Day 9: Benkelman to Ogallala - The Empty Middle 2015 - CycleBlaze

October 1, 2015

Day 9: Benkelman to Ogallala

Today is the longest day of the tour, so I got up at 6:30 and left the motel at 7, headed south down a big hill to a downtown bar that's the only place open for breakfast. I was the only customer.

I had to climb the big hill to get out of Benkelman, north on NE 61.

Abandoned church in Benkelman.
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Benkelman cemetery. I have never seen a cemetery with so many flag poles.
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The terrain is gently rolling. Traffic was light, with few trucks. Gentle tailwind in the morning.

It's nice to finally have occasional hilltop views.
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Only the flat areas are farmed. Hilly areas are mostly just grassland because irrigation doesn't work well in hilly terrain.

Several cultural changes have been apparent since I crossed into Nebraska. Businesses now have German or Scandinavian names instead of English names. Most churches are now Lutheran instead of Baptist.

Freshly paved road but the shoulder wasn't repaved.
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NE 61 on the dam that creates Enders reservoir.
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Detour on US 6 for lunch in Imperial, Nebraska. US 6 has a wider shoulder than NE 61.
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I detoured 2 miles west on US 6 to have lunch in downtown Imperial (population 2071). US 6 has grain elevators and equipment dealers, but no stores or restaurants.

Grain elevators in Imperial.
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Imperial, Nebraska.
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Exquisite brick Methodist church in Imperial.
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Courthouse in Imperial.
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One of several farm equipment dealers in Imperial.
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NE 61 has far more trucks north of US 6. And there is no shoulder until 10 miles from Ogallala. Interestingly, the steepest grades do have a paved shoulder and curb. Something about drainage, I guess.

One place I stopped and rolled my bike 25 feet off the pavement on a little-used driveway. Then I noticed the tires were covered with goatheads. I spent several minutes pulling about 100 goatheads out of the tires. No punctures since they weren't ground in deeply. I carried the bike back to the road.

I have been checking my tires for goatheads every time I go off pavement. This was my first time to find them. In a big way. After this I avoided stopping at driveways with any visible plant growth. Goatheads are very difficult to see because they are almost the same color as the yellowish-white sandy soil.

Close up photo of goathead thorns found on the Internet.
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The horizon is no longer flat as a board.
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I appreciate that the landscape is now more visibly hilly and eroded. No more razor-flat horizon. And I appreciate seeing juniper and cottonwood trees in low lying areas. Western Nebraska has more trees than Western Kansas.

Yesterday and today the soil has mostly been very sandy and nearly white. Previously the soil was light brown or sometimes red.

Typical sandy side road.
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In the afternoon I passed next to a cattle feedlot that was upwind. It stunk for 3 miles. A huge number of trucks go in and out of the feedlot. Most trucks on the road are transporting grain from grain elevators to feedlots.

The sky was overcast all day and the temperature was 70F (21C) for most of the afternoon. Pretty nice conditions for pedaling, especially with a tailwind.

Late in the day I passed through the town of Grant (population 1165). It also has a couple of farm equipment dealers.

Grant, Nebraska.
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I was extremely tired for the final 19 miles from Grant to Ogallala. Fortunately the tailwind picked up to 10-15 mph in the afternoon.

Just before 6 PM I got a room at the first motel on the south edge of Ogallala. Super 8, $74. For once I watched TV in the evening to learn more about the mass shooting today at Umpqua Community College, 10 miles from my house.

Ogallala is a medium sized town, population 4737. Close to I-80 and the South Platte river. My motel is south of I-80 and the river but nearly all the town is north of I-80 and the river.

Today wasn't difficult, just long. 10 hours from start to finish. I finished an hour before dark. Short fall days don't allow much room for error when the distance is long.

Distance: 89.8 mi. (144 km) longest day of the tour
Climbing: 1558 ft. (472 m)
Average Speed: 11.7 mph (18.7 km/h)

Today's ride: 90 miles (145 km)
Total: 541 miles (871 km)

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