Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Broken Bow, Nebraska

I can now add Nebraska to the ever-growing list of states where I have been stopped by a cop while on my bicycle.  It wasn't  totally unexpected as I was riding on Interstate 80, simply following the detour signs around some road construction on route 30, paralleling the Interstate.

It was Sunday evening when I came upon the road construction.  Signs advised that the construction continued for twelve miles and also warned of $300 fines for anyone who continued on the road.  If I'd had more than half an hour of daylight remaining, I would have risked continuing on 30 with no road crews at work.  Instead I followed the detour signs for a mile to the Interstate, crossing the low Platte River on the way.  I didn't dare the Interstate in the dusk, setting up my tent behind an abandoned service station. I set my alarm for six a.m. to make an early dash on the Interstate not being fully confident that bicyclists were embraced by the detour.

My map showed the next exit was twelve miles away at Paxton.  If I didn't have a contrary wind, I could make it in less than an hour.  The air was calm as the sun rose in a clear sky dead center on the road ahead as I descended the long entry ramp to 80, a road I have driven many a time, but never biked.  The traffic was very light at this early hour, about half cars and half 18-wheelers.  The wide shoulder was nearly free of debris.  I passed up a couple of heavy black rubber bungee cords that only have minimal stretch that I rarely scavenge.  I also ignored a stray nickel, that might have been a slug. I wasn't going to stop for anything less than the extraordinary to get this over with as quickly as possible.  I kept my head mostly bowed to avoid looking into the sun, just occasionally glancing from side to side at the bland Interstate scenery of withered fields of corn and weedy pastures of grains.

The traffic gave me a wide berth, most moving over into the far lane.  Only one trucker gave a less than friendly toot, protesting my presence.  With most drivers cell phone-equipped these days, anyone could dial 911 and alert the authorities of my encroachment.  Once I had gone six miles, half-way to the end of the detour, I relaxed a bit, thinking that if I were apprehended I'd simply be taken to the nearest exit.  I still rode hard, diminishing somewhat the pleasure of being on the bike.  I was coming off my first hundred mile day and would have slept a bit longer if I hadn't wanted an early start for my possible illegal incursion.

When I saw a billboard advertising a service station and cafe at the upcoming exit, two miles ahead, I breathed a sigh of relief.  But then moments later a squad car passed me with its overhead red light spinning and then pulled over.  Two officers hopped out.  They didn't need to gesture for me to stop.  Their first words were, "Don't you know it's illegal to ride your bicycle on the Interstate?"

"I was just following the detour."

"It doesn't apply to bicyclists."

"What was I supposed to do?"

"You could have kept riding on route 30.  I should be writing you a ticket right now and putting your bike in my car and taking you back to where you got on, but my trunk isn't big enough for your bike.  I'll let you continue to the exit.  It's just a couple miles further.  But be careful.  This is a dangerous road.  Six people have been killed along here.  We're headed to the shooting range.  I don't want to have to come back and clean up your body."

"Don't worry.  I'm not enjoying this at all. I'll be happy to get back on 30.  Did the Broncos win yesterday?"

"Yes they did, but I don't remember the score."

They must have been in a hurry, as they didn't asked to see my driver's license, as every other cop has so they could go sit in their car and keep me waiting while they called it in.  All they wanted to know is where I was from.  When I said Chicago, I asked, "Do you think the Bears can win tonight's Monday Night game against Philadelphia's rookie quarterback?"  They did not know.

I had braced myself for an encounter with the law two nights before when I camped by a high barbed wire fence surrounding a tower and some trap doors.  It was far enough from the road and near dark that I felt safe until I saw a sign on the fence that warned trespassers would be subject to armed force.  I didn't plan to trespass, but as I set up my tent I heard a whirring sound.  I looked up to see a surveillance camera scanning the premises.  I feared my motion might have triggered it.  But it went into action every fifteen minutes. Either no one was paying any attention to it or if someone was they recognized I was no threat, as no one came to apprehend me, as once happened in South Dakota when I camped alongside a similar enclosure.  Soldiers in full combat gear came by in the morning and told me I was camping beside a weapons cache, as this might have been.

That was my last night in Colorado on a lightly travelled road to Sidney, Nebraska, site of the first of the ten Carnegies on this year's route across Nebraska.  It was on Illinois, the main street through a city struggling to survive.  Though it still was emblazoned with "Carnegie Libary" above its entry, it was now the town's Chamber of Commerce identified by a large sign accompanied by the slogan "Keep Sidney Beautiful" and the initials "KSB."

A plaque on the still regal building said it had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The characterless, replacement library off on a side street will never earn such recognition.

Towns and Carnegies are few and far between in the western half of Nebraska.  It was more than 200 miles to the next in Broken Bow.  I felt fortunate to find a mini-cafe in the small town of Arnold with a population of less than 500, thirty-two miles from Broken Bow after camping in a cemetery sixteen miles away.  The cafe catered to the elderly in the town, who filled several tables chattering away.  I could only pick up fragments of their overlapping conversations as I ate a burrito since there were no hotcakes on the menu--"I saw her walk across the highway to get her mail," "I hear they're moving to Indiana," "I can't place that person though I know I should," "I was busy decorating cupcakes, three hundred of them," "I'll have to see what Bob says,""We're going to take Mildred to supper."

It was going to be another 90 degree day so I availed myself of a thirty-two ounce Dr. Pepper.  I had the wind at my back until I turned south on Route Two for nine miles down to Broken Bow, a town of 3,500, large enough to have outgrown its Carnegie.  It had been converted into the Carnegie Professional Buiilding with offices for a law firm, accountants, an auctioneer and a couple of social services.  It was splendidly maintained complete with beds of flowers.

Around the corner a historical marker explained the town's name.  In 1882 when an early settler sought to name and establish a town on the spot of an earlier Indian encampment his first three choices were rejected as being too similar to other towns.  He'd seen a broken bow on the spot so offered that as a name.  There is no Native American presence in the town, though the town park is called Tomahawk and the high school sport teams are known as The Indians.  Shops had signs of Indian Power and Sink the Swedes, the nickname of a rival school.

The new generic library was three blocks away.  It was trying to raise funds to expand.  It had a display of books that had been made into movies with a sign saying "Never judge a book by its movie."

Broken Bow is ten miles from the geographic center of Nebraska.  I have forests ahead.  Broken Bow is known as the "Sod House Frontier," the beginning of terrain that the early settlers had to use sod to construct their homes, there not being much wood.

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