In search of Buddy Holly

Day 10: Sunday 31st July 2011 – St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota to Carroll, Iowa (Click for route)

It was still 5 days before I was planning to be in Sturgis, and my route to get there was still undefined. I was thinking I might as well head down into Iowa and then across into Nebraska, although there was nothing in particular I was planning to see until I got to Scotts Bluff in north-western Nebraska.

The night before, Thomas and I had talked about my next move. When I told him I was thinking of going down to Iowa, he told me to check out Clear Lake. This is the place that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash on February 3rd 1959. Thomas mentioned that there was a memorial on the site. I had no specific agenda for Iowa, so it seemed worth a visit.

Image courtesy of Neil Pfeffier at

I made an early start, heading south on I-35 (the real one this time!) Clear Lake is just off I-35, so it wasn’t much of a detour. Thomas had mentioned that a big pair of Buddy Holly-style glasses marked the entrance to the site. I spent a good half hour riding around Clear Lake looking for those glasses, but couldn’t see any sign of them – perhaps I needed a new pair of my own. But I had miles to clock up and decided to leave vaguely disappointed. I lesson that I was learning was that better preparation was required in the US because trying to follow road signs sucked.

I continued down the I-35 to the south of Story City, and then joined Hwy-30 – the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast road across the USA. It was built in 1913 and starts at Times Square in New York and runs all the way to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. It’s journey through Iowa isn’t especially inspiring.

Iowa is extremely flat, with cornfield after cornfield stretching to the horizon. Every so often there’s a small town – the main feature all these towns to share in common is the massive grain silos that dominate the horizon.

This silo is actually in Nebraska, but it gives the idea. It was only when I got to Nebraska that I remembered that I could use my iPod for photos since my camera was dead until Doreen arrived with the plug adaptor From Nebraska

The Lincoln Highway is largely long and straight, and I guess could have gotten fairly monotonous if I hadn’t still been relishing been on the open road so much. The sun was shining. Life was good.

In fact the sun was shining a tad too much. The central areas of North America were in the grip of a heat wave and had been for some weeks. The temperatures in Texas were well over 100F. In Iowa, they were in the 90s – a wee bit too hot for my biker apparel. Showers two or three times a day it would have to be.

I guess the absence of many striking features in the Iowa landscape, except for the towering grain silos, made me notice a couple of other features of riding the American highways.

The first was the massive backdraft from the 18-wheel semi’s that hurtled past in the opposite direction. It doesn’t happen every time, and I guess depends on the speed of the truck and the prevailing wind conditions, but when it does you certainly notice it. The almost solid-feeling wall of air that comes behind some of these babies is like nothing I’ve experienced in the UK. I don’t think their semi’s are that much bigger than our lorries, so I suspect the real difference is the speed they go past you at. On a single carriageway highway, they could be tanking along at 70 or 80 mph – believe me, I’ve followed behind a good few now, whereas on a single carriageway in Britain, a lorry is unlikely to be doing more than 50 mph.

The other notable thing I started to notice was the huge length of the trains. A track runs parallel with Hwy-30 for a lot of the way in Iowa and Nebraska and the freight trains running along it must have been a mile or more long and stretch as far as the eye can see.

I took no photo’s during my nearly two days passing through Iowa. My UK mobile phone wasn’t the only thing that had run out of juice in the absence of a UK-US plug adaptor – so had my digital camera. This was perhaps mildly disappointing, in Iowa, but it was going to get an awful lot more disappointing not having a camera when I got to places like Scotts Bluff, before the adaptor arrived with Doreen. It wasn’t until I got to Nebraska that I remembered I could take photos on my iPod.

When I’d come into Iowa, I’d made sure I called into the visitor centre to pick up a free state map. The visitor centre sold coffee, so I fuelled up on caffeine, and whilst drinking my coffee and perusing the state map, an overly helpful “welcomer” decided that I looked like I needed help – I guess he may have been bored. He offered me all sorts of guides and brochures on Iowa. I explained I couldn’t carry them on a bike, and that in any case, I was just passing through and was aiming to follow Hwy-30 all the way to Nebraska. He helpfully told me that I wouldn’t be able to do that as the Missouri river had flooded and Hwy-30 was impassable. I thanked him, but decided to carry on anyway, it wouldn’t be a long detour to Omaha to pick up I-80 even if it was.

That night I didn’t make it as far as the Missouri. I stopped in Carroll, Iowa. At dinner, I chatted a little with my waitress. She had a sister that lived near the Missouri and she thought that Hwy-30 was passable. Apparently the reason for the flooding was because South Dakota had opened a dam, after the unusually heavy snow melt.


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