North Platte, Nebraska is a little over half-way across the state when driving East to West. It sits along Interstate 80, which is the major arterial of the Mountain West, and seems to be an endless parade of trucks and cars. Every exit in town has numerous truck stops and hotels to cater to those in transit, including myself. The Holiday Inn Express I stayed at was no exception, and one of the largest I'd been at. The check-in line was like one of the big Las Vegas hotels. The Interstate roared just across the frontage road that the hotel was on. It was about as non-descript and bland and generic as an Interstate hotel can be. The parade of folks stopping for the night then resuming their mindless trek down I-80 the next day. It kills the soul for sure -- all that "sameness", all that speed, all that noise.
Me? As you know, I prefer the quiet, the back road, the lightly trafficked. That's where you see America -- at least the America beyond the chains and the fast food and the similarity of the Interstate. Hell, if you were blindfolded and dropped off at a typical rural off ramp of a major freeway like I-80 you'd be hard pressed to tell where you were!But before there was I-80 there was US-30 -- the Lincoln Highway. It was cloudy and cool, and had rained a bit overnight. I had gotten out my light leather jacket the night before, but that morning decided to switch to the full heavy one, and believe it or not, a few miles down the road, put on the heated liner too! It was chilly -- I don't think it got above 50, and stayed int he mid 40s, and at 60 mph, that's chilly.
Before leaving North Platte I had to make one stop. It's home to the world's largest railroad yard facility -- Union Pacific's Baily Yard. This is Union Pacific's 150th anniversary, and they have built a huge observation tower called "Golden Spike Tower" (it actually looks like a huge railroad spike) and its a great place to go if one likes to watch trains. Aside from riding my bike, it's one of my favorite things.
The view from 8 floors up is incredible. It's hard to fathom the size of the facility, and the huge number of moving trains. It made me think that I was running a giant model railroad, as I was up in the air watching an unbelievable amount of trains moving at once. I could have stayed for a long time (and perhaps I should have), but I wanted to get back on the road. Besides, I'd see plenty of trains as I rode along US-30 which runs right next to UP's big transcontinental mainline.
It was cold though, and after about 20 miles I pulled over and dug out the heated gear and got suited up and plugged in. It's a bit of a process to say the least, one cannot just hop on the bike and go. But it's a creature comfort that's worth it on days like today. It stayed overcast and windy, but never rained, and cold for May, and especially considering a week before I was in New Orleans and it was 95!
The miles rolled underneath me, and the trains passed on my left, and I hardly saw any other cars. I could occasionally see the Interstate to the South and it was full of trucks, and I was glad to not be there. It's amazing how that road killed places along these old highway, as well as the spirit of those driving them now. I took time to photograph a number of very cool abandoned places for my photography exhibits this summer when I get back. These old roads are full of them -- evidence of life lived in the past.
The further West I got, the less like "Nebraska" it looked like and the more it looked like "Wyoming". Less farming, more ranching, more tumbleweeds, and fewer people. It started to feel a lot more like home, and for the first time on this trip I've felt like I'm headed home. While I've never ridden this road, the scenery, the color of the land, the sky, the smells, all told me I was home in the West. The weather was starting to worry me, and I stopped to check the radar app on my phone, but nothing was falling. It was windy and cold though, and I checked up the road to Rawlins, Wyoming where I'd booked a room for the night -- still 160 miles further and saw that it was 36 degrees at 2pm! I figured I'd re-check in Cheyenne and decide if I'd keep going or not. By the time I got there, an hour later, I'd had enough, and booked a room in Laramie for the night.
The Old road ends and becomes I-80 just inside the Wyoming line at the first town there -- Pine Bluffs. I had to take I-80 into Cheyenne and indeed will be on it most of the way to Salt Lake I'm afraid -- Wyoming didn't leave an alternate old highway, and what's left of US 30 is dead and buried underneath I-80. But just outside of the small town was another abandoned gas station -- situated right on the state line -- literally. It's a ghostly shell now, no doubt killed by I-80 just 100 yards to the South. Another victim of death by Interstate (and computerized credit-card activated pumps).
The wind picked up, as I wandered about the ruins of the borderline station, and the UP sent an Eastbound freight through, headed back towards North Platte. My bike and I, parked to the side of the road, undisturbed by traffic but shivering in the cold watched the train disappear into Nebraska -- before I mounted up and headed West into the wind.