Day 21
June 25th, 2004
Kearney, Nebraska

I was at the dealer 10 minutes after the shop opened.  Salespeople were still bringing the ATVs out for display on the front lawn.  I quizzed a clerk with the name of my contact person, "that’s him over there," as he pointed to a man in a red polo shirt.  I went over to him, "hey my name is Guy, I was referred to y’all by the Honda shop in McCook." "Oh yeah, meet me at the front desk."

We went over to the parts desk and I layed out the problem.  I gave him the short version.  "I’m in the middle of long trip, and need a tire to get home."  He said he had a Dunlop 208 in the needed size.  We agreed the Dunlop was not the best tire for a sport touring bike.  It’s designed for liter class sport bikes.  The tire is soft and sticky, and limited in mileage return, but it will be a "blast while the rubber lasts."  I signed the work order and told them to take good care of my bike.  "We should have it on before lunch, we have 1 mount ahead of ya."  I was disappointed I was not first on the list. The rider in question was on some kind of cruiser bike, I saw him at the parts window.  I know he heard my dilemma as I explained it.  Still, he made no offer to let me go first. That kind of pissed me off.  I mean if a Long Rider finds his way to my local dealer stranded, they have my permission to put my bike on hold to work on his.

I found a couch on the showroom floor to begin the countdown.  I was bored and called PeterM, he’s always good company.  We chatted at length then I figured I better let him get back to work.  I went back to the parts manager and left him my cell number.  "Call me when y’all get it ready."  On the stroll back to the motel I stopped at a gas mart for a coke and twinkie.  The Hampton Inn was nearby so went over there to hang out in the lobby.  A few have Wi-Fi connections and I hoped to find a connection there to web surf with the Axim.  No luck.

Back at the Motel 6 I clicked channels and called every joker I thought that might have a minute to talk.  I used the down time to pack; I wanted nothing to slow me down when the 13 came home.  I felt like I was under house arrest.  By 11am my phone still hadn’t made a peep.  It was time to break the map out and plan the ride.  I wanted NO part of I-70, so will ride south to Joplin, Missouri through Kansas.  The scenario places me 100 miles behind my original idea of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  That means a 700 mile plus to get home on the last day.  No sweat.  I needed a long ride, but all was not lost, a good portion of that will be in the Ozarks.  But it was no card lock I could make Joplin.  I was going to be on Kansas back roads, and it might not be possible to arrive there before dark.  Heck, I knew it wasn’t, but if it’s less than 100 miles when the sun goes down, I’ll do it.
I decided to walk back to the dealer for lack of anything better to do.

On the way to the dealer I spotted 2 bikes coming off the highway into a gas mart for fuel.  I cursed them for riding when I couldn’t.  A couple of blocks later, the dealer came into view, and my beautiful pearl blue ST 1300 ABS was out front ready to go!!  I felt like running the last few hundred yards.  What a gorgeous sight it was.  I went up to it and stroked the seat and gas tank.  I charged in and settled my fees.  Total cost 220.00 bucks.  A little steep compared to home, but the labor rate was almost twice that of my local dealer, and I figured it took longer than normal because the Honda might’ve been a little strange to the Yamaha mechanic.  Still, I was happy with the work, and the manner I was treated, I'm sure I was treated no different than a local.
 ​A sweet sight.  The 1300 all decked out with new rubber
and ready to ride.  Like picking up your dog from
the Vet. 

I can recommend Kearney Yamaha to any Long Riders in trouble.  Service was prompt, and kudos to them for stocking tires of ALL sizes.

The young mechanic that mounted the tire came out to see me and commented what a great bike the 13 was.  After mounting the tire he took it on a short ride to make sure everything was ok. "She has a sweet, smooth motor.  You can really cruise on a bike like that."  I thanked everyone, and jetted back to the Motel 6 to get loaded.  Check out time was 12 pm.  I was going to just make it.

The new rubber on the 13 was like magic.  In the short ride to the motel, I felt like I was on a 600 crotch rocket. The rear felt very sticky, "geezus, I can’t wait to get this baby doll in the Ozarks."

I was anxious to get on the road and loaded the 13 in record time.  After dropping off the key at the front desk, the open road was mine.  I topped off the tank at the same mart I saw the other bikes at.  "Where are those jokers NOW," I said to myself.

The morning was partly cloudy and cool, the same pattern of the last few days was holding.  The temp gauge was reading 63 degrees, a little after 12 pm.  Way too cool for this time of year.

SR 44 looked different with new rubber.  I was back to my 80 mph cruising speeds.  The 208 inspired confidence; it was not a problem noticing the difference.  All I needed it to do was last the 1500 miles home.  I wanted all those cars and trucks that passed me yesterday, when I was crippled, to try it today.

It never felt better to be on the road.  I waved at everyone I saw, farmers, den mothers, mailmen, and delivery guys.  I was in a good mood despite the fact I was 5 hours late in starting time, and 200 miles down in length.
SR 44 was a quiet ride through the plains; I followed it south to SR 4 east.  The route had no marked passing lines, you were left to your own devices to know if it was safe to pass or not.

Coming into Campbell I noticed a nursing home on the edge of the highway. The building has a glassed observation area, a place where residents could enjoy the outside without being outside.  I was sad for those inside, and how torturous it must be to see folks like me on the nearby road coming and going at will.  I contemplated that thought, as I sat idling across the street.  I can’t say for certain I can stay out of one these places, but I do know this; If I find myself in one, I can take comfort in the fact none of the jokers riding by, can say they’ve done or seen the things I have.

A young boy and his dog were walking down a lonesome street.  I figured he was en route to a friend’s house to do the things 10 year old boys do in summer.  He probably had 2 dollars in his pocket to stop at the store later on.  When I finished taking in the scene, I pointed the 13 east and continued my travels.
​The residents of this Campbell nursing home have a good
view of SR 4, I thought about them as I passed through. 
The scene reminded me to enjoy every minute of life.

I feel sorry for the Great Plains, and cities like Campbell. The population of towns like Campbell peaked over 80 years ago.  Every year a little more die or leave. The Great Plains is one of the least populated agriculture centers in the world.  Riding the highways of this land I often came across the remnants of what was once a homesteaders home.  They were boarded up, and rotting away in the weather.  Many had nearby barns with weeds growing inside.  Windmills that once cranked out the water, had sections dangling in the wind, looking as if any moment the contraption could fall over.  The owners either died out, or gave in to the droughts, tornados, snow, and dust bowls.  Making a living out here is not easy, but a few still hang on. 
​One of the many lost homesteads on the Great Plains.
Somewhere along SR 181.

SR 4 united me with U.S. 281; I turned right and headed south for Kansas.  The highway has a less intimate feel than SR 4.  It was wider and busier.  I met a northbound Greyhound with the title, "Spokane" over the driver.  Those poor people, they might get to Washington next week.  On my 1300 I love the back roads, but on a bus get me there as quick as possible.

I brought the screen up to block an annoying headwind.

By the time I reached Red Cloud I was feeling hungry.  I came through this town last year but failed to see anything I could remember.  I spotted 2 young ladies hanging firework banners on an 18 wheel trailer, near the center of the forlorn town.  I stopped and asked, "best place to eat?"  A cute farmer’s daughter about 16 turned and said, "that’d be the Sugar and Spice, next door to the school, easy to find, just keep going down this road."  "Thanks sweetie."

The Sugar and Spice is a cozy place.  A small parking lot out front, and you had the option of ordering from the outside window, or going inside for a table. I choose the latter.  I plopped my Arai, Axim, keys, and gloves on the table, and peeled off the Roadcrafter to my waist.
​The Sugar and Spice Cafe, Red Cloud, Nebraska
A 45ish waitress named Barb came over and took my order for chicken fingers and fries. When she brought my Mountain Dew over I asked, "So you’re from Red Cloud?"  She set the glass down and responded. 

"Well yeah, I guess I’m just a sucker." 

"Why ya say that?"

  "Cuz I’m still here when everyone else is long gone."

  We spoke at length.  She told me she had a daughter in Denver and enjoyed visiting her.  Barb also has a theory about why so many shops have closed the last few years.  The internet. 

"I shop Ebay all the time and other mail order sites, its easy and quick, and cheaper."  I had to agree, "I buy most of my motorcycle stuff online, better selection and delivered to my door, can’t beat it."  "Exactly."

The chicken fingers were the pre fab variety, probably bought in bulk from a Sam’s in Omaha.  I called Debbie and told her I was back on the road and should be home tomorrow night.  I asked her if the 1100 was still ok.  "Yesssssss just sitting there, I don’t even open the garage door."  I was going to have my brother stop by and start it for a few minutes, but realized back on day 3 I had the key with me. 

I was making a few notes on the Axim when Barb stepped over. 

"So what’s that?" 

"A Windows based handheld computer.  I can get online with it if I ever find a place with a Wi Fi, but mostly I use it for work organization and my travel notes."

  I could see all that was a little over her head.  "I better get on the road baby." 

"Well just go ahead and leave ME here. Didja know there is not even one red light in this WHOLE county?"


In a surprised tone this time.  "Is that a bad thing?"

 "Yeah, cuz it’s boring here." 

I said it could be worse, and walked over to the register to settle my tab.  "Keep the change baby."  "Thanks."

How many times have I lent my ear to a lonely waitress in a small town?  I asked myself that question as I moved south to Lebanon and the geo marker.  More than I could ever remember for sure.

U.S. 281 is just as I remembered from last year, but this time I kept a sharper lookout for the turnoff to the modest marker that marks the center spot of the Continental United States.  I went by it last year, but this time I’m right on the money.

When the turnoff arrived I geared down, and turned in on the old road.  I crested a series of short hills just like last year, and arrived at the object of my desire.  I find this place unique.  In all of America, there can only be ONE site such as this.  To be such a profound spot, it is very modest.  I walked around the vicinity and smiled.  I was looking for John, the unofficial caretaker of the geo site.  I met him last year and said if I was ever in the area again I’d stop in.  Sadly, John was no where to be found.  I scribbled a note on the back of one of my cards, and deposited it in a small box in the chapel.  The note read I had stopped by, and looked for him.
A hand painted sign was nearby; it was faded and cracked like the town of Lebanon itself. The sign noted you could find souvenirs about the geo center in Lebanon.  The old motel was still standing, and wind blew through the trees on this unusually cool day.  A picnic table under a cover looked as if no one had used it for months.  "Hey, lets pack a sandwich, travel 1500 miles to Lebanon, and picnic at the exact center of the United States."  Somehow I don't that conversation took place very often.

I took a closer look at the old 10 room motel.  I can't for the life of me ever see this as a destination tourist spot.  I find it hard to believe people ever clamored to spend the night here.  What were they thinking when they built this motel?  John told me the unit had been closed for many, many years.
​Like the Field of Dreams, people will come.  An RV from 
California on final approach to the Center of America.

Smiling big, I left the geo center and continued my ride.  I’ll always get a kick out of stopping here.  I know what America looks like from all the angles, maybe that is why I take such solace when I find myself in the Heartland.

The weather was still cool, but I knew this would be my last day to enjoy it. Tomorrow, I'll be back in the humid and hot southeast.

I took SR 181 out of Lebanon then went to U.S. 24.  In Cawker City a Long Rider can find the world's largest ball of twine.  I looked around but didn't see any goofy golf course to keep you entertained after spending an exhaustive day taking in the ball of twine.  I guess a guy can only take so much excitement in a single day.
​Cawker City, Kansas, displays the worlds largest ball

From 24 I went to U.S. 81 south and onto Salina.  I left Salina on I-135 South.  It was getting late and there was no other way to get to Wichita.  I brought the screen up to the interstate position and quickly put down the 70 miles needed to get to the city.

The reserve light was flashing when I arrived in Park City, so I exited for a butt break and gas.  I had just ridden almost 200 non stop miles from Lebanon, and my butt was kind of stiff.

I called station 2 for a mapquest check.  Tim Petreit inputted the necessary info for a Wichita to Joplin ride.  The computer advised I-35 south into Oklahoma, then east to Tulsa.  Are you kidding?  I had him run the numbers using SR 400.  The latter route was over 100 miles less, and even though it was non interstate miles, I knew I could cruise it just as fast as a freeway.  Goes to show computers can’t figure the intangibles.  I called Motel 6 and booked a room in Joplin.

SR 400 proved to be a good late afternoon ride.  The sun moved to my rear and my shadow was out in front.  The air was cool and the sky blue.  Landscape was changing from plains to more green.  Tree growth was growing thicker by the miles.

Out of the headwinds, I brought the screen down to enjoy the smell of cut grass.  The miles were passing smoothly, and I anticipated I would soon be riding in the dark on strange roads.  A couple of years ago I accepted the fact I don’t see as well at night as I use to, so I try to avoid it.

A rest area at the intersection of the U.S. 169 crossroads served as a butt break.  It was a short one and I took a brief walk around in the waning light.

East of Parsons, I was PASSED at 80 mph by 2 Harley riders with passengers, a Road King pulling a trailer, and a Softail.  These guys were nothing but dangerous.  I kept pace behind them.  Our speed increased to over 90, and the trailer on the Road King was bouncing all over the place.  I assumed the bikes had undergone some kind of bore out to be able to ride like this 2 up.  The bareheaded riders were being pummeled in the wind, I don’t know how they stood it.  The passenger on the Softtail tried to duck down behind the rider for a little protection.

I feared the trailer was going to cause an accident and backed off.  Several cars were caught behind a slow moving truck.  We were 4 down from the lead vehicle, when all of a sudden the 2 Harleys bolted to pass.  I could see west bound traffic approaching, it was suicide.  I was on a bike with almost double the power and acceleration and I didn’t even think trying it.  I was shocked when I saw them go for it.  There were dead ducks if someone doesn’t let them back in.  They passed 2 of the cars and forced themselves back in.  It was close, real close, they made it back by less then a few seconds.

I passed the same 2 vehicles safely and quickly 2 miles later when I had a good line of sight and a nice gap to return to.  We were still bogged down behind a few cars, when we came to a uphill with a truck lane.  Seeing my chance, I dropped a gear and moved left as soon the cars took the right lane.  The powerful 1300 instantly drew abreast of the 2 Harleys still in the right lane, when all of a sudden they came over on me.  I don’t think they ever saw me coming up so fast.  The guy with the trailer was going to need a lot of room so I got on the brakes and gave him space.  The softail followed.

Another car ahead moved to the left lane to pass a slower vehicle. The Road King did him one better, he went across the double yellow and passed both, and not to be out done the softail split the vehicles at 70 mph.  He gave the driver a nasty look for taking the left lane when he drew even. The poor passenger on the rear had to be terrified.

After passing, the car returned to the right lane and I came around.  I came abreast and shrugged my shoulders, letting the motorist know I thought both were crazy.

I followed the Harleys till they turned off for a gas mart 10 miles later.  All in all it was an exciting 30 miles. The worst display of skills I’ve ever witnessed.  I felt sorry for them, because both were going to wind up dead soon if things didn't change.  I'm not blaming it on Harley's, they'd be dangerous on any motorcycle.
​Sunset on U.S. 400 near Parsons, Kansas
At last I came to the crossroads of routes 57 and 400.  A sign read Joplin was straight head but my notes said to make a right turn here.  Confused I went to a nearby gas mart and asked a local with a ring in his eyebrow the way to Joplin and I-44.

"Stay on 400." 

"I was wunderin because the sign said go straight."  "Yeah, that sign is dumb, 400 is a better road.  It will take you to I-44."

It was dark, and I proceeded with caution down to I-44.  I stayed on the look out for deer, and made it to the interstate without incident.  A quick jaunt north on I-44 took me to the Motel 6 office.  I rode 523 miles for the day.

By the time I finished showering and making calls it was close to 10 pm.  I took a quick walk to a nearby Ruby Tuesdays, where I relaxed in the glow of a good ride.  Tonight is my last night on the road so I ordered a steak.  I made a few Axim notes and looked over my atlas for the final ride home in the morning.  It has been a great tour and I have one more day to enjoy it.

The steak was a little dry, not as good as a Sagebrush steak, but I managed. 

Back at the room I made the necessary notes for the ride home.  I’ll get in some good riding in the Ozarks, but after that it’s I-40 to Memphis ugh.

I fell asleep about 12 looking forward to nice ride home to Alabama the next day.