Monday, January 25, 2021

Memphis, Nebraska - A Story of Big Ice and Small Stamps



With snow in the forecast for Saturday, we skipped the normal Lincoln ride and decided to grab Carlos Ventana and ride something a little closer to home in an attempt to get it in before the bulk of the snow was supposed to arrive.



Our launch point was Ashland with the plan to head to Memphis, Yutan and Colon before returning to the warmth of the vehicle. On our way out we mooed at the cows in the pasture, as one does when you see cows on a gravel road. We must have said the right words or the ladies were fascinated with Carlos because they all started "jogging" towards the fence and continued to follow us parallel to the road until they could go no further. I guess that will teach me to ride with my udders out.


Rolled into Memphis, Nebraska and Don's Bar much to the delight of a few of the patrons out enjoying a refreshing cancer stick. They were quite tickled and in awe seeing us roll up on Carlos... until we revealed where we had started from and what something like Carlos would run you if you wanted to acquire one for yourself.

Never heard of Memphis, Nebraska you say? Well, you and almost everyone else. This tiny little village has been around a long time though and has some interesting history surrounding it. The village came to be, much like most small Nebraska and mid-west towns, because the railroad decided to build a station in this particular spot in Saunders County. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad built a station and the first trains began arriving in Memphis in 1887, a post office followed in 1888 and a bank in 1902. The land that the village sits on was originally purchased from John Owen and the village folk had wanted to name the town Owenville, as was customary in those days, but John was a bit of a shy fellow and wanted no part of having a town named after him. Since the majority of the people in the village hailed from the Memphis, Tennessee area originally it seemed logical to them that they should name the village Memphis as their second choice and so the tiny village of Memphis came to be. 

The largest business in Memphis was an ice house but not just any ice house, claimed to be the largest ice house in the world, the Armor Ice House existed in Memphis from 1897 until 1921 when it burned to the ground in a fire. The Armor Ice House measured 180 feet wide, 700 feet long and reached a height of 52 feet so it was no small building. For comparison sake, that would be a bit over a half a football field wide and 2 and a third football fields long! Back in the 1800s before modern refrigeration, ice was made by freezing lake and river water which was then harvested and stored in ice houses until it was needed. This process of course needed to be done in areas of the country that were naturally cold in the winter so that the ice would form with some regularity. The ice for the Armor Ice House was harvested from a man made 100 acre lake built for the purposes of making ice for refrigerated rail cars. Several years after the fire that destroyed the Armor Ice House the state bought up 144 acres, including the man made ice harvesting lake, and turned it into what is now knows as Memphis State Lake and the adjoining State Recreational Area. 

Each spring the lake was drained and each fall they would clean up the dry lake bed and fill it with water from silver creek and wait for nature to do it's thing. When the ice froze to a depth of 8 inches it was cut into 20 foot by 40 foot cakes and pull from the lake by a team of horses. In it's height the Armor Ice House sent on average 24 rail cars of ice from Omaha to Chicago per day (about 100,000 lbs annually) for the meat packing industry. Ice from Memphis was actually considered better ice than many other ice houses produced due to the care the people of Memphis took in making sure the lake stayed as clean as possible. It was often said that the ice from Memphis Lake was such good quality that it could be used in your glass of lemonade. If the fire hadn't gotten the ice house, modern refrigeration would have eventually closed them but many ice houses around the country remained in business into the 1950s. 


From large ice houses to diminutive Post Offices, Memphis was also known for it's tiny Post Office which was Nebraska's smallest Post Office. The minuscule Post Office existed in Memphis until about 1988 when it was moved to the Saunders County Historical Society's village in Wahoo. A larger Post Office was built to replace it but that one is now also gone and all that remains is a series of mailboxes like you'd see in an apartment complex to take it's place. About the only business still alive in Memphis today is Don's Bar which enjoys the perks of being located near Memphis State Lake SRA and as such charges Omaha type prices for it's adult beverages, much to the chagrin of thirsty cyclists expecting small town Nebraska charm and prices.




Not wanting to take out a loan to get a beverage, we opted to ride on past to Nellie Road and the abandoned bridge over Wahoo Creek to enjoy the Snow Beast we brought with us. The locals apparently like to shoot off of this bridge as it's littered with tens of dozens of shells from rifles, pistols and shotguns. I have no clue what they are shooting at other than the bridge itself as it's in the middle of farm fields and dead flat so setting up any actual targets seems highly dangerous due to the potential range of any rounds that do not hit their desired target and stop. Given this detritus of gun play, we were a little leery of the orange Chevy Avalanche parked on the other bridge at the intersection of Road D and Nellie Road almost blocking the way in and out but we managed to scoot around him to get to the abandoned bridge. No easy feat on a bicycle built for two but Carlos is pretty stable and confidence inspiring. Not sure what he was doing but there he sat on this narrow bridge, with his truck off, on a cold Nebraska winter's day. I suppose given his nearness to Nellie Rd. maybe he was trying to learn his country grammar... yes I know that isn't how Nelly spells his name but that's where the learnin would have come in handy



The truck finally got tired of waiting on us to leave and decided to drive off in the opposite direction. As we sat there enjoying our Beast the winds started to pickup and the snow started to fall in earnest. Even though it was a few hours earlier than forecast it didn't look like it was going anywhere so we decided to take that as our cue to cut the ride short and just head back to Ashland.




That decision ended up being the right call as the closer we got to Ashland the heavier the snow fall became until visibility was starting to become a real issue and we were without lights for Carlos. The 11 miles back in the snow was enough fun for one day, while we didn't get in the 40 that was planned we still managed almost 22 by the time it was all said and done. Not a bad day on the tandem in the middle of winter if you ask me and  you all got to know more about Memphis, Nebraska than you probably ever wanted to know. I call that a win/win. 


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Moby-Dick

This is not a tale about a 55 year old, bald rapper or male genitalia so you can all rest easy with that knowledge and continue on without fear of something white and wrinkly popping up unannounced.


This little gem came in the mail yesterday, I knew something was coming since I got a notification something was on the way but to be honest when that blip came flashing across my texts I had no idea exactly what this way cometh. You see, I had almost completely forgotten about that email back in late November from the fellas who ran the C.O.G 100. In that email they let all of the registered racers know that there would not be a C.O.G 100 race in 2020 or even in 2021. Reading the email back in November the rhythm and flow painted a grim picture for the C.O.G happening again, ever, if you read between the lines. In that November email the registered riders were given a few options on what we wanted to do with our entry since the race was not going to happen any time soon. Those options  ranged from doing nothing and letting it ride for a future event to basically donating your entry and swag back to Guitar Ted and NY Roll so that they could try to sell the swag and recoup some of the costs they had already shelled out. Like the selfish prick I am I opted to have my name removed from the roster but wanted the hat. I just didn't know that this is what was in the mail and on it's way when I got that initial text. 


Honestly it wasn't that dickish in my head, the Real American Gravel hat went nicely with the other COG 100 hat I had from the first race in 2019 plus I have a bit of a hat collection if truth be told. As a hat collector, one as rare as this was a much desired addition and one I could not pass up. I mean come on, how many of these hats could possibly exist in the entire world? Additionally since November it has been verified that the C.O.G 100 is in fact dead for good. That bit of news along with the announcement by Guitar Ted that he was also stepping down from organizing any further events also now makes the hat a nice nostalgia piece. Something to talk about with the great, great grand kids some day. Maybe.


But it’s also a bit more than just having a cool hat really, I was determined to give the C.O.G another go in 2020 and try to redeem myself a little for the ass kicking I took in 2019. The race was always going to be difficult, it was 100 miles of gravel on a single speed after all but conditions were miserable in 2019 and that multiplied the suck factor. It had just rained the night before, it was cold and the winds were whipping across the fruited plains. You can read my post race write-up for that HERE if you so chose to read about that as I'm not going to rehashing it here. The flashbacks man, the flashbacks.

With the demise of the race I thought that the C.O.G 100 would always be my Moby-Dick, the one that got away. Instead of a big white whale biting off my leg, the race directors chomped off all my shifty bits and left me adrift in the gravel seas. Come to thinking of it, Guitar Ted does look more than a little bit like an 1800's sea captain and NY Roll sometimes smells like live bait. Kidding there, a little, but I thought I'd never get the chance to give it another go... sure I could have ridden the same course again, if I could find the cue sheets because there wasn't a GPS file out there to my knowledge. And really, what would have been the point of racing the same 66 mile failed attempt?


I felt like 2020 was going to be the year, I'd gotten into better shape than I had been in years, I figured out a way to have a lighter, more gravel worthy rig and I had a score to try and settle. No, it wasn't going to magically return all those beautiful shifty bits to my bicycle but Ahab didn't go after the white whale hoping to get his leg back either... it was about the revenge. All is not as dark as it seemed when that email hit my inbox as it turns out. In very un-GT like fashion, Guitar Ted and NY Roll released what would have been the 2020 C.O.G 100! So as it turns out I still have my chance to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, even if it's not an official C.O.G 100. Now I just need to figure out when to do it, I do want to attempt it on a single speed in the true spirit of the race but I'm opting for a much nicer time of year than March in Iowa. I suppose one could argue that is cheating a bit but as the DJ of this particular dance I can change the date as I see fit. I guess it's time to see how serious I was about tackling the C.O.G because as the saying goes; be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.

*Photos of the race were taken by Jon Duke, to the best of my recollection.*


Monday, January 18, 2021

Nomad Dave Finds A Place



Here in Nebraska we seem to be stuck in this pattern where it gets cold near midweek, snows right around or during the weekend, gets warm at the beginning of the week and then repeats itself on and endless spin cycle. That has made for some interesting riding, not to mention driving. Thursday into Friday we had ourselves an honest to goodness, humdinger of a blizzard roll through that didn't drop a ton of snow but the 60 mile an hour gusts caused a fair bit of issues for those who didn't heed the advice and decided to travel anyway. The road to Lincoln on Saturday might have been paved with good intentions but it was littered with vehicles.



When I had initially planned the ride for Saturday it was supposed to be near 50 degrees and we were supposed to ride gravel out to Malcolm to visit the new coffee shop out there. Unfortunately that didn't pan out as the weather changed faster than a flying toupee in a hurricane or blizzard as the case may be here. So, instead of slip sliding to Malcolm we dropped it low, low, low and decided to head out to see what conditions were like in Wilderness Park.



The winds blew themselves out and the sun came out but it didn't do a whole lot to warm things up very much in the early morning hours. Thankfully there wasn't a lot of snow that came with the weather so the streets were mostly in great shape with an occasional icy alley or side street.



Since we had been in a freeze/thaw pattern for a few weeks now it was very fortuitous that we did get a little bit of snow as it covered up the ice and provided just enough traction to prevent one from ending up on our collective buttocks.


Mostly, the trail under Pioneers Blvd. was an ice rink and several of us slipped a little trying to navigate the dip under and then back up on the other side.



I thought that the rest of the single track was in near perfect conditions all things considered and we rode it all the way out to the 14th Street parking lot and ran into at least another half dozen cyclist who were also zipping through. Some not even on a fat bike, I would say that anything above 2" would have been more than adequate on Saturday, if you had the skills for when you hit the occasional ice patch you surely could have dipped below that girth and been alright. To be honest this little skiff of snow might have made for the best riding in Wilderness all year so far, once the inches creep up over the five to six inch mark it makes for a lot more work. The one to two inch range gives just enough to cover the ground yet still makes laying down new tracks easy and fast. 




By the time we made it down to the southern edge of Wilderness that sun was doing it's thing and you could hear a lot more groaning and crunching of the ice beneath the snow. We popped out of the single track, hopped on the new connector bridge and high tailed it down the Rock Island and ended the ride with a hot adult cider at Saro. The perfect end to a perfect winter's day ride.









After the ride, Honeycutt and I, gained access to the shipping container houses and did a little touring. Turns out Honeycutt is going to be returning to Lincoln this spring and after touring the place has secured the one bedroom for his return. They are pretty nice places and for a person without a family and a ton of worldly possessions who also rides a bike, you can't ask for a better location.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Krusty Like The Pancake Mix




Temps had been fairly warm during the week last week, some days above freezing and the rest hovering right near that mark. This lead to some pretty significant snow melting but Saturday dipped back down below zero and was forecast to stay that way most of the day with lots of cloud cover. We headed out to see how Branched Oak's Area 7 was as far as riding was concerned.


The entirety of the single track was a mixture of crusty snow on top with dry snow underneath, add to that the frozen post holes created by foot falls and it was a slow and arduous time at best. I dressed fairly light because I figured even under the best conditions we would warm up quick, I even miscalculated that and by the time I got a quarter of the way around a loop I was down to two layers of moisture wicking fabric up top and even then I was a sweaty mess.



Even though the loop is only aobut 5 miles, there were plenty of stops to regroup and cool down. I think our over all average speed around the track was just a bit over 4 mph, yeah it was that kind of day. On the bright side the beer, or in this case cider, was kept cold and went down smooth as silk. I did note that cider in a clear cup looks more than a little like a urine sample provided by a donor not keeping up on their hydration.


Dan learned that if you roll around in the weeds, cockleburs will still stick to you even in winter.



Sunday was a chilly one and more of an urban ride but it was the first decent ride over 20 miles this year and the wheels were buried in snow either, so there's that. Warmer temps are in the forecast for this week so if that holds true there might be bigger miles in the plans for next weekend also. Tossing around some crazy ideas for next years gravel schedule so gotta get those numbers up, up and away.