Hidden Gem: Rural Cycling
Words by Caitlin Dumas
Small town life is what I know.
In five turns, one stoplight, and ten minutes from my house, I’m on a low-traffic road, ready to ride. My options are laid out for me from here. I can ride a century, a twenty-mile hammer session, explore the area’s best minimum maintenance road and so much more.
I’m a cyclist living in Hastings, a town of 25,000 in rural Nebraska. Someone once asked, “Do you have to ride your bike through corn fields?” No, we don’t ride through cornfields. Unless there's an MMR through a field. Then, yeah, we might.
Hastings doesn’t have a bike shop and hauling our bikes, gear, dogs, and food 100+ miles to races every weekend can become quite an undertaking. Many I talk to see this as a deterrent to riding in rural areas. I don't believe it should be. To me, all of that pales in comparison to the lure of rural cycling.
For so many reasons, rural cycling is a magical, hidden gem.
There are days where all I want to do is just enjoy being on my bike. I find myself getting lost in the surroundings, much to the frustration of my husband and dad, and gawking at all that is around me while my legs are spinning out of some sense of autopilot. I believe they call it “dwaddling.”
But, some days, I will dwaddle away because, well, I can. Rural cycling gives me the raw potential to experience the outdoors, as it is, every single day. I can come home from work and don’t have to battle traffic to ride until I see the sun set over the rolling prairie. I can spend Sunday morning riding miles of gravel or I can splash around and fat bike through the Platte River.
Now, it’s not just the geography of rural cycling that makes my heart sing, but the community of cyclists within it. I always say Hastings is like the porridge in the Three Little Bears; it’s “just right.” It’s large enough so our town doesn’t shut down at 9 pm (this is something that happens in small towns, no joke, even on weekends), but it’s small enough I can almost guarantee you I will run into someone I know going to the grocery store. Hastings is just the right size to have thriving communities within itself, such as a weekly group ride.
I’ve only been riding for three years, and I was like a child at the pool dipping her toes to test the water when it came to our group rides.
I was anti-social. I would rather cuddle up with a book and my dogs after a long day of work.
I was too slow. There’s no way I’m going to be able to hold their pace; I’m not fast enough.
I took baby steps. I’ll just get a drink with them after the ride and feel things out.
Finally, this summer, I took the plunge and it’s been my best six months of cycling yet. Every Wednesday, a group of us get together to ride, and while being on my bike is glorious in all fashions, the post rides are something you don’t want to miss.
On average, I would say there are about 15 - 20 people who show up every week. Some regulars, some new riders, and some who just ride when they can. Not only do we all ride together, but we take turns hosting the whole group at our homes after the ride. Every week, someone lets a bunch of sweaty, loud, beer-drinking cyclists into their house to just hang out for a few hours. When a community like this forms, cycling goes beyond the physical act of riding and into something deeper.
The rarity of what I have found in our rural cycling community hit me when I was talking to a good friend who owns a bike shop in Omaha. He was surprised at how we open our home after we ride. “You just let everyone come hang out at your house? What if you don’t know them?”
Well then, my friends, we will get to know them because that’s how our group grows, how they helped me fall more in love with cycling, and it’s something any community can do. That is the hidden gem of rural cycling.