The most interesting stories can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.
Writing about a state whose slogan is “Honestly, it’s not for everyone” presents certain challenges. Almost entirely lacking obvious picture-postcard scenes or renowned destinations, Nebraska forces the traveler to look deeper at wherever they are. The stories that emerge in each town aren’t always apparent at first, and seemingly unremarkable scenes often have much more to tell. Traveling through Nebraska is the tourism equivalent of reading a good book instead of taking in the latest blockbuster movie. Rather than having the story and details forced on you, in Nebraska the mind is allowed to wander away from the obvious. That’s where discoveries are made.
Red Sky at Morning, Motorcyclist Take Warning
Before these stories could be gleaned, I had to reach the state, which proved to be a challenge. Waking early to dry but red skies in Tulsa, OK, I knew that the weather was potentially going to be an issue. Surprisingly, riding conditions for the first 200 miles or so were ideal. Then the skies darkened. Then the first drops fell. Then the floodgates of heaven opened wide. I had seen “road closed” signs before, but, not hailing from the Midwest, I was not aware that “state closed” signs were a thing.
While trying to reach Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city, with a population estimated at over 468,000, severe flooding had made portions of the state—as well as Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa—impassable. As I headed north through Missouri, at one point a light-board sign read “Route 29 closed—use Iowa.” Not “use this other road,” but “use this other state.” So I did. Rolling into Omaha from the northeast instead of the direct route from the south, the Indian Roadmaster was deep into its fuel reserve, and I was deep into my energy reserve. Nearly 100 miles of torrential rain served to remind me that denim is not waterproof. With my hands frozen beyond usability, it took several minutes of gripping cylinder head fins before I was able to operate a fuel pump, much less fumble around with a wallet and credit card to get the bike filled up again.
Nebraska has a wry sense of humor. My useless hands, still struggling to get fuel into the bike, were suddenly doing so under sunny skies. This “flyover” state welcomed me with rainbows and ideal temperatures immediately following a grueling ride to get here. If the weather could be translated to speech, the message was received: “The Midwest ain’t for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it.” Omaha itself underscored this message. It was an immediately captivating city, the still-remaining brick-paved streets of the Old Market providing context for its history. An eclectic mix of modern, upscale cafes and art galleries thrive in the same neighborhoods where horse-drawn carriages were once the norm. To the present day, in the middle of downtown, parking is still reserved for equine-based transportation.
Stopping at Wheatfields Eatery & Bakery for breakfast, I had no idea of the cast of characters who had dined at the place. Warren Buffett, Jackson Browne, Lady Gaga, Ed Asner, and John Tesh are among the list of famous visitors. Apparently my breakfast choice was shared by actress Kathy Bates. Upon my arrival to the Magnolia Hotel, I needed to source a box fan to dry out my clothes, due
to the deluge I had ridden through the previous day. My life was contained in a backpack for this journey, so resources, such as changes of clothes, were scarce and precious.