Riding the Sandhills of Nebraska

In a few weeks, I will be one of the Ride Captains for the Women’s Freedom Rally, leading a group starting in Sioux Falls. We will spend the night in Lincoln, then ride on to Topeka, where we will set the World Record for the most women on motorcycles in one place at the same time.
This is a serious event to raise money for veterans and our company is a major sponsor.
So, I need to get in shape. Friday, I got a late start after lunch and rode I-80 to North Platte where I spent the night. I was not the only one fleeing the city for the holiday. Traffic was solid in both lanes as far as the eye could see. Normally, it thins out around York. Not today, folks.
From North Platte, I mapped out a route through the Sandhills. I took I-80 on west to Ogallala, then turned north to Hyannis. This is a very unique road. It is 75 miles long, with only ONE intersection, in the town of Arthur. Otherwise, it’s just you, the virgin prairie and blue skies.
There are many places where there are no signs that civilization has ever touched it. No power poles, no homes, no signs, no rest stops, no Taco Bells and no merging traffic. In 75 miles, I only saw about a dozen cars coming the other way. Pretty much no one was going my way. I’m certain they were, of course, but arithmetic told me that cars were roughly 6 miles apart.
Riding a motorcycle is unique, in that it involves all 4 appendages. Clutch for left hand, front brake and throttle for right hand, rear brake for right foot and shifter for left foot.
It also involves all your senses. Naturally, sight (which is supposed to be used mainly for texting and Facebook), sound, feel (for the vehicle’s interaction with the roadway), smell (which is lovely, pure clean air in the Sandhills. The air is so clean that you can smell water) and, finally taste, which is for the native bugs of the area. (biker joke).
So, I’m loving this trip. The sky was clear, the temperature perfect and the whole scene is serene. Riding a bike is an experience like no other, as you are exposed on all sides and can see many things that just can’t be seen and experienced in a car.
Like a rattle snake curled up in the middle of the road. Holy Jeminy! I’m riding right down the center of the lane. The soft sandhills often erode the right edge of the pavement, so it’s not always a good idea to ride on the extreme right edge of the road. In this case, the road is coming apart due to expansion and contraction, so there are cracks and bumps at regular intervals.
The left side of the lane is bumpy from traffic. The very center of the lane is reasonably smooth. I set the cruise control on 68 mph, the speed limit is 60. The bike loves this speed and cruises with no effort. There is no wind, I mean no wind of any kind. Every body of water which I see is just like a mirror.
So, back to the snake. Yes, YIKES!, a rattlesnake, curled up in the center of the road. By the time you perceive that there is anything that minute in the road, you’re pretty much on it. I mean, I saw something in the road about 2 seconds ahead, but it wasn’t anything of substance. A piece of rope, a rubber drive belt off a vehicle, but not a log, a dead possum or a piece of lumber. Nothing that would present a risk to a bike.
As I am now on a collision course with a snake, suddenly I can see the dark brown diamond pattern on a light brown body. It’s right in the middle of the road, right where I’m riding. My legs are open on the side of my bike. I have no opportunity to swerve or to avoid the snake.
I am only able to quickly life my feet up slightly as I run over the snake. Thump-thump and I’m right on down the road. I’ve seen photos of snakes that ended up stuck to the underside of a motorcycle. I took a quick look.
I am so *not* stopping to inspect the underside of my bike to see if I have a very unhappy rattler that has checked in as an undocumented passenger.
I am literally shaking at what has just happened. If that snake wasn’t dead before, it’s had a rough day now.
This is just one reason that I always wear protective gear. I have heavy motorcycle boots and I mean heavy boots. I wear jeans lined with kevlar, which probably won’t stop a bullet, but will resist shredding in a slide, leather coat, leather gloves and a full face helmet.

Part 2

It would appear that I am the only living being aboard the bike. I settle down and enjoy the ride. The sky is brilliant blue and there are but a few clouds scattered here and there.

The pavement is brand new on the road and the bike rolls along very smoothly. The old road can be easily seen to the side. Engineering progress is in stark contrast to days of old. The old road has zero shoulder. If one had to change a tire, it would be done right in the roadway, as the drop off the pavement is sharp. I rode this old, original road and I have vivid recollections of soil (sand) erosion in places where the water ran off the pavement.

The old road is extremely narrow, only wide enough to allow antique vehicles to pass each other. The roadway was mostly pavement laid over the ground, with not much preparation over hill and dale.

The new road has a well prepared graded roadway. Sides of the hills have been shaved away and the soil used to raise the road above dips and to prevent water flowing across the road in low places. There are shoulders now. The new roadway is nearly 4 times as wide as the original.

Soon, I encounter road construction. Then, the new pavement gives way to what was before, a patched, pock marked old country road. I’m glad I’ve got good suspension on this bike, as it’s being challenged by road surface. I slow down and now have to pay attention to obstacles. I’m on a slalom course now. It’s kind of fun to swerve back and forth, seeking flat ground.

This is a road that doesn’t see much traffic. I’m still enjoying seeing undisturbed grass land and occasional herds of cattle near the fence. They are curious as I pass and their gaze is fixed upon me as I ride by.

The little cowlets are sticking close to their moms. They are only a few months old and are the hardy ones who survived the recent blizzards that took the lives of many of the herd. It all seems like a dream now, as the grass is lush and green.

The Sandhills are really sand and are left over from the sea that covered this area long ago. When the water left, the wind blew the sand into ever shifting dunes. This is one of the largest areas of wind blown sand in the world.

The grass took hold and the buffalo thrived. The bison ate the grass and their droppings fertilized the soil. There were millions of them at one time.

I’ve been told that there is something highly unique and nutritious about the grass that grows here. It is apparently unlike any other place on earth. There are no native trees, as fires started by lightning kept them from thriving. The cattle that grow here are of amazing quality. It’s easy to see, as they appear to be well fed, with nice, thick coats that look like they are groomed daily. There is lots of room for each cow and they are free to roam all over. In fact, the grass shows no sign of ever having been grazed. There are no bare spots. It appears the ranchers have done a great job of determining how many cattle the land will support and are careful to preserve the land that is their resource.

Mile after lovely mile I ride, enjoying the majesty of this natural land. The rough road smooths out some as I see a 45 mph speed limit sign. I always observe the exact speed limits in small towns. I downshift and slow to 45. As I round a corner, I see a group of people standing. It’s a cemetery and they’re holding a service. Out of respect for the group, I slow way down and keep my bike as quiet as I can while I do my best to pass unnoticed.

I ride by and soon I’m in the little town of Arthur, Nebraska. Main street is 3 blocks long and I’m stretching that. I pass the Bunkhouse saloon, which is closed at this time. There is also a log cabin from the 1800s.

I ride out of town and open up the throttle back to my cruising speed. The road is not straight at all. It twists and winds through the hills. It meanders between the hills most of the time. There are places where the hills open up to a wide valley and you can see for miles. As I round a curve, I can see something in the road in the distance. As I get closer, there are 2 pronghorn antelope just standing smack dab in the middle of the road. I get on the brakes and slow down quickly. They turn and see me almost close enough to ride them and that sets them into flight mode. I chuckle as I see the first one duck under a fence, followed by the second. They were just being lazy, as I believe they can clear a 6 foot fence if they want to. Then, they’re off and running. They are very fleet footed and cover ground effortlessly in a hurry.

I stop and take their place on the road. There is no traffic and I mean *no* traffic. I watch them run. I’ve visited with many antelope hunters and those critters can run for miles without even slowing down. As I’ve traveled, it’s not uncommon to see them grazing quietly among the cattle.

I crank the throttle on the Electra Glide and accelerate quickly. The giant Harley is a monster machine, capable of going from zero to sixty in under 4 seconds. My backrest pushes hard against my hips to keep the bike from jumping out from under me. I love this. It’s a serious rush of adrenaline as I can feel the front wheel nearly lift off the ground at every shift. OK, so four seconds is up, fun is over. Back to cruising. This is one place I’m not likely to get a citation for exhibition of speed, especially since I do observe the speed limit.

As I top the next hill, my heart sinks as I see the sign warning of a stop sign ahead. Phooey. That means this part of the ride is over. Time to head into Hyannis for gas.

As I ease up to the stop sign, I’m looking straight at a lake. I mentioned before that there was no wind. It’s extremely rare to see a body of water as smooth as glass, but this was it. The reflection of the opposite shoreline was a perfect picture in the water.

As I made the turn, I saw a closely bunched flock of white swans swimming tightly together. Wait a minute. There aren’t any swans around here. The perfect “S” curve of the neck was distinctive. As I looked closer, I could see long yellow beaks sticking down in front. They were pelicans. It was a beautiful sight.

The gas station in Hyannis is sort of a combination fast food place, with a little bit of grocery store built in. We are a long way from much civilization here. We are so far away, (how far are we?) that the last time I stopped here, they didn’t have credit card machines on the gas pumps. You just pulled up, pumped the gas and walked inside. They sometimes used binoculars to read the amount of the pumps.

This time, they’ve gone full modern. They not only have credit card processors on the pumps, they have real live TV. Golllly!

I’ll stop here and pick up this story later.
This story and much more can be found on my website:

Preparing to Ride in the 2019 Women’s Freedom Rally

We are about 7 weeks out and are getting a LOT of questions about the exact route and precise details of the ride schedule. For many, there may be comfort in knowing the exact time we will arrive and depart any given place.

I’m one of the Ride Captains and here is my answer:
This all sounds great, but it doesn’t matter. 🙂 First, we have security issues. We need to be absolutely certain that every woman on this ride is part of the group and has signed a waiver. Every rider has already been carefully screened to reduce the chances of trouble. Believe me, there are some people we don’t want near this ride. Posting a schedule invites anyone to tag along and blend in. Second, every stop, every cafe, every route needs to be ridden ahead of time. In case you haven’t read the papers lately, we’ve had massive flooding in Nebraska and Iowa. There are roads and bridges gone. Other Ride Captains and I have met and gone over potential routes. She and I are both experienced Road Captains. Between us, we’ve already ridden much of the route. Some of the places that I think would make for great stops have been affected by the flood, others only open for the summer. You will just have to believe in your Ride Captains and let them work. In past years, ride routes have been routinely changed and adjusted overnight. 🙂 It’s only a short distance each day. We are working hard to put together a ride that is far more than just getting from one place to another. We are working to help you experience memories that will live with you for a long time and we want those memories to be great ones. So, please be patient and work to get yourself ready. In the meantime, Dream and Believe. <3 Our fabulous experience will be on us in no time and just like that, it will be over.

Next, get your bike ready.

There are less than 5 weeks to go. It is time to take your bike to a very good shop or mechanic and have it completely serviced and inspected. Tires are critical. We may have to ride in the rain. Yes, we ride if it’s raining.

🙂 Be certain your tire tread has been measured and the sidewalls checked for cracks. The drive belt should be inspected and drivebelt tension checked. We do not have the liberty of a friendly chase vehicle with a warm trailer to pick you up in the event of bike trouble. In addition, please ask them to check your spoke tension on the wheels for loose spokes and the wheels for being straight and true. Also, please get the battery checked. Any battery that is 5 years or older should be replaced. Every ride I’ve been on has involved some sort of bike trouble, so let’s all do what we can to be prepared. Thank you and, like all of you, I’m looking forward to a great ride.

5 Weeks to go: This is getting to be fun, now. We are getting wound up. People are now getting worried about different things. Our greatest fears are the unknown. Perhaps some of you have been dropped from a group or left behind, belittled because you have a small bike or lack experience. Terrified because you were made to ride with bullies.

Here’s what you need to understand. First off, you have Ride Captains who are the bomb. We have been there, done that and ridden in every situation there ever was. Second, we love you and care about you. Our job is to see you there safely and we know exactly how to do it. We will protect you and teach you.

You will leave this ride a far better rider than you came in. Depending on conditions, you may be challenged as a rider, but we will help you.

What you need to do is read every word we post and take it to heart. If we ask for information, it’s because we need to know. We will tell you when to get up and when to ride, where to stop for gas and where to eat. You will have the time of your lives, because we have planned it all out.

We will be giving you instruction on how to prepare, how to pack, how to ride and what to bring. Please humor us and play along. It’s imperative that everyone follow directions without question and trust your leadership.

This is not a huge deal, as we only have 2 mornings and 2 full days of riding. We also have 2 nights of parties on the way. There are thousands of people following our adventure and you are part of a very special group, with an admirable mission.

Don’t bring any gas cans. We’re not crossing the Mojave desert. 🙂

We’ll be posting photos showing how to pack your bike and giving you exercises to do with your bike so you are prepared when we hit the road.

That said, it will be a good idea to practice some highway riding. We will have a short stretch of Interstate, but it will be near the end of the ride. Mostly, it will be rural 2 lane scenic highways.

While we need to be very clear that there is no drinking while we are riding and this includes our parties at the Harley Dealers, once we park the bikes, fun is on your own. All we ask is that your fun doesn’t affect your ability to ride the next morning. Please don’t break the chandeliers. 🙂

There are a LOT of Ride Captains involved. We love you and can’t wait to ride with you. Thank you for being part of this great adventure. Oh, I forgot. Woot! 😁

Time to talk about packing for the trip. This is how I started on my first Women’s Freedom Ride in 2017. I had a Fat Boy, which is a soft tail. I bought the large Harley luggage bag and the medium size bag.

I had to carry 2 weeks of clothing, a coffee pot and a spare helmet for a potential passenger.

As you can see, this puts a lot of weight up high on the bike. Riding solo for the first time on an overnight trip, I tipped over at a gas stop. Fortunately, people came to help me.

Although I had learned to lift my bike upright from a tipover, I was not prepared for the additional weight, which was also leveraged to be far heavier when tipped.

First lessons: Put the heavy stuff down low. Whatever is up high will make it far too easy to tip. Next, load up and ride all over in the next few weeks to become accustomed to how your bike will feel and handle, because it will be a lot different.

Next, be certain that your stuff is very secure. Try to pull it off after it’s strapped on, because gravity, vibration and bumps will be doing that for you. Find your luggage weaknesses now and learn to secure your stuff.

Finally, don’t bring stuff you won’t need. We’re only on the road less than a week. Allow LOTS of extra room in your luggage, because you’ll be buying tee shirts, hats, clothing and antique bird cages. You’ll need room for them.

So, pack up, load your stuff with rocks and start practicing.

Rain Gear–great discussion. First, don’t go too cheap if you don’t have to. We will be riding, even if it rains. This may mean that we end up in heavy rain, as it’s not always possible or safe to pull over in the event the rain comes up while we’re on the road.

Pretty much anything will keep you dry for a short sprinkle while sitting still, even a blue tarp from the closeout store. But think about a downpour at 65 mph. The wind will rattle the fabric and the seams will be tested.

Be sure to select a coat size that will fit over your leather jacket, as the weather often cools during rain. I recently discovered that my summer rain jacket doesn’t fit over my heavy winter coat. Oops.

Next, the pants, oh, yes, the pants from Hell. They all look good on a hanger, but check the ease of getting into them. My first pair were a 10 minute project to put on. Now, I have a pair with zippers all the way up to the waist. This mean they don’t get caught on my boots slipping into them and I can put them on quickly.

Pants that take a long time to put on my mean that you’re soaked to the skin by the time you’re wearing them, which only serves to keep you wet, even when the rain stops.

Last thing, possibly most important–visibility. Get BRIGHT colors and lots of reflective area.

Here’s how you do it. Take a photo of the gear without the flash. Then, turn the flash on and take a second photo. When you compare the two pictures, your choices can be clearer.

The Color Purple

Our official color for all WFR events is purple. Jazz dyes her hair purple, we get our nails done purple, we wear purple bandanas and also tie them to our bikes. This enables us to show that we are a unified group and helps us find our bikes. 🙂 Walmart sells purple bandanas for a buck apiece, but in my wide travels across the country, purple bandanas are not in vogue at every store.

At any rate, please stock up on purple.

3 weeks to go and we’ll be asked, “Will we ride in the rain?”. Our answer, “We have a schedule and we ride”.

This is a more detailed analysis of riding in the rain.

So how do you learn how to ride in the rain? Great question. First off, no one looks out the window, sees a downpour and says, “What a great day! Let’s go ride motorcycles”.
A “cruiser” class bike is built so you can leave home, cruise around and go home that night. Luggage has to be strapped to the bike, exposed to the elements. A “touring” bike has lots of hard, waterproof, locking compartments and is designed for long travels involving overnight stays.
Generally, you’ll learn to ride in rain when you get caught in it. 🙂 I know, it sounds dumb, but it’s true.
First thing, everything in your luggage should be in plastic bags. That way, the luggage gets wet, but the contents don’t.
Next, you need to have rain gear. Well, duh. OK, you not only need to have it, you need to be able to get it on and off easily and quickly. You’ll find that your boots will not slide easily into the pant legs. They’ll snag and stick and you’ll cuss.
It’s critically important that you learn to put your rain gear on in the comfort of your living room, so you know how it works, how to secure it and fit it to your little body.
Here’s the real secret to riding in the rain and rain gear. You have to put rain gear on BEFORE you ride. There is no such thing as pulling over to put it on. First off, you’ll be killed when you get run over on the shoulder of the road and, if not, you’ll be soaked to the skin before you get your gear on, anyway.
What you’ll discover is that putting on rain gear dissipates rain clouds. Just as sure as you put it on, it won’t rain. But failure to put it on often angers the Rain Goddess, who will show you why you should have. 🙂
My first experience riding in the rain was in my second week of riding. I had an appointment to get some work done to my newly-acquired bike at a dealer 50 miles away. It was a simple job and could be done while I waited. The forecast called for rain. I almost called to change the date and then said to myself that I would have to learn to ride in rain and the only way I would do that was to ride in it.
Off I went. There was no rain, but as soon as I arrived, it started to sprinkle ever so lightly. I wandered over to the clothing section and said, “So, you got anything for rain outfits?” I got all fixed up.
Bike got done, no rain yet, but the clouds looked threatening. I put on the Harley brand rain gear and headed home. As soon as I turned on to the highway home, the sky unzipped and torrential rain ensued. Not just rain, but strong, gusting winds, blowing me sideways. I barely knew how to ride, much less handle this.
I’d been sold a cute little “salad bowl” helmet. It was a real helmet, but offered no protection for my face or ears. It felt like metal darts were hitting my face. My glasses got splattered with rain drops, as did the windshield. Basically, I was now blind, except for finding the outside lines on the road. I was riding about 45 mph and doing my best to stay upright and in the lane.
I was surprised that the bike held the road well. There was no skidding or slipping. Of course, I was easy on the gas and the brakes, especially the front brake. I gained confidence as I rode. The bike was performing wonderfully and I was doing a great job handling the side wind. My face was another issue, entirely, as it continued to get pummeled with darts.
I tensed up as I entered a highway curve. I was barely competent to take those on clear sunny days, but here I was in driving rain. Once again, I couldn’t believe it, but the bike went right around that curve, completely ignoring rain and wind.
So, now about 30 miles into this, I was strutting my stuff. I was riding in the rain. Me. I wasn’t just riding in it, I was owning it. I had just realized that the biggest part of riding in the rain was the fear of riding in the rain. I no longer feared it.
I was actually enjoying the smell of fresh rain. I was watching the rain come down, much like the joy of sitting on an outdoor porch, watching the rain. Only I was moving and seeing the sights. Trees were flexing in the wind, the ditches in the road were carrying water, as were the streams and creeks.
The bike didn’t care. The engine purred confidently, as the fuel and ignition systems were unaffected by moisture. The tires held the road well, even through puddles. The water splashed up around the bike, but never seemed to hit me directly.
Soon, just as quickly as it had come up, the rain stopped. I was almost home now. The one thing that ticked me off was that as I was pulling into home, the streets had become dry.
My sacred Angel, the Goddess of Safe Biking, had just put me through a valuable riding lesson. I had just passed one of her first tests and earned my first of many quality rider tests–beginning rain riding.
As I took off my rain suit, I realized that it had worked wonders and I was as dry as a cheap piece of truck stop toast.
And THAT is how I learned to ride in the rain.

This is a more detailed analysis of riding in the rain.