Cycling The Empty Quarter

“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”  -John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I don’t think that there’s ever a bad time or place to be on a bicycle, but some places are naturally better than others.  Take the Upper Middle West, the region of the country I call home.   I personally think this is the best place for cycling anywhere.  That’s a big part of the reason we’re here.

Wedged inauspiciously between the Midwest and Colorado’s Front Range, this is flyover country.  It’s also “drive across” county.  Few people currently live here and those who do are leaving.  Those passing through often view this region as an annoyance…hundreds of empty miles separating home from where they’re heading.  Few linger.  Eighty on eighty…that’s their mantra.   The Rockies are out there just over the horizon and they can’t come soon enough.  Deliver us, oh Lord, from this empty wasteland.

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The Empty Quarter…Denver, Kansas City and Minneapolis St. Paul are on the periphery.  Jefferson (star) is on the eastern edge.

That’s precisely what makes it so great for those of us who live and cycle here.  When you look at these pictures, it’s hard to miss the absence of motor vehicles.  On any given day, I see a handful, no more.  Doesn’t much matter if I go a mile or 100 miles.  Doesn’t much matter if I’m rolling on smooth pavement or rough rocks.  If you’d rather not bicycle around people in cars or trucks, this is your place.

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Storm clouds on the big horizon, Greene County Iowa
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Montana may have the cred, but our skies hold their own.

It’s beautiful out here.  This is deliciously ironic since so many people don’t see it.  I can’t begin to describe it.  You have to come and experience it for yourself.  Part of it is the stillness.  I’ve written about it before.  I call it “blessed” and it is.  Another part of it is the wildlife.  I rousted a coyote out of a roadside ditch yesterday. The canine took off at full speed and ran and ran and ran. It was terrified of me.  The countryside was wide open and so I was able to observe. It’s one thing to hear somebody in a white coat explain how creatures in the natural world are fearful of man.  It’s another thing to see it with your own two eyes.

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High plains drifting, April 2016
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Near Sidney, Nebraska Panhandle.  Give me the slow road.

I’ve moved a lot in my life and I sometimes find myself worrying that Jefferson is going to grow. Local boosters want growth.  Me, not so much.   If they get their wish, I’ll have to move again.   The math is not in my favor.  There are seven billion of us sharing space and tomorrow there will be more.  We all have to go somewhere.

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Oh, yeah.   Let’s roll.
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Winter sunset, Happy Jack Road, Wyoming

And so I find myself exploring on Google Maps…looking west by northwest and learning about other places that might be worth living if it ever gets too crowded here.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in any rush.  That said, some things are just too good to bend on.  This is one of them.  Cycling out here is pure joy.  I hope  you get to experience it someday, whether as a resident or visitor.

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