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Day 8: 24-Aug-2002 Spalding - Norfolk. (map)

Today's distance 72.4 miles
Time moving: 6 hours, 13 minutes
Time stopped: 1 hours, 26 minutes
Ending elevation: 1503 ft
Max speed: 32.2 mph
Moving average speed: 11.7 mph
Overall average speed: 9.4 mph
Cumulative climbing: 2705 ft
Cumulative descent: 3246 ft
Total distance: 498.5 miles

It is Saturday evening, and I'm in the Holiday Inn in Norfolk NE. Tomorrow, depending on how much time I spend at a museum along the way (John G. Neihardt Historical Center in Bancroft) I may make it to Onawa, Iowa. Or I may camp in Bancroft or Decatur.   I rolled into Norfolk (pronounced Nor-fork by the locals) tired and sore.  The past two days had featured two crashes, an night in a tent in winds strong enough to force the walls of my tent to push against my sleeping bag, a lightning strike close enough to be terrifying, and the need to ford a small stream carrying my bike on my shoulders.

When I got to Norfolk, the first hotel I saw was a Holiday Inn Express.  A bit more expensive than I typically spent, but what the heck, I was tired, and a bit battered and bruised. I walked in, and asked if they have any rooms available, and the clerk's response was "sorry sir, all we have remaining are hot tub suites."  I didn't understand the apology, because this was just what the doctor ordered....  I'm sure I looked poor and ragged.    I gladly laid down my credit card, took my things upstairs, and then walked to nearby Walmart and bought a bottle of Cabernet and a package of 6 by 6 inch nonstick bandages.  I had packed a reasonable first aid kit, but the road rash from last nights fall had depleted all of my large bandages and gauze.  As I type this more than a month later, the wound is almost completely healed.  Dinner was at a nearby restaurant, then it was back to the hotel for a long, hot soak.

I have been having a blast rolling up and down the sandhills and dissected plains of central and eastern Nebraska. The people I've come across have been interesting, and interested in my little adventure. Reactions vary from disbelief to genuine interest and encouragement. In this part of the country all drivers wave to each other, and often I get an extra enthusiastic response. Only two or three times have drivers been a problem, and the scariest was yesterday just north of Greeley NE, when a driver, attempting to pass a line of three semis and a car (all headed my direction), ran me off the road and into the ditch.

Last night I camped in Spalding. As I was setting up my tent, the air was dry, the sky blue, and wind calm. I set up the tent, but left the fly off and rode into town and bought some food and talked to some locals about the road ahead. By the time I got back there was a threatening thunderstorm about 50 miles to the west and headed our way, so I put the fly on. This had to have been the world's slowest moving thunderstorm, but it hit at about 3:00 am, and stormed with much excitement for about 2 hours, then settled into a gentle rain. I stayed in the tent well past sunrise, and at about 8:00 a break in the rain let me pack up and get moving. Back into town for coffee and a microwaved sausage biscuit at the Sinclair station, and by the time I was done it was raining steadily. I headed out, and rode fairly quickly, and by the time I got to Albion I was ahead of the storm.

The weather had been perfect for riding. Of the seven days I've ridden, I have worn long sleeve shirts on 5 of them.  The weather has been very nice.

A few miles east of Spalding, I had an interesting experience with lightning. This storm was mostly rain, with a few distant lightning strikes. There was a power line and fence alongside the road. There was a flash of light, from a cloud-to-cloud lightning strike overhead, and simultaneously to this I heard a snapping sound coming from either that fence or power line, followed a second later by very loud thunder. The lightning strike had apparently induced a current to flow through the wire, which probably caused the wire to vibrate and produce the sound I heard.

Just outside of Albion I took a nasty fall. The road was wet, and there was no paved shoulder. As a car passed from behind, I wandered onto the gravel shoulder, which was about 2 inches below the level of the pavement. The edge of the pavement was not vertical, it was more of a 45 degree "ramp", and the white stripe was painted onto this slope. Well, rather than stopping the bike, getting off, and pushing the bike back onto the roadway, I just turned left, back onto the pavement, and crashed -- hard.

This would have been fine if it were dry. But I found out afterward that the white paint was as slippery as soap. Very, very slippery when wet. This, combined with the fact it was on a 45 degree slope, caused me to lose my balance and end up in the middle of the lane! Fortunately, no traffic, but I my brake/shifter lever got a nice abrasion, the handlebars no longer pointed straight ahead, and my helmet absorbed quite a nice shock. Had I not been wearing the helmet, the best outcome would have been a nasty bump on my noggin.

So the last day has had a couple of scary events, but the rest of the trip has been very safe and predictable. I stopped for lunch in Newman Grove, and as I was pushing my bike onto the sidewalk next to the City Cafe (a funny name for a town of 800, there was also a "City Cafe" in Broken Bow) a man walked up and started talking to me. He was a banker in town, and told me that the President of the bank was an avid bicycle tourist, and had ridden in much of the US and Europe.  The fellow I spoke with said he was a runner, and we spoke for about 10 minutes.  I went in to the cafe, and the banker asked if it was OK for him to call his friend and see if he would be interested in talking to me.  Of course that was fine with me, I told him I would spend about an hour having lunch, and would happily talk to anyone who stopped by.  I went in and had a great home-style meal.  The table next to me was occupied by a pair of old-timers, who spent the entire time telling each other about their heart attacks, farming accidents, car crashes, and dead relatives.  Was quite entertaining, in a morbid sort of way.   One of these guys (I  think he said he was 86) claimed to have had something like 4 heart attacks, starting when he was in his 40s.  The doctors at the Mayo Clinic told him to not bother coming back for anything related to his heart -- they had done all they could.

I took my time at the City Cafe, eating a lot, slowly, and drinking coffee, warming up and drying out.  After about an hour I was ready to move, and there was no sign of anybody coming to visit, so I moved on.  The banker had told me about a scenic backroad route into Norfolk.  He told me to turn off  highway 121 at Battle Creek, go a mile east to a "T", then left and right again soon.  Easy enough.  I followed his directions, and they were accurate, except that just after the "T" a bridge was out.....  Heavy equipment in the road and a 15 foot gap in the road.  My choices were to ford the small stream or to backtrack to Battle Creek and go back to the highway.  I forded the creek, which involved not much more than ankle-deep mud and some scratches on my legs from a few burrs and twigs.

I've ridden 498 miles, and I estimate the entire trip will be between 970 and 1000 miles. So this is the halfway point! Daily distances have varied between 110 miles (Day 1, FC - Sterling) and 38 miles (Julesburg - Ogallala) with the average being about 65 miles/day. I spent one rest day in Broken Bow.

This marker mentions grasshoppers.  Around this area I started to notice that much of the corn in the fields had huge percentages of its leaves stripped away.  At first I thought it was hail damage, but after a bit I realized that hail is much more localized than this, and something about the damage didn't look quite right for hail.  It was insect damage, and which not-so-coincidentally correlated to an increasing number of grasshoppers I was encountering on the road.

See the picture of the corn field below for an example.

Many of the business and personal names, architectural details, and other things hinted at a very strong Scandinavian heritage.  This detail from the historical marker reflects that.

If these people ask you to back their car out of the garage, please be careful.

Grasshopper damaged corn.  If you look at the full-resolution version you will see than many of the leaves have been badly eaten.  

Former railroad, now trail, near Norfolk, Nebraska.  This is part of the Cowboy Trail, which someday may stretch from Norfolk all the way to Chadron, over 300 miles.  It is a former Chicago and Northwestern railroad line that was abandoned around 1980. Currently only about 34 miles going west from Norfolk are open.  I hadn't known about this trail, and if I had I could have gotten on it just north of Battle Creek, and avoided fording the small creek where the bridge was out.

This is Elkhorn Creek.

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