Day 30 - Windward Ho!
Heat and Wind
I must make my push westward today. I set my sights on a Nebraska State Park called Niobrara along the Missouri River. The Missouri River is the border between Nebraska and Iowa and Missouri. It is the pathway used by Lewis and Clark on their Journey of Discovery.
I cross the river south of Sioux City, Iowa. The terrain is immensely flat. There is only horizon and wind. Oh the wind. My original trepidation about the Plains was the flatness. The endless long stretches of flat featureless roadway. However, my route had so far taken me through rolling lands. Yes, there were many straightaways, but nothing endless. Nothing that would make me pause and look upon a 360 degree horizon. I should have pondered the wind.
Prairie Wind. How does a fellow who makes his home in the tree filled Green and White Mountains of Northern New England describe the force of nature that is a prairie wind? An invisible tsunami comes to mind.
I drive forward leaning the bike into the wind. Both hands grip the handlebar tightly. I am moving forward, sideways. Sailors know this, but motorcyclists?
Nebraska has less wind breaks than Missouri or Iowa. It is open land. Land cultivated for corn. I follow route 20 for many miles until I make a left onto route 12. This road parallels the river and will take me to Niobrara. It is smooth with little seams that bump me along as I lean into the wind. I bake in the sun and lean into the wind. Occasionally the wind will decrease or increase throwing me off. Literally, throwing me off. The bike skitters left or right. At that moment I must come off the gas, slow down. Whatever the speed I am traveling, I must slow down.
I find that 35 mph is about the optimal speed to handle the wind and the concentration it demands. Traffic is incredibly light. Speaking of traffic, I must say that all drivers have been smart, safe, and gracious. This was true in Missouri, Iowa, and now Nebraska. Drivers come upon me, pull back and wait for a safe passing opportunity. Here in the Plains, there is more passing opportunities on any given straightaway than all of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
There is a secondary wind issue: wind concussion. It happens when a tractor trailer comes the other way. The wall of air they create can slam you. If you are unprepared it can take the wheels out from under you. When a truck approaches I tuck my chin down to the instrument panel and hold on tight. The impact can vary. Being prepared and making my profile smaller keeps me in a semblance of control.
This wind has an impact on gas milage. I drop about 20% riding against the wind. Also, with the air temperature over 90 degrees, the engine runs hotter. It's physically and mentally stressful. The Midwest and Plains has another issue. This one is human created. It is hard to find gasoline with octane higher than 89.
Ah, octane, gasoline, and ethanol. Most, but not all, gasoline in America now contains 10% ethanol, which is alcohol created from corn. In New England, it is hard to impossible to find ethanol free gasoline. In the South and Midwest ethanol free gasoline is more common and celebrated. Ethanol clogs the jets on small carbureted engines like Moto Fabini's. High octane, non-ethanol gasoline is best for my scooter. It is hard to impossible to find outside urban areas. So, I am running at a 20% deficit on weak gasoline. This adds to my mechanical worries.
So on I ride. I reach Niobrara. It is 100 degrees. The town has a small restaurant. I have potato salad that is a milky-mustard potato chunk concoction. This will be dinner. The State Park sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. It is large. The tent site loop is over one and a half miles long. There is little to no shade. I select the very last tent site on the loop. It is up a hill, but offers shade once you climb up.
That evening a group of turkeys, 3 adults and 23 little ones walk through my site. I make a plan to push on to the Badlands of Dakota the next day. It will be more than 230 miles. I have no idea if this is feasible. The evening cools into the 60s and sleep comes easily.