They trickled in, one by one.
Some rode alone. Several came in as a small group. There were two-person and even a three-person tandem team that pedaled across the Logan Creek bridge into the warm welcome that greeted them in Victor Park on the south edge of Wayne.
More than 250 bicycles rolled into town as part of the 37th annual Bike Ride Across Nebraska on Wednesday. Bikers were greeted at Victor Park and directed to the walking trail, painted with yellow chicken feet as a reminder of next month’s Chicken Show, that took them to the camp site at Wayne Rugby Park.
This year’s week-long trek was a break from the traditional west-to-east route that BRAN riders usually take. The journey began last weekend in Falls City, with options to travel into Missouri, Kansas and Iowa as part of the ride’s theme of “Five Nations, Five States,” a nod not only to the region but the five Indian reservations that riders will see during their travels.
“In past years, it’s been an west-to-east route and we decided this year to go into the Missouri River valley because, in the past, the last stop has been close to the Missouri River and everyone is in a hurry to get home, so we haven’t been able to highlight the small towns on this side of the state,” said Wes Galusha, president and director of BRAN.
Riders from 28 states and Canada made their way north from Falls City to stops in Auburn, Weeping Water and North Bend before rolling into Wayne from the south on Highway 15 late Wednesday morning. Volunteers from Journey Christian Church, Rainbow World, Northstar and the Wayne High cheerleaders welcomed the riders into town, and they enjoyed the final mile of travel along the city’s walking trail on the south edge of town, rolling by Logan Creek, the Wayne Bark Park and the softball complex before the chicken tracks ran out at the Wayne Rugby Park, site of a mass display of tents that riders pitched to rest for the night before heading out on their next destination.
Wayne was chosen as one of the sites after the BRAN committee determined what route they wanted to take. They look at the safest routes available and look at the towns along that route that could potentially host more than 700 people who are part of the BRAN entourage.
“Not every town is capable of doing that. They have to have the people and the infrastructure to host something like this, and we also check with the Department of Roads to make sure construction isn’t taking place along the route,” Galusha said. “Wayne was in the right spot, had the right infrastructure and they were very happy to have us.”
Many of the riders were seasoned veterans of the BRAN trip. Others, like Scott Rosen and Curtis Rubeck of Omaha, were first-timers who are learning the fine art of camping and riding in multiple-city events like this one.
“I’ve been commuting (on bike) for a number of years, and this was a chance to get outside the city and see the state,” said Rosen, who works as a tax accountant for a small Omaha-based firm. “It’s my first time camping, but the ride has been good and it’s been nice to see these towns. I feel more of a connection with the state than I thought I would.”
“I bought my first road bike four months ago and was looking to get into some organized ride events, and people suggested I should do BRAN,” added Rubeck, a Wayne State graduate and Columbus native who is a network administrator for a software company in Omaha. “It was a little scary at first, though. I was thinking to myself that I have seven days of vacation and why am I doing this, but I’m glad I jumped in and did it. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The trip from North Bend to Wayne was a little rough, particularly along Highway 275 where riders had to contend with bumpy and broken shoulders, along with the usual busy traffic of the two-lane highway.
Once they hit the recently-resurfaced Highway 15, though, they enjoyed the hilly sprint of the last 15 miles and the greeting they got once they came into town.
“Highway 275 is rough with some of the shoulders, but that last stretch I was flying and had a nice tail wind,” Rosen said.
“The shoulders (on 275) were rough and the road was busy, but that last stretch I was bound and determined to get here so I was pedaling my heart out and after that first hill I just went for it,” Rubeck added.
Both were very complimentary about the hospitality they’ve received while they were in town.
“Everything here was really well organized and it’s one of the best spots so far,” Rosen said.
“It’s been a good time here and I got to visit with some of the people at the college who I know, so it’s been great,” Rubeck added.
Irene Fletcher, head of the local organizing committee that hosted the BRAN riders, said everything appeared to go very well.
“We had a great time greeting the riders as they came to town,” she said. “We worried about the weather, but the emergency management team was keeping an eye on it and we didn’t have to worry about it. The Farmers Market sold out of food and they were pleased with the number of bike riders who came, and the riders seemed to be getting around town and a lot were asking about our Chicken Show, so they were excited about that as well.”
Wayne High athletes helped carry the bikers’ gear to their desired camping spot, and once the tents were pitched, the clothes were aired out and a little nap was had, the bikers had the opportunity to take in what the community of Wayne has to offer, including the farmers market, local vendors and service clubs, shopping downtown and a free movie at the Majestic Theatre.
“It’s been wonderful here. We couldn’t be happier,” Galusha said of the community’s effort in hosting the BRAN riders. “Everything was set up and organized when we pulled into town. That’s exactly the way it should go and we can certainly tell when towns are really ready for us and those who don’t do a lot of planning. It really showed here.”
And Thursday morning, the early risers began rolling out before the sun peeked over the horizon, heading north on Highway 15 for one of four routes that will ultimately lead them to Wakefield, including a 28.4 mile ride that goes through Concord, a 46.3 mile trip that goes through Laurel and crosses Highway 20 before going back through Allen, and two longer journeys of 84 and 91 miles that will take them to the northern edge of the state, the latter crossing the Missouri River into Vermillion, S.D., before returning to Wakefield.
The trip concludes with a ride to Winnebago on Friday and the final stop in Tekamah on Saturday.