Well, if you’re reading “Chapter 2”, then “Chapter 1” couldn’t have been that bad. Now it’s on to:
Chapter 2: Nebraska has a National Forest?
It seems that any time we want to head east in our RV, the fates conspire to force us to drive the entire width of Nebraska on I-80. OK. Maybe it’s not the fates. Maybe it’s just Google Maps. And Garmin. And Magellan. And Tom-Tom. And Waze.
Seriously. Any time we’ve mapped out a way to an Eastern destination, the first step is always “Get on I-80 East and drive one bazillion miles.” Try it yourself and see. Salt Lake City to Forest City, Iowa: Drive across Nebraska on I-80. Salt Lake City to Ypsilanti, Michigan: Drive across Nebraska on I-80. Salt Lake City to Louisville, Kentucky: Drive across Nebraska on I-80. Salt Lake City to Cleveland! Atlanta! TAMPA FREAKING FLORIDA! Drive across Nebaska on I-80.
Last month, when we were planning a trip back to Forest City, Iowa to visit with our Winnebagan friends, I was very determined not to drive all the way across Nebraska on I-80. So, like any good 21st century explorer, I started by looking at Google Maps, and looking for something that looked “interesting”.
Maybe it’s because I’m an RVer, but when looking at a map like this, I tend to equate “green” with “interesting” and so I gravitate towards the green areas. There weren’t too many of them between Salt Lake and Forest City, but the green splotches in the northwest corner of Nebraska got my attention. Zooming in, I saw it was the Nebraska National Forest.
Wait… They have forests in Nebraska?? Who knew?! Maybe it’s because the only thing I’ve seen of Nebraska is I-80 (about 35 times), but I just assumed all of Nebraska looked about like this
But as I turned on “Earth” view and looked closer, I could see it really was a forest. So I took a bird’s eye tour of the forest for a while and picked what I thought looked like a good boondocking spot.
Now, I had no idea if the spot was interesting, infested with mosquitoes, or even accessible with our non-4WD Travato. Didn’t matter. That’s where I wanted to go.
Now one thing I could tell right away was that there were about 10 miles or so of dirt roads to get into this place. So immediately, I knew we wouldn’t be riding our road bikes. But we do have what we affectionately refer to as our “crap bikes”. Mine is a 45 pound mountain bike I got off the local want ads for $20, and Stef’s is a non-suspension hybrid bike she got back when she was in college. These seemed perfect for the Nebraska National Forest.
So we resolved to bring them. This meant that bikes outnumbered people on this trip by 2:1. Our hyper-expensive road bikes rode inside, and the “crap bikes” rode out on the Fiamma bike rack. We’d never traveled with four bikes before. This would be fun.
But before we headed off into the wilds of the Nebraska National Forest, we had an errand to run. When I sold Das Bus, her new owners didn’t want the extra set of Sprinter rims I had. So I had been listing them on eBay and they had finally sold earlier that week – to someone in Laramie, Wyoming. By sufficiently contorting our trip, I realized I could drop the rims off in Laramie and save about $80 in UPS shipping charges. The buyer agreed, and our plan was hatched.
But of course, things never quite work out smoothly with us. For one thing, we’re pretty much always late. (I blame Stef.) We always have the best intentions of starting early and driving during the day, but it never happens. So when we rolled into Laramie, it was about 11:30pm. The fellow who bought the wheels told us to just leave them on his porch. But when you’re doing that close to midnight, it’s really hard not to look… criminal…
We managed not to get arrested, and headed to our four-star accommodations at the Laramie Wal-Mart for the night.
The next morning when we got up (late, as always), I would have been content to just swallow an energy bar and hit the road, but Stef insists on feeding me “healthy food” with “real ingredients.” (Imagine me saying that in a nasal-ly voice and making exaggerated sarcastic air quotes.) So I had to eat this instead.
Well after that, it was off to the Nebraska National Forest, which is near Chadron, Nebraska. Apparently, the city was founded by two guys, Chad, and Ron. Ron technically arrived first. They initially couldn’t agree on the name but eventually Chad won because “Ronchad” sounds even sillier than Chadron.*
*None of that is true.
Anyway, once you get to Ronchad, “you go out past the fur museum and take a right on the dirt road. Then take another right down another dirt road that you probably won’t see.” Those were the actual directions I was given by a local. I wondered exactly how to turn down a road I didn’t see, but we headed on down past the fur museum anyway.
As it turns out, the dirt roads weren’t that bad. The first one was a piece of cake. And the second one started out like this:
And then turned into this
And finally, we arrived at this:
It might be a small thing, but I was totally stoked that we actually got to spend the night at a place I just picked off of Google Earth. If we had any doubts about the ground clearance of our Travato, they were unfounded – at least for this trip. And we really couldn’t have done it with any bigger RV than a Class B. This place was quiet, and awesome.
It was also a great place to set out for some mountain biking – which was pretty much the first thing Stef and I did after landing there. We rode on some terrain that looked very much Nebraska-y:
And we found ourselves in some places that were very much not Nebraska looking.
And we found a snake, whereupon Stef was very glad that I didn’t have a stick, because, well, poking things with a stick is just in my DNA.
After a day of riding, we headed back to Lance, showered up, and made Chinese food. It was a very incongruent dining choice, I know. It should have been grilled meats of some sort, but hey, whatever.
And after a very peaceful night in the middle of the forest, we awoke – late – and broke camp (which consisted of starting Lance’s engine) and took our four bikes towards our third state, which we’ll cover in Chapter 3.