Information about the world of cycling, including bicycle touring

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is the most recognizable
of Nebraska's historic attractions.

Route 71 curve

Cyclists make their way on Route 71 during
the first day of BRAN south of Gering, Neb.

Castle Rock

Bicyclists enjoy a conversation while
passing Castle Rock on Route 92
on the way to Bridgeport.

Chimney Rock

Some of the BRAN route used roads that
were once part of the trails that pioneers
used when going to California, Oregon or
other Western destinations.

Noth Platte River

While much of the BRAN route was parallel
to the North Platte River, this was one of
the few chances we had to ride
so closely to it.

Arthur No. 1

Arthur No. 2

BRAN cyclists were subjected to a lot of
miles of headwind on the second day, a
trek of 108 miles. The scenery on Route 61
leading to Arthur made it worthwhile, as
shown in the two photographs above.

Leaving Arhtur

Cyclists cruise through the first few miles
of the Sand Hills leading out of Arthur, but
the headwinds picked up again
later in the day.

Leaving Arnold

The Sand Hills gave way to dissected
plains just outside Arnold on the fourth day
of the ride.

Storm rest stop

A thunderstorm forced many riders to take
cover at a convenience store in Cairo.
After the storm passed, they were
subjected to even more miles
of headwinds.

Brainard party

BRAN cyclists enjoy the party put on
for them in Brainard, the destination
for the sixth day of the ride.

SUMMARY: Nebraska is a flat and boring state, right? Wrong. Although the Nebraska that most people see from their cars on Interstate 80 may fit that description, a bicycle trip through the Sand Hills and dissected plains will show you otherwise. Be prepared for lots of friendly people in the host towns willing to make lots of good food. Also, be prepared for lots of wind. Several people left camp before the break of dawn to avoid the potential for serious headwinds later in the day.

RIDE WEB SITE: http://www. bran-inc.org/

BRAN: 2005

The Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska wasn't my first choice for a weeklong ride during June 2005. I originally had planned to go on Bicycle Across Kansas, but I waited so long to sign up that the ride filled up. That meant I had to scramble to find another ride that week.

I came across BRAN during an Internet search, and I thought it would be a good choice. The ride is relatively inexpensive, and it went into a state I wanted to visit as a child. I remember seeing information about Nebraska and other states that are part of the Old West Trail on the sides on cereal boxes. More than 30 years after I first saw the boxes, I finally made it to Nebraska.

When I signed up for the ride, I thought I would have time to get a solid base of training before setting out on a weeklong trek of 525 miles. But because of the success of the Tour de Stooges, I had to spend a lot of time behind a computer or behind the wheel of a car performing tasks for the ride and severely cutting into my training ride. I was extremely concerned that my longest ride of 2005 going into BRAN was 45 miles.

I came close to canceling this trip, especially because it took some time for the organizers to send materials to me, but all things considered, I decided to do the ride anyway.

Since my legs and the rest of my body weren't ready for a big ride, BRAN would be more a test of my mental strength. I would have to rely on my 20 years of experience with bicycle tours to get through this event.

My mind played tricks on me during the long bus trip from Waterloo, which is on the fringe of the Omaha metropolitan area, to Kimball. a community only 20 miles from the Wyoming border. It was good that I slept most of the trip because when I was awake, I worried about everything wrong that could go wrong with the trip. I read the warning about being able to be sagged only two days, and I fretted about the possibility of being stranded in the middle of Nebraska.

Fortunately, the rest I got on the bus and the Mass I attended that Saturday night (June 4) at St. Joseph Catholic Church left me physically and mentally refreshed for the first day of cycling.

The first day went reasonably well going through the rolling plains leading north from Kimball into Gehrig. We didn't go through a single town for about 43 miles on Nebraska Route 71. We were blessed with a bit of a tailwind along U.S. 26 from Gehrig to Bridgeport, our stop for the evening.

That particular stretch of U.S. 26 is significant because it follows the historic Oregon Trail, California Trail and Pony Express route. Landmarks such as Scott's Bluff, Castle Rock and Chimney Rock served as landmarks for the pioneers in the 1800s, and they were landmarks for BRAN cyclists on the ride's first day.

Now, I overheard one rider say that she didn't take the side trip to Chimney Rock because "it's just a rock."

I admit here are more spectacular rock formations in this nation; El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park immediately come to mind. But making this journey by bicycle gives a person an idea what it meant for pioneers to see this landmark on their long, slow journeys. It definitely was a high point of the journey, and the importance of this landmark to Nebraskans is obvious: Chimney Rock was chosen to appear on the back of the Nebraska quarter.

One of the surprising things I found was that I could get a latte in Bridgeport, a town of 1,594 people. I didn't, mostly because I was full from a pasta meal at Bridgeport's community center and an ice cream cone, but it was neat to know that I could.

In fact, you could get a latte in Arnold, a town of 630 people, and in Stromsburg, a town of 1,232 people. I don't know of many communities that small in Illinois where you could find a latte.

Also that night, I also learned the passion for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers baseball team is almost as great as the passion for the football team. People gathered around the TV set to watch Nebraska's bid to make the College World Series, which is played each year in Omaha.

Monday would be our toughest day of the trip, at least as far as mileage is concerned. The route for that day was 108 miles. I thought I was leaving early, but by the time I took down my tent and ate breakfast, I was one of the last to leave.

I tend to leave later than many people because it's difficult to make the temporary adjustment from evening person to day person. But on BRAN, there are a lot of early birds. Some people even leave before the crack of dawn.

I soon would find out why. The first few miles along the North Platte River went well with only a minor headwind, but the headwind grew steadily worse as the day progressed. Nearly all the first 80 miles of the ride were into headwind, and I really had my doubts whether I would make it. I had to stop several times in the hilly section of Route 92 because the headwind kicked my butt. We finally got a break when we turned north on Route 61 and went into the heart of the Sand Hills. But I was so worn out that I couldn't take full advantage of the tailwind. I left Bridgeport before 7 a.m. MDT, but I didn't get into Arthur until nearly 8 p.m.

It was, by far, my worst century ever. But I least I finished. And at least I missed the tornado that hit near Arthur and dumped lots of rain and hail on the cyclists who made it in early.

Arthur is a community of fewer than 145 people and is the only town in a county with fewer than 450 people. Despite that, the town did an amazing job taking care of more than 700 cyclists and support crew who descended on the town. I'm told the Sand Hills were exceptionally green and pretty this year because the region finally broke a drought of several years.

After a decent night's sleep and breakfast, I felt pretty good in the first stages of a 84-mile day east from Arthur to Arnold. Arthur and the first town we would visit that day, Tryon, were 39 miles apart. I rode well for the first 20 miles, but the headwinds kicked in again. I had problems during a hilly stretch just before Tryon, and I was hoping a good lunch and a short nap would do the trick.

It didn't. Four miles later, I stopped and flagged a SAG wagon to take me the rest of the way to Arnold.

I was extremely disappointed because the only other time I needed a SAG was because of the injuries I suffered on the 1997 West Shoreline Tour in Michigan. But I decided it would be better to sacrifice one day's ride instead of being miserable the rest of the trip.

After fighting the wind while putting up my tent, I enjoyed a perfectly grilled pork chop from the Arnold High School Boosters Club and some Hungarian goulash from the Catholic church in town. So many church and civic groups had food available that the groups had more food than customers. That meant more goulash for me!

One of the neat things about BRAN was the access we had to high-speed Internet connections. Thanks to the schools and Internet providers, we could check our e-mails or browse the Web for the latest news in our hometowns. As for me, I got the chance to update my Blog Page with accounts of the BRAN ride.

I felt better going into BRAN's fourth day, from Arnold to Loup City. A nice stretch of tailwind — finally — from Merna to Ansley seemed to re-energize everyone for the hilly 20-mile stretch from Ansley to Loup City.

I credit Dutch cycling author Tim Krabbé and his book "The Rider" for being able to make it the rest of the ride. Early in the book, he talked about how he waited until it was too late to shift from the high gear in the front to the low gear. I always have had problems shifting from the low gears to the granny gears, mainly because I waited too late to do so. This time, I followed Krabbé's example and shifted in the grannies early. That helped me tackle the tougher hills on the ride.

Loup City bills itself as the Polish Capital of Nebraska, and it lived up to it's reputation with a fine meal at Loup City Community Center. The menu included:

Unfortunately, they were running out of food when I got there and ran out shortly thereafter. I don't envy civic groups trying to plan for a big group of cyclists coming to town because it's difficult to guess how many cyclists will eat with them.

Rain was in the forecast for Thursday's trek from Loup City to Aurora. Boy, did we get hit. The headwind was picking up as we made our way to Cairo (pronounced Kay-ro, just like the Illinois community of the same name). Then came the thunderstorm. I had a few miles of rain, but I made it to a convenience store in Cairo before the worst of the rain and hail hit. Many people had the same idea I had, and SAG wagons picked up people because of the threat of lightning hitting their bikes.

After the rain disappeared, the headwinds kicked in earnest as we made our way to Grand Island. By the time I got to U.S. 30 between Grand Island and Aurora, the headwinds were 25-30 mph. The going got slower and slower, and the rest breaks became more frequent, but I made it in.

We started the sixth day from Aurora to Brainard in a gentle rain, but at least there was no headwind, for once. I finally stopped at the coffee shop in Stromsburg, but I wimped out on the latte. I figured an Italian soda was good enough.

The people of Brainard treated us exceptionally well for the final campsite of BRAN. Holy Trinity Catholic Church was well-prepared and provided the best quality and quantity of food for our trip. After that, we enjoyed some music and the awards presentation for the ride. As they say in small towns like Brainard, a good time was had by all.

The final day of BRAN took us through the somewhat hilly area one cyclist called the "Brainard Alps." They weren't any worse than anything else we encountered. More than one cyclist gave out a cry of "Wahoo!" when they passed through the town of Wahoo. A few miles later, we crossed the Platte River and had flat conditions and tailwind most of the way back to Waterloo.

So, just remember, the wind does not always blow from west to east in Nebraska.