2014 Nebraska – Day 22 – Valentine: Inspiration at the bridge

Monday June 9, 2014, 7 miles (11 km) – Total so far: 1,063 miles (1,710 km)

The Cowboy Trail in northern Nebraska is a rail trail that follows the old Chicago and Northwestern rail line called “The Cowboy Line”. The railroad abandoned the line in 1992. It was purchased by the Rails to Trails Conservancy for a bit over $6 million and donated to the state of Nebraska.

When complete, the trail will be the world’s longest – running from Norfolk to Chadron over a distance of 321 miles. Currently 195 miles from Norfolk to Valentine have been completed with most surfaces being gravel.

I’ve seen the Cowboy Trail running alongside the highway in my travels along Highway 20, but I’ve always just stayed on the wide shoulder in the highway. The trail surface is supposed to be pretty poor in most sections, akin to riding on a soft, sandy beach. So I just haven’t bothered checking it out.

Today, though, the crew and I are going to head out to see the 1/4-mile long trestle bridge that spans the Niobrara River. It is 148 feet tall and just a few miles east of Valentine.

View of the Cowboy Trail bridge from the western end.
The trestle bridge on the Cowboy Trail. We’re about halfway across.

Before we head out, I stop at a canoe outfitter to see if I can hire a kayak and get transportation to travel the river tomorrow. It’s still a bit off-season, so I’m not sure if it will work. The folks at Brewers Canoers are friendly, though, and are going to try to help me out – come back in the afternoon to see if they’ve figured something out.

So the guys and I head out on the highway in cloudy, cool and blustery conditions to view the historic road bridge. It is best seen from an overlook right after you turn off the highway, or from the current road bridge. Once you get close to the bridge, or on it, you can’t see anything. I try to be amazed by the engineering, but, unfortunately, a bridge is a bridge to me, for the most part. I obviously have never had the aptitude to be an engineer!

You can’t really appreciate the engineering when you are on the bridge or adjacent to it – so have a good look when you are still up high or from the current highway bridge.

We then climb up the hill out of the river valley, rejoin the highway, and head down to the Cowboy Trail parking lot. There are a couple cars there – one woman with a kid on a bike is just returning.

Once I get out close to the trestle, I notice a woman standing on the trail, looking back my way. When I reach her, I say hello and ask if she is okay. She is, it’s just that she’s terribly agoraphobic and cannot bring herself to get any closer to the trestle, let alone go out on it. The man limping along out on the bridge is her husband.

We head out on the Cowboy Trail just outside of Valentine to see the big trestle bridge.
View from the Cowboy Trail trestle bridge.
View from the Cowboy Trail bridge over to the Hwy 20 bridge.

We get into a very nice conversation. She thinks my ride is just the greatest thing in the world. People just don’t have much sense of adventure anymore, she says. She goes on to say that I’ll never regret doing this ride or any others later in life. They don’t regret any of the adventures they’ve undertaken – not in the least. “You just can’t worry about money or how things might work out in the future. You just can’t predict it, but people like you and me will always figure out a way. It’s just the way we are, and that’s what allows us to go out and truly live a life.”

This woman and her husband are native Nebraskans. They are out for a tour of the Sandhills. They used to own a large ranch out here and love to come back to visit. When they retired from farming/ranching, they bought a boat and lived at sea for eight years. They now live near Hazard to be close to their daughter. This woman’s husband, now limping back toward us, has had nearly every joint replaced. They used to ride bikes a lot, but haven’t since his joint troubles began. The family did purchase a recumbent for him in hopes that he can start riding again after his upcoming hip replacement surgery.

Wow! I’m so inspired by these folks, and I’m so glad to have met them. The woman says she knew I was a kindred spirit when I rode up. She says I’m welcome to come stay with them in Hazard anytime. I say hello to her husband and then we part ways, wishing each other well and many future adventures. These are the kind of people I love meeting on the road 🙂

I head back into town and stop at the canoe place. They’ve figured out how to do the drop and pick up for me – I’m to come back tomorrow at 9am. Awesome! I’ve so been looking forward to this.

Valentine, NE.

We head down to the city park, which allows camping and has a shower and toilet block. The creek there is running high and the guys are loving the habitat.

The guys enjoying another campsite next to the water. There are nice campsites at the city park in Valentine.

Just after sunset, about 9.45 pm, two cars full of teenagers come hammering down the hill and into the park. They are loud and yelling at each other. Great! I hope they just leave me alone – this sort of stuff is why I don’t like camping alone in city parks.

They head down to picnic tables at the end of the loop and get out and start wrestling and rough-housing with each other. Another car drives by, and one of the teens yells out, “hey, you wanna join our bible study”? Now, I have some street smarts, and I know what it means to ‘want to go fast’, but what the heck could ‘join our bible study’ be code for?

The other car leaves and the teens go back to messing around. But then, lo and behold, they quiet down and one kid starts reading scripture. They discuss it for a little bit before someone starts punching someone else, and the wrestling and screaming begins again. For a little bit. Then they read some more scripture. Then they pummel one another for awhile again. Then they read more scripture. Ha! They really are having a bible study – they are just doing it teenage style with a bunch of rambunctious behavior thrown in the mix. That is definitely a first for me when camping in a city park.

Luckily, they only stay for an hour or so, and then all is quiet. I find it hard to sleep because I’m so excited about kayaking. Tomorrow is going to be a great day!

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