Ever since the girls were little, we always tried to have dinner as a family. Before they had afternoon activities, that was easy. Once they got a little older, it became more challenging, but still a priority. On this trip, whether we are eating out, being hosted, or dining al fresco while camping out, we have had almost every meal together! Some have been bad, some great, we've been in fantastic moods and have gotten in fights, but last night's dinner was particularity memorable even though it was somewhat unexpected.
We are now on what's called the Lincoln highway. As Sarah told me today, this was the original cross country highway going coast to coast, dedicated to Lincoln in the early part of the twentieth century. Later on, interstate 80 was built closely following 30. So now, highway 30, at least through Nebraska, is mostly used for local traffic. This is great for cycling, but maybe not ideal if you're looking to get a motel, in town, within walking distance to food. All of the towns thus far are a mile or two away from 80, so if they had a motel on their main strip, it could be gone, or turned into long term living since I-80 travelers now stay right off the highway.
Yesterday we were aiming to get to the town of Sutherland, NE. But at lunch, when we called the one motel in town, we were told that the place was now used for long term rentals and they had no rooms. This was particularly disappointing as we had mentally budgeted to ride another 30 miles and now we were faced with either riding an extra 10 miles (roadtrip) for camping, or biking an extra 20 miles to the next town. So, we headed down the road with the intention to tack on another 20, and bring the total to 81 miles. We were not interested in doing an out and back to camp, at a place that may or may not have water.
However, it was late in the day when we finally departed our lunch spot at the shaded church steps after having PB&Js. It soon became obvious that riding 50 miles after lunch was going to be tough and that we would probably all regret it. So after about 15 miles, we hatched a new plan; we would stay in a town 10 miles short of our original destination of Sutherland, but it would have to be at the only only place to stay, which was a mile from town, right off I-80. The issue was that we needed food, and food was a mile away, and none of us wanted to walk a mile, or ride a bike to dinner.
So right before we headed to the interstate, we stopped off at the lovely community of Paxton, NE and hit the grocery store to pick up dinner provisions. Now, when I say "lovely," I truly mean it. People inside the store, on the street, in front of the bar, all were so friendly and seemed genuine. We asked the butcher if it would be possible to buy just one stick of butter since we are on bikes, and by God, he got us one stick of butter. We got some pasta and sauce and bought some marinated chicken from the butcher as well. We topped that off with some fruit and carrots for a vegetable and headed to our home for the night.
When we go to the motel, I instantly started scanning where we could cook and was disappointed that there really was no good place for this to happen. I was sure that the owners would not want us to cook in front of the room. So went around to the side, way to the side. We were about 40 yards from the hotel right next to a dirt road that said something about local traffic only. We brought all of the needed cooking tools, all the food, water for cooking in a collapsible bladder, and most importantly, we scrounged 4 milk crates to sit on.
We fired up the MSR International, and started off by cooking the chicken. As this is cooking, I realize that the 4 of us are alone, on this dirt field, looking almost homeless, cooking practically on the ground, and all that mattered was the talk about how good the chicken was going to taste. We told jokes about our cousin Paul and some perhaps undercooked chicken he may or may not have served once at the Cape. We laughed and enjoyed the chicken once it was completely cooked.
As we ate the chicken, we started cooking the pasta. Some of us were having it with sauce, and others with butter and salt and pepper. So while all of this was cooking, a few "locals" headed down the dirt road and stared like they were seeing ghosts. We didn't care. We were having a great time, we were jovial and laughing about looking like we were on the set of The Walking Dead. Once the pasta was ready, we devoured it like we were feasting on the flesh of the living in the show. All the while the conversation was funny and filled with joy, and maybe even love, in a roundabout way. It's a sentiment that can't really be explained, at least not by me.
I've had many a meals on bike tours, and I do mean literally hundreds of them. Many in settings like this, minus the motel. I've also dined most nights with my family, at home, in Medford for the last 17 years. As I said before, every sentiment has been felt and expressed at one of these meals. But, there was something extraordinary about this particular dinner. I can't really put my finger on it and therefore can't tell you why it was so special, at least not yet. But I can tell you this, I will cherish this meal for as long as I live and I hope it is something that can be repeated.