The Nebraska 400k . . .
This is one of the most simple routes to follow: a cue sheet really isn't needed; yet, at the same time it is the hardest ride I have completed yet. The route starts and ends in the same Nebraska town of Falls City. Look on a map near the bottom right hand point of Nebraska move slightly to the East just above the Kansas border and you'll find it. The route heads due west using primarily highway 8. Ten riders started the trip, Spencer, Rodney G., Gary, Greg C., Joshua, Ron A., Jack, David M., Rod H. And Me. Nine finished: Rod H. from Omaha had a pedal problem shortly after we started the ride, and turned back.
Check point #2 is in Pawnee city. Two of America's greatest heroes were born here: Larry the cable guy and of course Me! It had been a really good ride so far, with a cold start about 34°, little to no wind! ...But, dark with fog mixed in. The group stayed together up to this point a little chit chat about previous rides and what was new with each other.
It's a long slog from CP2 to CP3 which is in Fairbury. The group broke into smaller groups along the way with Gary leading by himself. Greg also went ahead of the group. Greg is a very strong rider and is working on his third series of the year, that's three sets of 200, 300, 400, and 600k. Ron and Jack, who are working on their 50 states award and needed Nebraska, fell off the back but not by much. As usual, I was in between the groups. Everything felt fine but I couldn't help but stop and take pictures and look at the scenery. There are several wind farms in this area, one we only see in the dark - the red warning lights flashing in sequence is freaky. The second farm we see on the way out and back. Riding in the rural parts you can get close to things. One mill was right beside the road so I stopped to take a picture. That's when I noticed the two workers repelling from the center portion down one of the blades. Don't know how much they get paid but I'm sure it's not enough.
On the way to CP 3 there are several small towns. They're off the highway a bit and don't really have any services available, with the exception of O'Dell. Today they were having an auction but I really didn't want to buy anything and carry it on my bike. Ron and Jack came up the the store just as Greg and I were leaving. None of the others stopped.
CP 3 Fairbury, NE.
The cue says stop at the McDonald's, so we stopped. Some ate full meals, I had my usual fries and a coke. Checking emails, calling wives to let them know everything's ok, then off to Deshler; Gary left before everyone else and road on by himself.
CP4 Deshler and the turn around.
The group started to thin again as it always does, everybody finding their own grove. I stayed close to David M and Joshua; Greg C was a mile ahead of us and the rest were not far behind. The CP had changed this year instead of the small store in town we were using a C-store a little farther west just off the highway. We saw Gary's bike parked in front of a fake-looking train stop which was really a restaurant/store. Wrong stop: Gary never reads the cue sheet. We rode less than a mile onward and found the right stop where everyone else regrouped for the ride back.
Back to Fairbury.
As joshua pointed out, the route is all down hill from here, even though some hills remain. Most of us used Wally's for the check point this time. I had the grilled chicken sandwich and a Sam Adams seasonal, not much pumpkin or spice in this one; the rest had Wally burgers which are like sliders, with beer. Once again Spencer asked for some kind of special brew, anything Red, and the waitress looked dumb-founded. You'd think a bar in Nebraska on a game day would have red everything, but apparently not. Gary ate next door at the subway then came in and sat down with us. We left as a group again. The wind held from the SSE so at times it felt like a tail wind but mostly it was a side wind. About five miles out I started to drop off the back. I don't really like riding in a group on small shoulder-less highways, and the pace was a little high. Joshua started to drop off also and we held together for a while taking turns at the front, Josh most of the time. The others continued to slowly pull away and I lost sight of them. Miles later josh and I would separate also. I found out later he was getting tired: he works nights and his sleep schedule was messed up on this ride. He later said he had to stop several times and walk just to stay awake. The sun started to set so we added lights. I love riding at night, I should do it more often. Some riders think it's more dangerous but I noticed that cars tend to slow down more and give a wider birth when passing. At night you loose a lot of sight distance but you gain hearing and that fifth or is it sixth sense, of feeling. I kind of feel things more: an approaching car, an animal, whatever, I just feel it before I hear or see it. As I looked up the road I noticed red blinking lights, I thought theft might be windmills, or radio antennas, but they were really bikes. I tried to judge the distance but in the dark you really can't.
CP6 Pawnee City
The highway entering Pawnee city is well lit. At night you can see these lights for about 18 miles. How do I know?, because I checked! This is the bad part about riding at night, you can't judge distance well. Those 18 miles take for-ever, like the shimmering water hole in those old desert movies, you just never get closer. I did keep seeing the red blinkies, and that was all the motivation I needed. I closed the gap a little and arrived at the check point about 10 minutes after the lead group. Josh came in later. I let the group take off ahead of me as I changed light batteries and added some gloves to take the chill off. Joshua sat on the curb drinking a red bull and shaking the cobwebs out. Found out later he had been hallucinating thinking he was riding on a wooded trail and seeing things that weren't there.
CP7 the finish:
The last 35 miles takes forever. The wind was gone, the stars were beautiful, the windmill lights fascinating, the sounds and smells cool. Traffic was a little heavier but not too bad. The Nebraska game was over, so it was time to watch for those who had celebrated too much. The miles tick off slowly, the hills don't seem so bad, and finally you're there. The lights leading into Falls City are different than Pawnee: they just appear. You're riding along wondering when you're going to see them, then you're there. A short two miles later and you're at the CP.
A really good ride, almost great. All 400ks are difficult for some reason: that's what everybody says anyway. This one is... that's for sure. Everyone should do this one however, and I hope Spencer keeps having it. Everyone finished, no one got hurt, no flats, no problems; just a darn good ride with good people.
I look forward to the Nebraska 600k!!!
See you down the road . . .