I am sitting in a hotel in downtown Omaha and revelling in a rest day with real honest to goodness air conditioning. The last few days have been a test of fortitude as Iowa and Nebraska have suffered under a severe heat warning. On top of that the Iowa hills conspired to give me a beat down also. I love hills when cycling but when you throw the extra weight I am carrying on then that makes them a trial. I’ll catch you up and tell you about one of my best treats of the trip so far. I found my own personal angel, and his name is Gayle!
The Ride: I have now entered my sixth state Nebraska. I have been trying to mainly ride using water and whole foods as my fuel which goes against almost everything I have spent the last 10 years learning on the bike. Almost every ride I have done for the last 10 years has been an exercise in learning to balance different supplements. When I knew I was undertaking literally weeks of riding I knew something had to change. So my fuel has been real honest to goodness food and real honest to goodness water (OK, the occasional unsweet tea and lemonade but those are treats in the heat). So even though I have been struggling through heat unlike anything I have cycled in before I haven’t bonked (a very untechnical term for running out of energy in the body). This is good because it looks like Nebraska is going to live up to all of my fears. The next week is looking to be between 90 and 100 degrees plus humidity. I have tried to plan my rides to be shorter but Nebraska is a large state and will take a full seven days riding to get across.
Learning Humility: So on Friday as I got up to ride I knew it was going to be a hot day and I was facing the hilliest section I have had to tackle yet. I was up early and packed up camp as quickly as possible and looked to be on the road for around 6:15 a.m. That is when calamity struck. I knew there would be malfunctions but this one was totally unexpected. As I moved my bike to hook up the trailer my saddle broke. One of the carbon rails totally disconnected. I have had this happen before but never when I was facing one of the hottest days and the worst hills I have faced this year. So, I had to make decisions. I could sit and wait for the cycle shop to open but I would lose the coolest four hours of the day. I chose to go on and try it with the broken saddle. If you have ever tried to cycle with a broken seat it throws off your entire riding cadence and forces your body to work out of balance. It is also a good way to injure yourself!
So I hit the road and tried to push as hard as I could. By noon it was approaching cycling in a sauna. The temperature had climbed to 114 degrees (45.5C) with the humidex and each hill felt like a trial on it’s own. Also my body was beginning to react to the saddle and my hips and legs were breaking down to being out of balance. I did a very unnatural thing then and decided I would hitchhike the last 30K into Council Bluffs and Omaha. I unhooked the trailer, laid down the bike and set out to do what I figured would be the impossible. Try to get a ride when you look like a vagabond. I texted Joy and said I was trying to get a ride but didn’t hold out a lot of hope. A few cars passed me by and my hope of hopes a couple pick-up trucks. Then one old beat up truck came down the highway the wrong way and turned around in front of me. I walked up and an older man asked how far I was going. I said Colorado and he laughed, how far right now? I said my saddle is broken so just into town where I could find a bike shop and get a replacement.
He helped me load the bike and the trailer into the bed and threw some crap out of the front seat so I would have room to sit. There was no way my feet were hitting the floor in the front though as this was a dedicated bachelors truck and the passenger side seatbelt had never been actually used I am certain. We chatted on the way in and Gayle told me about his plans to move to Arizona. He asked about what I was going to do about a saddle. I said I could get one near the hotel in Omaha so if he could get me into Council Bluffs I could make my way across the river and find the store. He told me of his business plans him and a friend are taking on in Arizona. Let me explain, Gayle is at least mid-70’s old as he was telling me about his 1962 cars he had at home that were his when he was a ‘young’ man.
As we pulled into Council Bluffs we’re driving along and he is showing me the old section of town and we are just chatting away. He says suddenly, ‘well look at that a bicycle shop…’ He had gone out of his way to find a cycle shop on the way for me to get a new saddle. The store asked what I was doing and what happened and produced a Selle saddle they had removed from a bicycle for a $20 cash price tag. Wow, what a gift. Gayle came into the store with me and just smiled.
I offered to buy him lunch and we did Burger King together. He sat and told me of their plans in Arizona. This mid 70’s man has more business plans than most people I know. He has never left Iowa in his life and was packing up and moving along to start a business with a friend from California. I was just amazed. he even offered me a job to come and join them.
So my Friday angel was an older man driving a loud old pickup truck who was tickled to be paid with a Whopper with cheese and a small Diet Coke. I was given another lesson in generosity and presumption yesterday. I think we find it so easy to write people off when they don’t ‘appear’ to meet our own perceptions. I have learned again and again on this trip that I am both a giver and a taker in this world, in the end I want to be best known as a giver!
I hope to catch up more tomorrow night from Lincoln Nebraska. I have some thoughts on solitude that have been percolating.