Oh Nebraska, how you surprised us with your bountiful landscapes and beautiful people. You can keep your headwinds but we’ll forever remember your kindness.
After finishing the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota we drove three hours to Valentine, did laundry, cleaned up a little and then set out the next day to ride 190 miles eastbound on The Cowboy Trail to Norfolk, Nebraska.
Day 1: Valentine to Bassett, NE | 67 miles, 440 feet of elevation climb
We first encountered Steve and Mike from Santa Barbara riding the Great Rail Trail. They actually diverted their westbound bike adventure and travelled through Indianapolis, our hometown!
Flatter than griddle cakes, this trail just about bucked us right off of it the first day. Yes it’s hot. Yes, it’s monotonously, yet beautifully flat. And yes we did get a late start but dang those goat heads! Right around Ainsworth we discovered narly little burrs in our tires, between 10-15 in each tire. These caused tiny punctures in our tires and when pulled out, air leaked before the hole sealed and repaired itself.
We figured if the entire trail was like that we’d have over 100 punctures on each tire by the time we got back to our car.
We cooked up a little din din and talked about bagging the rest of the ride. It was going to be stifling hot and the goat heads were waiting, not to mention a forecast calling for 20-30 mph headwinds.
We decided to wait until morning to literally see which way the winds were blowing. If it was a stiff headwind, we’d bag it and save ourselves some goat head grief.
Day 2: Bassett to Ewing, NE | 76 miles, 226 of elevation climb
We got up and rode to a nearby gas station for coffee then rode to the trail head in Bassett. Tom licked his finger, stuck it up into the already prevailing wind and… a side wind. Now what to do. Go forward or go back?
It was going to be 20-30 mile an hour wind day, temps of at least 100 degrees and would there be any more tire punctures?
Onward we went since we figured a side wind would feel the same whether we travelled east toward Norfolk or west back to our car. And we hadn’t picked up any more goat heads since Ainsworth.
We finished the day adding 12 more miles than we’d planned just to get to the town of Ewing that offered more services.
We found a city park adjacent to the baseball fields and pitched our tent near two other cross country cyclists. Anna and her son Tom are traveling eastbound and will finish their coast to coast ride in New York
Day 3: Ewing to Norfolk| 55 miles, 223 of elevation climb
We awoke to the sprinklers in the city park coming on at 5:11am. Since the forecast called for a warm, dry night we were sleeping with the tent fly off. Before the powerful water stream drenched the inside of our tent we scrambled out of it to get the fly on. Apparently we bed down near three sprinkler jets. Our UK neighbors got a morning surprise too.
Despite the day’s damp beginning, the rest of it was hot and dry and we reached the east end of the Cowboy Trail in Norfolk.
Day 4: Norfolk to Ewing, NE | 55 miles, 495 feet of elevation climb
The best part of the ride? No doubt it was the people! Whether it was chatting with early risers getting a coffee at the local gas station, or swapping stories at the local pub at the end of the day, we learned so much from everyone we met. Geri and Tim the kayakers, Don who had more stories to share than we had time to listen to, the octogenarians in Tilden and many more. Who knew about aquifers and that Nebraska sits on one of the largest in the world. Little wonder the corn looks gigantic. And why did cattlemen switch to raising Angus? And how do Nebraskans live so long, so well and so happy?
Day 5: Ewing to Bassett, NE | 70 miles, 535 feet of elevation climb
Finally a nice tail wind today! Other than that we enjoyed visiting the small towns we stopped in on the way out. Still flat. Still hot. Still riding in the right direction. And still finding humor in the way the cows looked at us when we rode by.
Day 6: Bassett to Valentine, NE | 64 miles, 869 feet of elevation climb
It was our last day of riding and we could smell the barn so to speak. I hadn’t climbed a top a hay roll since our cross country ride in 2018 soooo…
We were hot, hungry, thirsty, dusty and dirty but we were done. Once back to the car, we took the bags off the bikes, loaded the bikes on the car and took off for Emporia, Kansas via Kearney, Nebraska.
Note to cyclists: We’d heard the Cowboy Trail was a tough ride in the summer due to the open areas and exposure to sun, heat and wind. We’d also heard about the goat heads and the sandy surfaces that make riding a bike more difficult. There’s a little bit of the above but not enough to keep you from riding the trail.
The only part we encountered goat heads (sand spurs) was between Ainsworth and Johnstown. On our return ride to our car, we jumped on the road to avoid them. On another note, most all Nebraskans were uber courteous to cyclists and gave us plenty of room while passing. If you’re not cycling with tubeless tires, count on taking the highway between these two towns else you’ll undoubtedly get a flat tire (or two ore three).
Cycling with wider tires (we run Maxxis Ikons with a tubeless setup) will help you navigate the sandy parts of the trail which make up less than 5% of it. There are several stretches of exposed trail that when hot and windy make for challenging riding however there are towns almost every ten miles or so with water sources or c-stores. Not much you can do with a head wind except keep calm and pedal on.
Click on the image below to view more pics and videos of the Cowboy Trail.