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Jimmy P from Omaha on 6/13/2011 10:49:15 PM:
Cowboy Trail, June 9 – 11, 2011
Started out at the Trailhead in Norfolk, just south of Hwy 275 on Hwy 81 on June 9 at about 10:00 am. I rode a Giant Iguana mountain bike. I have never ridden more than 30 miles in a day, but I have been riding regularly 2-3 times a week since March. My Dad rode a Raleigh touring bike. He is an experienced commuter and road cyclist and had finished BRAN in 2010. Our Logistician (my grandfather) pulled a camper to each of our planned overnight stops, and we ended each day with a few stories and a hot meal.

Temperature at the start was 55-F, winds out of the northwest at about 5-10 mph. Overcast skies with rain showers and thunderstorms scattered in the area.

The trail closure just west of Norfolk was well-marked, and the detour was a paved county road.

Stopped in Battle Creek as the first BRAN riders were heading in. Waited out a thunderstorm at a filling station over coffee and snack cakes. Continued back on the trail as the rain eased and the lightning stopped. Despite the moderate rain, the trail was firm and comfortable.

Stopped for lunch at the Sportsman’s Bar west of Meadow Grove. Go for the lunch buffet. This stop required less than 1 mile on Hwy 275 out of Meadow Grove.

After lunch, we continued past Tilden and Oakdale on the trail. Our water supply was adequate, so we did not look for water at either town.

Stopped for water at the Neligh City Park. The trail west of Neligh was becoming increasingly “soft,” as we were preceded by heavier rains than we saw in Battle Creek. High amounts of gravel and a soft base resulted in enough rutting to put us to work. Don't worry, we didn't hurt the trail any.

The trail closure east of Clearwater was not marked. It was evident by the lack of trail. It became completely washed out…and we could see the bridge out a couple hundred yards ahead. The closest detour was an unimproved county road heading north about 250 yards to Hwy 275. It was

 
Jimmy P from Omaha on 6/13/2011 10:51:06 PM:
It was 1-3 inches of thick mud, which we tried unsuccessfully to ride. My bike was so full of mud that we were forced to ride Hwy 275 into Clearwater and wash off at a filling station (the hose out back). Miserable but pretty fun at the same time.

The rain increased to a heavy downpour, so we continued on Hwy 275 to Ewing. This was our first overnight stop, and we camped at the City Park (water, electric and dump station, no restrooms). We had planned to make 10 mph on the trail, but arrived over an hour past schedule due to the weather and trail conditions. Our logistician had the camper heated and the grill going which was a welcome sight.

June 10.
Overnight was cloudy and cool, but no rain. At dawn, the temperature was about 50o F with overcast skies, winds still northwest at about 5 mph. We decided to rejoin the trail, heading out at 7:15 am, but quickly found it too soft to ride, and continued west on Hwy 275 about 3 miles west of Ewing.

We passed Inman on the highway without needing water or supplies.

We stopped for coffee and snacks in O’Neill. The cloud ceiling began to scatter out, but the highway shoulders still held water so we stayed off the trail until Atkinson. We passed Emmet without stopping there because it was a bit south of the highway, as was the trail.

In Atkinson, we ate lunch at a restaurant downtown, I don’t remember the name, although “Hunter’s Welcome” was their claim. Pretty decent burgers.

Weather now was partly cloudy and the temperature was approaching 70oF, so we rejoined the trail in hopes that it had firmed up throughout the morning.

From Atkinson to Bassett, the trail was in good condition. Though at times, the gravel was deep enough to cause steering problems (a runner’s delight), it was still very good overall. We stopped at the City Park in Stuart for water, though it was on the north side of town, still not too far a ride.

Stopped for water at Grandma’s Park in Newport:

 
Jimmy P from Omaha on 6/13/2011 10:51:59 PM:
: A small park which we didn’t even notice until a local resident pointed it out, and features only water and a picnic table. The Spring Valley Park was south of town along Hwy 20, which we were not inclined to visit on account of its distance from the trail.

Stopped for the night at the City Park in Bassett. Now, the “Cowboy Trail Park” in downtown Bassett is nothing more than an empty lot with a water pump and camper electricity behind a warehouse near the creamery. People in town didn’t even know about it. It is close to the trail, but you’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there. The City Park, however, was on the south end of town along the highway, and had water, restrooms and showers available. No dump station for campers.

June 11.
Overcast skies, temperature about 50o F, calm winds. The trail from Bassett to Ainsworth was the best condition for cycling along the entire trail. Long Pine Creek was beautiful. Ainsworth to Johnstown, rough trail (from livestock movement) forced us to ride considerably slower, and we eventually picked up the highway into Johnstown. The City Park had water and a table, which was convenient while I fixed a flat.

To make up time from the flat, and allow us to sit down for lunch at Wood Lake, we continued on Hwy 20 into Wood Lake. Lunch at the Wood Lake Cafe (delicious), fixed another flat. Could have been sand burrs, I don’t know, and I haven’t looked closely yet at the tubes to see. We picked up the trail out of Wood Lake on principle, and continued toward Valentine. We had stiff winds from the southeast at 20 mph, which helped our mood. We knew there would not be water at Arabia, so we carried another 2 quarts at the day’s start in preparation for the Wood Lake to Valentine leg.

 
Jimmy P from Omaha on 6/13/2011 10:52:43 PM:
Because we came to ride the Cowboy Trail, not the highway which is sometimes near the Cowboy Trail, we tolerated very rough trail conditions toward Valentine, especially west of the Arabia Ranch. Very heavy ranch use, including large numbers of horses, cattle, pickups and ATVs, had damaged the trail. Some heavy equipment had rippled the surface at points and displaced the gravel into rows and mounds. The posts which blocked vehicle traffic were removed on portions of the trail east of Valentine, and we paid dearly for the poor conditions, in terms of slow travel and high pain. Our reward was the most beautiful tour of the Sandhills one could hope for, with sights the highway cannot reveal. Wildlife was prevalent with marshy conditions along the trailside, about every kind animal that lives in the Sandhills was close by.

195 miles in 3 days. Maybe next time we’ll take 4 days.