Traveling Highway 6 by two-wheeler

Monday, August 6, 2007
David Kunes pauses for a bit in McCook. (Courtesy photo)

For most of us Highway 6 through McCook is just another way (albeit a more relaxing way) of getting to Lincoln, or Denver -- as compared to the busy Interstate, with its proliferation of 18-wheelers. We usually think of Highway 6 as "our local road", and not as one of the longest continuous highways across the United States.

Highway 6 has had a colorful history. It started out originally as an unusually fine, improved road from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Brewster, N.Y. Over the years various roads joined the original, and portions of the highway have been known by various names---Midland Trail Highway, or in this part of the country, DLD (Detroit-Lincoln-Denver) and officially as the GAR Highway (Grand Army of the Republic). Those were the days when all highways had distinctive, often descriptive or colorful names. However, in 1926 all the states adopted a universal policy of numbering highways, so that there can be a common identification of highways as they pass from state to state -- hence Highway 6.

Highway 6 has been a favored route to the Rockies for a long time. George Hormel, of Austin Minn., long favored that route on his annual visits to Colorado, and this was some years before his nephew, Ben came to our city to take over an automobile agency in 1936.

On one such visit he was intrigued by the sight of a Wooden Indian standing in front of a saloon on the corner of B Street and Norris Avenue. He engaged the owner in conversation and in just a short time had purchased the statue and arranged for its shipment to his son's home in Austin. Today that Wooden Indian resides in a prominent place in the Spam Museum in Austin, another link between the Horm-els and McCook.

I've never known anyone who has traveled the entire distance of 6 by car, yet alone by bicycle. That all changed this summer when I met Dave Kunes, a 2007 graduate of a high school in suburban Rochester, N.Y., who was in the midst of just such a trip.

It is not your typical 18-year old high school graduate that willingly gives up his summer vacation and volunteers for the ordeal of pedaling 100 miles most days, enduring sand storms, rainstorms and 100 degree heat over a 6 week period, with the only remuneration being the satisfaction of proving to one's self that "I did it!" But then, Dave is not your typical 18-year old.

Dave and his twin sister were raised by their mother and a great aunt. His aunt is a retired Zerox employee and his mother is an active "Long Haul Semi-Truck Driver", who has never had an accident, and has a room-full of plaques and trophies to prove it.

As a boy, Dave was not much interested in athletics, much preferring to spend his time playing computer games. Two years ago he was a pudgy 190 couch potato. Then his mother bought him a vintage Schwinn bicycle and encouraged him to use it.

At first Dave only went for occasional rides around the neighborhood, but found that the freedom that his bike brought him rather appealed to him, and he began taking longer and longer rides, and he began to shed pounds. He liked his new physique.

Another encouragement to his new hobby was that of a boyhood friend, Ben Hall. The two had been friends "forever," and enjoyed their time in the Boy Scouts. In high school Ben had been drawn to the sport of Track and Field, and as a senior emerged as the New York State King of the Two Mile run. Somewhere along the line the two boys came up with the idea that it would be pretty cool to pedal across the USA.

Dave and Ben flew to California in early July to begin their assault of Highway 6, all 3,652 miles of it, starting in Long Beach on July 10. The plan was to finish the ride in Provincetown, Mass., on Aug. 14, but that goal depends on how many times they get sidetracked along the way. They are not interested in setting any records, but are very much interested in soaking up as much of the local culture as they can, and enjoy their journey, both the good and the not so good along the way.

Dave's aunt and sister drove to California to witness the start of the journey, and stayed with them through the desert. Evidently they were satisfied by that time that the boys were indeed capable of making the journey and went on with their vacation plans on their way back East. Still, each day Dave keeps in touch with his family, via cell phone

Dave's journey has not been without its problems. To begin with, somehow Dave's vintage Schwinn was damaged on the plane, and the parts needed to fix the bike were unattainable -- the bike was TOO vintage. Then, his new bike, a Japanese model, dropped a derailer while just crossing the continental divide. Although there were numerous bike shops in Colorado, no one was able to fix the bike till he got to Denver.

Ben's troubles were even more aggravating. Ben, the champion runner, likes to look as the ride as a competition. All across the desert he railed at Dave for not going fast enough. Then, just entering Loveland Pass, Ben ran into a hail storm.

He was lucky to have a family rescue him and his bicycle, and take him safely down the mountain. After they dropped him off, Ben discovered that his had left his wallet, with all his money and papers in their car. He was forced to ride his bike back, over the Loveland Pass, some 80 miles to their home, and await their return. By the time Dave was spending a leisurely day in McCook, Ben was some 160 miles behind, hurrying to catch up.

This fall will find all three young people back in school. Dave's sister will begin pursuit of an architectural career at a Community College. Ben will accept a track scholarship and aspire to more championships. (Along the way, each evening after the day's bike ride, Ben runs(!) another 5 miles, so he'll be in shape for track.)

And Dave -- He graduated from high school with more than 30 hours of college credit, and plans to complete his Bachelor of Arts Degree without ever becoming a college student. He will take a series of some 32 tests and hopefully get his degree by "testing out."

When he enters college it will be as a graduate student, with a Masters in History as his goal. Heady stuff for an 18 year old.

Somehow Dave and Ben got acquainted with officials of the Highway 6 Association, and the two boys have become unofficial ambassadors for the Association. Last year the Highway 6ers visited McCook with members of the Car Art group. They had a fine time, and people here appreciated the Car Art (even though some of us did not understand it).

And now Dave and Ben are more than happy to promote 6 as a more leisurely way to see the USA, and help to bring a bit more business to the merchants in the towns along the way. We're happy to encourage them all we can in that endeavor.

There was one bit of irony that came out while visiting with Dave. He was discussing the Merit Badges he had earned as a Scout, and it was pointed out to him that Cycling was one of the Merit Badges, and that must have been an easy one for him. On the contrary!!!

When he attempted to pass the exam for the Cycling Badge he was refused by the committee. Seems he did not cross railroad tracks just right. Hopefully, when he gets back he can resubmit his request for the Cycling Badge. He's earned it.

Correction: McCook's 1925 Fire Truck resides at Pioneer Village, Minden. John Hubert's 1948 Fire Truck was retired by the McCook Fire Department.

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