Tandem, An American Love Story

In Kearney, we stayed with Pete and Mary Blickensderfer. He is a chemistry professor at local university, and she teaches part time there also. They are sixty and sixty-three and very active. They listed themselves with the League of American Bicyclists as a hospitality home and we called them yesterday. Both ride recumbents and hope to tour someday. Mary has asthma and has been very encouraged by my experience. If I can do it, she can do it.     They invited us to stay over a day and we will take them up on it. We are way ahead of schedule for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and we’re really enjoying Pete and Mary. All these hundred-degree days are taking their toll. We could use a rest-day, and need to seam-seal the tent around the floor. These clear blue skies won’t last forever.

This is a county-seat and we got in early enough for Claire to find the nearest office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service where she talked to two staff of the Central Platte Natural Resources District about irrigation and water quality issues. This is the second such office we have visited, the first being in Wyoming. She is very interested in what sorts of conservation practices and problems her colleagues are addressing across the country.

That night we sat outside to talk. It was a pleasant 85 degrees at 9:30. I’m not sure it has ever been that warm in the middle of the day at Dungeness.        The next day, Pete and Mary rode Zippy and seemed to get along well. I predict a tandem in their future, though perhaps a recumbent. They plan to retire within the next year, and take a long tour after that.

I rode one of Pete’s recumbents. I’m not ready to trade my racing single for one, but it might make a fun bike for club rides. Just what we need, more bikes, we already have six between us.

I needed a haircut and Pete took me to his barber downtown. As with all of these Great Plains towns, I love the architecture, much of it from the 20’s and 30’s. The shop reminds me of the ones I went to “get my ears lowered” when I was sporting crew-cuts and flattops. Pete’s barber gave me my best cut in years for $7. There is much that appeals about this part of America.

Late afternoon, the next day  in Chapman, the heat and humidity was beginning to coalesce into something wet and powerful. Thunderheads climbed high in the direction of Central City, the direction we were going. Lightning gave them an ominous quality in the afternoon light, and thunder rolled off them. Wind rose from the south.

We didn’t know what to do. We got conflicting opinions on whether we should go on. A local woman said the storms would be moving off ahead of us and it would be okay for us to go. Sounded good to me, but Claire wasn’t so easily convinced. She has not forgotten the close lightning strike in Montana.

We argued about the relative danger involved. I agreed with the woman that the storms were moving away from us. “But what if both of you are wrong?” Claire had a point. I remembered that lightning strike in Montana too.

It was 11 very flat miles through open fields. We decided to go for it, thinking there would be shelter somewhere along the way should we need it. I decided to go for it really, and then unfairly put Claire on the spot by giving her veto  power. That little bit of pressure made her agree to go.

After a few miles, the lightning shifted to the south of us and we couldn’t tell if the storms were going to cross our path or not.

We rode fast. The wind became harder, much harder and gusty, slowing us and making steering difficult. Claire wanted to stop, but there didn’t seem to be any shelter along the road, leaving us very exposed in the open. We pushed on.

The biggest storm appeared to be running parallel to us, but the wind became more of a problem. At times it would blow us a foot sideways, toward traffic, before I could recover. Fortunately there was a wide shoulder.

With about a mile to go, the wind was so hard from the side that our flagpole was bent almost to the horizontal. Claire pointed this out to me, in very clear language, suggesting we might stop.


“Relax,” I said. “I can handle this!”

That bit of macho was just out of my mouth when a gust hit us so hard that we were blown four feet sideways before I could recover.

“We’re stopping!” I yelled over the wind.

We were within a quarter mile of town, and we sprinted for it, heading for the lee of the first building we saw. Within minutes the storm moved east and the sun came out. We never did get wet.

Claire decided to forgive me. I had been right about the thunder and lightning, but hadn’t taken the wind into account. Big thunderstorms create massive down drafts at the edges that turn horizontal when they meet the ground, and are very gusty. I hadn’t realized how strong they could be.

We hugged and decided to agree that we both were right, and I agreed to take her storm fears more seriously.

That is pretty much how we’ve managed to deal with arguments on the trip. We always talk them out immediately and then hug and kiss. Even when we just agreed to disagree, we still have hugs. It always makes us remember why we are together to have a disagreement in the first place.

Often couples withdraw affection as long as they are in disagreement. We couldn’t deal with that. We face too many challenges and decisions each day together. We need each other’s support and love too much to leave anything unresolved.

After a down-home dinner of ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, overcooked vegetables at a diner, we inquired into places to camp. We were directed to a motel on the edge of town where the manager let us set up in a corner of their lawn. Free. I love Nebraska.

Central City is where the humidity of the midwest really began for me. I lay naked on top of our sleeping pads and sweated all night. Claire was able to sleep, but I didn’t until after three. The tent seemed wetter in the morning than if it had rained. Rain only wets the outside of a tent, humidity wets both sides.

Rogers, Nebraska Skinny

The morning of July 16, we turned north, leaving The Lincoln Highway for the first time since just past the Colorado border. We also left the Union Pacific mainline, which we will miss. We both enjoyed seeing trains all day, and hearing them all night. They were a distraction and very much a part of the landscape.

I will always see Nebraska in my mind’s eye as: blue sky and a few puffy clouds, a long straight, flat two lane road, bordered with fields of corn and soybeans, a small town in the distance, water tower on the north side of town, grain elevators on the south side beside the Union Pacific tracks, five rumbling engines pulling a long freight train toward us, an engineer waving.

We climbed away from the Platte river through rolling hills of corn and beans, and increasingly, fields of blooming clover, the scent thick and sweet in the midday heat.

The hills show off the geometric fields, tilted up on edge, beneath deep blue north skies and bright white cutout clouds. Cloud shadows slide sidelong down hills of green and gold. Bob White quail and blackbirds talk from the fence rows, cottontails peer from berry-vine coverts, and steers run to the fence to see what we are.

The roadsides are hazed blue with chicory bloom, and patches of daisy white. The scents of flowers mix with manure and farm chemical residue, hot road tar. The smells of summer.

Snyder was lovely, clapboard houses, brick storefronts on tree shaded streets, some brick. “Charming,” said Claire. I agree.

Stopped for cold drinks, and the clerk asked to take our picture for the weekly paper. We were both impressed with the town, Claire especially. “If we ever just want to escape, lets come to Snyder.” I thought it might be a good place to spend a year and write a novel. Quiet beauty, and no distractions.

We got to West Point in the heat of the day and found a place to nap in deep shade next to a brick school.

We hadn’t been napping long when…


“What was that?” said Claire.

“What was what,” I said sleepily.

“This!” she said, and held high a dripping, spent red water-balloon.

“Oh, that,” I said, then jerked awake, “what the…”

We both looked around. No one in water-balloon range. Some girls were playing half a block away, looking intently at something on the sidewalk. One of them sneaked a look in our direction, then stifled a snicker.


Soon we were joined by several Mexican American and Indian kids, full of curious questions. Claire asked who had bombed us, and a littlest and cutest girl, the one with the flashing eyes and sly smile, admitted to it. We told them we didn’t mind, but that some adults might. Solved that little mystery.

We left the kids and went to the Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church ice-cream social. Zippy turned all heads and the questions came thick and fast. They did give us time to eat pie and ice cream and dance a couple of swing numbers to a live band playing from a hay wagon stage. Only in the midwest.

The people were friendly in a reserved sort of way, like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Lutherans. I noticed the first of the upper midwest accents we have encountered.

There seemed to be some tension between these people and the Mexican Americans who are newcomers, working at a new processing facility of some sort. They are not so sure it’s a good thing for their town.

I suspect the locals, many of Scandinavian descent if the names are any indication, don’t know what to make of those full-of-life Latinos, like that water balloon throwing girl. They will probably work it out in time; some blond Scandinavian boy will take a liking to that black eyed girl and…


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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