Yes, at long last I'm in Omaha. Thankfully right on schedule, with few aches and pains, and a chance for my saddle sores to heal. Here's what happened during the last four days of the journey:
Day 19: Up by 6:00 a.m., quick shower, and a breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes at the shelter. Made a modest donation and headed out for a 96 mile ride to Kearney. Winds were lighter, but still not at my back. Made good time to the first town of Maxwell, where five older men were playing an early morning card game at a little grocery store. "Hey, you're the guy on TV last night - say hello to Mr. Buffett." Cold drinks and back on the bike, arriving next in Gothenburg, a Pony Express town. City hall agreed to a birthday gift and card, and I raced off to Cozad, where they also signed onto the birthday project. By 1:00 p.m I was in Lexington, but the mayor's staff was at lunch, so I left a message asking if they would participate. I've learned that it makes a big difference if you actually meet the officials, because no towns contacted me if I left messages after I had already passed through (this happened when I arrived in towns too late to make it to city hall before they had closed.) Rode hard and steady to make it to Kearney's city hall before 5:00 p.m, barely making it after being sent to the wrong building more than once. A helpful mayoral assistant quickly put together a gift and card, but this time I had to take it with me, as the mail had already left for the day. Found an inexpensive motel, a grocery store, and settled in for a much needed rest. The big local news was the opening of the Nebraska State Fair in my next city, Grand Island, so I hatched a plan...
Day 20: A light 41-mile day ahead, so I did laundry first, leaving town around 8:30 a.m. The day went from "light" to "tough" due to stronger headwinds. Plodded along for about four hours. The only highlight of the day was my encounter, at the Gibbon, NE Subway shop, with a fellow long-distance biker. Not only that, but he was from Deltona, FL, ten miles from my old home. A retired Chicago transplant who spent 30 years working outdoors in the cold winters, he loves the Florida heat. Last March he hooked up a 100# cart to his Cannondale bike and headed west. Now he's been to Southern California, north to Sacramento, and is winding his way back east again, headed to Chicago. Roughly 5000 miles total so far, at an average of 40-50 a day. Slow and steady, but still impressive considering the weight he pulls. Unlike me, he has the luxury of days off if he feels the need. Also, he raises money for the Children's Hunger Fund. He told me about a website called crazyguysonabike.com, or something like that, for long-distance bikers all over the world, and mikeywalks.com, the website of a journalist who's walking across America. Arrived in Grand Island by 1:30 p.m., and headed straight for a Sonic, thirsty and hungry. Wal-Mart was a couple miles away, so it was time to work on my plan: a giant Warren Buffett birthday card signed by Nebraskans at the state fair. But not so fast. Wal-Mart had no huge birthday cards, so I called another place. They had them, but it was 7-8 miles one-way on the other side of the city. Still, this had to be done, so I raced up there. Didn't like the big cards they had, but I did like a 26"x22" poster with a birthday balloon border. By the time I reached the state fair it was 4:30. Went from place to place trying to get permission to set up somewhere, but got nowhere until I found the administration building. In typical bureaucratic fashion, I was told "No, because if we let you, we'll have to let everybody." I didn't bother to ask how many other people were likely to want to set up a birthday tribute to Warren Buffett, because it would have gone over their heads. But just at the edge of the fairgrounds, ten feet from the exit chutes, there was an empty 8' table which was just begging to be used. So I set up shop. And Nebraskans, signed and signed and signed until I had 55 signatures, all with their town names, and many with a birthday greeting. A full poster! In fact, some of the volunteers at the fair also signed, and I dodged expulsion for over 2-1/2 hours. Thank you, Nebraskans! Close to dark, and knowing the fair being in town would jack up motel rates, I prepared for a night of camping. But first a Mexican dinner. Immediately after ordering, I started getting severe pain on the left side of my abdomen. It got so bad I asked the waitress to cancel my order, and I stumbled outside and found some grass to lay down on. For the next 30-45 minutes I suffered so badly I nearly called 911 several times. I was pretty sure it wasn't my appendix (wrong side), but I couldn't figure out why it was so severe. I'd had gas pains before, but this was excruciating. Nothing I did seemed to relieve it, and I tried many things: elevating my legs, massaging my abdomen, stretching, walking, etc. Finally, as I was sitting on a concrete wall, leaning on my side, it started to subside. Rode quickly to Wal-Mart, bought a $15. sleeping bag, and camped on the edge of a cornfield behind the store. Then the pain came back, 80% as strong, but for only 15 minutes. Once it ended I fell asleep immediately and slept well.
Day 21: Up at daylight with no pain. Still don't know what caused it, but am guessing it was trapped gas. Went around front to buy fruit and yogurt for breakfast, asking a woman in the parking lot if she could use a one-night-old sleeping bag. She said yes, and offered me $5. I told her that it had probably saved me $50., so just take it for free and enjoy it. Fixed a flat from last night that I was too weak to deal with, and it was off to Lincoln, 92 miles away. My last long ride, and I wanted to get it over with, so I rode steadily, despite the ever-present wind. Thirty-some miles into it, the clouds started threatening rain, and just outside of York it started coming down steadily. Lightning kept getting closer and closer, until there were three different strikes with no time between the lightning and the thunder. Extremely close, maybe even overhead. One of them made my fingers tingle. Found shelter for 10 minutes in York, but no restaurants nearby, so I headed on to Seward, with skies gradually clearing. Somewhere soon, a sign said, "Lincoln - 41". I had 99 total miles left to go, so I did a Tour de France victory salute, putting both arms in the air while pedaling. The finish line was near! Seward was a nice small town with a beautiful courthouse and a sign that said Seward, Alaska - 4300+ miles. A quick lunch and... hills. One rolling hill after another, 30 or more of them, all the way into Lincoln. I had a motel coupon for $29., so I headed straight to the Luxury Inn. As I rolled up, the manager, who was outside on a smoke break, said, "Wow, I've never had anyone pull up on a bike." Then the guy next to him says, "Wait a minute, you're that guy." I said, "What guy?" He said, "The one on TV who came from California. I want to shake your hand." Well, it turned out that some station, and I still don't know which one (Lincoln? Omaha?) aired the North Platte segment. My new friend Russ couldn't remember, because he said he was just channel surfing at the time. When I asked the manager if there was any place nearby to rent a computer, Russ told me to take his laptop to my room and return it when I was ready. Good people. Had another Thai green curry dinner and rested for the evening.
Day 22: A late start for my final day after a big breakfast at Perkin's. 58 miles to Omaha. As I approached the edge of Lincoln, I received a call from Mark Sundermeier, Berkshire Hathaway's head of security. He asked if I'd be coming to Mr. Buffett's offices today, and I told him no, that I was heading for the Omaha World Herald building to gather the gifts and cards from all the city halls. I agreed to contact him before I went to the Kiewit Building where Warren Buffett has had his offices for decades, but I wasn't sure what day that would be. Once again there were rolling hills, and the ever-present headwind, albeit lighter than usual. Nevertheless, for 500 miles, since Fort Morgan, CO I haven't had the wind at my back even once. Steady 11 mph progress was made, and I pulled into a convenience store in Ashland to call Steve Jordon, the reporter at the OWH who had written four articles tracking my journey. I knew he was on vacation, but to my surprise he was in Gainesville, FL visiting his daughter. I strongly recommended him going to a Gator game at "The Swamp" since he'd never seen one there. The guys at the convenience store said "no charge" for my G2 energy drink (endorsed by the most famous Gator of all time, Tim Tebow). I told them what I was doing, and one young guy said, "I feel bad now because you're in such good shape." An hour or so later and I was on the west edge of Omaha, traveling north on Highway 6. My map showed Pacific Ave. as the most direct route into downtown Omaha, so I turned east. What followed was 18 miles of some of the toughest terrain of the whole trip. Omaha is definitely not a bike-friendly city. No bike lanes, the most fractured sidewalks I've seen anywhere, which often ended so that I had to switch to the other side of the street. But wait, there's more... that last 18 miles had no fewer than 30-40 hills, many of them quite steep, if only for a block or two. Nebraska's flat? Are you kidding! I thought I was in San Francisco. It took a couple of hours to navigate all this, and by the time I pulled up in front of the Omaha World Herald building in downtown Omaha, I was exhausted and about 45 minutes late for my meeting with Ross, the reporter who was standing in for the vacationing Steve Jordon. But the long journey was over! So many miles, 22 straight days without a full day off, but also many great people and stories. I'm very pleased that I took up David Adie's challenge to ride over halfway across America. And in a way it exorcised a demon from when I was 17, full of myself, so certain I could hike 2100+ miles on the Appalachian Trail in record time. That hike ended just shy of 400 miles, despite being physically tough enough to be breaking the record for the first 300 miles. But the boredom and isolation almost made me crack mentally, so I quit. This was my first major trek since then, and it felt good to finish it successfully. Ross arrived in the lobby with eight packages and envelopes from various city halls. Las Vegas and Denver came through, as did my hometown of Newport Beach, CA, then Idaho Springs, Glenwood Springs & Fort Morgan, CO, Gothenburg & Cozad, NE. A few missing, but maybe they're just late. Couldn't carry them all, so arranged to come back the next day. Went across the street to the library, but the "boss" wouldn't let me secure my bike, the first library that refused me on the whole trip. In general, there was a bit of big-city frostiness around me, which was disappointing, so I hid my bike in the parking garage of the Herald building. Once done at the library, I went to retrieve it, and found the garage locked. After being chewed out by the security guard, he let me in. Not sure where to stay, but in need of cheap lodging, I headed for a place called the Colonial Hotel, which I found on Craigslist. And where was the hotel in this very large city? Ironically, two blocks from Warren Buffett's office in the Kiewit Building. But first, a celebratory dinner at the Natural Kind Cafe, right across from the hotel. Deleicious and healthy, and much needed after a lot of inexpensive fast food. The Colonial had a gruff clerk right out of the movies, who's probably seen it all, telling me the weekly rate was $76. Seventy-six dollars!! I better look at a room first. But it was fine - bed, sink and dresser, bathroom down the hall. Clean but worn. With my budget, and after all the nights outside, it suited me just fine. Cash only, so I had to find an ATM down the street. A ten dollar key deposit, towel, washcloth and soap from the clerk, and I hauled my trusty Jamis bike up the back stairs. Home at last!?! I'd noticed a Fat Tire neon sign in a bar window a block away, so I popped out to celebrate with my new favorite beer. 60 cent tacos were on special, and a brand new Fat Tire bike hung from the ceiling. Omaha started feeling a little friendlier as I talked with a few patrons, and then it was off to bed.