Cycling from the New Mexico Bootheel to Canada, Day Thirty-Nine: Gering, Nebraska to Crawford, Nebraska

July 9th, 2016: 80 miles. Total so far: 1,464 miles.

We finally did it.

After weeks of big talk about getting on the road super-early, we were motivated today by the forecast of 100+ degree temperatures, and the need to do a long, long day to get to the next town, and so we got out of bed at 4:00 and were actually riding by 5:00, when it was still dark.

We were helped by a tailwind for much of the day, and had ten miles done by 6:00. (For most of the day I announced the mileage each hour — “20 by 7!”, “30 by 8!”, “40 by 9!” etc. What a contrast to some of the early days in New Mexico, when we struggled to ride 30 miles in one long day.)

After a few hours Joy announced “It’s slime time!”, and we stopped to perform the day’s first application of sunblock. We both have really started to dread this frequent chore.

This was some of the smoothest pavement of the trip, and our pumped-up tires were shockingly loud on the almost completely empty highway. At the end of one long, tailwind-assisted descent I made it to 37 mph, and was proud of myself until Joy casually mentioned that she’d reached 40 mph.

There was very, very little to see almost all day except rolling grassland. I went off-route a quarter mile to thoroughly examine an abandoned, decrepit old church, which was undoubtedly the most interesting thing I saw all day. I even braved the rotting front steps and walked inside and looked around. It was pretty creepy.

Around this time the road got much busier, the terrain got much hillier, and the temperature climbed to nearly 100F. There was virtually no shade along the road, so we pulled into the tree-lined driveway of one of the rare farmhouses near the road. The guy there was pulling out in his pickup truck, and was friendly enough, but he provided some grossly innacurate information, telling us it was 24 miles to our destination, Crawford, when our paper maps, Google Maps, and the GPS all said it was 19 miles. I really don’t know why I continue to ask locals for road information when I’ve been let down so many times in the last ten years of bike touring.

A few miles later I pulled off the road to read a historical marker, and an older couple drove in beside me. The woman peppered me with questions, the first two of which were “Do you need a ride? And is your name REALLY Bubba?” (Joy got me a jokey “Bubba” license plate early in the trip, and this was the first time anyone has acknowledged it.) Joy caught up and I moved away from the woman to let my wife deal with her. Later, Joy told me that the woman asked her several questions, including “Are you afraid of being robbed?” She also seemed fascinated by Joy’s sit-pad, for some reason.

The husband didn’t talk as much as his wife, but of course he asked the question that all men of a certain age ask: “How are those tires holding up?” I’m glad that on this trip I have a companion who doesn’t mind discussing the tires. To me, it’s the most boring subject imaginable.

It was sunny and so, so hot when we arrived in Crawford (population 997) just after 1:00. Our first stop was a gas station where Joy, who was dazed from the heat, sat in a booth and drank fountain PowerAde. After I sat with her and cooled off for a while, I rode 0.4 mile up the highway to the Hilltop Motel, found that no one was there to check us in, and went back to the gas station to hang out with Joy, who was feeling better now.

After a while we rode in the 103F heat to the motel, checked in, discovered to our relief that the air conditioner and shower performed adequately despite the aged appearance of the place, then walked down to the “Dairy Sweet” and had a surprisingly good meal, although the flies bothered us as we sat and ate at a picnic table outside the place. (There seem to be a lot of flies in Nebraska. Not sure what that’s all about, although Joy theorized that it’s because there’s so much cattle in Nebraska.)

I learned one mildly interesting “fact” about Nebraska at the Dairy Sweet: When the teenage girl handed us our food, she also provided a giant wad of napkins, even though ten minutes earlier she’d already give me napkins I’d requested to clean up the picnic table. When I told her not to bother with the new napkins, because I still had some from earlier, she sternly informed me “I have to give them to you. IT’S STATE LAW!!” Perhaps someday, when I’m very, very bored, I will actually attempt to confirm that this is an actual law in Nebraska.