Thursday, May 17, 2007

Across Nebraska and Wyoming, the theme is "Clean Coal"


Coal-fired power plant on the North Platte River at East Glenrock, Wyoming


At about 2:30 a.m., I had to pull on my long underwear. It was cold - somewhere in the 30s. Packed up by 7:30. Birds, bull frogs, dogs (at a nearby house) and the highway noise creating quite a soundscape this morning.

I paid the $8 "camping fee", but disregarded an additional $4 per vehicle "registration" fee. I wrote a check, so they can pursue me if they must. When using public campgrounds around the country, I struggle with the "injustice" of being expected to pay the same fees as a family in a motor home (or even two or more families sharing the same site), who have come to "recreate" for the day (or days), while I have a substantially lighter impact on services and facilities, and usually only remain overnight. Usually, I end up subsidizing them! I don't like justifying my actions, but wish camping rates in general were fairer for us lone (and low-impact) travelers. So, when given the opportunity, I end up "compromising".

In Albion, I searched all over town for a place to get some breakfast. On the southeast edge of town, I found a treat: The Brewed Bean. This new little coffee house is "just my speed". It's new – just opened last fall - and operated by three women – all farmers’ wives, I suspect. I don’t feel like such a wimp – they all talked about how unusually cold it is, and how they're growing tired of it.

Savoring a freshly-baked cinnamon roll with thick, gooey white sugar frosting and a good cappuccino, I listened in on the chatter. Most of the customers were women, and friends and acquaintances.

"There was frost last night...tonight’s the last show Bob Barker’s on - gotta watch it (I watched him as a kid)...I was supposed to be a trucker, my personality (analysis) fit a trucker…it's supposed to be in the 80s tomorrow..."

I mentioned that placing a sign on highway 91 might help their business. Travelers passing through Albion on the main highway are likely to miss this shop. “Another customer told us that too. We’ll have to look into it.”

What a surprise to find this out here. When it comes to coffee shops, a true transformation is taking place across America! (OK, so I get a little passionate about the subject.)

I had to thaw out a bit, so I lingered. The wind is out of the south today, but just as strong, and just as cold as yesterday's. (Too late,) one of the proprietors invited me to stay as long as I wanted. “Time to move on.”

People wave in Nebraska! Mostly it’s the men, and mostly it’s in the form of an index finger wagging above from the steering wheel. But it’s still an acknowledgement, which I find refreshing.

There appears to be a vigorous tree-planting campaign underway in Nebraska. Across the land there is an amazing number of small cedars popping up in pastures and fields, and along highways. It's taking place on a massive scale. Is this a soil-retention effort? A carbon sequestration effort? A future source of lumber?

And in the pastures, many calves, colts and baby goats. It’s the season – everything is done on a schedule.

"The Loup River Byway", highway 91, ends at Nebraska highway 2, "The Sand Hills Byway". Before noon, I turned northwest and it was a joy to finally feel the wind at my back. It was just starting to warm, but I kept the electric vest on to cover a long-running "heat deficit" from the cold morning run.



Across Nebraska (and, later, into Wyoming) these tracks were busier than any I've ever seen.


Probably around 90% of the eastbound traffic was coal from Wyoming's enormous coal mines near Gilette. Each train was about 120 rail cars in length, and I passed dozens today.

I couldn't help but wonder at Dick Cheney's Wyoming connection and the Administration's recent promotion of "Clean Coal" as a key component of "America's Energy Independence"



Most of the coal cars I saw were new, suggesting America's enthusiastic investment in "clean coal"



Railyard at Alliance, Nebraska. Loaded coal cars are eastbound, empties are bound for Wyoming's coal mines.


By the time I reached Alliance, Nebraska, it was 80 degrees, and out came the motorcycles. Descended into the dry and hazy Scottsbluff basin. The air is filled with the stink of stockyards and an unhealthy haze. The land looks trashy.

On first impression, an unremarkable place, except for the wall of thunderstorms looming over the mountains southwest of the city. The vision urged me to keep moving, and not in that direction.



Across Wyoming, I was altering my path to avoid thunderstorms


9:00 PM

I'm camped south of Buffalo, Wyoming, high in the grassy hills east of Interstate 25. I followed Reno Road, wondering if it were named after an encampment, or trail leading to the Little Bighorn? My camp is far off any road, just on the east side of a crest, so I’m out of sight, and unlikely to be bothered.

In the twilight sky, the palest crescent moon gave rise to a sense that, for too long, I’ve missed looking up at the night sky.

It's very quiet - mostly the sound of birds, and the occasional distant traffic (which is remarkably light on this particular interstate.) And maybe the buzz of powerlines some half-mile distant (or is that my ears buzzing?)

Just as when I camped in the South Dakota grasslands, the air is dry, and after all the time in the humid East and Midwest, I like the change.

Far out to the east, in the darkening landscape, I watched as two cars approached. I tracked the headlights' slow progress, over the undulating hills, tiny flames in the night.

For dinner, I heated up a package of "Zatarain’s Jumbalaya" on my camp stove.


***

Just under 700 miles traveled today. I rode the interstate in Wyoming, as an expedient for escaping thunderstorms. The front tire is severely worn. Where to find a new one - perhaps Billings?

So many coal trains! Each about 120 cars in length. (I counted several.) It's the heaviest rail traffic I’ve ever seen. Is the Bush-Cheney Administration's "Clean Coal Initiative" behind all this? Accelerating depletion to maximize profits before the environmental reins are pulled in?

Rode the entire day dressed for this morning's ambient temperature. Long underwear, electric vest (turned off, of course), even though it reached 80 in Scottsbluff and beyond.

Wyoming appears to be almost entirely range land, and I was not comfortable riding after dark. Deer and elk are all over the place! There must be more deer and elk than people. I found them frequently grazing the highway median and along the shoulders.

I'm coming to the Rocky Mountains! It's exciting. Great riding ahead.

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