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Robert Hale from Port Matilda, Pennsylvania on 9/13/2018 10:32:43 AM:
I rode parts of the Cowboy Trail and the highway from Valentine to Norfolk from September 8-10th, 2018. My impression of the trail is that it could be a gem, but is too poorly maintained to really be usable. The scenery around Valentine is beautiful. However the gravel is not packed and I sunk and slid even on 40mm tires. Near Wood Lake there were sections where it appeared that weeds had grown so tall and thick on the trail that they were simply mowed, leaving stumps. At Johnstown, I sunk and slid, and being clipped in, took a spill. It was at that point that I decided to ride the parallel highway. To the best of my ability, I calculated that using the same effort on the trail was costing me about 4 miles an hour. My first day, I rode from Valentine to Bassett. I camped in the Bassett city park. There was water and electricity available, and the restroom doors at the swimming pool were open, but no water to flush the single toilet. You can imagine the condition. On the second day I rode from Bassett to Inman. Several times I ventured onto the trail for a mile, only to return to the highway. Typically the highway and trail are so close together your scenery doesn't change, only the effort in peddling. The shoulder or berm on the highway is excellent. It is wide and smooth, and the traffic is courteous. In Atkinson, I was invited to lunch by Pastor Linda and the Methodists. They were wonderful people and a picnic lunch was a great break from peddling with the south breeze cross wind. I also waved and shouted at the only other long distance cyclist I encountered on the trip. He was on the highway and shouted back that he was headed to California. Camping in the Inman city park was an adventure - no water, no electricity and no restrooms. On the third day I stuck to the highway from Inman to Norfolk. The only hill, and it was a small one, that I encountered on the entire trip was in Neligh. I was riding a fully packed Kona Sutra bicycle. My tubes had sealent, and I never had a flat although at one point riding on the trail, I had thrown enough sandburs up on the front panniers that they were difficult to open without getting stuck several times. I truly enjoyed the ride. The people I met were great. The highway was pleasant. The scenery especially near Valentine was excellent. The trail needs to be maintained. My advice to other riders would be to ride the trail from Valentine to Wood Lake (where I had a lovely break in their park)and think about the highway for the remainder of the ride.

 
Dougt from Onawa, Ia on 9/15/2018 9:08:44 AM:
That's depressing news. I'm looking forward to a trail ride,not a road ride after a summer of road riding. It's too bad that there isn't more trail condition information/upkeep on this gem, because the Cowboy Trail is famous in the biking community. I've emailed the Ne. government contact listed somewhere in the form for trail information and never got a response. I appreciate your posting and will post my experiences when done. I was planning on making this an annual fall trip.

 
Jim in Baltimore from Baltimore on 9/26/2018 5:45:39 AM:
Rode the trail that same week. I found the trail conditions to be good, much better than I was led to believe from reading some of the posts on here. The trail does have more gravel than is needed, some weeds, a few washouts and cross roads and believe it or not huge ant mounds. But slow down, ride the tire tracks where the gravel isn’t as deep and don’t overcorrect when you do hit loose spots. It took me a day or so to get used to the heavy bike and loose conditions but once I did I found the trail exhilarating. Slowing down isn’t a bad thing, stopping and walking through some of the more scenic areas is even better. The trail near Valentine is truly spectacular. I brought a folding camp chair and took frequent breaks. Highly recommended, especially near ONeil where there are trees chock full of big beautiful Monarchs this time of year.

The highway is faster but not anywhere near as enjoyable or as close to nature as the trail. 70 mph semis are no fun.

I bought 2.25x26 Swalbe Marathon Plus MTB tires with standard tubes just for this trail based upon reports from the forums. These tires proved to be too much. The only thorns I picked up were from riding through grassy areas in campgrounds and cutting to and from minimarts. Stay on the gravel and you will see less thorns (and don’t walk the campgrounds barefoot!!). The Swalbes proved impervious to the few thorns I did pick up, no flats in 4 days of riding. The big issue with the tires was the deep tread is not good for gravel and they were much wider than need be. Next fall will ride the trail again with 32-40 cc tires on my gravel bike. Fast handling bikes or a twitchy riding style are not good for loose gravel.

The cowboy is not an easy or fast ride, but it is an extremely satisfying one. What I think the trail needs most is more traffic to wear the gravel in better. I think letting people know what to expect will help in this regard.

 
Kevin R from Twin Cities on 9/27/2018 4:59:47 PM:
Anyone find a decent place in Valentine to leave your car? I can't find any "official" recommendation online. I'll call the city office tomorrow, but Old West Days are underway and I may not get anyone on the phone.

 
Alex from Lincoln on 10/4/2018 8:50:10 AM:
Thank you both for your comments on your trip! Both good reads. For anyone camping in Inman in the future the bar (Harte's Pub) in town is happy to fill your water bottle.

 
Cynthya Billinger from Salina, KS on 10/22/2018 8:10:59 AM:
Was excited to see the post this morning on the tourism post regarding The Cowboy Trail. Very much enjoyed these latest posts regarding The Trail and ride experiences. We rode The Trail August 2017. We rode entirely on The Cowboy Trail except for the detour at Clearwater and a short detour by The Coop at Ainsworth. This trail is a diamond in the rough, but well worth the ride. Would make the trip again and after reading these posts ready to hit The Trail another year in September. Nebraska....people will come, ride and bring good things for your state!