The Trooper droops in Oshkosh

Day 12: Tuesday 2nd August 2011 – Grand Island, Nebraska to Oshkosh, Nebraska (Click for route)

After a late evening with the grand characters of Grand Island, I still managed to wake early. I hadn’t used an alarm clock since I’d arrived in the US, but my body clock seemed to have tuned into the time zone well enough now to consistently wake around 7am.

As I was packing the bike for the day’s journey, I was a little surprised to see Mike come ambling around the corner – especially given the amount of whisky he’d put away the night before. But he seemed as right as rain – I guess he was used to it.

I hadn’t had a morning coffee yet, so I offered to buy Mike one from the gas station next door to the motel. As we sat chatting over the coffee, I commented on his resilience to whisky. He said that last night had been a quiet night. Mike doesn’t work, and it made me wonder whether it was his wife, or perhaps John, that kept him supplied with whisky. In any case, I remembered I’d promised Mike a shot of my Bowmore, but we’d parted ways last night before he’d had a chance to sample it. I was interested to see what his reaction to a single malt would be, so I offered him one for the road. Drinking in the afternoon makes me lethargic, let alone at 8am in the morning, so mine was hardly more than a sniff, but I poured Mike a generous measure into his polystyrene cup and watched him knock it straight back.

“That’s good stuff!” he said “Strong.” The strong comment surprised me. I’m fairly sure most bourbon and American whiskey is just as strong as a single malt Scotch. But it wouldn’t be the last time I heard this on the trip. Perhaps the smoothness and different taste gets mistaken for strength – or perhaps it is just expected to be strong and the mind does the rest. I’m sure Mike would have been delighted to drink coffee and whisky with me all morning, but I had places to see, so I bade him farewell and set off on Hwy-30.

The ride along Hwy-30 from Grand Island to North Platte was very much as it had been through Iowa. A flat landscape full of cornfields with a small town every 10 or 20 miles, with huge silos dominating the skyline. The other thing I really started noticing was almost all these towns had a “ball in the sky”.

Ball in the Sky From Kansas

I’ve noticed this all across the US – almost every town has a water tower. I didn’t get around to taking a photo of one until I was in Kansas. This is something we don’t see in the UK much anymore, and those that are left all tend to be Victorian vintage and most probably listed buildings.

The day was another hot one. I was merrily riding along Hwy-30, stopping every so often for a coffee at one of gas stations in the small grain-silo dominated towns. The cornfields were getting monotonous, but I was happy just riding. I was as free as a bird and the absence of my Scottish biker chick was the only blot on the landscape, but she’d be coming out to Sturgis soon and that was something to look forward to.

Around 11am, I felt my pocket vibrate as a text arrived. The only person who really sent me messages was Doreen, and I always looked forward to receiving them. I pulled the Trooper over onto the hard shoulder so I could read Doreen’s latest message, but the text wasn’t from Doreen – it was from Laura. Thinking back to the night before, I remembered that we’d exchanged numbers so that I could let her know when I’d cleaned myself up and was ready to head over to the bar with John and Mike.

Laura’s first text was innocuous enough, just thanking me for buying dinner, saying she’d had a good time and asking what time I had set off that morning. I sent a text back saying she was welcome and that I’d set off around 8:30 after a coffee and whisky with Mike.

This turned out to be the first salvo in a barrage of texts from Laura, during which I began to regret giving out my cell phone number and wondering what signals Laura had thought I’d been giving off the night before.

The gist of the texts ran something like this:

“Did you get the gifts I left for you?”
“What gifts?”
“Some cigarettes, a lighter and a note”
“Thank you, but I didn’t. Where did you leave them?”
“Outside your door”
“Someone else must have taken them. But thanks anyway” – maybe Mike?
“You’re welcome. I’m sorry you didn’t get them”
“What did the note say?”
“Just thanks for last night and that I’ve left Pete”
“You’ve left Pete?”
“Are you OK?”
“Yes I’m fine. Just decided I didn’t need to be told what to do anymore”
“From what you told me it was probably for the best. Do you have somewhere to go?”
“Yes. Going back to the other motel”
“Good. I hope everything works out for you”

I felt genuinely sorry for her. Her life had been hard for her for years, and she was so young. But there was little I could do. I thought I’d maybe text her at the end of the day, or tomorrow, and just see how things were going, but for now I thought there was nothing more I could really say, so I got back on the Trooper and carried on down the Lincoln Highway.

I got to North Platte around lunchtime. North Platte is the place where Buffalo Bill Cody settled. He had a huge ranch to the north of the town. The rump of that ranch is now a historic state park and tourist attraction.

Buffalo Bill's Ranch, near North Platte

I stopped in North Platte for rehydration and a couple of things happened.

First, I decided I just couldn’t  bear continuing to ride in my leather jacket any longer in this heat. I really understood way so many American bikers ride in just T-shirts – I was going to follow suit. I was sweltering in the jacket, and almost feeling faint. A mesh jacket, as some have suggested, would have been ideal, but I didn’t have one to hand and I couldn’t go on being boiled in the bag. If I did, I worried that I risked passing out, which didn’t sound a good idea when I was motoring along at 80mph on a bike more than 4 times my body weight.

So the jacket came off and got strapped on the back with the rest of the luggage. On one hand, I didn’t feel emotionally or intellectually comfortable about this – at first it felt like riding naked. But on the other hand, it felt physically wonderful to ride along with bare arms and the wind able to get right into my cut-off T-shirt. I’ve ridden numerous times since then with bare arms, but I never feel 100% comfortable with it – I feel a lot more vulnerable – but I think that is actually not a bad thing. Having the occasional thought of bare skin dragging over the black top is quite healthy  – it keeps my speed down and makes me ride a bit more cautiously than when I’m fully armoured-up. The helmet, however, has always stayed on when I’m doing anything more than moving the bike a few feet.

The second thing that happened during my water break in North Platte, was another text from Laura. It was a text which left me gob-smacked.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night but I couldn’t when I was with Pete. I’m not now”

Thoughts raced through my head.

What had I done to make her feel like this?
What was she expecting me to do now? Turn around and go back to Grand Island?
How the hell was I meant to respond to that?

Fundamentally, I’m not great in awkward situations. I’m not sure who really is. I like to avoid them. I decided not to reply straight away and to give me some thinking time for a suitable response. Basically, I was chickening out. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but nowadays, there is only one girl for me.

I clucked a few times and then got back on the road.

I carried on down the Lincoln Highway to Ogallala, and there began to head north toward Scotts Bluff on Hwy-26. I’d ridden across almost the entire width of Nebraska, from east to west and the scenery had varied little. Now, heading into the north western corner of Nebraska, things began to get a little more interesting. To the east of Hwy-26, lies McConaughy Lake – Nebraska’s largest lake with over 100 miles of shoreline. Glimpses of this lake are visible for miles along Hwy-26. It was almost enticing enough for a detour, but  I settled for stopping on occasions to view from a distance. The west of Nebraska was beginning to shape up nicely into the high plains I associate mentally with Clint Eastwood. I was enjoying the ride.

McConaughy Lake

By early afternoon, I reached the small town of Oshkosh and pulled into the Sinclair gas station for a much-needed refuel. After filling the Trooper’s tank, I went to start him up and pull into the parking area to get a coffee to fuel me. I pressed the ignition switch. The Trooper’s engine turned once, and then nothing. I pressed the ignition again – still nothing. A couple more presses confirmed that the Trooper’s electrics were as dead as most of the bison that used to roam these plains.

Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t have expected to make this whole trip of perhaps 20,000 miles without some set-backs, but my hope of the Trooper marching effortlessly across the whole of the North American continent was being shaken.

I pushed the Trooper away from the pump and into the parking space, and then lit a cigarette. Cigarettes have for a long time been my crutch when I’m stressed or need to concentrate – filthy, disgusting habit though it is. The problem was clearly electrical, so I checked all the fuses. All appeared OK. Next, I took the cover off battery – the connections appeared to be in place. Hmm, was there an open circuit somewhere?

I didn’t feel confident about being able to check the Trooper’s wiring, especially with a limited toolkit and no volt meter or wiring diagram. The gas station’s range of tools was almost non-existent – they didn’t even have replacement fuses if I had needed them. But all was not bleak, I’d bought Roadside Assistance insurance through Motorcycle Express as part of the package of insurances before coming over. Now was the time to put that assistance to the test.

The gas station didn’t have WiFi, so I dug the paperwork out of my bag and gave the number on the roadside assistance card a call. I got connected to Daryl in Arizona, and explained the problem and where I was. He said he’d look into options and call me back within half and hour.

I had little else to do, so I bought myself a coffee and then sent Doreen a text to let her know about the Trooper’s little problem.

Twenty minutes later, Daryl called back, and told me that the nearest Harley-Davidson dealers were either in North Platte or Cheyenne. He asked which I preferred to go to. I had a quick look at my map. Both were a step backwards, but North Platte seemed to the least extra miles, so I said that’s the one I’d like to go for. Daryl said he’d see what he could arrange and would call back as soon as he could to let me know.

Within minutes, Daryl was back on the phone. He had arranged for Budke PowerSports in North Platte to send a truck to collect me and the Trooper, and that I should expect a call from them soon to confirm all the details.

Daryl then went on to explain that my roadside assistance insurance was actually rather limited. It didn’t cover the full cost of recovery – but they would reimburse $150 if I sent in the receipt. The quote for recovering the Trooper from Oshkosh was $750 – North Platte was 2 hours drive away. I took this in my stride. I hadn’t read the small print. But the cost of recovery wasn’t what I actually needed, even though it would have been a nice to have. What I needed was someone to call who would then be able to look up dealer information, and to co-ordinate and arrange everything for me. Without internet access, I would have struggled to do this myself – and the situation would have been much worse if this had happened at the roadside miles from anywhere. This is precisely what Daryl did for me and I’m very grateful for that.

Another 15 minutes passed before my phone rang again. It was Budke PowerSports. They confirmed the details of the problem and exactly where I was, and told me that they would despatch a trailer to collect me within the next 20 minutes, but it would take a couple of hours to reach me. That would do me nicely – thank you Budke PowerSports.

I sent Doreen a text to let her know what was going on. Within 20 minutes, I had another text from her. She’d been online and had come back with hotel and eating options in North Platte. Just one more thing add to the long list of reasons to love my woman.

Just as I was thinking this and wishing forward the date for her arrival in the US, I got another text. This time from Laura.

“Where are you?”

That was an easy factual answer.

A little more time passed and then another text.

“I’m going to the firestation. Have you been?”
What’s the firestation? I thought, but replied with “No I haven’t”

I don’t know whether it was the excitement with the Trooper, or whether I’m just a coward, but I never did reply directly to her text about wanting to kiss me. That was a mistake. Her texts and the occasional phone call carried on for over a week, with the final one coming in Deadwood, after Doreen and I had just checked into the most expensive hotel of the trip after a hard and wet day’s ride. That could have been very embarrassing had I not already told Doreen about Laura. As it was, it was still pretty awkward.

A gas station in Oskkosh, Nebraska isn’t the most exciting place to be stranded, but I was grateful for having somewhere to sit and for having access to food and drinks. A few more texts back and forth with Doreen helped to pass the time and raise my spirits. I got another coffee. A group of locals came in for refreshments, complete with stetsons and spurs. I got to chatting to a couple of them after they asked what I was looking for on the map I had spread out on the table in front of me. They seemed genuinely interested in my journey, and like many others would ask, they wanted to know what I did that allowed me to take so much time off work. My usual initial flippant answer was that I had a great boss – me!

During our chat, I learned that the rolling hills around these parts had been formed from blown sand and that they weren’t especially solid. Flint arrowheads were apparently quite easy to find if you dug a little.

Chatting with the locals helped to pass the time. After about an hour, I got another call from Budke PowerSports. The trailer that was meant to have set off to rescue me an hour ago hadn’t and wouldn’t until tomorrow morning. I wished I’d been told that an hour before. It looked like I would be spending the night in Oshkosh. From what I had noticed on the way into town, Oshkosh didn’t seem big enough for motels, but the guy from Budke PowerSports assured me that there were, so I set off down the street on foot to see what I could find.

Only a short distance down from the gas station, there were indeed 2 motels – I just hadn’t noticed them on the way in. Oshkosh is apparently a quite popular hunting destination. The front desk of the first motel was unmanned and I couldn’t raise anyone, so I tried the next. Lucky for me they had vacancies, so I paid for my room and then went to retrieve my luggage from the immobile Trooper. I’d thought that carrying bags from a motel room to the car park every day had been a balls ache, but carrying them half a mile down the street in that heat really was a feat of endurance that I didn’t wish to repeat in a hurry.

My forced stay in Oskkosh would have been much better if the motel had had Wifi, I could have blogged and planned out the next bit of the journey – but at least I had a bed for the night. I went back to the gas station to stock up on a few beers for later, and noticed a family restaurant I’d be able to get food at later. A bed, food and beer – all the essentials were covered.


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