While Oregon is home to some notably excellent bike riding, there are approximately 49 other states where one can pedal a bicycle. Nebraska is one of them.
My friend Scott and I used to joke about how as soon as one brought a bike with them on vacation, it ceased to be a true vacation; the stress of finding new routes to ride and the guilt when you never actually go for that ride can really put a damper on relaxation. We both rode a lot back then, and I think everyone can relate to the “fear” of falling out of shape after a week or more off the bike. I ride my bike a lot less now, so vacation has an opportunity to take on a whole new dimension. A few weeks ago, I took a vacation from this shop and these roads to visit a different bike shop and leave tire tracks on foreign trails.
I arrived at the Omaha airport Friday evening, where I met up with Carl, who took us straight back to Lincoln. We headed right to the Monkey Wrench where I assembled my bike (a borrowed Surly Wednesday - thanks Brendan!) and assess the TSA-inflicted damage (a bent derailleur hanger) before our departure the next day. After an afternoon of exploring the state capitol and the ins and outs of MWC, it was time to make the four-hour drive to the Nebraska National Forest. We arrived in Halsey a little after 10 PM, parked the car, and pedaled a few miles in the dark before making camp.
We awoke early Sunday morning (3/13, daylight savings time begins), ready to see the rest of what the forest had to offer. We headed west, towards a campsite with water pumps and hoping to catch the NW winds towards our day’s destination at the old lookout tower. The fat bike experience is a unique one for anyone used to pedaling “regular” bikes. After slogging uphill at 2-3 miles per hour, the 15 mph descents feel like breakneck speeds! Rallying down the soft ATV and service trails was one of the better times I’ve had on a bike in recent memory.
The terrain was pretty surreal; I kept waiting for the ocean to appear over the horizon, only to remember that we were in the middle of the plains, with nothing but sand hills farther than the eye could see.
We traversed hill and dale, stopping often to take photos and occasionally to check the map. The heat was taking its toll, so I was relieved to hear that we’d found the entrance to the old lookout site. We stashed our stuff in the shade under some cedars and made coffee, shot slingshots, and took full advantage of the slow life. After our restlessness got the better of us, we hiked around looking for the right ground to sleep on that night, as well as where we might best catch the sunset. And what a sunset it was.
After cooking brats over the fire, it was time to hit the hay. We awoke on Monday morning tired, but ready to find the flowy, #bermiesanders Dismal Trail back to the car. Water was going to be a hot commodity, so we opted against a second cup of coffee just in case. The campsite a few miles east of us would have water pumps, so we picked that as our lunch stop.
Turns out, the water pumps hadn’t been connected yet for the season. This left the two of us with approximately *this* much water for the hot, loose, and often steep last 10-ish miles of ATV trail between us and our ride back to Lincoln. We trudged on, and after successfully rigging one of the forest’s many windmill water pumps, we were able to filter water and fill our bottles. Looks like we wouldn’t need the helicopter rescue after all!
A classic Midwest thunderstorm welcomed us onto the highway, as we chased the kind of lightning a West Coaster like me had never seen. We stopped for burgers at about the halfway point, tiredly answering the locals’ questions about “what them big tires are for” at the diner. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in a real bed after an adventure like this, but it left me itching for more bike camping once I made it back to Oregon. If there is a bikepacking “season,” this is certainly it, and I’m ready. Thanks, Nebraska.
For those of you interested in making a trip like this, be sure to check out onionvelo.com and let Carl lead the way. And say hi to everyone at Monkey Wrench Cycles while you're there - you won't be disappointed!