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Looking Back on the Cowboy Trail

It’s Tuesday and I think my butt has decided to forgive me. Besides some odd tan lines and bug bites, I’m feeling pretty good. I think my head and body is still in the process of digesting the whole thing, of trying to come up with some grand conclusion of what it meant. I know it’ll mean more to me later, but for right now,  I’ll admire the numbers: 195 miles on two wheels, with only my legs to pedal from point A to B. Jamie and I could hardly believe that we went through with it, and survived.

For those who were expecting updates along the trail,  I apologize for failing miserably. There was limited internet access on the road and my iPad would not make friends with WordPress.

We left Norfolk with 11 riders. When we reached the bridge in Valentine, 5 of us were left. The Cowboy Trail meant something different to all of us– some folks were in their 70s, others in their 60s and 50s. Some have ridden competitively for years while others just picked it up a month ago. We were all out there for different reasons: to work, to cross off items on bucket lists, to prove something, or to simply get away and into nature, to clear our schedules and our minds. But I think we can all agree that the experience was intimate– intimate in the way that we got the rare opportunity to know the land and the people, and personal in the way that each of us had our own journey to pursue. We all rode our own ride. With nothing but sky above and miles of trail ahead, the mind wanders back to what’s truly important.

Jamie, Carine, Jim, Bob, Kathy, Verna, Nancy and Larry, thanks for sharing this adventure with me and for being so nice! We sure lucked out with seven days of beautiful weather– that never happens in Nebraska!


I won’t go into too much detail– you’ll have to wait for the NEBRASKAland Magazine story for that (sometime next year). But for those planning on riding it this year, here a few things to keep in mind. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the Cowboy Trail is tough. It’s doable, but tough. How far and fast you go will depend on your capabilities, but we were all pretty satisfied with going 30-40 miles per day. At some parts, the limestone is compacted and good, and in other parts, it’s deep, overgrown and slow going. I can’t give you exact coordinates and the exact condition of the trail from mile to mile– it will change from year to year, season to season– but the good thing is, you have Highway 20 to fall back on, which follows most of the trail from Norfolk to Valentine. It will veer off in sections, but will return to the highway. We had a couple riders who were able to ride the trail in its entirety (unlike others who cheated a little), one was 71 and the other only started riding a bike a month ago. Another plus is that the trail has little elevation change. You may feel a slight incline at some parts, but it’s really nothing to write home about.

If you have a road bike, you will have a difficult time on this trip. Those thin tires will make your life miserable. Do yourself a favor and get a mountain bike or at least a touring bike that can handle rough and loose terrain. Putting liners in your tires help– surprisingly, we only had 2 flats the entire way. Having someone as support to haul camping gear and personal items will help a bunch. We learned this lesson rather quickly.  Many of us started out loaded down with packs and trailers behind our bikes, and by the second day, most of us got rid of them. The loose limestone makes you sink and causes drag, especially when hauling extra weight. It’s no fun. Thank God Larry Stava was there to save our sanity.

Bridges before Clearwater and east of Ewing are broken and closed, but no need to worry. Travel north on the nearest road to hop onto Highway 20 to go around. Hop back onto the trail once you see it again.

If you have any specific questions about the trail, email me at jenny.nguyen@nebraska.gov and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

About Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

NEBRASKAland Associate Editor Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and moved to the United States with her parents in 1992. She graduated from Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, California, in 2008 and completed her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in 2012. Wheatley was editor-in-chief for her high school newspaper and continued to write in college, freelancing for various publications, the Tiger Woods Foundation and writing for her blog FoodForHunters.com. After graduating college, she moved to Nebraska in early 2013 to join the Commission as Regional Editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine. She then became associate editor in 2015. Wheatley enjoys hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and wild game cooking.

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