Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Western Nebraska

The road to Chadron was long and didn't really change. Bruce, an avid cyclist himself, told me there was no bike shop in Valentine that could do much for me, but that in Chadron, where he lived, the bike shop might be able to do something. He said he'll help me out, but that I'd need to do some work for him. I agreed to it.

Few people knew as much about the sandhills of Nebraska as Bruce did—his father had written an authoritative book on the history of the region—and I'd been guided as far as what to look for while passing by. It's a fascinating region.

Once I was in Chadron, Bruce gave me a day to rest and then took me up to South Dakota to work on an aspen stand.

"You'll get to see the Black Hills!" he said excitedly. As we headed up, he pointed out antelope and told me all about the history of the area.

We ended up on a private dirt road. When we got to the house on the private property, we met the owner, took a look at his greenhouse, and then drove up to the aspen stand, where I helped Bruce take leaves for DNA sampling and take GPS readings.


The next day I went to the bike shop. It was a bike shop and a barbershop in one.

"Hello!" said the owner.

"How are you doing?"


"I was wondering if you could take a look at the bulge in my tire."

He took a look. He deflated it and re-inflated it. He had me inflate it while he held it with his hands.

"Well, I'm not sure what to tell you. I think you've got a s___ty tire."

"I wouldn't be surprised at all. It's been traveling with me for nearly 2,000 miles, all folded up most of the way."

"Yeah, feel here, and then feel here. See how it's not uniform?"

"Yeah. I'm thinking I'll just get a new tire."

"No-can-do. I don't have any in your size."

"..." I'd been afraid of this.

"Do you know where I could get one?"

"The nearest bike shop will be in Casper."

Casper is in Wyoming, some 200 miles from Chadron. "You think I could make it that far?"

"Let me see what I can do."

He took the wheel to the bathroom and struggled for a while with soap and water.

"I think I've removed most of the bulge, take a look."

"Thanks. Let me try riding on it. Oh, could I buy a multi spoke wrench off of you, by any chance?"

"Don't have any."

"OK. Then could I at least get a patch kit?"

"I don't carry patch kits."

I almost wanted to ask what kind of a bike shop this was, but I knew the answer already—the best in the region.

He sent me back. He didn't take any money. I rode the bike over to the shop later in the day.

"How's it riding?"

"Seems all right so far, without luggage. But I'm feeling a little queasy about this. What do you think of that green slime they sell at Wal-Mart to seal the tube?"

"Weak. I have some much better stuff here, with better granules."

"Ooh, could you put some in?"

"No-can-do! Can't put it into Presta valves!"


"Tell you what," he said. "I've got a thick, thorn-proof tube that's not quite your size but will fit. Heavier, but stronger. Want it as a spare?"

I liked the sound of it, but wondered whether it would actually fit. "Could we put it in now?"

"Sure!" He put it in. I paid him $10. I rode it back and it rode fine.

Too bad he was closing. I'd wanted a haircut, too. As my hair gets longer, it gets harder and harder to meet people and elicit an immediate positive reaction.


In return for having picked me up after 30 hours of unsuccessful hitchhiking, I sanded the rust off of Bruce's '63 Jeep.

I helped him with a couple more aspen stands. Bruce discovered an insect he had never seen before (I can attest to the fact that that would truly be a rarity) that he suspected was stressing the aspens in some way, so he trapped two of them and took them home for analysis.


Then I rode to Fort Robinson, past Crow Butte. When Crow Indians invaded a white settlement, the whites alerted the Sioux, who sent hundreds of warriors to drive them out. The Crow braves had climbed onto Crow Butte and would repel any attempt at an ascent by the Sioux by throwing rocks at them from the top and taunting them.

Bruce had told me everyone hated the Crow—both whites and other Indian tribes. He said that even now, a Crow could never hitchhike successfully in that area.


I arrived at Fort Robinson as it was getting dark. I pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a road that went through two large streams with no bridge (one of these streams had a board across it a bit upstream from the road). After pitching the tent, I went up to the campground to plug my phone in and make some calls and use the internet. No signal. I left it plugged in and started eating donuts, but I was lonely again. I saw a campfire in the distance.

I felt it would be rude to interrupt people at a campfire, but whatever. So what if I was rude to people I'd never see again. I walked over.

"Hey, how are you doing?"


"I have more donuts than I could carry or eat here, so I thought I'd offer you some."

"Oh," said a middle-aged woman, "I don't eat sweets. Oh, and don't worry about the plastic on my head, that's just so I don't get smoke in my hair. I don't want you to think it's going to rain."

"Actually," I said, "I heard it was going to tonight."

"Oh, no! I hope not!"

I stood around and talked. The woman's husband came back. She told him my story. They had me sit down with them at the campfire. Their names were Dick and Joyce.

We talked mostly about taboo topics like religion and politics, deep into the night. Even without knowing what was coming, I was glad I'd risked being rude.


  1. you should post a pic w/ your shaggy mane. I am glad your tire is making it. :)

  2. Greg, you better be living this up before you come back to the real world. :D