Blog Category: Adventures


Nebraska Mountains

By Carl Gauger,

 

There aren’t any. But it’s been jokingly applied to the constant winds that we get here in the Cornhusker State, and justifiably so. Instead of heading out to climb a mountain, we ride out into the wind, suffer mentally, and reap the benefits on the way back (as long as the wind doesn’t change). There’s not much to stop or slow it down here on the Great Plains, and it’s nearly a constant in our forecast.

As Pete and I headed out to Nebraska National Forest last weekend (yeah it’s becoming a weekly trip), we were keeping a close eye on the forecast. Temps didn’t seem so bad, but they were calling for sustained 35+ mph winds on Sunday, dying down to 25 mph Sunday night and Monday. I’ve camped out there in windy conditions before, but not quite to that extent. The pines do a pretty good job of canceling it out, but I was curious what they would do to under such a heavy battering.

 

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After getting in after sunset on Saturday, we rode in a ways to camp off of the Dismal Trail. The winds were picking up, but we found a fairly sheltered spot, had a good campfire, and got some good rest under clear skies. So far, we were dealing with the wind pretty well.

The massive snowstorm that hit Nebraska a week ago combined with a week of warm temps left us with some heavy, partially melted and then refrozen snow covering the roads and trails. Sunday’s ride was more hampered by the difficult road conditions than the wind, and it was pretty slow going. Fortunately, Pete and I are more motivated by taking in the natural surroundings than by trying to cover any great distance, so we were still pretty ok with the amount of pushing that we did.

 

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We started looking for a camp with plenty of daylight left, and found a spot off of Road 211 that fit the bill as well as anything we saw. The southern side of a large Sandhill, and downwind of a couple eastern red cedar stands, we had a good little spot that seemed pretty protected. The pines were nearly bent over from the high speed winds, and some of it was still making down to the ground, but only the big gusts. I had hoped to find a spot without any wind, but there was nothing that was going to stop some of the high wind speeds that we were dealing with. We made sure we were clear of any dead timber.

 

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Plenty of daylight left us an hour to go for a hike and explore the surrounding forest. We got back and fixed dinner, and spent a long evening by the campfire. Our camp was perfectly situated to take in all of the morning sun, and after a cozy night in my hammock, it did just that.

 

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We opted for the more heavily trafficked Road 203 on the way back to our vehicle by the ranger station on Monday. The winds were bad, but we were able to stay pedaling for the entire ride.

 

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The main thing that I’ve taken away from the past couple visits to Halsey is that I think I’m done running a front biased load. I still want a fair amount of weight up front, but I think that I prefer a more balanced load than what I rode this trip. Instead of running my Monkey Rocket Bag and my panniers up front, with a small stuff bag over my rear wheel, I’ll run panniers on my rear rack like I did last weekend. It gives you a noticeable amount of extra traction when climbing in loose sand, and lightens up the steering a little bit. I’ll be dialing that in a little bit next time I’m out there.

  • A couple of folks have asked about high resolution versions of photos. You can now view all the new shop photos at the shop’s new flickr, and you can also check Pete’s photos on his flickr page

 

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Nebraska National Forest- Bessey Ranger District

By Carl Gauger,

 

Nebraska was gifted some awfully warm weather over the past week, so we decided to take a couple days to go ride and camp at one of our favorite spots- Nebraska National Forest off of Highway 2. Temperatures soared into the forties last week, melting most of the snow, but it was still hanging on in forested areas, and on the north sides of many sandhills. The moisture and temperatures in winter have provided us some of the best conditions for riding we have seen in the Sandhills region. The sand holds up far better when it contains moisture, not to mention the freezing temperatures create a nearly concrete-like surface.

 

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This time, however, we had extremely warm temperatures, and got a chance to ride the Dismal trail (a bermy favorite of ours), plus we were able to do some exploring in the eastern, treeless sections. Road 214 is a great loop that starts and ends on the Dismal trail, and takes you nearly all the way to the eastern border of the forest. The little wildlife that we did see was along Road 214, four pronghorn does, and a prairie dog town.

 

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Camp was made in one of the ponderosa stands along the Dismal Trail. We stopped riding early enough to gather firewood, and have a late afternoon cup of coffee in Sunday’s warm sun. It ended up being one of those unique Nebraska evenings with no wind and crystal clear skies. Only had about a dozen owls and a lone coyote to keep us company.

 

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As usual, Nebraska National Forest treated us to a grand old time! It was my first time riding my new Surly Ice Cream Truck in the sand, and with the 4.8″ Bud and Lou tire combination, the bike does far better in loose sand than my old Surly Pugsley did. I’m very excited to do a lot more sandhills exploration on the new rig! If you are interested in riding, camping, or touring out in the Sandhills, don’t hesitate to stop down to the shop and chat! For the many folks who picked up fatbikes this winter during Surly’s fire sale, the National Forest is a great destination that’s relatively (about 4 hours) close to lincoln.

 

 

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Traversing the Niobrara River Valley

By Carl Gauger,

 

The waters of the Niobrara River from Valentine down to Borden Chute are certainly a popular destination for canoeing and tubing, but we’ve long had our eye on some of the river roads and back roads in and around the area for potential bike camping routes. A few weeks ago, Vince and I headed up to the area to do some exploration. We knew we had snow in the forecast, and though there was none on the ground when we parked the vehicle at Borden Chute we quickly ran into it as we headed west along the river road.

 

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This particular section of the Niobrara River valley is a pretty unique place. At least six distinct ecosystems are found here: Tallgrass Prairie, Shortgrass Prairie, Sandhills Prairie, Eastern Deciduous Forest, Rocky Mountain Pine Forest, and Northern Arboreal Forest. In fact, a few unique factors make this the southernmost occurrence of Northen Arboreal Forest in North America. The steep southern banks of the river valley provide shade from the sun and shelter from warm south winds sweeping up accross the Sandhills, and the hundreds of springs fed by groundwater from under the Sandhills provide a wet, cool environment in countless canyons, allowing the paper birch tree to thrive. These small springs feed dozens of beautiful waterfalls, and we were lucky enough to see their beauty under snowfall.

 

Fort Falls

Fort Falls

 

There are ample private campgrounds along the river that primarily cater to people who are floating the river, so most are closed down for the winter, but it would be worth calling around to access camping in the off season. A number of cool suspension bridges, beautiful dirt roads, and friendly Nebraska folk made this a overnighter to remember, and we’ve certainly flagged the area for a repeat sooner rather than later.

 

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Touring the Cowboy Trail- Valentine to Norfolk, Nebraska

By Carl Gauger,

 

It’s been pretty quiet here on the Monkey Wrench Internet, but it’s been a good fall and winter, and we have been doing more than simply twiddling our thumbs. I’ve been meaning to do a write up on a tour that we did earlier in the fall along the Cowboy Trail between Valentine and Norfolk, so here it is. The idea for the trip came from Alex Duryea, the Eco Tourism consultant for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. It was a loosely organized, self supported tour. We took three days to ride from Valentine to Norfolk, camping in the Long Pine State Rec Area on the first night, and the Inman Town square on the second night. Alex planned ahead, and there were folks to meet us at both camps, with hot food and good company. Overall, it was a great experience, we had wonderful weather, the trail was great, and we saw a ton of wildlife!

 

Photo by Pete Stegen

Photo by Pete Stegen

 

This is the first time I’ve ridden the Cowboy Trail, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’ve heard a wide variety of reports, some folks telling me that it’s a great ride, others complaining of soft gravel, and rough washboards. Our experience was somewhere in between. Our good buddy and ace photographer Pete Stegen and I rode Surly ECR’s, a 3″ wide tire touring bike, or “plus size” mountain bike. The trail was a little soft in places, and the more western portions had areas that had been pocked out by cattle, and big sections of washboard. The trail went back and forth between crushed granite and crushed limestone. We found that our bigger tires preferred the softer granite, but those riding a smaller tire preferred the hard packed limestone. Certainly if you were riding a traditional touring bike with a 35mm tire, or something similar, the going might be a little rough in places. I would recommend at least a mountain bike tire, or the plus sized tires that we were on. Sure, we weren’t going the fastest, but we were supremely comfortable. The trail is also extremely flat and straight, so all you really have to do is pedal and enjoy the beautiful scenery all around you. We realized quickly that the trail serves as a de facto wildlife corridor, and were amazed by the variety of birds, snakes, and small mammals that we saw.

 

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The highlight of the trail for me was not the trail itself- I’ve ridden plenty of more interesting and beautiful back roads all over Nebraska. Rather, it was the pace of the trail and the wonderful little Nebraska towns it passes through. Since it’s built on an old steam train line, there is a town every ten miles for its entirety. We found that each one of these towns had something unique and interesting to offer, and we pedaled around each one as we passed through, stopping for food, sodas, or just to relax in the city parks. The Cowboy Trail is perfect for someone wanting to try out bike touring for the first time. It’s only a couple days (you could easily stretch it to four short days), and there are supplies and water every ten miles like clockwork. Plus, you don’t even have to think about navigation or worry about automobile traffic! A great way to gauge if bike touring is something you are into, and at the same time, a perfect way to view some beautiful Nebraska scenery!

 

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The one gear necessity is flat prevention. Pete and I had our bikes set up tubeless, which is the most effective, foolproof way to deal with thorns. The whole trail was littered with sand burs and goat head thorns, and we probably loaded up on upwards of a hundred thorns apiece. Tubeless works great, and neither one of us had to add air even once. A few other folks on the trip didn’t have any sort of sealant in their tires, and were forced to end up taking the adjacent highway for part of the tour to avoid flats. Another alternative that is perhaps not quite as effective, but a bit cheaper is green slime as an additive to regular tubes. Slime would also work on the thorns, but is a bit heavier, and doesn’t have quite the longevity of tubeless. Bottom line, if you plan on doing the Cowboy Trail, plan ahead and get some slime tubes or set your bike up tubeless!

Enjoy the photos! Pete took the really nice ones, as he is far and away the better photographer. Hoping he comes along on some more trips so that we can exploit him for some more!

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We National-Forested Away Labor Day Weekend

By Carl Gauger,

 

It’s a little late making it to the blog, but I wanted to put up some photos from the Labor Day fun that we had up in the Bessey Ranger District. Five of us met up at McKelvie National Forest on Friday night, rode Saturday and camped again on Saturday night before going our separate ways on Sunday. Vince and I continued on to the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey on Sunday and Monday. It was a totally fun time that included, but was not limited to riding, hiking, swimming, grilling, and staring for hours at the incredible night sky.

Hopefully we will do more like this in the future- perhaps based out of Halsey next time. Enjoy the photos!

 

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Pine Ridge Weekend’r

By Carl Gauger,

 

Just because I’m a glutton for punishment and Nebraska, as well as on Nate’s suggestion, I decided to drive up to the Pine Ridge area of the state for the weekend. Southeast corner to Northeast, and well worth the 8-ish hours in the car each way. I’ve driven through the Chadron area before, but never spent a whole lot of time there. I was blown away, and can’t wait to get back later this fall with Vince for a weeklong tour in the area.

 

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Getting in late on Saturday night, I slept under the stars in the unreserved tenting area at Chadron State Park. I was up early to get on the bike the next day, and consequently didn’t spend any real time in the park, but it sure seemed like a nice state park with tons of amenities. The first part of the day I spent trying to follow portions of the Pine Ridge Trail and the Coffee Mill Trail. I quickly realized that the overgrown trails were too much for even my fatbike, and were built with no real regard for erosion. Most of the extremely steep pitches were heavily eroded, and hard to ride. Lack of use has sure taken it’s toll on the trails. Once I had climbed out of the canyons I took Table Road west and dropped back down on West Ash Road, a terrific descent with a great campsite at the bottom…

 

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…and delicious fresh spring water running next to it…

 

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I followed West Ash Road all the way out of the canyon through the flat lands on the north side into the town of Crawford. I was blown away by the amount of businesses and general bustling atmosphere of Crawford. I assume they get a fair amount of economic stimulation from nearby Ft. Robinson state park as well as Toadstool Geological Monument and the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill. In any case, everyone was super friendly, and the burger and ice cream that I had at Dairy Sweet were top-notch. There’s also an awesome full grocery store in one of the old brick buildings downtown, and a variety of restaurants.

 

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I stayed the night at Fort Robinson, three miles west of Crawford, but again didn’t devote much time to exploring beyond what was in the immediate vicinity (historical building, the museum, etc). Next time I’d like to check out some of the more sobering historical parts of the park, the 1879 massacre of Cheyenne warriors, women, and children, as well as the WWII internment camp. There’s also a great deal of hiking trails available, and a bison herd. The park facilities were awesome. The restaurant in the lodge opens at 6:30 sharp- I had forgotten my coffee maker, so I loaded up on an entire pot of coffee and the breakfast buffet.

 

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The sun rises early in the eastern reaches of mountain time- 5:45am

 

There was a front rolling through as I headed east from Fort Robinson. Plenty of rainbows and crazy lighting.

 

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After climbing Squaw Creek Road, I found myself on Table Road again headed east. I descended East Ash Road, which I discovered to be my absolute favorite road I have ever ridden in Nebraska, ever:

 

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The rest of the ride north gave me a stunning view of the ridge as I headed back to Chadron State Park. Chimney Butte and Rattlesnake Butte were amazing, as well as a small group of badlands on Buttermilk Road.

 

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I drove back along Highway 20, and was struck by this feather image in Cody, the town which is self-proclaimed to be “too tough to die”.

 

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