Riding the Sandhills of Nebraska

In a few weeks, I will be one of the Ride Captains for the Women’s Freedom Rally, leading a group starting in Sioux Falls. We will spend the night in Lincoln, then ride on to Topeka, where we will set the World Record for the most women on motorcycles in one place at the same time.
This is a serious event to raise money for veterans and our company is a major sponsor.
So, I need to get in shape. Friday, I got a late start after lunch and rode I-80 to North Platte where I spent the night. I was not the only one fleeing the city for the holiday. Traffic was solid in both lanes as far as the eye could see. Normally, it thins out around York. Not today, folks.
From North Platte, I mapped out a route through the Sandhills. I took I-80 on west to Ogallala, then turned north to Hyannis. This is a very unique road. It is 75 miles long, with only ONE intersection, in the town of Arthur. Otherwise, it’s just you, the virgin prairie and blue skies.
There are many places where there are no signs that civilization has ever touched it. No power poles, no homes, no signs, no rest stops, no Taco Bells and no merging traffic. In 75 miles, I only saw about a dozen cars coming the other way. Pretty much no one was going my way. I’m certain they were, of course, but arithmetic told me that cars were roughly 6 miles apart.
Riding a motorcycle is unique, in that it involves all 4 appendages. Clutch for left hand, front brake and throttle for right hand, rear brake for right foot and shifter for left foot.
It also involves all your senses. Naturally, sight (which is supposed to be used mainly for texting and Facebook), sound, feel (for the vehicle’s interaction with the roadway), smell (which is lovely, pure clean air in the Sandhills. The air is so clean that you can smell water) and, finally taste, which is for the native bugs of the area. (biker joke).
So, I’m loving this trip. The sky was clear, the temperature perfect and the whole scene is serene. Riding a bike is an experience like no other, as you are exposed on all sides and can see many things that just can’t be seen and experienced in a car.
Like a rattle snake curled up in the middle of the road. Holy Jeminy! I’m riding right down the center of the lane. The soft sandhills often erode the right edge of the pavement, so it’s not always a good idea to ride on the extreme right edge of the road. In this case, the road is coming apart due to expansion and contraction, so there are cracks and bumps at regular intervals.
The left side of the lane is bumpy from traffic. The very center of the lane is reasonably smooth. I set the cruise control on 68 mph, the speed limit is 60. The bike loves this speed and cruises with no effort. There is no wind, I mean no wind of any kind. Every body of water which I see is just like a mirror.
So, back to the snake. Yes, YIKES!, a rattlesnake, curled up in the center of the road. By the time you perceive that there is anything that minute in the road, you’re pretty much on it. I mean, I saw something in the road about 2 seconds ahead, but it wasn’t anything of substance. A piece of rope, a rubber drive belt off a vehicle, but not a log, a dead possum or a piece of lumber. Nothing that would present a risk to a bike.
As I am now on a collision course with a snake, suddenly I can see the dark brown diamond pattern on a light brown body. It’s right in the middle of the road, right where I’m riding. My legs are open on the side of my bike. I have no opportunity to swerve or to avoid the snake.
I am only able to quickly life my feet up slightly as I run over the snake. Thump-thump and I’m right on down the road. I’ve seen photos of snakes that ended up stuck to the underside of a motorcycle. I took a quick look.
I am so *not* stopping to inspect the underside of my bike to see if I have a very unhappy rattler that has checked in as an undocumented passenger.
I am literally shaking at what has just happened. If that snake wasn’t dead before, it’s had a rough day now.
This is just one reason that I always wear protective gear. I have heavy motorcycle boots and I mean heavy boots. I wear jeans lined with kevlar, which probably won’t stop a bullet, but will resist shredding in a slide, leather coat, leather gloves and a full face helmet.

Part 2

It would appear that I am the only living being aboard the bike. I settle down and enjoy the ride. The sky is brilliant blue and there are but a few clouds scattered here and there.

The pavement is brand new on the road and the bike rolls along very smoothly. The old road can be easily seen to the side. Engineering progress is in stark contrast to days of old. The old road has zero shoulder. If one had to change a tire, it would be done right in the roadway, as the drop off the pavement is sharp. I rode this old, original road and I have vivid recollections of soil (sand) erosion in places where the water ran off the pavement.

The old road is extremely narrow, only wide enough to allow antique vehicles to pass each other. The roadway was mostly pavement laid over the ground, with not much preparation over hill and dale.

The new road has a well prepared graded roadway. Sides of the hills have been shaved away and the soil used to raise the road above dips and to prevent water flowing across the road in low places. There are shoulders now. The new roadway is nearly 4 times as wide as the original.

Soon, I encounter road construction. Then, the new pavement gives way to what was before, a patched, pock marked old country road. I’m glad I’ve got good suspension on this bike, as it’s being challenged by road surface. I slow down and now have to pay attention to obstacles. I’m on a slalom course now. It’s kind of fun to swerve back and forth, seeking flat ground.

This is a road that doesn’t see much traffic. I’m still enjoying seeing undisturbed grass land and occasional herds of cattle near the fence. They are curious as I pass and their gaze is fixed upon me as I ride by.

The little cowlets are sticking close to their moms. They are only a few months old and are the hardy ones who survived the recent blizzards that took the lives of many of the herd. It all seems like a dream now, as the grass is lush and green.

The Sandhills are really sand and are left over from the sea that covered this area long ago. When the water left, the wind blew the sand into ever shifting dunes. This is one of the largest areas of wind blown sand in the world.

The grass took hold and the buffalo thrived. The bison ate the grass and their droppings fertilized the soil. There were millions of them at one time.

I’ve been told that there is something highly unique and nutritious about the grass that grows here. It is apparently unlike any other place on earth. There are no native trees, as fires started by lightning kept them from thriving. The cattle that grow here are of amazing quality. It’s easy to see, as they appear to be well fed, with nice, thick coats that look like they are groomed daily. There is lots of room for each cow and they are free to roam all over. In fact, the grass shows no sign of ever having been grazed. There are no bare spots. It appears the ranchers have done a great job of determining how many cattle the land will support and are careful to preserve the land that is their resource.

Mile after lovely mile I ride, enjoying the majesty of this natural land. The rough road smooths out some as I see a 45 mph speed limit sign. I always observe the exact speed limits in small towns. I downshift and slow to 45. As I round a corner, I see a group of people standing. It’s a cemetery and they’re holding a service. Out of respect for the group, I slow way down and keep my bike as quiet as I can while I do my best to pass unnoticed.

I ride by and soon I’m in the little town of Arthur, Nebraska. Main street is 3 blocks long and I’m stretching that. I pass the Bunkhouse saloon, which is closed at this time. There is also a log cabin from the 1800s.

I ride out of town and open up the throttle back to my cruising speed. The road is not straight at all. It twists and winds through the hills. It meanders between the hills most of the time. There are places where the hills open up to a wide valley and you can see for miles. As I round a curve, I can see something in the road in the distance. As I get closer, there are 2 pronghorn antelope just standing smack dab in the middle of the road. I get on the brakes and slow down quickly. They turn and see me almost close enough to ride them and that sets them into flight mode. I chuckle as I see the first one duck under a fence, followed by the second. They were just being lazy, as I believe they can clear a 6 foot fence if they want to. Then, they’re off and running. They are very fleet footed and cover ground effortlessly in a hurry.

I stop and take their place on the road. There is no traffic and I mean *no* traffic. I watch them run. I’ve visited with many antelope hunters and those critters can run for miles without even slowing down. As I’ve traveled, it’s not uncommon to see them grazing quietly among the cattle.

I crank the throttle on the Electra Glide and accelerate quickly. The giant Harley is a monster machine, capable of going from zero to sixty in under 4 seconds. My backrest pushes hard against my hips to keep the bike from jumping out from under me. I love this. It’s a serious rush of adrenaline as I can feel the front wheel nearly lift off the ground at every shift. OK, so four seconds is up, fun is over. Back to cruising. This is one place I’m not likely to get a citation for exhibition of speed, especially since I do observe the speed limit.

As I top the next hill, my heart sinks as I see the sign warning of a stop sign ahead. Phooey. That means this part of the ride is over. Time to head into Hyannis for gas.

As I ease up to the stop sign, I’m looking straight at a lake. I mentioned before that there was no wind. It’s extremely rare to see a body of water as smooth as glass, but this was it. The reflection of the opposite shoreline was a perfect picture in the water.

As I made the turn, I saw a closely bunched flock of white swans swimming tightly together. Wait a minute. There aren’t any swans around here. The perfect “S” curve of the neck was distinctive. As I looked closer, I could see long yellow beaks sticking down in front. They were pelicans. It was a beautiful sight.

The gas station in Hyannis is sort of a combination fast food place, with a little bit of grocery store built in. We are a long way from much civilization here. We are so far away, (how far are we?) that the last time I stopped here, they didn’t have credit card machines on the gas pumps. You just pulled up, pumped the gas and walked inside. They sometimes used binoculars to read the amount of the pumps.

This time, they’ve gone full modern. They not only have credit card processors on the pumps, they have real live TV. Golllly!

I’ll stop here and pick up this story later.
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