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Monday, October 31, 2022

Long Memories In Small Towns

Bring a song and a smile for the banjo,
Better get while the gettin's good,
Hitch a ride to the end of the highway,
Where the neon turns to wood.

C'mon the risin' wind,
We're goin' up around the bend,
Up Around The Bend, John Fogerty (1970).

Mrs. Joyce Rathje, 92 years young, recently retired school teacher at Rising City, Nebraska.

Admittedly, I've been a Point A to Point B traveler for so long that it's my default mindset. What's the fastest, most direct route to drive to my destination? Got to be efficient. Got to get there. Things to do. People to see. Let's go. Time is short.

Since pedaling across the country on the back roads of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (See, 2021 GDMBR), however, I find myself more often taking local roads, slow rolling through small towns, checking out city parks, and even stopping for a meal at a local cafe. It's always worth it.

Sometimes, the back road route creates a highlight of the trip. Even a drive to a back road bike ride.

Memorial marking the Rising City K-12 school, long since removed.
The auditorium in the background is still used by the multi-town school district.

Earlier this fall, I fashioned a road trip that included a long weekend in Marysville, Kansas for the Pony Express 2 Day Bikepacking Adventure. See, 2022 Pony Express Bikepack. Starting the Kansas portion of the trip from Eastern South Dakota, I consider several routes to drive the remaining 250-ish miles. I decide to venture south of Yankton on U.S. Highway 81, at least until it turns westward. Then I'll take a few local roads 40-50 miles east and south to eventually connect with U.S. Highway 77 just outside Lincoln. It seems like a reasonably direct route on a nice mix of roads.

A few hours down the road, after neglecting to get gas in Columbus, I find myself looking to refuel in the midst of little but corn fields. Finally, a few buildings appear along the road, one of which is a gas station. Hey, it's actually a small town called Rising City, Nebraska, population 413. Well over 40 years ago, my wife's oldest brother married a girl from Rising City. Maybe I'll surprise her with a picture of her old school.

While at the gas pump, I notice the car next to me sports Nebraska license plates. Since my Great Divide ride, striking up random conversations with complete strangers is now second nature. So I ask the lady there if she knows where I can find the Rising City school, so I can take a picture for my sister-in-law. 

The lady politely asks, "She grew up here? What's her name?" 


"Dulcie Gross. I was her kindergarten teacher. I'm Mrs. Rathje."

I stood in disbelief. How does this nice old lady remember a student from her kindergarten class 60 years ago? Mrs. Rathje simply goes on, noting Dulcie's musical talent and quiet nature. Amazing.

Mrs. Rathje then adds that the old school was torn down years ago when Rising City joined a multi-town school district, although the old gymnasium still is used. She also said she wasn't about to tell me where Dulcie lived, because that house has fallen into such disrepair that it would "break her heart." 

She says she's sorry, but she must be going. At 92 years young, still driving her car and living in her house, she leaves to care for a couple of her great grandkids. Amazing. If not for her family commitments, I think she'd hop on a bike for a tour around town.

The entrance to the Rising City school gymnasium.

A few weeks later, I tell Dulcie of my encounter with Mrs. Rathje and show her these pictures. Of course, she remembers her former teacher and joyfully talks of growing up in her hometown. Dulcie is not a bit surprised by Mrs. Rathje's overall spryness and vivid memory. Besides, says Dulcie, "Small towns have long memories sometimes."

This traveler will certainly remember this stop in a small town along a back road.

Up Around The Bend, Credence Clearwater Revival (1970).

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Power Of One

You don't need money, don't take fame,
Don't need no credit card to ride this train,
It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes,
But it might just save your life,
That's the power of love, that's the power of love.
The Power of Love, Huey Lewis, Chris Hayes, Johnny Colla (1985).

On Day 2 of his 2020 Cloud Peak 500, Paul Brasby joyfully crests the climb up Hunt Mountain.
He remains the course record holder of that 500 mile bikepacking race
in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.

Now finishing its ninth year, the Pony Express 120 Gravel Dash is a fixture on the Northern Kansas gravel cycling scene for its signature 120 mile race, its more accessible 75 mile and 30 mile routes, relay races, and a 2 day bikepacking adventure. Mark and Renee Hoffman of Backroads Bicycle, along with the City of Marysville, the Black Squirrel Cycling League, and a host of dedicated volunteers, put together a festival with something for everyone. This year, over 330 cyclists signed up for a taste of the Pony Express gravel experience.

It all started with one person.

In 2020, Paul Brasby leads out the inaugural Pony Express 120 Gravel Dash Bikepacking Adventure.
(photo by Black Squirrel Cycling League)

Paul Brasby is an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad based out of North Platte, Nebraska. Over the years, his work has regularly taken him to the railroad town of Marysville, Kansas, with scheduled layovers there of 12 hours and often longer. An avid cyclist, Paul eventually left a bicycle in Marysville to ride during such layovers and soon discovered a vast network of unique gravel and dirt roads radiating deep into the surrounding countryside. There seemingly was no end to scenic, challenging roads in every direction.

About this time, Paul and his cycling buddies discovered the burgeoning gravel road racing scene and raced the inaugural, now legendary, Odin's Revenge in 2012. Smitten by the gravel bug, Paul then competed in many other races, enjoying a wide range of experiences resulting from the free wheeling, independent spirit of race directors and riders. Inspired by those grass roots races, he decided to share the wealth of his knowledge of great back roads by creating his own race.

Recognizing the potential for amazing gravel race routes from Marysville, Paul approached Brenda Staggenborg of the Marysville Chamber of Commerce for maps of local roads and for leads to appropriate locals for help organizing a gravel race. To Paul's surprise, the Chamber itself decided to join Paul to create the Pony Express 120 Gravel Dash. In the fall of 2014, they readily filled their field limit of 75. Five years later, with rider numbers approaching 200, Paul decided to turn the entire event over to a new, growing group of local gravel enthusiasts known as the Black Squirrel Cycling League. Before leaving, however, Paul initiated the first Pony Express 2 Day Bikepacking Adventure, the latest addition to the expanding Pony Express experience. See2022 Pony Express Bikepack and 2020 Pony Express Bikepack.

Paul Brasby bikepacking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2021.

So, over 330 cyclists enter to ride one of the 6 ways to experience the 2022 Pony Express Gravel Dash. They flock to Marysville, Kansas (population 3,447) for a weekend festival celebrating the local gravel cycling culture. That's the result of one person, not even a local, who discovered the joy of riding rough back roads, recognized the potential for great routes out of Marysville, and worked to create an event from scratch, with no bank roll, no sponsors, no endorsements, and no experience. Paul's dedication, and resulting accomplishment, is remarkable and inspiring.

As Huey Lewis sang, "You don't need money, don't take fame, don't need no credit card to ride this train."

One person. One passion. One idea. And the courage and commitment to make it happen. 

The power of one. 

What's your passion?

The Power Of Love, Huey Lewis & The News (1985).

Sunday, October 23, 2022

No Hurries, No Worries

Yeah, keep on shinin' your light,
Gonna make everything, pretty mama,
Gonna make everything alright,
And I aint got no worries,
Cause I aint in no hurry at all.
Black Water, Patrick Simmons (1973).

Five weeks passed without a blog post. Other than a sabbatical during my 7 week ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, that's the longest span of non-activity here in years.

There's no good reason. I have plenty of stories and topics swirling around my brain, including a couple more posts on the Pony Express Bikepacking Adventure, a series on our 5 day Black Hills Bounty bikepacking ride, another spotlight on the lifestyle of Coffeeneuring, and any number of posts on thoughts of riding next year. Maybe they all just need some time to percolate.

But right now, it's autumn in the Black Hills. Maybe more than any other season, autumn is my time to explore new backroads, to build a deeper understanding of how the roads interact with these lands, and to fire the imagination for creating new experiences. And to just ride.

So, I haven't been writing. But I have been riding. And taking pictures and notes. I find myself looking to the Northern Hills, especially for the 2023 Black Hills Bounty.

I'm finding roads like these. More to come. No hurries. No worries.

Black Water, Doobie Brothers Live (1979).