Broken Bows and Valentines: 6 Days in Nebraska’s Sand Hills on the Indian Roadmaster
Throw a dart at the heart of a map of the USA and there’s a good chance you’ll hit Nebraska. But much like my home state of Oregon where everybody thinks it rains all the time, Nebraska is also subject to misconceptions. I’m guilty of it myself. When picturing the state, long stretches of flat grassland broken by green patches of cornfields comes to mind. After six days exploring Nebraska’s Sand Hills region on a 2017 Indian Roadmaster, I learned though much of what I thought was wrong.
Seeing how I’d be living out of saddlebags for the next six days I was grateful to see a Roadmaster waiting for me upon arrival in Denver. With a dinosaur of a laptop and its 17-inch screen, camera equipment, rain gear, and clothes for a week I used just about every inch of storage. As a 270-mile ride to a city I’d never been to lie ahead of me, I punched the address into the fuss-free Ride Command System and got ready to hit the road. But not before one slight detour. I’d picked up the Roadmaster a few blocks from Sports Authority Field at Mile High and couldn’t resist a spin by the stadium for a quick photo op. Luckily I was able to get a few guerilla-style snaps of the bike in front of the stadium entrance before a security guard rolled up and asked me to kindly move my motorcycle off the Mile High sidewalk.
On the road to North Platte I quickly became a fan of 75 mph speed limits and cheap gas. I like that eastern Colorado encourages drivers to keep an eye out for bikers thanks to “Check Twice for Motorcycles” signs on top of gas pumps. The stretch is long and straight and the absence of curves reminds me of the run on I-5 through California’s Central Valley. The Roadmaster thunders along at 80 mph with relative ease, the needle on the tach tickling the 3000 rpm mark.
My first day riding through the Sand Hills teaches me some quick lessons. Tractors have the right of way ‘round here. Don’t think I’ve ever seen more tractors on the roads than in Nebraska. We are in an agricultural epicenter after all. Tilling the soil and reaping the harvest is a long-standing tradition in this part of the country. As is ranching, the fields filled with calves chasing mothers and barrel-chested bulls. Railroads are the lifeblood of the region as they connect the East to the West. From our view 100 feet in the air at Golden Spoke Tower, Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard teams with life, an intricate network of rails and hubs, engines and rail cars mixed and matched with NASCAR-like precision. Bailey Yard seemingly stretches as far as the eye can see, the “World’s Largest Classification Yard” processing an average of 139 trains and 14,000 cars through its system every day. Every day. Union Pacific’s history runs deep in these parts. As does Buffalo Bill, the supreme showman who called North Platte home a larger than life figure in this neck of the woods. From the plight of settlers in sod houses captured through the lens of Solomon Butcher to yarns about the daring riders of the Pony Express, veins of the Wild West indeed run deep in these parts.
And while this area of Nebraska is rich in history and rooted in agriculture and ranching, scratch the surface and you’ll find fresh new nuggets of treasure. The micro and craft scene is gaining steam, from Pals Brewing Company in North Platte to Kinkaiders in Broken Bow to Bolo Beer in Valentine. The foodie scene is growing too, from artisan vinegars in Cody to whipped honey butters in Anselmo. Pals brought a taste of their former home state of Wisconsin to its menu in the form of a pizza with kraut, brats, and cheese a half-inch thick while the chef at Kinkaiders transported a bit what she learned in the Portland, Oregon scene to the Sand Hills by pairing her food to beers and creating beer-infused recipes. We discovered a mountain biker’s paradise at Potters Pasture, trails upon trails spidering up and down ridges and through trees in a place whose popularity is growing by word of mouth. We’ve seen a world class golf course carved out of the Sand Hills, the lodge of the Prairie Club rising like a beacon above the rolling mounds. Yes, there’s definitely more going on in these thar hills than first meets the eye.
There’s plenty more to this tale, but we’re saving that for another day. Keep an eye out for a full feature about our adventures in Nebraska’s Sand Hills in a future spread of American Iron Magazine.