mendocino County, a silo and two lonely, unattended 24/7 fuel pumps that lacked clear instructions. They specified some sort of "Ag" card - but didn't have a Visa symbol. I was about to give up with 6 people crammed in the single seat of a pickup truck came by and happily informed me that the pumps did take regular credit cards. What grace!

As I putted along, I saw a man with two amazing looking hot rod motorcycles out in front of his house and stopped to say "hi" to him and his friend. Orange. Very orange. They actually recommended that I check out a hotel in the next town, and very quickly, I found myself in an Irish themed Nebraska town - O'Neill NE seemed to have a bit of society, with a half dozen or more hotels. I drove up to the one recommended but it was a shabby, run down brick building. I turned back and ended up at The Elms Motel - I had a parking space in front of my door, HBO to watch True Blood (in 30 minutes!), a coin-op laundry room two doors over, and a grocery store just a hundred yards away (closing in 10 minutes!). I dropped my stuff, popped over to the store for beer & veggies, made up some nice curry in my room (shh!) and watched "True Blood" (twice). Got my laundry all clean and had a fantastic night's sleep.

Day 4: 275 miles

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Monday (8/29) - I made breakfast in my room, packed up and went to the O'Neil Post Office to ship back gifts & crushed glasses (poor glasses - they were in the wrong glasses case, it shifted to the bottom of my camelback and they broke after I took them off on Saturday night!).

This was one of the most friendly post office experiences I have had - not only did the nice woman help me out with packing material & tape, they even had a lost-and-found box for left keys!


There was not much to see - though, after a while, I realized that I had run out of corn and run into cows. The terrain changed subtly, not quite as flat, scrubby brush & other features were allowed to remain in their natural state, fences replaced culverts & cows replaced tractors.

The rain started gently at first - and then came down pretty steadily. I am really glad for the visor on my Arai helmet, but my 3/4 length jacket is no longer waterproof after several Northern California winters and by the time I got to Gordon, NE - the rain stopped but I was completely soaked. I popped into the local Ace Hardware, got a can of Scotchguard and headed to the local laundry. I peeled off my jacket & layers and threw everything - including my boots - into dryers. Then I liberally soaked everything with Scotchguard and put it back into the dyers. Repeat til Scotchguard is all gone.

While I was there, I made friends with a local community college professor of the Lakota language & crafts - he laughed at my intention to get to Hot Springs and offered his hospitality. I was determined, however, but took his card anyway. There were no hotels in Gordon, at least that I saw, and heading north into SD, I would be on the reservation - probably not many hotels really close to the SD/NE border. I headed off - and did not get very far when I saw a lot of storm clouds with some very scary lightening fast approaching.

I headed to Wounded Knee to check out the memorial, looked at my map and called my new friend -- I had a sofa to sleep on that night, and arrived in Manderson completely soaked (again!). That Scotchguard works just about as well as my stainless steel sieve!

Day 5: 250 miles

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