Flatter roads, flattest tires - Bike Nonstop US Part 3: Dubois, WY to Council Bluffs, IA
This post is part of a series summarizing my experience with Bike Nonstop US, a 3,500 mile, mixed terrain race across the United States. Take a look at this page for all posts related to Bike Nonstop 2021.
For more information on the race itself, take a look at my introduction post.
Andrew and I left our hotel shortly after 3:00AM and rejoined the highway. The weather was on our side. We had a great tailwind and an overall downhill grade to Riverton, which was about 75 miles away. After a short resupply, we rejoined the highway north towards Shoshoni. This is where we left the original route, but the reroute was made by the race director shortly after the race started due to the potential for a repeat of the heat dome we experienced in Oregon.
The original route would've had us go east out of Riverton on highway 136. It would've been the longest stretch without services for the entire route: 120 miles. While I was preparing for the race, I did a lot of research on this section so I had a general idea of what to expect. Google Street View only goes so far, so most of the intel came from pictures and videos of racers from 2019. The race director also diverted racers to the detour through Shoshoni in 2019, but not until after several racers went through it and got stuck in the muddy roads.
While researching, I couldn't find any resupply points or even a creek to filter water from. Not that I'd want to filter water though, since it looks like old uranium mines were nearby according to what I could find online.
Unlike the original gravel route from Riverton to Casper, the detour through Shoshoni was on a paved highway with a lot of traffic. Andrew and I stopped by a gas station in Shoshoni, the last major resupply until Casper. We were already at 100 miles for the day and it was only 10:00AM. The weather was great.
There weren't any camping or hotel options until Casper, except for the possibility of camping behind a rest area about 50 miles away. I had my eyes on Casper, which was another 100 miles away. I wanted to get going to beat some potential thunderstorms later in the day. Andrew and I split up again and I started heading east. The traffic was bad, but the shoulder was decently wide.
I passed by a rest area and then Gas Hills Rd, which would've been the only bailout point if things went south on the original gravel route between Riverton and Casper. I looked down the road to try and imagine the kind of terrain we would've been on. Desolate, exposed terrain with a rough gravel road. I continued on the highway towards Casper.
In retrospect, the conditions would've been great for the original route. It wasn't too hot, and the winds were in my favor. Maybe a good reason to come back and try it again another year.
I made it into Casper and booked a hotel on the other side of town. My longest day of biking yet: 204 miles! Optimal conditions for big mileage. Good timing too, with a nasty thunderstorm rolling through a couple hours later.
The next day, I hit the road before sunrise and shortly after another thunderstorm. The route joined a rail trail that was muddy and slow after the rain. The rail trail ended and I was back on the highway. As the sun was coming up, I heard a sudden stream of air from my rear tire. My first flat of the trip, and unfortunately my sealant did nothing to help. With all my sealant gone, I decided to put a tube in.
I continued east and left the main highway to ride on some rolling hills in the appropriately named town of Rolling Hills. I saw some wind turbines, the first I've seen in all of Wyoming. The oil pump jacks easily outnumbered this small cluster of wind turbines.
After riding next on the interstate on a frontage road, I joined a highway as the wind and traffic started to pick up. I definitely felt like I was back in the Great Plains again. Despite the flat tire, I was making good progress and had my sights on Nebraska for the day. The traffic died down as I left Lusk, Wyoming, and the pavement was nice and smooth.
As I entered Nebraska, the wind switched directions and I was surprised by the decently-sized climbs.
I finished the day in Harrison, Nebraska.
I ate dinner at the only bar and restaurant in town. One guy sitting a few seats down at the bar was friendly and we started talking. His name was Lee and he had lived in Harrison his whole life with the exception of the time he spent in the Navy in the late 60s. After a few minutes, one of his friends, Joe, walked in the bar and sat in the empty seat between us.
All three of us talked about my bike race and their experience living in western Nebraska. Joe owned the local clothes store, so Lee gave him some cash to buy me a t-shirt from his store. It was so fun to talk to some locals in the bar, and it set the tone for the friendliness I continued to experience throughout Nebraska.
The next day was on the shorter side: 100 miles. My saddle sores were not getting better, so I decided to take the afternoon off to rest and recover.
Despite my saddle pain, the hills and trees on this day were a nice surprise. I arrived at a hotel in Gordon, which seemed straight out of the 80s.
It was clean though and they were nice to let me check in early. They also had laundry machines, which was a perfect amenity to take advantage of on a shorter day of riding.
I checked Trackleaders and noticed Andrew was close behind me, so I offered to let him stay in the hotel with me. My short day combined with some of his longer ones allowed him to catch up to me, again. It was fun to be chased like this, but in retrospect, I think I ride farther when I'm with other people.
Andrew and I left together the next morning at 3:00 AM, having our sights on joining the Cowboy Trail in Valentine. There were some thunderstorms creeping around the north of us. I was a little on edge. I really don't like thunderstorms. The weather radar on my phone really came in handy in these situations, allowing me to calm my nerves or make plans to find shelter if needed.
We ended up dodging the thunderstorms and only had a little bit of rain. This day highlighted the Sandhills, which are ancient grass-stabilized sand dunes.
It was a hot day and the wind was picking up from the east. Just outside of Valentine, I got another flat on my rear tire. No shade around, so I baked in the sun to install my last tube. If I got a flat again, I'd need to patch it.
I stopped by a hardware store in Valentine which was marked as a bike shop on the Cowboy Trail's website. They didn't have any tubes my size, but they did have an air compressor and some tubeless sealant I could use. I tried mounting my tire back to tubeless but it wouldn't work, the tire was too stretched and worn out.
I put my tube back in and met Andrew as we started the Cowboy Trail. This area, and especially this trail was known for Goathead thorns. I was really hoping to have two tubeless tires with sealant to prepare for this, so I'd have to be more cautious without sealant in my rear tire and running low on tire repair options.
The Cowboy Trail was unlike other rail trails I was familiar with. It had coarser gravel in some areas, and loose sand in others. It was slow going and very hot outside.
As we left the trail to stay in Ainsworth for the night, I double-flatted on a neighborhood road due to some thorns camouflaged in some gravel. My sealant didn't help at all in my front tire. We headed to a hotel after getting some groceries. I knew I had to cut some sleep in order to get my tires back in working order.
I spent way too much time checking tires, patching, realizing I missed a thorn, and patching again. Due to all the punctures I had that day, I was now running on two patched tubes, and had no tubes or patches left to spare.
The next day was all Cowboy Trail with a few detours due to trail damage and flooding. There were also some detours (presumably) due to private property owners not liking the trail going through their property. I was trying to be as careful as possible to avoid a puncture.
I needed to resupply tubes and patches at a bike shop, but due to the slow conditions of the trail, Andrew and I would arrive at our destination, Norfolk, NE, after the only bike shop closed. Strangely enough, there were no bike shops on the Cowboy Trail between Valentine and Norfolk. A couple hours out of town, I called the bike shop and was able to buy tubes and patches over the phone, with the shop owner agreeing to leave them in his mailbox outside the shop. Big thanks to Cleveland Bike & Sport for the flexibility!
As we entered Norfolk, a cyclist called out our names. A dot watcher, and the first of the trip. She had been watching our locations on Trackleaders and wanted to ride with us into town. She was very nice, and even navigated us to the bike shop to pick up our supplies. With Andrew and I being exhausted from a long day of gravel, it was so nice to have someone to brighten our spirits and help route us through town.
The next day, Andrew and I started a little later due to the severe thunderstorms rolling through in the early morning. We left a little before sunrise and joined a busier highway. Faster than the Cowboy Trail, but traffic sucks.
We stopped through a small town that I had shipped a new tire and chain to before the race - a practice permitted by the race director. I arrived at the post office right as they opened, and sure enough, the package was waiting for me. I stuffed the tire and chain in my bags, with the expectation of installing it at a bike shop in Omaha later that day.
I had been tracking a thunderstorm on my weather radar app most of the day, and while we were at a gas station a few hours outside of Omaha, the storm caught up to us. I found a park with a shelter on Google Maps and we darted towards it, only getting a little wet along the way. What came next was an intense thunderstorm, not unlike the one that rolled through the area earlier in the night.
We stayed at the park shelter for over an hour. I charged my electronics and ate food while Andrew took a nap.
When the worst of the storm was beyond us, we hit the road but still got soaked due to our bikes kicking up water on the road. Getting closer to Omaha, we began to see the effects of the flood that hit the area back in 2019. The route took us on a marked closed road, where half of the road seemed to be washed out and only one lane remained. Next, the route wanted to take us on a bike path, but it was in a state of disrepair. As we got into Omaha, we were able to join the bike path but it was covered in debris and downed trees from the more recent thunderstorms. City workers and powerline crews were working on it as we rode it.
The afternoon thunderstorm combined with the storm damage slowed our progress, and we ended up arriving at the bike shop with less than a half hour before it closed. The bike shop not only allowed us to use their stands and tools to work on our bikes, but they also helped out with mounting tires. Another great bike shop in Nebraska. Thank you to Greenstreet Cycles!
After working on our bikes and restocking on some other items, we headed across the Missouri River to enter Iowa, and shortly after arrived at a hotel for the night. Despite the flat tires, Nebraska was a great state to bike through and marked the point in the trip where I experienced exceptionally nice people. I certainly prefer it for crossing this area of the country, compared to North Dakota which I crossed the previous summer.