Day 1 Chimney Rock to almost Mitchell Nebraska
32 Miles


This morning we awoke at 5:15, ate breakfast, got the bikes out and loaded, said goodby to Austi and LeeAnn and were on the road by 6:40. Last night we were camped about 1/4 mile from the railroad tracks which ran trains all night. Once we got to sleep I still heard the trains but they didn't keep me awake. The trains weren't the problem, it was Brian. He is a perpetual motion machine and goes until he runs down. Last night it wasn't until pretty late. LeeAnn stayed behind to let the little ones sleep longer. Three hours later just as we were getting to Scottsbluff National Monument she caught up to us. We visited the monument together and said our goodbys. She is on her way back home visiting the same sites we will see as far as Martins Cove. The goodby part of a bicycle tour is always a hard part. It hits that you are on your own with no support but the goodness of the people you meet on the road.

We rode into the city of Scottsbluff to eat at a Subway shop we saw yesterday. Rather than stay at the Riverside campground in town the kids wanted to press on. We hit US 26 and headed west. We almost got to Mitchell when my legs said that they were through for awhile. Rhielle could have gone farther but Spencer was ready to stop too. We checked into a KOA at about 2:00 and called it a day. Today was a great ridding day. Though it had been 105 yesterday, I don't think it got above 95 today. This morning we were ridding into a slight breeze which picked up some this afternoon. The day has been overcast and all together a great day with only a few sprinkles on us.

Its funny what creature comforts make a trip more enjoyable. Just before we left I thought about a little tiny radio that I took on my last tour. For some reason I thought we might like to find out about the weather so I tossed it in. This afternoon Spencer is really enjoying it as he is designing a web site in his sketch pad. He did a wonderful sketch of Chimney Rock yesterday.

One of my goals for doing this ride - covering the last 600 miles of the Mormon Trail powered by my own muscles - is to develop more of an appreciation for what my ancestors went through. Today as we sat at the foot of Mitchell pass I was glad that I wasn't going to bicycle over it even though its elevation gain is only about 100 feet. The visitors center entrance to Scottsbluff National Park is just before the pass. There is nothing like a loaded touring bicycle to let you know about elevation changes in the road. On this part of the emigrant trail the Mormon Trail is on the north side of the North Platte river and the Oregon Trail is on the south side. Not many of the Mormons went through Mitchell pass but the Willie Handcart company did in 1856. Downstream near Ash Hollow they came upon a recently burnt wagon with its dead occupants. For this reason they crossed over the river and followed the Oregon trail. The trail after 1840 ran over Mitchell pass as the land between the river and the bluff was too wild to take wagons over. This area has changed a great deal since those times. Now the river banks are lined with cottonwood trees. In pioneer times there was not a tree in the area. The spring floods eliminated any seedlings and after the floods receded the area away from the river was too dry to support growth.

Today the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad runs on the north side of the river and the Union Pacific on the south. There are at least 2 coal unit trains per hour going down each of these. They are loaded with coal headed for powerplants east and empty cars headed west to be refilled. Tonight instead of being 1/4 mile away from the tracks, we are 150 yards. To make things worse there is a road crossing the tracks right next to our camp so each train has to let out a blast from their horn before crossing it. At least the train is so loud that one can't hear the crossing bells dinging. I guess we have different challenges in our day.

When we checked into the KOA the water was turned off. They had not passed their last water exam and they were chlorine shocking the system. In pioneer times cholera was the major killer on the trail. They didn't know it but it is a water born disease whose incidence was aggravated by poor sanitation practices and burying dead near the water. It was worst along the slow moving waters of the Platte and lower North Platte. After the trail got to the higher elevations and faster moving water water quality improved. It is estimated that there were an average of 4 graves per mile on the trail. It is estimated that 10% to 20% of the people who took the trail died. Many times cholera would take a whole family. Yesterday we visited the Rebecca Winters grave east of Scottsbluff. She died of cholera on the Mormon trail north of the river. Her grave is one of the few pioneer graves with a location marker that survived. A friend of the family took the metal rim of a wagon wheel and deeply chiseled her name, age, and death date into the metal and then used it to mark the grave. When the Burlington Railroad was surveying their tracks into the area the grave was discovered directly in the way. They moved the railroad tracks a few feet to the side to preserve the grave. 150 years later the information chiseled into that metal rim is still readable.

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Copyright Clarence Whetten 2001