III - Over the Rockies and the Great Divide to the Prairies
At Ogden, Utah, where I arrived after traveling 925 miles, I had 10 new spokes to put in to replace those that were snapped by pounding over railroad ties. As I had ridden 400 miles with a stick for a bar, I got also a new handlebar and I put on a new belt rim and one new tire, shipping my extra tire and oil and other stuff on to Omaha. This was on May 28, and I left Ogden on the 29th at 6:10 a.m. S.C. Higgins, who had been my host overnight, rode out of the city with me on his motor bicycle for three or four miles in order that I might not take the wrong road. He is a genuine enthusiast, although well past 40 years of age, I should judge, and he took the liveliest sort of interest in my trip and the success of my undertaking. Mr. Higgins is a machinist, and several years ago he made a motor bicycle for himself. Now he rides an Indian.
It may be said that I splashed out of Ogden. That is the way it comes to me as I now recall it. It had rained for three weeks before I arrived there. The roads in all directions were muddy and the streams swollen. I was now entering the Rockies, and almost as soon as I got out of Ogden I began to encounter mountain streams, which I had to wade across. They were composed largely of melted snow water and were icy cold. At the first one I stopped, removed my foot gearing, took off my leggings, rolled up my trousers, and splashed across barefooted, and, except that the water was too cold, I rather enjoyed it. After going a mile I came to another stream and repeated the undressing performance. I did not enjoy it so much this time. Then the streams began to come along two or three to the mile, and I quit the undressing part and waded across with my shoes and all on. Sometimes the water was knee deep and a couple of times my motor got more cooling than it wanted and I had a job starting it again. In the forenoon of that day I waded more than a dozen of these mountain streams. It is a well watered country this, and it abounds in orchards and farming lands cultivated by Mormon industry. The streams I crossed were racing toward the Weber River as it ran through the Weber Canyon, which extends 140 miles southeast to Granger.
I am following the wagon road now, and 12 miles out of Ogden I enter the Weber Canyon. Turning to the left, I find myself walled-in by the grand granite walls of the canyon that tower upward to the clouds, and I come abruptly upon Devil's Gate, where the waters of the river fall from a great height and thrash around a sharp bend that has been obstructed for ages by a helter-skelter fall of great blocks of stone from above. It is a seething cauldron of water that rushes with insane, frothing fury around or over the obstructions, and one is impressed with the idea that the name is an apt one. A little further on I passed the Devil's Slide, another place well named, where the rocks rise in two perpendicular walls, hardly five yards apart, from the floor of the canyon to the mountain summit. It looks as if the stone had been sawed away by man, so sheer are the sides. But these are only a couple of the many wonderful and grandly picturesque phenomena of nature that I encounter from here on for many miles. It is a beautiful country, and the scenes shift from wild and rugged natural grandeurs in the narrow parts of the canyon to pastoral loveliness in the places where the mountain pass broadens and the small but fertile and splendidly kept farms of Mormon settlers are found here and there where the sides slopes to the river. As I go on toward Echo City, 40 miles from Ogden, I get out of the narrow part of the canyon and tilled land becomes more common.
Every one from 50 miles around was bound for Echo City or Evanston on that day, May 29, to see President Roosevelt, whose train stopped in passing long enough for him to make a speech at all the towns of any size- For this reason there was an unusual amount of travel on the roads, and I was repeatedly forced so far over to the side that I had to dismount to escape an upset. The farmers seemed to think I had no right on the road when they wanted to use it, and several swore as they called to me to get out of the way. One man abused me roundly, and told me I ought to get off the road altogether with my damned "bisickle." I did an indiscreet thing in answering him in kind, and he pulled up his team with the intention of getting off and horsewhipping me or to get a steady position to take a pot shot at me with a revolver. I don't know which - I didn't stop to learn. I let out my motor and quickly got around a bend in the road out of sight, and kept going, so that he did not see me again. I felt that tempers are too uncertain in that part of the country to risk a row with a native. I was alone in the land of the Mormons, and they are famed for the way they stick to one of their clan.
I reached Echo City, a railroad settlement of about 200 persons, and, after eating, pushed right on toward Evanston. East of Echo City the canyon narrows again, and here it is known as Echo Gorge. I had my fill of it, and the echoes of my ride through it lasted for days. The roads were in frightful condition owing to three rainy weeks. In many places it was harder traveling on them than over my friends the railroad ties. In the 80 miles that I rode it is 76 by railroad - between Ogden and Evanston on this day of grace my insides were shaken together like a barrelful of eggs rolling down a mountainside. My shaking-up was received in going uphill, though, for I found by consulting my guide that I had climbed 2,400 feet that day. The elevation at Ogden being 4,301 feet and at Evanston 6,759 feet. At night my back felt as if some good husky man with a club had used it on me heavily. The new belt rim that I had put on in the morning got shot full of holes that day by being punched against sharp rocks at the roadside. It is a strenuous country, and must have been plenty pleasing to the President. I had little chance to revel in the magnificent scenery, but I knew about the Pulpit Rock from which Brigham Young delivered a Sunday sermon during the pilgrimage of the Mormons to their settlement at Salt Lake City, and I had a glance at it as I rode away from Echo City. Sixteen miles east from my luncheon stop I passed the towering sandstone bluffs, with turreted tops naturally formed, that are known as Castle Rocks, and lend their name to a railroad station of the Union Pacific there. If any one got off there, though, you would surely have a spell of wondering what they were going to do, for there is no village of any sort. The day was nice enough so far as temperature was concerned, but the story of what had been in the recent past was told to me just before I got into Evanston by the sight of thousands of sheep carcasses strewn on the hillsides and even right along the sides of the road. They had been killed by snow and hailstorms, only a few days before.
It was 8:35 p.m. when I reached Evanston in Wyoming, just across the State line from Utah, and, although this is a town of something over 2,000 persons, with half a dozen hotels, the place was crowded with visitors. Every cowboy, ranchman, farmer and miner for many miles around had been there to hear the President speak in the afternoon, and at night food was at famine prices and sleeping accommodations simply not to be had. I was not wanted anywhere and I felt the slight in the difference between welcome given to the President and to me keenly. After trying at a couple of hotels and boarding houses I made up my mind that I would have to sit it out. Chairs however, were at a premium, and I stood and watched a poker game at the hotel until midnight, and then strolled over to the railroad station where I found a chair, and in that I bunked, sore as a stone bruise until morning, leaving the town at 6:20 o'clock.
After riding about six miles that day I bumped into a rut and the stem of my handlebars snapped, but there was about an inch of the stem left, and I hammered it down with my wrench into the head tube and managed to make it do. This repair lasted to Chicago. I took to the railroad leaving Evanston, as there has been a new section built there, cutting off some distance and leading through a newly completed tunnel at Altamont, 13 miles from Evanston. It was early morning when I reached the tunnel. It is a mile and a half long. A train passed me and through the tunnel just before I got to it. It takes half an hour for the smoke to get out of the tunnel after a train passes through. I sat down to wait at the station and got to talking to an operator. He calmly informed me that several other trains would be along before long, and that it would not be safe for me to go through the tunnel for hours. Such luck! The only thing for me to do was to follow the trail over the summit through which the tunnel runs. This I did, walking and pushing my bicycle and stopping every few minutes to "breathe" myself. I ascended 300 feet in less than half a mile. I rode down on the other side using both hand brake and the coaster brake. I forsook the railroad after this and followed the road through Spring Valley and Carter to Granger, riding past the famed buttes, or table mountains of the Bad Lands. Bad they are, too. Even the road was marshy and muddy with clayey, sticky mud that just hugged my tires and coaxed them to stay with it. I was going down-grade now from Altamont to Granger. It is a great country at Carter, where altitude is 6,507 feet, it is a wonderful sight to see the buttes with seashells on their sides marking the high water mark of a prehistoric flood. Only it is a pity the water would not dry up entirely and give a bicycle a chance. I covered 85 miles on this day and it was one more like the three preceding days. An idea of climbing can be gained by stating that at Evanston the elevation is 6,759 feet, at Altamont 7,395 feet, and at Granger 6,279 feet. There were more round stones the size of baseballs on that piece of trail over the Altamont summit than ever I saw before in my life. At times they all seemed to be rolling around in an effort to get under my tires. If ever I travel through Nevada. Utah and Wyoming again on a bicycle it will be with a railroad track attachment. The telegraph operators at the lonely stations in the deserts have them to travel on back and forth from their homes to their offices. Putting the flanged guide wheels of the attachment on one rail the wheels of the bicycle are kept strictly in place on the opposite rail, and splendid time can be made. With such an attachment and a motor bicycle one could follow the railroad and make 150 miles a day, rain, snow or sunshine.
Leaving Granger, which is a division town of about 200 people and has one hotel, at 6:30 o'clock in the morning, I found the road to Marston terribly rocky, and I returned to my old love, the crossties, after going half the distance, or about six miles. At Marston I found the old stage road to Green River, and many portions of this are gravelly and fine. Green River is quite a place with a population of about 1,500, but I did not stop there. I pushed on past the famous castellated rocks to Rock Springs, 45 miles from Granger, and, arriving there at 11:45, I stopped for dinner. You always eat dinner in the middle of the day in this part of our glorious country, and if you get up with the sun and bump on a motorcycle over the hallways of the Rocky Mountains, you are ready for dinner at 12 o'clock sharp, and before. At Rock Springs the country begins to look upward again, the elevation there being 6,260 feet, 200 feet more than at Green River. From Rock Springs on, except for one drop of 500 feet from Creston to Rawlins and Fort Steele, there is a steady rise to the summit, about half way between Laramie and Cheyenne. There the elevation is a cool 8,590 feet.
Rock Springs, where I had dinner, is in the district of the Union Pacific Company's coal mines. It is memorable for labor troubles and murders of Chinamen. I had the ends of my driving belt sewed at Rock Springs, and set out again past Point of Rocks, 25 miles east to Bitter Creek. East of Point of Rocks the road Is fairly level, but it is of alkali sand, and when I went over it, it was so badly cut up that in some places I had to walk.
Bitter Creek might well be called Bitter Disappointment. I do not mean the stream of water that the road follows, but the station of the same name. It is one of those places which well-illustrates what I have said about the folly of taking the map as a guide in this country. About one-third of the "places" on the map are mere groups of section houses, while a third of the remainder are just sidetracking places, with the switch that the train hands shift themselves, and a signboard. Bitter Creek belongs to the former class. The "hotel" there is an old boxcar. Yet, if you take a standard atlas you will find the name of Bitter Creek printed in big letters among a lot of other "places" in smaller type. The big type, which leads you to think it must be quite a place, means only that the railroad stops there. The "places" in smaller type are mere sidetracking points. The boxcar is fitted-up as a restaurant and reminds one faintly of the all-night hasheries on wheels that are found in the streets of big cities. The boxcar restaurant at Bitter Creek, however, has none of the gaudiness of the coffee wagons. Still, I got a very good meal there. When I cast about for a place to sleep it was different, but I finally found a bed in a section house. This experience was one of the inevitable ones of transcontinental touring. It was 7:15 o'clock when I reached Bitter Creek Station and it is 69 miles from there to Rawlins, the first place where I could have obtained good accommodations.
After having breakfast in the boxcar restaurant, I left Bitter Creek for Rawlins. In this stretch, about 20 miles from Bitter Creek, I crossed my third desert, the Red Desert of Wyoming. It takes its name from the soil of calcareous clay that is fiery red, and the only products of which are rocks and sagebrush, and they will grow anywhere. There is a Red Desert Station on the map, but there is nothing there but a telegraph office, and the same is true of Wamsutter and Creston, the succeeding names on the map. I took a snapshot of the road in the desert near Bitter Creek and wrote on the film: "Who wouldn't leave home for this?" East of Red Desert the road improved considerably, and from Wamsutter to Creston it was really fine.
It was along this fine stretch, just before reaching Creston, that I came to the Great Divide and took a picture of the signpost, which marks the ridgeline of the great American watershed. Standing there and facing the north, all the streams on your left flow to the west and all those on the right side flow toward the east, the waters of the former eventually finding their way to the Pacific, and the latter to the Mississippi River. This is the backbone of the continent and it is duly impressive to stand there and gaze at the official sign. It does not mark the exact middle of the continent though, as some have mistakenly thought. It is about 1,100 miles east of San Francisco. I had rather expected to find the continental divide, if I did come across it, on the summit of a mountain, in a very rough piece of country, but it is in a broad pass of the Rockies, that seems more like a plain than a mountain, although a commanding view is obtainable from there. To the north are the Green, Febris and Seminole chains of mountains, and further, in the northwest is the Wind River range, and beyond that again the Shoshone range, while to the south are the Sierra Madres, all escalloping the horizon with their rugged peaks, here green, there shrouded in a purplish veil, and far away showing only a hazy gray of outline. One realizes that he is in the Rockies positively enough.
From Creston to Rawlins there is nearly 30 miles of downgrade, and, as it is a fairly good highway of gravel, I made lively time over it. After leaving Creston there come Cherokee and Daly's ranch before you get to Rawlins, and it was between these places, both mere railroad points, that I got the picture of the abandoned prairie schooner that was printed in Motorcycle Magazine. Rawlins, where I stopped only for gasoline, is a town of some size, having more than 2,000 population. From there the country becomes rolling again, and after passing Fort Fred Steele, I began to ascend once more. It is a great sheep ranch country all through here now from Rawlins. At Fort Steele there is nothing left but the ruins of abandoned houses. I now follow the old immigrant trail that winds across the River Platte, and am fast approaching the Laramie Plains, over which my route lies to the Laramie Mountains. Beyond Fort Steele I enter White Horse Canyon, which got its name, so the story goes, from an Englishman, one of the sort known in the West as "remittance men," who drank too much "Old Scratch," and, mounted on a white horse, rode over the precipice and landed on the rocks 200 feet below.
At 6:10 p.m. I reached Walcott, a "jerkwater" settlement, composed of two saloons, a store and a railroad station. It is made important, though, by the fact that two stage lines come in there. The hotels at places of the sort are generally clean, and they are kept more-or-less peaceable by the policy of reserving an out-building for the slumbers of the "drunks," so I concluded to tarry. I found some interest in automobiles here, and, after inspecting my machine, the natives fell to discussing the feasibility of running automobiles on the stage lines, instead of the old Concord coaches, drawn by six horses, that are now used. One of the stage drivers said that if anyone would build an automobile that would carry 12 or 14 persons and run through sand six inches deep. He would pay from $3,000 to $5,000 for it. I told him to wait awhile. After supper I mended my broken spokes with telegraph wire, and entertained quite a group of spectators, who watched the job with open curiosity. I find a variable reception in this country to my statement that I have journeyed from San Francisco, and am bound for New York. A great many do not believe me, and smile as if amused by an impromptu yarn. There is another class, though, that of the old settlers, the real mountaineers who have had adventures of all sorts in the mountains and the wilderness. These men are surprised at nothing, and they rather nettle me by accepting me and my motor bicycle and my statement with utmost stolidity as if the feat was commonplace. For awhile I thought that this class, too, were unbelievers, but later I learned that as a rule they are the only ones who do believe me, because they are men who believe anything possible in the way of overland journeying.
From Walcott, which I left at 6:30 a.m., it is uphill traveling eastward all the way to Laramie. I passed through the mining town of Hanna, peopled mostly by Finns and Negroes, and past the railroad stations of Edson, Dana, Allen and Medicine Bow. At the place last named I ripped out some more spokes, and after fixing up the damage temporarily, I took to the railroad and followed it, in preference to the road, into Laramie. This was the first place that I really felt enthusiastic from the time I left the coast. Laramie is a big, fine place of nearly 10,000 and is in the greenest country I had seen since I left Sacramento. That is how it struck me, and I felt glad to be there. It seemed as if it was a place where someone lived and where folks could live. It is a fertile country all around there, given over largely to sheep and cattle ranching, and has a natural, civilized look that I did not find anywhere in Nevada, and only in little touches in Utah between big stretches of wilderness. I saw some of the finest baldface, big-horn cattle there that the country produces. This is where Bill Nye appeared on the horizon of humor, I believe, when he was "sticking" tape for the Laramie Boomerang. I recalled this and could understand that a man might be a humorist living in such a place. I could not revel in the delights of Laramie as I would have liked, for I had troubles of my own to attend to. It was 7:05 p.m. when I got there, and I hunted up the bicycle shop of Elmer Lovejoy. He furnished me with five new spokes and placed his shop at my disposal, for I preferred from the first to do all the repairing to the motorcycle myself.
Up in the air was the program from Laramie - almost straight up it seemed to me at times, so steep was the road. They told me in the town that by leaving the railroad and taking the road over the ridge I would save 20 miles. Maybe I did. I went over the "ridge" anyway. I climbed steadily for 8 miles, and when I reached the summit I was at the highest point I touched in my entire trip, and higher up than I ever was in my life before. The altitude at the top is 8,590 feet. Going up I followed a narrow trail full of stones and sharp twists around boulders and the best guide I had to keep from going wrong was the hoof-prints of the presidential party that had gone over the summit the day before. It would have been easy to have lost the trail had it not been for the hoof-prints, but I followed them and knew that I was right, for the President's party had a guide. At the summit is a flagstaff, put there by a survey party I believe, and someone in the Presidential party had hoisted a handkerchief on it the day before, so I took a snapshot of it. Then, before I left I rested myself by putting this inscription on the pole: "G.A. Wyman, June 4, 1903, 11:30a.m. - First motorcyclist to cross the Rockies, going from San Francisco to New York."
While I was on this summit, it clouded up and began to thunder ominously. I had no more than started on the descent than it began to rain in torrents. The water just dropped from the clouds as if they were great lakes with the bottoms dropping out. In one minute I looked as if I had been fished out of a river. There was no place to seek shelter. either(sic), not even a small tree, for the mountaintop is "bald," so I had to keep going. After running down about three miles my belt would not take hold and I had to get off and walk. So long as I was on the ridge where the ground was all rocks it was not so bad, but when I began to get down to the lower-lying land my trouble settled upon me in earnest. Down at the bottom I struck gumbo mud, and it stuck me. Gumbo is the mud they use in plastering the crevices of log louses. It has the consistency of stale mucilage and when dry is as hard as flint. It sticks better than most friends and puts mucilage to shame. When you step in it on a grassy spot and lift your foot the grass comes up by the roots. My wheel stood alone in the gumbo whenever I wanted to rest, and that was pretty often. Every time I shoved the bicycle ahead a length I had to clean the mud off the wheels before they would turn over again. I kept this up until finally I reached a place where I could not move the bicycle another foot. It sunk into the gluey muck so that I could not shove it either forward or backward. I found that it had taken me two hours to travel half a mile, and I could not see New York looming in front of me with any particular prominence. In fact, I could not see a sign of any settlement or human habitation anywhere, and I was in a quandary what to do. I had set out to travel to the Atlantic coast with my motor bicycle, and thus far I had done so, though I had done some walking, I did not like to part with the machine right there, for in the long run, the walking would be worse than the riding. I finally left the bicycle sticking bolt upright in its bed of gumbo mud and set out to find a place where someone lived. This move led me to a pleasant experience, the hospitality of the Wyoming ranchers.
After walking two miles I came to a ranch house, and I was lucky to find it for there is not another house within seven miles. The young man I met there immediately hooked up a team of horses and went back with me and pulled the wheel out of the mudhole. When I got to the house my rescuer, who was R.C. Schrader, of Islaly(sic) Station, Wyoming lent me a hose, and with the aid of a stream of water and a stick, I got the machine fairly clean after an hour of hard work. Mr. Schrader was a hearty host. I had eaten nothing since an early breakfast, and it was then 5 p.m. He made me stop and eat, and then, as I insisted on pushing along, he showed me the way to the railroad track. I was glad to see the ties again. It was about 20 miles to Cheyenne, and I walked most of the way, arriving there at 10:30 p.m. About an hour after I left the Schrader farm it began to rain and kept it up till I was within two miles of Cheyenne. When I reached there I was a sight for men and dogs. I was mud and tatter from head to feet. A colony of tramps would have been justified in repudiating me, for my face had been washed in streaks and the mud remaining on it was arranged as fantastically as the war paint of an Indian buck. My shirt is splashed with mud, too, and I miss my vest because I could remove it and make a better front in the town, I have missed that waistcoat all the afternoon, for there was snow mingled with the rain and I was cold: but I took off he vest, a light, fancy affair, some time before reaching Laramie and threw it away because I took a notion it was a hoodoo.
With my coat torn in several places and one sleeve of it hanging by a thread, my leggings hanging in shreds, no waistcoat on, dripping wet and splashed with mud all over, I checked my bicycle at the baggage room of the railroad station and set out to find a room in Cheyenne. "All full" was the word I got at the first hotel, and at the next it was the same. After I had tried three and been refused, I was satisfied that it was my appearance that was the reason. To make the matter worse, I discovered that my big ".38" revolver had worn a hole in my pocket and was sticking through so that it showed plainly between the torn part of my coat. I must have looked like a "bad man" from the wilds that night, and, realizing this, I made it a point to tell my story In explanation, after I had been refused accommodations at the hotels. After visiting a couple of boarding houses and being turned away I finally found a woman who kept furnished rooms, who eyed me suspiciously and said she had no room, but would fix me up a cot. She listened to my story and finally fixed me up a nice room, and I stayed there two nights. The next morning I washed and pinned up my rags as best I could and went out to replenish my wardrobe. I must indeed have been a tough-looking specimen the night before, because the first place I went into in the morning, a furnishing store, the dog growled at me savagely and disputed my entrance until called off by his owner. It rained hard all day, and I remained in Cheyenne. while there I weighed myself and found that I was 12 pounds under my normal weight, the scales tipping at 141 pounds. I spent most of the day cleaning and fixing my wheel. Again, I aimed a hose on it, and after that I had to use a scraper and brushes before I could get down to work with a rag. I worked in the bicycle shop of G.D Pratt while there, and he extended me every courtesy.
It was raining a little when I left Cheyenne, and the roads were too heavy to ride. I took to the railroad again, and the railroad ties were not much better than the road. For 43 miles I had to pedal. If you ever went for a ride on a tandem and took your best girl, or some other fellow's best girl, and she was a heavyweight, and about 30 miles from home she gave out and you had to do all the pushing to get home, you have a slight idea how I felt pushing the motor over the railroad ties. I got to Egbert at 12:45 and had dinner at the section house there. It is downhill all the way now. I have turned my back upon the Rockies and their grandeur and am nearing the great prairie lands. I can see Elk Mountain, which, with its snow-capped peak is a landmark for hundreds of miles around and in spite of the troubles I have had in the rocky country, I feel somewhat regretful at leaving it. I do not know what troubles the prairies hold for me, and I shall miss the inspiration of the mountain air, the gorgeous view, and the coyotes and the glimpses of antelope that I caught a couple of times back near Laramie. One new sight I do have is that of prairie dogs, and as they sit beside their holes and yelp at me I take several pot shots at them. They dodge into their burrows so quickly that you cannot tell whether you hit them or not: even when shot through the head or heart these creatures dodge into their holes to die. It began to rain when I had gone a mile and a half from the station house, and, remembering my last experience with the rain and the gumbo mud, I turned back and waited at the telegraph operating room until the middle of the afternoon, when the rain slackened. I got to Pine Bluffs on the state line between Wyoming and Nebraska, at 4:40 p.m. To furnish an idea of how rapidly I have come down it may be mentioned that at Pine Bluffs the elevation is 5,038 feet, and this is only 90 miles from the summit, where the elevation is 8,590 feet, a drop of 3,500 feet in less than 100 miles.
During my first few miles of travel in the state of Nebraska I was nearly killed by a freight train. l was riding alongside the track, close to the outer rail, where the dirt over the ties is level, and a strong wind was blowing in my face, so that I did not hear the rumble of the train. Suddenly I heard the loud shriek of the whistle right in my ears. I looked back and the train was not more than 10 yards away. I just had time to shoot down the embankment, which, luckily, was only about four feet high at that place when the train ran past me. As it was, the engineer had whistled "down brakes" and was scared himself. It is fortunate that I was not riding between the tracks at the time, or I would have surely had to sacrifice my bicycle to escape with my life. If it had been a fast passenger train and got that close to me, it would have hit me before I got out of the way. This was worse than the mountains, for nothing that happened there came so near to causing heart failure. I got to Kimball, 65 miles from Cheyenne at 6:50 p.m. They told me there that the roads are good when it is not raining. I had to take their word for it, and conclude that I still carry some sort of a hoodoo with me, in spite of having shed my fancy waistcoat, for when I get into a region of good roads it rains and spoils them, and when it doesn't rain I am in a district where the roads are never good.
On Sunday morning, June 7, I left Kimball, Nebraska, and made the biggest day's run that I scored west of the Mississippi. It is a fine, grain-growing country that I rode through from Kimball, which is a prosperous town. For the first 12 miles the country was rolling and the roads sandy. After that I found good hard roads all the way to Sidney, 35 miles from Kimball, and I made it in just three hours, reaching Sidney at 10:15. When I rode into the place, which is a division town, I passed as tough a bunch of citizens as I met all through the West. They were young fellows loafing on a corner, and they tossed all manner of taunting comment at me, as if inviting trouble. I kept on my way without replying, which was wise, but not easy to do. After getting some gasoline, I left at 10:30, and had no trouble making Chappell at 12:15, where I had dinner. I started again at 1:07 p.m., and quickly found that the good road was at an end. It became so bad, in fact, that I took to the railroad and rode the ties most of the way into Ogallala, 114 miles from Kimball. Of this distance I made the first 65 miles in five hours, and had I had as good going in the afternoon as I had in the morning, I would have made 140 miles. It began to rain shortly before I got to Ogallala, and I had to pedal over the last 15 miles. Of the 114 miles I made this day, 46 were ridden in the State of Colorado, for the railroad and road both put in a bend from Chappell southward to get to the South Platte River at Julesburg, Colorado and then the road follows the river valley back again into Nebraska; so that 46 miles was all of Colorado I saw. I found one good stretch of road five miles long in the 46 and this was a relief from the railroad ties so I blessed it and took a snapshot of it for a Colorado souvenir. Ogallala is only a "little jerkwater station," as they say in this country, but it was nightfall when I reached there, and it was raining hard, so I put up there for the night.
It is now the time of the heavy rains, cloudbursts and freshets that devastated so much of the Western country during the month of June. It is my luck to be right in the particular great basin where the waters flow most copiously. At Ogallala, Nebraska, I was told that there had been nothing but rain there for the last two weeks. The roads were in terrible condition, I know, when I left there at 6:45 o'clock, on the morning of June 8. After 10 miles of heavy going through the mud, I struck sand, and then took to the railroad track once more. After going six miles over the ties it began to rain so hard that I had to get off and walk three miles to the station at Paxton. There I waited for three hours until it stopped raining, and set out again at 12:30 o'clock. From there it is just 31 miles to North Platte, and as the sun had come out, I returned to the road. I found it good in places and sandy in spots. There was one stretch, two miles long, so sandy that I had to walk it. It was like being back again in the deserts. I got gasoline at North Platte and pushed on 16 miles to Maxwell, which made 70 miles for the day's travel.
Maxwell is a little bit of a place, and I had to take accommodation in a room that had three beds in it. A couple of surveyors were in one of the other beds, and at midnight, a commercial traveler was ushered in and given the third bed. I was fortunate in having a bed to myself at all the small places, for "doubling up" is quite the common thing where accommodations are limited. One more cyclometer was sacrificed on the ride from Ogallala to Maxwell, snapped off when I had a fall on the road. I do not mention falls, as a rule, as it would make the story one long monotony of falling off and getting on again. Ruts, sand, sticks, stones and mud, all threw me dozens of times. Somewhere in Emerson I remember a passage about the strenuous soul who is indomitable and "the more falls he gets moves faster on." I would like to see me try that across the Rockies. I didn't move faster after my falls. The stones out that way are hard.
I left Maxwell at 7:15 a.m. on June 9, and followed the wagon road for the first eight miles. Then it got so sandy that I took to the railroad. I remained on the tracks for 12 miles, and then tried the road again. After an hour on it, the mud began to be so thick that riding was impossible, and I then returned to the railroad and stuck to it until I reached Lexington, where I had dinner. When I emerged from the dining room it was raining so hard that it would have been folly to have attempted to ride. My batteries required attention, and by chance I met J.S. Bancroft, who has the most complete bicycle and automobile repairing station that I saw between Cheyenne and Omaha. Mr. Bancroft stopped when he saw me at work on the batteries and invited me to his store. He is a motor bicycle rider, using a 2 1/2-horsepower Columbia. I lost an afternoon in Lexington, but it stopped raining at 5 p.m., and I went over to the railroad and made a run of 20 miles in an hour and a half to Elm Creek, where I had supper. I was anxious to make all the mileage I could, so after supper I started again, and by 8:20 p.m. I had ridden 16 miles more and was at Kearney, where I put up for the night. I had a fall and broke my ammeter in this last stretch. I had the same experience with my watch back in Nevada. A note in my diary, made at Kearney reads:
"There are some of the greatest pace followers of their size in the world in this region. A bunch tacked on to me back at Ogallala, and for two days I have been unable to shake them. It looks as if they will stay with me all the way into New York. The natives call them gnats. They bite like hornets."
The roads were still impassible going out of Kearney, and I followed the railroad tracks to Grand Island, and even then I had to walk over several short stretches where it was sandy, and every half mile I had to dismount for the crossing of the wagon road, the highway being in such vile condition that its dirt was piled upon the tracks so that I could not ride through it. In the 11 miles between Grand Island and Chapman, where I stopped for dinner, I broke six spokes. I rode, with the rear wheel thus weakened, over the ties 10 miles to Central City, where I stopped for repairs. I left Central City at 4:45, and rode 44 miles to Columbus, arriving there at 8:25 p.m. This made 108 miles for the day and I felt satisfied. On this day again I narrowly escaped being lifted from the roadbed by an engine pilot. It was a fast mail train this time. I was riding along outside the rail, where the space between the rail and edge of the embankment was only six inches, and I could not look around without danger of banging into the rail or slipping over the edge. I did not hear the train until the whistle sounded, when the engine was within 100 feet of me. I just went down that embankment as if I had been pushed.
I left Columbus, Nebraska at 7:40 a.m. My start was later than usual, because I had to wait to get gasoline. They do not keep it in the stores there, but a wagon goes around in the morning to the various houses and supplies what they want for the day. I had to take to the railroad once more from the outset. After going 28 miles over the ties I noticed that the roads looked better, and I rode on them for the rest of the day, stopping at Fremont for dinner and arriving at Omaha at 5:30 p.m.
At Omaha I feel that my self-imposed task was as good as accommodated. The roughest and most trying part of the country has been crossed, and I have traveled more than 2,000 miles of the total distance. I have reached the great waters of the Missouri; the promised land of the East, where I hope to find good roads, lies ahead of me. My anticipations of what lies before me are bright.
Return to the Across America on a Motor Bicycle page.
A registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit historical preservation and educational organization (47-3332474)