This journal entry is a sort of travelogue. Sort of.
I find myself somewhere in the middle of frickin’ northwestern Nebraska, thinking to myself that this must very well be the flattest, longest state in the Union. For much of the way coming out of the east the land was literally featureless. (Little did I know that if I had chosen a parallel route a hundred miles to the south, the terrain – while still barren of trees – was a much more magical mélange of hills, reminiscent of the Faerie Glenn of Scotland.) Silently, I apologize for every disparaging remark about Kansas for which I may have been complicit.
In the middle of nowhere, time seems to take a break. At the place I’m staying, an old geezer who is absolutely flabbergasted that I plan to ride a hundred miles on my bicycle in one day warns me that I’ll no doubt be run down by a semi, left to die and be munched upon by coyotes and buzzards. The highway is flat, the roadside is thankfully – universally – wide and free of glass, nails, and debris. And to my relief, every truck that comes my way makes a point of politely slowing and going around me. Nearly everyone waves. But on some of the country roads it is disconcerting how far one can travel without ever seeing a car or truck or house…just me and cows, road kill, buzzards, rabbits, and the occasional, stereotypical tumbleweed. More than once I think to myself that this is a land of really, really, really big skies.
Towns, when I come across them, are usually quite small, and – perhaps – not even recognizable as a town at first glance.
The architecture of the buildings catches my fancy. The verticality of grain storage breaks the ever present horizon line. Tall and imposing, they loom like sentinels over the desert-like sand hills. The ubiquitous pickup truck is the local transportation of choice, and in the heat of the afternoon a lonely rural diner seems to be the destination of choice for anyone driving one of those trucks.
Turning north, Nebraska soon eases into South Dakota. To my east are the impressively and dramatically eroded Bad Lands, to the west the equally impressive – but totally different – Black Hills geography. In Chadron State Park I find myself hungering for wider tires: the 700 x 25 Vittorias I currently sport on the Katakura Silk are not particularly suitable for the gravel road climb that will take me out to a Black Hills overlook.
Taking it easy, the hill tops out and the road turns to dirt, clay, dust – and in the distance, trees.
The weather threatens at times, but I am fortunate to avoid anything untoward other than occasional drenching. The temperatures are almost universally cool, hovering between the low 60’s and the mid-70’s: a dream, really!
In the Black Hills there are occasional reminders of fire. Skeletons of trees, stripped of foliage and starkly black against barren hills, contrast with the rest of a world that is otherwise lush and verdant.
Businesses are few and far between, but the people are friendly. Down to earth. The buildings are quaintly out of date, out of touch with iPhones and laptops – and even cyclists, it seems. Everyone politely, pointedly, avoids asking about my sweat soaked clothing, my helmet, my shiny Japanese bicycle, the rear view mirror dangling from my glasses.
For a few days, I’m very much a nomad. A man without a home. I have my bike and my camera, a pen and my sketchbook – and not a whole lot else. And I’m good with that for the moment.