Earlier in the summer I rode a chunk of the MoPac East trail. Not one to leave things undone I made the effort over Labor Day weekend to ride the entirety of the trail segment.
Starting at the trailhead off of 84th Street in Lincoln I headed east. Not more than 100 yards from the parking lot the pavement ends and the gravel begins. This is considered the “rural” part of the trail. What extends west of the 84th Street parking lot is paved and winds through suburban neighborhoods.
For just under 22 miles I rode until the trail just petered out:
The surface is crushed limestone. I do need to apologize for criticizing the trail conditions on my last ride because I found the trail to be well graded and the gravel to be packed nicely. Obviously, the rutted conditions that I encountered in June were a result of unusually heavy rains.
Eventually, the MoPac East trail will be extended to connect to the Platte River Connector at the Lied Platte River Bridge. From there you would be able to ride into Omaha and its network of trails.
Watch out for the yellow arrow signs in Elmwood. The signs make it appear like you need to veer off the trail into the actual city of Elmwood, but that route just takes you past a church and into a city park. The actual MOPAC East trail continues on for several miles.
A little funky trail side art to keep a smile on your face:
Something to note is that the first few miles of the trail just outside of Lincoln are heavily trafficked. The morning I headed out there was a gaggle of cross country runners from the University of Nebraska out for a training run. Past mile five or so I think I saw maybe a half dozen people on a beautiful Sunday morning.
With this ride I completed one of my goals for the year which was riding two “new to me” trails. What new trails will 2021 bring?
Labor Day weekend saw me return to Nebraska for a few days of family time and, of course, saddle time. Like last year when I rode the entirety of the Homestead Trail from Lincoln to Beatrice I had my eyes on some new trails.
I started my ride at the trailhead in Beatrice that is right off Highway 77. Heading south from Lincoln you pass through the downtown area and the trailhead is off to the left. When I parked there this past weekend there was a trailer for collecting recyclables. It’s the best landmark I could think of.
The trail is paved for a little bit east of town, but it quickly turns into well graded and packed gravel. Obligatory shot of the covered bridge a couple miles from the trailhead:
One difference between my local Iowa rail trails and the trails in Nebraska is that the Nebraska trails tend to reuse more of the rail infrastructure:
I do not know if this is an issue of bridge condition or age, but most of the trails here in Iowa that I ride have replaced railroad bridges with trail specific bridges. It’s not good or bad, just different.
The trail has very little elevation gain/loss, which is the case for all of the trails that I have ridden in the Lincoln area. I do not come from an area of much elevation gain or loss, but eastern Nebraska is really flat. You will get used to views like this:
However, the corn is looking good:
Somewhere in the second half of my ride there was an interesting sign:
This part of Nebraska was the site of the Big Blue Reservation. According to the tribe’s history life on this reservation was hard and in 1881 the tribe was moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. This sign is a reminder to me that as much as we would like to think there is permanence to settlements and society nothing is forever. What is here today can be gone tomorrow.
An element of the Chief Standing Bear Trail that needs to be commended is the infrastructure. At several spots along the trail there are restrooms, potable water, and shaded pavilions. Even though you are in a rural area these amenities make the trail a little more doable for riders not looking for the more rugged experience of gravel.
There was no rest until Kansas:
Yep, that’s the state line. A little over 22 miles from the trailhead in Beatrice you hit the border. South of the state line the trail becomes the Blue River Trail which stretches for another ~12 miles to the town of Marysville. I did not have the legs for a 60+ mile roundtrip ride this time around, but there is always next year.
If you are in the area the Chief Standing Bear trail would be my go-to recommendation for a ride. The ability to string it together with the Blue River Trail in Kansas for a 60+ mile roundtrip is just icing on the cake. About the only negative is that there did not seem like a good place in Beatrice to grab a post-ride IPA. The again with coronavirus raging I do not know if there is a good spot to grab an IPA anywhere anymore.
On the way out to Colorado to finish some trim carpentry on a friend’s vacation home I stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a reader of this blog would know I end up in Lincoln once or twice a year. Unfortunately, every time I end up in Lincoln it is usually hot and windy or hot and humid or just so hot it does not matter. It is my belief that the city of Lincoln is trying to kill me.
Stubborn to a fault, it was my mission to hit up one of the local trails that I had not ridden and see what eastern Nebraska had to offer the gravel set.
The MoPac East Trail is built on an abandoned Missouri Pacific rail line that runs for about 26 miles along its entirety. The eastern portion, hence the MoPac East, runs just under 22 miles from the eastern edge of Lincoln at the 84th Street trailhead to the town of Wabash. The difference in mileage is for the portion that runs through town and is paved.
I rode just a little over 15 miles of the 22-mile portion due to a combination a wind, heat, and lack of knowledge about the trail conditions. I did not want to find myself gassed in 90-plus degree heat facing a headwind on the return trip and end up exhausted the next morning on an eight-hour drive into the mountains. For the out and back (just over 30 miles round trip) I gained and lost ~450 feet of elevation, which squares with most trails I have ridden in the region.
The trail conditions were fairly good. I am going to attribute the rutting in some locations to the intense rainstorms that the remnant of Tropical Storm/Depression Cristobal dropped in the region. Otherwise, the trail was graded well and most of the gravel was evenly distributed.
I will note that I forgot what it is like to ride on crushed limestone. The white dust is nothing short of insidious. For whatever reason Easter Iowa trails are using less crushed limestone and more of a cleaned rock. In preparation for a paving project the northern portion of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail outside of Center Point has a packed base that has been rolled over many times. It is almost as hard as pavement at this point.
All in all, I would say that I favor the MoPac East trail over the longer Homestead Trail that I rode last year. The MoPac East’s surface conditions were better and there was enough variation to break up the long slogs. The Homestead Trail felt like a singularly long bike ride through a straight tunnel of trees.
One trail new to me down and one to go to complete my goal for the year. Where will I ride next?
Here is how things shook out for my goal of drinking local in the third quarter of 2019:
Pretty good, I think.
Really light on the packaged beer for home because I did not drink much out of cans and I had “forward bought” some beer in the second quarter that sat in my refrigerator into the third quarter. This might change in the fourth quarter.
About the only beer that was not “local” was the Firetrucker Brewery Cloud City, but that came from a brewery just two hours away in Ankeny, Iowa. Over the Labor Day weekend I was drinking local in Nebraska with Lincoln area breweries including stops at both White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company. I am hoping to make a return trip to try out a wider selection of beers and breweries.
As a note, I did not record the beers that I drank during a trip to the so-called ABC islands. Throughout the week I drank quite a few Balashi, Carib, and Polar lagers. The joke in my house is that the beer does not matter since it all tastes the same. Just order a Chango. Now, drinking Polar lagers was interesting since the company is from Venezuela so it felt a little bit like I was breaking with protocol given the state of relations with the United States.
Bikes and beers of course. Were you thinking I was going to say University of Nebraska Cornhusker football? Hah!
As a loyal University of Iowa alumnus going to spend a long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska I was not going to participate in any game day festivities. Instead I was going to attack the Homestead Trail south of town.
The route from just south of Lincoln at the trailhead off Saltillo Road southward to Beatrice is a little over 30 miles. Round trip I expected this ride to take about 4 hours assuming I could keep a consistent cadence on the gravel.
The morning started out cool and humid. How humid? Like fog dripping from the sky humid. Like trailside grasses sagging under the weight of morning dew humid. At least the trail dust was kept down by all the moisture in the air. One can really tell that it has been a wet spring and summer in Nebraska just by the density of the greenery along the trail. It is damn near jungle-esque.
Traffic on the trail was light. A few ultra-runners early on, but almost completely depopulated by mile ten. I passed a few people on bikes the rest of the way. If you want to be alone with your thoughts on a bike I highly recommend the Homestead Trail.
The trail surface was in good condition for most of its length. Somewhere around mile 20 the trail was scarred by what appeared to be quad bike tracks that whipsawed across the width of the gravel surface. It was as if someone deliberately came out after a rainstorm and dug deep tire tracks in an effort to frustrate cyclists. If so, that is just sad and belongs in the hall of shame next to the guys who “roll coal” next to cyclists at traffic stops.
I have got to be honest, the trail is a lot of this:
If it looks really flat that is because the trail is really flat. Over 60.34 miles—out and back to Beatrice—I gained a total of 479 feet. That is right, just an average of less than 8 feet of elevation gain per mile.
I made it to Beatrice:
Barn wood…it’s not just for people from Waco, Texas:
Caution: Animal Holes…my new favorite sign:
The reward for achieving my goal of riding to Beatrice and back was a trip around Lincoln to try out a few, new to me breweries. My legs were rubber after sixty miles of riding, but I was game for quick pit stop by White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company in Lincoln. Both breweries put out a well-made IPA. I really only had the energy to sample a few beers before heading to dinner and bed.
This past weekend in Lincoln was a blast…okay, spending two days in a garage driving nearly 500 2” pan head screws for a slat wall in near 100 degree heat was not a blast but I did get to ride. Specifically, I spent a morning on large chunks of the Homestead Trail and Jamaica North Trail southwest of the city.
For a lot of people this is the Homestead Trail:
Look it up “Homestead Trail” on Google and this is likely to be in almost all of the images. Yes, bridges and century old ironworks are cool but this bridge is about a mile south of the trailhead. It is not like people are really getting deep into the trail to get their shots for Instagram.
The trail runs thirty miles almost due south from the trailhead on Saltillo Road in Lincoln to Beatrice. I rode about halfway to Beatrice before a headwind really picked up and I started to get concerned about the rising temperature. It was already in the low 80s by mid-morning.
The ride reminded me a lot of what the Cedar Valley Nature Trail used to be like before it was paved all the way into Center Point. It’s not good or bad that the trail is paved. It is just different. The surface is a thin layer of crushed limestone—yay, limestone dust in every crevice—over packed dirt. There were very few ruts and it did not seem like anyone had been out when the trail was wet to cause any trouble, which is more than I can say for some of the unpaved sections of the CVNT north of Center Point. Whoever rode their fat bike on the trail and put a wandering two inch wide rut in the trail for about three miles can suck a fat one. I digress…
At about the mid-point of my ride the Homestead Trail ran parallel to Highway 77 which is a four lane divided highway from Lincoln to Beatrice. You will find yourself exposed to some serious wind in this section. Be advised.
The Homestead Trail is connected to the rest of Lincoln’s trail via the Jamaica North Trail. The Jamaica North Trail runs a little more than 6 miles north and south on the west side of Lincoln. The southern portion is crushed limestone like the Homestead Trail and the northern section is paved. I did not ride on any pavement for the portion I rode.
On a hot day this was a nice ride because it was shaded by thick vegetation. The gnats were not even that bad on the day that I rode. It was even too hot to eat a Runza.
Right now the biggest issue with this great trail pair is that most of the southern portion of Lincoln is isolated from the trail via active railroad tracks. There is a fundraising effort underway to build a link connecting these trails to the existing Rock Island Trail near Densmore Park. One can never have enough trails.
If you find yourself heading to Lincoln grab your adventure bike and get out on the trails. The Great Plains Trails Network has some excellent maps to guide you on your way.
Remember, where the pavement ends is where unlimited possibility begins.
We are entering a new dystopia. It’s a few steps before the Handmaiden’s Tale, but it is not so far off as to be improbable. Don’t believe me? Recently, the Alabama senate allowed a church to establish its own police force. You can talk to me all day long about sharia law, but I am much more worried about evangelicals pushing their putrid stew of erroneous religiosity. And Donald Trump, our fearless flaccid cantaloupe of a leader, signed an executive order to remove restrictions on a church’s ability to be active politically.
Add into this mess the talk about making it easier for public figures to sue for libel and you have a runway to the apocalypse.
On to the links…
The Drivers Behind Flattening CO2 Emissions—It’s like we got a short reprieve from CO2 emissions increasing, but those drivers are not likely to continue driving any flattening in the long term. The only long term answer is a move toward a fossil fuel free economy.
Once and for All: Obama Didn’t Crush US Coal, and Trump Can’t Save It—Now that right wing reactionaries can no longer rely on the “other” that was Barack Obama they will have to answer why everything they do does not bring back coal jobs. Oh right, natural gas killed goal. Oh right, automation killed coal jobs. Oh right, you guys were full of shit and spent eight years bloviating about a war on coal.
Saving Coal Country by Ending Coal’s Empire—In all the rhetoric about coal jobs leaving coal country there has been little discussion about the abusive practices of coal companies toward their workers. There is a reason why coal country was a hotbed of militant worker organization.
Portland to Use Sewage Gas to Shift Away from Diesel—What kind of potential exists to do this in cities like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago? Portland has a population of approximately 620k people compared with approximately 8.5m for New York, 3.9m for Los Angeles, and 2.7m for Chicago. That is a lot of poo gas.
The Wine Industry’s Battle with Climate Change—Vineyards are agriculture’s canary in the coal mine, so to speak, given the touchy nature of high end grape production. Many varieties of grapes were bred to grow in particular micro climates that may not exist in the near future.
Did you see the details of Donald Trump’s tax “reform” plan? Okay, details were sparse because it read like an objectivist’s children’s book on tax reform. Taxes…bad! Corporations…good! If you want to know how this story plays out look at Kansas. Maybe that is not the comparison that Trump and the Hucksters would like you to make, but it is the most apt corollary.
On to the links…
Is Wind Power Saving Rural Iowa or Wrecking It?—Most people I know who live in rural Iowa are wind power proponents. Lease payments have allowed people to continue to maintain farms in lean years when crop prices fall. However, there are those who consider the turbines a blight. I think that the important question to ask is what these communities would look like without wind power. There was nothing else that was going to fill the economic void.
Windblown: MidAmerican Zeroes in on 100% Renewable Energy—Iowa, as a whole, may get nearly 37% of its electricity from the wind but utility MidAmerican, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, is closing in on getting 100% of its juice from the wind. That seems like something worth celebrating.
Going Green Shouldn’t be this Hard—No one is saying we need to whole hog embrace a hair shirt lifestyle cold turkey. Incremental improvement across a broad swath of areas is the key to lasting and meaningful change.
New York’s Bold New Plan To Expand Solar Energy—This is not a sunny state we are talking about taking the solar challenge. The projects in this initiative will increase the solar production in the state by 68%. Imagine a five year trend where growth was 68% per year…damn, that would be a 1,338% increase. Too amazing to even imagine.
China Says Build More Solar Now—Some days I wonder what it would be like to control a command economy. You can tell me China is capitalist or communist all day long, but it is really a capitalist command economy which is such a strange thing. I could just say build more solar and wind, but no more of those coal fired power plants.
A Call to Action Against a Predator Fish—Along with Asian carp, is there a worse invasive species than the lionfish? These things are like the perfect storm of an invasive species. Fried lionfish bites anyone?
Everything But The Squeal: How The Hog Industry Cuts Food Waste—Using every part of the animal for some type of product is how the industrial ag machine stays profitable. It’s the same way with oil refining. Making gas and diesel keeps the lights on, but the other products are where the refinery gets into the black.