|Moving through the farmland of Nebraska on a rail trail towards....?|
In my mind at the time I was figuring this path would lead me back to Dwight where I had taken my leisure under the shade of the cottonwood tree. However; I noticed something before I reached the next village. The rail-trail was shadowing a road, and that road was gravel. It was down below me a bit, and there were trees and shrubbery shielding me from view of whatever was on the road that was moving in the same direction as I. It wasn't a vehicle, at least not a car. Then I made it out. A cyclist! maybe it was a random person cycling, but my first thought was that I had come upon some part of the route again. The cyclist path took him out of view again, so I focused on the task at hand and moved onward. Then I came out at a rustic trail head. Still, other than the name of the trail, there was no place name I could see. I went out onto the road, and then I suddenly recognized the place.
I had been here before. Not during the ride I was on, but several months ago. It was Gravel Worlds. The route last year took us up into some high country North of Lincoln for the very first time and it turned out to be my favorite part of the course. The near ghost town I was in was Loma. I cruised to the right, which I knew was backward on the old Gravel Worlds course. I hadn't even thought about what I was going to do when I saw two cyclists leaving the Loma Tavern, an old wooden structure of indeterminate age. A woman walking out of the door of the tavern mentioned that the burgers were good inside. I dismounted, and figured I would eat, resupply, and find out how I could get back to checkpoint #2 to announce my DNF, or perhaps I could ride back, or.... I didn't care at the moment. Food and drink were at hand!
|The bar at the Loma Tavern is a throwback to a simpler time.|
I sat myself at the end of the bar, closest to the cooler, and the elderly lady approached me and asked what I'd have. I asked for the can of Schlitz. I hadn't seen one in years. My grandfather used to drink the stuff. Anyway, I also replied that I had heard she had tasty burgers on sale. She replied in the affirmative, and then she said something I wasn't expecting.
"Could you come back to the kitchen with me? I need some help".
Now, just what help did this woman need that some big ol' sweaty cyclist could provide? The woman was short, certainly, and my first thought was that she might need me to reach something on a high shelf for her, but otherwise, I had no clue.
What she wanted me to do though was partake in making my own meal! She walked into one of the two "back rooms" I had seen when I walked in. It was the one on the right side, and it looked like someone's disheveled old kitchen. There was a stove like you might see in an old, old house, and some cupboards on the walls with a large table in the center of the room that was covered with stuff except for a corner that was exposed. There the woman placed a paper plate, reached into a bag of Lays potato chips and gave me a handful of the crisps. (No plastic food gloves here, by the way!) And then she plopped a hamburger bun down on the plate, saying, "Here! You can split that open. Put some pickles on it! ", as she placed a nearly empty jar of pickles on the table produced from the refrigerator. She gave me a spoon and I fished out four slices of pickles. In the mean time she put ketchup and mustard down for me to use. When I had prepared the bun, she used a spatula and gently placed a burger on my bun. "There you go!", she said. And I thanked her and walked back to my place at the bar.
|That was about the best tasting burger I had ever had at that moment. And I helped make it!|
Well, it was time to go and I asked where the best route was toward Malcom. Mary said, "Well, I don't get down that way much.", but she offered that the bike path I was on was the best, easiest way to get toward that neck of the woods. It led to Valparaiso. Perfect! I knew that town and the area between there and Malcom fairly well. Mary was a bit surprised, but I explained that Gravel Worlds was always held in that area and that's why I was familiar with the country down that way. I took my leave of Mary, the young family, and the Loma Tavern. I headed Southeastward toward Valpo on the trail.
I hadn't gone far when I got sight of a lone rider ahead of me. I considered hanging back, so as not to ruin their solitary experience on the trail, when my phone buzzed me. It was MG texting me that he had called it a day due to intestinal issues. If I needed a ride, I should let him know. I immediately stopped and told him I was headed toward Valpo, and that he should come to meet me there. Okay....so now I had a bail-out at the next town. My mind was at ease.
|The ride ended at the Sinclair station in Valparaiso, Nebraska, for me at any rate.|
I purchased a tall boy can of poor domestic beer that does not deserve mentioning, and walked outside. Curiously, the lady at the counter did not place my beer in a paper sack, or even seem to care that I was obviously drinking it outside the place. A lawnmower cruised up the main street just then with a wild haired, overweight male driver aboard. Apparently, lawnmowers pass for reasonable transportation in that village. Later, a young rider, no more than six or seven, raced up on his BMX style bike, carefully parked it on the curb, and shot a brief, nervous glance my way before disappearing into the store. Just some interesting stuff as I waited for MG. Of course, he eventually collected me and we were off back to Malcom to share our stories and eat some grub.
That was pretty much the story of my Solstice 100 experience. Someone said at the start line, it may have been Corey, "Cornbread" Godfrey, that this was a true "grassroots gravel event" and I would have to agree with that assessment. It was fun- yes I had fun- despite my getting lost, DNF-ing, and not making a 100 miles. I had a great, memorable adventure. I met some interesting folks and saw some interesting stuff. Experiences. Gravel travel. Fun. Well.......that's my kind of fun anyway.
Certainly, I need to continue to try to get into better shape endurance-wise. I need to ride more. (Weather permitting) But I am not down at all. Joe Billesbach, Rob Evans, Jamie Grandquist, and the Gibson family, plus all the volunteers and sponsors of the Solstice 100 should be proud of their efforts. I would recommend this ride to anyone- fast racer or adventurer alike. Word is the Solstice may move to a new venue next year. Hmm..... Perhaps new adventures await me wherever that is.
Thanks: MG and his family for providing lodging and great friendship. Thanks to Joe, Rob, Jamie, The Gibsons, The Volunteers, Kevin Fox, Lippy's Barbecue, The Town Of Malcom, Mary at Loma Tavern, and everyone that stopped to say hello or said hello along the way on the journey.