“You know why they call this God’s country? Cuz no one else wants it!” joked Mike from Wood Lake, Nebraska, population 64.
Chelsea and I are out of the rolling Sand Hills of Nebraska and into griddle-flat corn and cattle country. The kind of territory where you spot a green oasis of shady trees, then ride an hour to reach them. The air is wet with humidity, a welcome change from dry Montana, and smells like Florida, a sweet and pungent odor of crops and grass. Every evening, we watch thunderstorms gather with a mighty force before smiting the earth with pounding hail, gusting wind and lashing rain.
This is a taciturn part of the U.S. People are friendly – everyone waves at us – and yet reserved. Tiny towns, often less than 100 people, are quiet and bleak with boarded up windows and “For Lease” signs everywhere. Their residents are people whose faces reveal that making a living here takes hard work and a steely countenance.
We ate lunch seated next to Mike in a greasy spoon diner, our total bill $5.28 for two plates of hashbrowns and veggies. Outside, he gave us a hard time for not having an engine on our bikes, his features masked by a giant beard and cowboy hat tilted low.
Mike was pissed off to miss the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for the first time in 35 years due to a hay harvest delayed by rain. Between spraying rockets of spittle from the chaw packed into his lip, he did have a sense of humor though.
Mike runs operations on thousands of acres of hay and cattle land. “I was hired on a 30 day contract. That was 27 years ago. I keep asking the bosses when they’re gonna hire me full-time and they say there ain’t enough work. I tell them that’s good cuz I ain’t done 30 days worth of work yet anyway.”
Nebraska feels honest and real. The landscapes are surprisingly beautiful, a welcome change from the dry emptiness of SE Montana. We’re digging the trip through America’s heartland and visits with down-to-earth people along the way. One more day in Nebraska and then we’re into the rolling hills of Iowa!