20-Feb-2007 -- International Confluence Day, a four point observance in the American Midwest marking the 11th anniversary of the Degree Confluence Project. [Part III – “In the steps of Lewis and Clark,” or more precisely, “Why Lewis and Clark relied on their footsteps rather than a 2WD vehicle when traveling in winter.”]
Heading west from 40N 95W, I drove a short section of Interstate 29, then quickly exited onto U.S. Highway 59. The third leg of my journey would take me back across the Missouri River. Along with its tributary the Platte ["a mile wide at the mouth, but only six inches deep" and "too thick to drink, too thin to plow"] River (which I would cross on leg #4), the Missouri formed an important transportation corridor during pioneer days. Visitors to the area today can still follow the routes of five significant trails: the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the Oregon National Historic Trail, the California National Historic Trail , the Pony Express National Historic Trail, and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. I passed numerous signs marking the road as the Lewis and Clark route. At Forest City I detoured on a gravel road taking me away from the base of the hills across the floodplain. I turned west on U.S. 159 and crossed the Missouri at the small town of Rulo. A large coal train was crossing the river heading in the opposite direction on the adjacent span as I headed west. However, it was long gone before I could get my camera out for a picture. So I had to settle for a picture of some sort of maintenance vehicle on the railroad bridge, and a historical marker at the site of one of many Lewis and Clark campsites.
In planning my trip, the dirt roads approaching 40N 96W had caused me the most concern, especially after the snowy weather during the week before my arrival. To stay on pavement as long as possible, I had mapped a route west on Nebraska Route 8 passing the cp to the north, then driving south through DeBois on Route 50, then driving the last three miles east on the unpaved baseline road that divides Kansas from Nebraska. However, my luck with road conditions had been so good all day, and there was still plenty of sunshine, so at the last minute I changed my mind, and turned south off Highway 8 before reaching the 96th meridian. I followed a series of gravel roads, winding up going west on 704 and then south on 631, along the way passing a number of very heavy dump trucks which were having no problems at all. I congratulated myself for saving so much time with a more direct approach.
With .43 miles to go, I turned west on the state line road (240th Road), and crested a small rise as I passed on my left the closest building to the cp, less than 200 meters from my goal. Too late I saw the ominous yellow and black sign stating “MINIMUM MAINTENANCE ROAD.” By the time the instantaneous change in road conditions sunk in, and I could bring the car to a stop, I was within 100 meters of the cp, in the middle of a sea of 4” deep mud, and in one of the few spots all day where I had no cell phone reception at all. I tried to back carefully up the hill I had just crested. I slung much mud and only went a few inches. I rocked the car both forward and reverse, and went only a few inches. I tried to back up very aggressively, and went only a few inches. I hit on the steering wheel in frustration and went nowhere at all.
Remembering James Woodson’s ill-fated visit back in March 2005 which suffered a bridge spike through a front tire, I decided 40N 96W was a jinxed confluence that others would be well advised to avoid. I could envision myself at the end of International Confluence Day camped in a stranded car overlooking a cp. After about 15 minutes of repeating some/all of the previous steps, I finally slide the car to the shady south side of the road where I was able to get traction on the remaining ice. I managed to turn around in a driveway to some of the farm outbuildings. I limped back over the crest of the hill and stopped on the solid gravel base on the eastern side, breathing a sigh of relief.
After this adventure, the final walk to the point was almost anticlimactic. I walked a diagonal line slightly downhill through an open gate. I found the cp about 75 meters south of the minimum maintenance road. As with the two previous visits, my GPS zeroed out exactly at the same tall fencepost. The temperature was now up to 50 degrees F. I walked back to the vehicle, noticing I now had a trip to a carwash in my near future, and at 1:45pm headed off for 41N 96W, my fourth and final cp stop of the day.