Chris and I are more than half way through our epic adventure and we’ve ridden a lot of miles, climbed many mountains, seen amazing places and met many wonderful people. As the trip progresses, I continue to notice things that I thought are worth sharing. I hope you enjoy them.
The Sky: When I’m at home I spend most of my time inside a car, at work or at home and frankly really never pay attention to the sky. Ever since we started the trip, I have found my self looking up at the sky all the time. Part of this is just driven by the fact that I’m outside all day but the fascinating thing is that I’ve noticed the sky change as we’ve crossed the country. When we got to the high mountains, the color of the sky became a deeper and richer blue and the clouds became bigger, brighter, whiter and with even more defined shapes. Their contrast with the mountains was breath taking. In California, we rarely see big cumulus clouds. In the mountains and in the mid west, they are common place. My wife Cindy loves taking pictures of landscapes with big Cumulus clouds so she would have loved this. When we got out of the mountains, it was common for us to start the day with a sky completely empty of clouds so it was just an empty blue canvas. By the end of the day, it could be filled with huge clouds, big dark thunderheads and maybe even some lightning. Essentially it’s almost like watching art being created everyday as we cross the country and all we have to do is look up.
Mobile Homing: When I was growing up, camping was a regular part of our family travel and vacations. To be clear, camping meant, a tent, sleeping bags, a coleman cook stove, hunting for firewood, sleeping on the ground etc. When we pulled into a campsite, we were usually surrounded by other tents and occasionally the RV or trailer would show up. As we were riding our bikes through Tahoe, the Tetons and Yellowstone, I noticed that the campsites were filled with a lot more trucks with giant trailers and RV’s complete with satellite dishes, and hook ups for plumbing. While they are technically in a campsite and out in nature, I’ve decided you simply can’t call this camping. While I haven’t looked up the true definition of camping in the dictionary, I don’t think it includes access to your favorite TV show. In my definition, camping must include sleeping on the ground and going without a shower for a minimum of 24 hours. If an RV and plumbing is involved, I think it has to be called mobile homing. I’m not judging, just saying…
We don’t want the government’s help: When we visited both the Fur Trade Museum and the Crazy Horse Monument, the tour guides/curators were very adamant and quite proud about not taking any money from the government to support their enterprises. This stuck me as a little odd at first since both organizations were trying to serve the public in some way. However, as I’ve learned more about the development of the west, it’s really not surprising at all. Here’s how I summarize it. First, we get much of the land through the Louisiana purchase by buying it from the French, who really didn’t own it in the first place, they just arrived and staked claim to it when it really was occupied by the indians. Ranchers then came out and let their cattle graze all over the land and their businesses thrived. However, the government decided we needed people to move out west to settle the land so they let people go out and homestead on the land. We’ll give you 160 acres of land but you have to put a house on it, and “prove it up” each year and survive for 5 years without any help from the government. In the mean time, the land the government gave you, was often being used by cattlemen for the open grazing of their herds. These cattlemen didn’t want you on “their land” and certainly didn’t want you putting up fences to protect your land from their cattle. Clearly conflicts broke out and there was little government support so these folks had to become wildly independent just to survive. It seems to me that this spirit of the wild west has been passed down from generation to generation and still exists today.
Lessons from Ed: For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bit of an inquisitive sort. I like asking questions and love learning about new things. I just have a natural curiosity about lots of stuff. With that in mind, Ed Brown has been the perfect person to join our trip and guide us across Nebraska. Ed works for Union Pacific and knows all things railroad and also has a great working knowledge of Nebraska’s agriculture industry. In fact I learned that trains can be 9,000 feet long (over 1 1/2 miles) and that there are places in Nebraska that get so cold in the winter they attach heaters to the tracks so the switches will not get frozen shut. I think this is a good criteria to use for a place not to live. I also learned about corn de-tassling. At first I thought I was learning about some kind of crazy corn sex that ultimately ended up with corn being neutered. It was a little scary. As it turns out, de-tassling has something to do with pollination but I’ve decided that if I’m in Nebraska and someone ever asks me if I’d like to be de-tassled, I’ll politely decline.
Ed also shared stories about his early experiences moving from California to Nebraska. Below is a picture of a common site in Nebraska and Iowa. Apparently this is not a large bird cage. Chicken dinner for the first person who can comment on the blog and name this structure. The only limit is you can’t currently reside in the midwest (That would just be unfair), this is really for the city folks.
Final lesson form Ed was all about Bob’s in Le Mars, IA. Now Le Mars is primarily famous as the ice cream capital of the world and Blue Bunny ice cream. While that is true, the real secret in LeMars in Bob’s and their famous Made Right hot dog. It’s essentially a Wimmer hot dog with specially seasoned Made Right hamburger on it. It is simply delicious. When in LeMars, I recommend you have your Blue Bunny ice cream at Bob’s, accompanied by a Made Right dog. Outstanding!
Warm Summer Nights. One of the great summer memories I have as a kid growing up in northern Virginia was warm summer nights catching fire flies, putting them in a jar and watching them glow. It was just great fun. While I have admittedly turned into a bit of a Northern California weather snob and while it’s true that we have been dodging the 100 degree days crossing South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, I’ve got to say that the warm summer nights in the mid-west are really awesome. Being outside at 10:00 pm in shorts and a t-shirt feels just great, particularly when you know you get to go inside and sleep in an air conditioned house or hotel. While I have yet to see my first fire fly, I fully expect to get the full fire fly experience before I leave Iowa. While Northern California has a lot going for it, we simply don’t have fire flies.