by Lee Bruns
For my first ever assignment for MMM I was sent to Niobrara, Nebraska to report about the town. Easy, right? I mean how much could there possibly be to see and do in Niobrara? Well, as it turns out, there is so much to see and do that even listing it all is tough. To make matters worse, Team Strange was holding their “Return to Niobrara” event there that weekend also.
My wife, Donna and daughter Sammi and I piled in to Metallic Waste (Ed- Next month we will bring readers a full story on this most interesting of sidecars) and headed down to Niobrara Thursday night July 29th. It was a beautiful night for a ride with a near full moon. We arrived around midnight and set up our tent in the dark atop the hill in Niobrara State Park unable to see much of the scenery by the light of the bikes head lamp. We awoke in the morning to the 35-mile view from the peak of the park. The 360ûpanorama ranges from rolling prairie to lowland lakes and waterfowl areas.
The Team Strange Return to Niobrara event included a presentation by Arlene Liska, author, world traveler and pioneer of motorcycle adventure touring. Back in the early 60’s, Arlene and her husband Danny left their ranch near Niobrara on their BMW and crisscrossed the planet traveling to the ragged edges of both North and South America before crossing the ocean to explore Africa and Europe. Danny has since died but Arlene is as enthusiastic about riding today as she was 40 years ago. Arlene shared her experiences not only of her world travels, but also of Niobrara, the town.
Niobrara, we learned, is one of Nebraska’s oldest towns as well as its youngest. It was originally a campsite of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804. It was easy to see why they stopped here. Niobrara has been relocated twice to get above the floodwaters of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers. Main street of the second Niobrara location is right down the middle of the golf course of the present Niobrara.
Each day of the Team Strange event there was something new to do. Friday morning was the observation ride, a casual 150-mile ride of the meandering river roads on both the Nebraska and South Dakota sides of the river. Friday evening we ran the AMA poker run. Saturday morning we took off to ride the 14 hour Road Rally, but returned at noon to participate in the much hyped “Townies vs. Bikers” softball game. The townies chose to hit home runs so that they did not have to run around the bases preferring a more leisurely ‘mosey’ after belting the ball over the fence. It was a sad day for the motorcycle team as the Team Strange softball team went down in grand defeat.
Lunches and evening meals as well as cold beverages were all served at the famous Two Rivers Saloon (Ed-See MMM #51 for a full review of the Two Rivers). The saloon is owned and operated by Pat Kelley a temporarily landlocked riverboat captain with stories to share. Breakfasts were all eaten at the homey Custer County Cafe on the edge of town. When it was time for bed, we headed back to Niobrara State Park for an evening of sitting around the campfire swapping tires and kicking lies till dark o’clock in the morning.
We awoke at 3am to a ferocious thunderstorm that roared through the campground snapping tent poles like so many . . . . snapped tent poles. Even through the worst of the storm, as the riders huddled under the picnic shelter the mood would not be dampened. One rider, of high spirit, in a scene straight out of “The Truman Show” shook his fist at the sky shouting “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?” That’s when the hail started.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny as the riders gathered their gear and strapped it to their bikes for the ride home. At the two Rivers Saloon awards were handed out to the winners of the events and the raffle. My lovely wife Donna was lucky enough to win a extremely rare autographed copy of Danny Liska’s book “Two Wheels to Adventure” that she promptly gave to me. I have been wanting a copy of it for myself but at 400 dollars per copy it was out of my price range.
Whether you’re looking for a great ride, great food, or great people you can’t go wrong with Niobrara, Nebraska and the Two Rivers Saloon. If we close our eyes and wish really hard, maybe Team Strange will make the “Return to Niobrara” an annual event.