7.12.11 - Casper, WY to Torrington, WY - 148mi
One hundred forty eight miles. 148 mi. A long, long day made longer by the incessant, rolling hills and the constant headwind. The hills were enough to drive anyone mad; you'd crest one, look around and think, "We are at the highest point right now. It's got to be all down hill from here." But no, at the bottom of the hill would be another hill looming over us, laughing at our naivete, questioning our determination and strength. Then there was the wind. Howling, pushing us back, telling us not to go on. Even the birds gave up and said, "nah, we'll just walk from here."
The only thing in our favor was the weather, which was overcast, giving us a much needed respite from the sun, but the sky threatened to let loose a thunderstorm at any moment. With the conditions as they were, we decided to eschew our usual strategy of avoiding interstates and ride I-25 in order to cut miles off our trip. For 100mi, we battled the wind and hills, heading southeast until we got to our exit. Once off the highway, our change in direction meant that instead of the wind directly in our face, is was now shifted slightly so that it hit us at a 45degree angle. That little change helped immensely and we saw a very small, but none-the-less significant increase in our speed.
Our original destination was Fort Laramie, WY but as we rode through the towns (or more appropriately, occasional clusters of buildings around a gas station), we learned that Fort Laramie had little to offer other than a gas station and historical marker. Faced with a tough decision - thunderstorms rolling in, rain beginning to sprinkle, tornados reported in the area and only our tents for shelter, we decided to push on an extra 32mi to make it to the city of Torrington where they had hotels and supermarkets and even stoplights.
We set out heading east to Torrington and no sooner had we left the sight of Fort Laramie than the heavens opened sand the rain came. For 26mi, we rode through the rain spurred on by the sight of distant lightning. We cranked and we pushed and we gave it all we had as the sun set and darkness fell. By 8:30, we arrived in Torrington, soaked to the bone, totally exhausted and began the nightly hunt for a room. At one of the hotels, we stood in line behind a woman and overheard her conversation with the night desk worker. "you look tired", he said. "I am" she replied. "I've been driving all day and I'm exhausted." Greg, James and I simply looked at each other.
Luckily, we managed to convince a very nice hotel employee to let us stay, but of course, all the restaraunts closed at 8 so we went across to the local market and picked up bits and pieces to cobble together a respectable dinner. We came away with sandwiches, frozen meals and chunky soup.
7.13.11 - Torrington, WY to Oshkosh, NE - 113 mi
No hills! What an amazing feeling to be able to see what's ahead and feel no dread as the road simply follows the curve of the earth. Of course our headwind was still hanging around, reminding us that this ride is never easy.
We were all pretty tired from yesterday's ride. Lethargy permeated our day and we lingered in gas stations and country stores long after our bodies had cooled and our bottles had been filled. As we enter America's heartland, we can feel the heat and humidity rise. Whereas our west, even in the hottest days, the sweat would evaporate before it could even bead up on your brow. Now, however, its pouring off of us like a leaky faucet and we find ourselves alternately drenched with sweat as we ride and crusted with salt when we cool down.
On our way, we passed through the town of Scottsbluff, a major stop on the old Oregon Trail. We popped into Walmart to get lunch supplies, our standard meat, cheese and bread, and while there, we began talking to a local reporter, Rick Willis of the Scottsbluff Star Herald. He was quite interested in our ride and was eager to hear about our journey. He wrote a great piece which can be found here.
For his part, Rick was a fountain of information and pointed us to a much more scenic route than the one we had chosen. It followed the Oregon Trail, passing by the famous Chimney Rock. Rick drove ahead of us as we rode and stopped to take a few pictures of us as we rode but at Chimney Rock, we separated. We really enjoyed his company though and his route was much more fun than the one we would have done, so we are pleased and grateful for his help.
Greg went hunting and bagged a buffalo and a bear. James died of dysentary.
This was as far as I think I ever made it on the Oregon Trail.
We arrive in Oshkosh and head straight to the only restaurant still open (there were only two in town). The wait staff was fantastic and repeatedly granted our request for more bread (quick, easy carbs) and at the end of the night, one of the other diners saw that we were fundraising for Leukemia and picked up our tab. We spoke with him and the group he was with when we found out and he said he appreciated what we were doing and that "you're in Nebraska now. This kind of thing will happen more often."
After dinner, we headed down the street to an RV park where we threw up our tents, rinsed what grime off we could and bedded down for the night. Sadly, sleep was hard to come by as the railroad ran by less than 100yards from us and we were woken during the night by the rumblings of the train on the tracks and the warning blasts from the air horns. It was a long night.
7.14.11 - Oshkosh, NE to North Platte, NE -100mi
Another hot, flat (save for a few hills at the beginning), corn-filled day. You can feel the humidity rise up from the corn fields and wrap around you like a blanket. You breathe it in. It stifles your breath. The only way to escape is to seek refuge in the gas stations and markets.
It was in one the these havens that we met another group of riders, crossing the country west to east. We sat and exchanged tales and tribulations, each giving the other tips on what to expect and things to be weary of. It was fun and interesting to sit down with them and share a common plight, compare strategies and discuss places on the road.
The headwinds still blow unabated. We thought we would have a tail wind if we rode east to west, but no. All day we have to push through the wind. Eastern Nebraska must gasping for air because it's all being used to try to push us back.
After leaving that group and wishing them well, we got back on the road and continued on. While we are happy to be riding flat ground, its tough to break the monotony of mile after mile of asphalt and corn. Our sleep deprived bodies fall into a rhythm that leaves the eyelids woefully under-supported and you have to struggle to keep your mind busy and your eyes off the odometer. Different strategies evolve; songs come into your head, daydreams drift about and stoic determination drives you on. The miles can melt away or they can slowly tick by, one by one, but eventually you see the "welcome to..." sign and rest, and more importantly, food are near.
Lately, we have been frequenting Applebees restaurants and found nothing but kindness and friendly service. In North Platte, the general manager Ryan Walker donated our meal and quizzed us on the particulars of our ride. He was great fun to talk to and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the evening.