BRAN (The Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska) is a 7-day tour from the west to the east of the state, traversing 450ish miles and taking a different route each year. Many Sheclismas have taken on the journey over the years, and this year, Joy went on the adventure. Here's her journal.
BRAN. It was appealing to me the first time I heard about it. I wanted to go last year but due to my job situation, it wasn’t possible. This year Adam and I decided we would try it out. With the click of a few buttons, we were registered. The weeks leading up to BRAN kept me anxious and I was constantly updating my “BRAN Checklist” of things to buy and things to pack. How many jerseys will I need? How many pairs of socks? Do I need to bring gloves? Will two t-shirts be enough? Will showers be available? Can I do laundry on this trip? These questions and many others were keeping me busy as I was constantly unpacking and rethinking my necessities. The days started passing by quickly and I was organizing all of my gear up to the last minute.
On Saturday morning (in Lincoln) it was pouring when we woke up at Adam’s parents’ house. The plan was to hit the road as early as possible and arrive in Rushville around 5p.m. As we were getting ready to load up the truck and head out, Adam’s brother ran upstairs and announced that the basement was flooding. All five of us ran down to see what was going on. The window well was full and water was gushing out of perimeter of the window, pouring down the wall of the basement. It took a half hour and three steam vacuum machines to get the mess cleaned up. Apparently that’s not the first time it had happened because the steam vacs were already near the problem window when we got downstairs.
Around 7:30, two schipperkes (small bat-like dogs) two cyclists and two South Dakota-bound vacationers boarded a pick-up truck hauling a camper and set out towards the panhandle. Adam’s parents were nice enough to coordinate their vacation days with ours in order to drop us off in Rushville on their way to Chadron, Nebraska and then Yankton, South Dakota. I spent most of the drive playing Tetris on a Gameboy (thank you Richard) and laughing at Adam when he would doze off, his head swaying forward and back and side to side as he drifted into blissful half-sleep. I also did my best to avoid the awful schipperke breath by gently pushing the dog’s panting face toward Adam.
We were 20 minutes from Rushville when Richard (Adam’s dad) noticed strips of rubber flying off the side of the camper. We had lost a tire. Adam and his dad jacked up the camper and switched out the tire while Dixie (Adam’s mom) and I watched for traffic. We were encountered by a sheriff who turned his lights on so the traffic would see us from far away. He basically just watched as the tire was being changed. He looked at Adam and I and, pointing to his head, asked if we were cyclists. We were wearing caps at the time. We both smiled and nodded. He jokingly asked if we were required to do some sort of mental health screening before BRAN. I laughed and said “No, we know we’re crazy!”
Once the tire was on, we were back on the road. Even with a couple dilemmas, we made it in time to collect our BRAN t-shirts, luggage tags and a few other goodies. Rushville welcomed us with bikes on every corner in town, spray painted white and tied up to light poles. It was interesting, to say the least. We found a place to set up camp and went to the bar for dinner.
The following is a detailed journal of our BRAN adventure!
First overnight stay in Rushville. Expecting rain…
DAY 1 - Rushville to Cody
Windy, wet, cold with temps in the upper 40’s
Adam and I stopped at EVERY SAG (Support and Gear). Some of them had hot chocolate and coffee witch really hit the spot. We finally took a long break in Merriman at The Sand Bar. It was warm and the longer we stayed inside, the less we wanted to go back out into the cold rain. We consumed some liquid courage while standing next to the heater, used the bathroom and left. When we rolled in to Cody, we were in search of our bags and warm showers. The locals were nice enough to let us sleep in the high school which was a true blessing. We were able to stay dry and warm through the night after a long day of riding in the cold rain. They even dried our clothes for us! Angels.
This was our temporary home in Cody-Kilgore High School.
It was interesting to see the school class sizes starting in the 1930’s with just 5 students graduating. Through the years the class sizes grew gradually and at some point Cody High became Cody-Kilgore High School and the class sizes grew faster. Kilgore is another small town located 15 miles east of Cody. As we were looking though the photos, a local pointed out a student and said “Look at that stud!” It was him from 30 years ago!
We learned later that only 60 riders made it all the way to Cody. Every time I saw a person in the back of the Penske Truck with their head hanging low I felt more motivated to keep riding. It was DAY 1! I was not about to quit. I feel like that first day really set the bar. I do not regret suffering for 5 hours in the rain! However, the next morning we were rather stiff in the joints.
DAY2 – Cody to Springview
Temps in the upper 50’s and an overcast sky
Looks like we weren’t the only ones with brunch on our minds!
We stopped in Valentine about 25 miles into the ride and split an omelet with hash browns, toast and coffee. In Valentine, all of the street signs had hearts on them! We hit the road after our second breakfast of the day and stopped in Sparks, Nebraska, 18 miles east of Valentine. There was a small convenience store and bathrooms. Adam bought two post cards so we could write home. I sent mine to my dad and Adam sent his to his Grandmother. As soon as we got to Springview, we found the local bar and had a pitcher while we wrote our post cards. At camp, we met Barb and Steve form Grand Island. Barb was the nicest person I met on this trip. She called us kids and said “I love the way you respond to kids!” She had us take a picture of her and her husband and we learned that their kids live in Lincoln.
Post-ride drinks and post-cards
DAY 3 – Springview to Atkinson
Lots of hills! Niobrara River crossing and Cowboy Trail (Elkhorn River crossing – portage)
Temps in the 60’s – 70’s Blue skies and white fluffy clouds
Crossing the Niobrara River
Day three was the day we were recognized as Lincolnites because I wore my Sheclismo kit and Adam wore his Joyride kit. Many people asked us if we were doing Gravel Worlds. One woman asked me how to train for 150 miles of gravel. I told her to look for Gravel Girls on Facebook and invited her to join us every-other Thursday for some vitamin-G! I also told her that there are many ways to train but I’m no expert, I just ride a lot of gravel and hope that I will be prepared for the heat of the summer. She thought I was absolutely crazy when she asked me what bike I would be riding and I looked down at my road bike and said this one!
Reppin’ our home town
Adam and I decided to hop on the Cowboy Trail near Bassett. The trail runs alongside the highway for quite a few miles. The Elkhorn River starts near Bassett, and basically comes out of the ground. Adam was determined to show me where it began. We noticed right away that the trail was difficult to ride on and hoped for a gravel road that would lead us back to the highway. We came across a sandy road where a farmer had parked his truck. I asked him what the conditions of the road were and if we were better off staying on the trail. He said it was very sandy for about a quarter of a mile but it got better after that. We took his word for it.
A mile later, the sand was so thick and wet that we had to walk or ride in the grass, both options were slow and as we continued, we grew frustrated. I kept thinking ‘Why did that farmer tell us the conditions were good?’ We were finally able to ride slowly as the sand became more manageable and at one point I noticed a group of cows following us. They were fenced in but had a lot of land to roam. I couldn’t tell if they were angry or just interested in our company. Adam teased them a few times giving his best cow impressions and one cow responded with anger, from what I could tell. It was a MOOEEHHHOOO like I had never heard! They all started whipping their tales and looked like they wanted to charge. We kept riding and eventually their fence did not allow them to follow us any longer.
We found out that the road curved toward the highway but we would have to get though a flooded area to reach it. Once again, why did that farmer tell us to go this way? I’m sure he was expecting us to turn around and continue down the trail. Instead, we took off our shoes and socks (which we learned to do when we rode Almonzo 100 prior to this trip) and walked our bikes through the flooded area. The water was refreshing and when I realized that we were basically walking through the Elkhorn River I thought ‘This is totally worth it!’
Alright. Let’s do this.
Later on down the road…
A spinning teeter-totter!
DAY 4 – Atkinson to Verdigre
Stiff wind out of the south
Temps in the 70’s
Breakfast was short and sweet. I had a coffee and a pop tart just to get me started. We were standing outside of the quick shop and we saw Josh who we had met in Cody. He joined us and continued to ride with us for the rest of our trip. Josh was originally from Lincoln but had moved to Colorado where he was a first grade Spanish teacher. He made the trip more interesting and thought our music was enjoyable. Adam had a speaker in his jersey pocket that actually sounded pretty decent. We listened to everything: chilled out with Simon and Garfunkel, tapped our handlebars to the rhythms of Mos Def sang along with upbeat Michael Jackson, got weird with some Weird War and head banged to The Sword.
Our new friend Josh!
We got our fuel, now let’s go burn it off.
Before we reached O’Neill we hooked up with another Lincolnite, Derek who we had met on a Nacho ride before BRAN. So we had a nice group of four with the stronger riders (Adam and Derek) taking the windy side. We stopped at a café called The Blarney Stone in O’Neill for brunch before tackling our 40 mile stretch to Winnetoon. What a creepy little town! I wouldn’t want to be there after dark. Just saying. We had a few beers there and I picked up some more post cards. Then we had a short 9 miles to Verdigre. As we approached Verdigre there were lots of rolling hills and I recognized the woman ahead of us as Barb from Grand Island. We chatted and giggled the rest of the way, a great way to end the day.
A nice group of four heading to Winnetoon.
“The only Winnetoon in the world.”
DAY 5 – Verdigre to Laurel
Overcast skies in the morning, clearing in the afternoon
At 4 a.m. an obnoxious generator woke us up. I looked outside to see what was causing the ruckus. It was a place serving breakfast out of a mobile kitchen. My first thought was I’m NOT buying my breakfast there! We tore down camp, drank some coffee and hit the road. I realized very quickly that I had over-dressed for all the hills we had to climb out of Verdigre. We originally left with Josh and met up with Derek a few miles in. It’s nice to ride with a group of four. This day flew by.
Good-bye Verdigre, hello hills!
We stopped in Hartington, 20 miles from Laurel and had a couple beers. When we got to Laurel we were greeted by the locals and we all received a goodie bag. After setting up camp we hopped on the Trolley (a trailer with hay bells pulled by a truck) and went to the local bar for a couple pitchers and fried food. The local pool was open and it was free to swim so we all did a few tricks off the diving board. It was a funny sight: cyclists with awesome tan (or burn) lines swimming in their cycling shorts! Josh did an awesome sideways front flip. Perfect every time! We ate dinner at the Pizza Barn and called it a night.
Sweet hat. Seriously. I want one.
DAY 6 – Laurel to Lyons
Wind out of the south with temps in the 60’s-70’s
I woke up around 4:30 a.m. and checked out the high school to see what was for breakfast. On the menu: egg, sausage and cheese biscuit or oatmeal with walnuts, raisins and brown sugar. The oatmeal was fantastic and yes, I also had a biscuit. It was a little chilly when I got up but I kept in mind that the sun would be shining soon and I dressed accordingly.
The wind was at our side so we had our nice three person echelon going on for the first 20 miles or so. Adam yelled “South/southeast formation!” and we lined up with Adam taking the wind, Josh on his left hip, trying to stay in his draft (Josh’s upright positioning on the mountain bike certainly didn’t help) and me staying in Josh’s draft and occasionally coasting to take pictures. Josh was kicking butt for being on a mountain bike this whole trip. I can’t imagine riding across the state on those tires. He had style and that’s all that matters. Besides, I can identify with the “Run what you brung” philosophy, for cyclists.
When we got to Lyons we found the grocery store and bought some IPA. This was the first IPA we could find on BRAN! Those small towns just don’t carry good beer. It was a tasty treat to say the least. We ate pizza and chips and went back to camp. The wind had picked up and did not die down all night. A tent near us had collapsed due to a broken pole! We knew the last day was all head wind so we were in bed by 8 p.m. in hopes to leave town as early as possible the next morning.
DAY 7 – Lyons to Waterloo
Very gusty wind out of the south WIND ADVISORY
I did everything I could to stay in a good draft but with the gusts, it was hard to stay completely protected. We stopped at every SAG and stuffed our pockets with granola bars as we scarfed down Rice Krispy Treats and bananas. Josh was always excited to see Oreos. He’s a vegan so he lived on mostly bananas and Oreos. He always had his own personal snacks too. Like dried mangoes which were absolutely amazing!
We were stopped by a train a few miles from Elk City. It wasn’t so bad considering there were port-a-potties on our side of the train tracks and to our surprise, a SAG on the other side. There was a group of riders that seemed to be riding at our pace so we asked to join them. We (Adam especially) needed shelter from the wind. This was the largest group we rode with the whole trip. It was awesome!
Let’s work together.
At 11:15 we arrived in Waterloo. Thank goodness we were done with the brutally windy day. They were serving hot dogs, brats and polish sausages with all the fixin’s. Poor Josh could not indulge in the pork fest. We met Josh’s dad who lives in Lincoln and had him snap a photo of us. What a great picture! Adam is clearly chewing on a hot dog and I’m hiding my last bite behind Josh’s back. I look abnormally small next to him. I think we were all equally satisfied with finishing and the picture says it all.
Overall, I had a great time on BRAN. Part of me was sad on Sunday morning when I realized I wouldn’t be riding 60 miles to a small, friendly town in the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska. Then again, I was grateful to have slept in a real bed with real pillows and no strangers snoring in a tent next to me. I will probably do BRAN again in the future, and maybe Tour de Nebraska one of these years. I am so glad my bike didn’t have any mechanical problems and I am thankful that the temperatures were on the cooler side. I had one flat tire on Day 4 but other than that, it was smooth sailing in the bicycle department. Other than some lower back pain and slightly fatigued leg muscles I feel pretty good. I just need to schedule a back massage and stretch more often to get back in the groove. On a happier note, we met a great friend who made the trip very worthwhile. Josh, we will not forget your kindness and positive attitude. Ride on!
I thought this was real. It was at the top of a hill. I almost asked him if he was ok.