To some bikepacking may seem crazy: “How am I supposed to survive with only the stuff I can carry on my bike?” To others (myself included), it means freedom. Combining the joys of cycling with the minimalism of camping and just being out in nature all day. And you don’t even have to go far to experience it in Nebraska! The Mopac, Jamaica-Homestead, Oak Creek, and Cowboy Trails are just a few of Nebraska’s rail trails that are ideal for bikepacking.
So, you think you want try it out? Lets sort out the basic gear you will need. As far as bags go, you can either set up your bike with panniers, or use frame bags. Since my bike doesn’t support panniers, I opted to use a frame bag, saddle bag, and handlebar bag to hold all of my gear.
-Bike and Water Bottles
-Tent or Hammock: a small backpacking style tent is ideal.
-Sleeping bag: the smaller the better, space matters.
-Pillow: I used an inflatable one, like you take on airplanes.
-Clothes: 2 sets of “camp” clothes, and 1 set of cycling kit.
-Tools: Extra tubes, allen wrenches, screwdrivers, pumps, anything you could need to service your bike.
-Snacks: I took an assortment of granola bars, fruit snacks, munchies. I planned on eating lunch and dinner at cafes/gas stations/towns as I came across them.
-Battery pack: To keep my phone and GPS charged, I took a power brick with a solar charger (not all campsites had power)
-Stove/Fuel: This one is optional, but I liked being able to have some hot oatmeal and tea in the mornings.
-Money: Always have cash! There are plenty of small towns to stop at along the trails, and some may only accept cash.
Now that we have our gear, lets plan a route. The Cowboy Trail made it honestly really easy for me. The trail runs from Norfolk to Valentine, NE and follows pretty close to the highway. Every 10-20 miles there is a small town where you can pick up food, water, and camp. So, depending on how far/long you want to go, simply find the towns along the trail that you can stay at. On my trip, I stayed in Johnstown, Valentine, and Atkinson. Even small towns that don’t seem to have campgrounds are usually cool with people setting up tents in their parks (just contact someone with the town beforehand to double check).
The Cowboy Trail (as I learned over a week), is extremely flat. It weaves between towns, farm fields, and pastures and the surface varies from paved (in towns), to crushed limestone, to deep thick pea gravel. A few sections were a bit sketchy and I nearly lost the handle on the bike. Heading out west, it became much sandier, and the burs started attaching themselves to my wheels (I HIGHLY recommend tubeless tires for this trip, I had no trouble with tires sealing back up).
The burs , or goat heads, became more common as I headed west.
Have Fun! The most important thing to do on your bikepacking trip is to have fun! Stop in the small towns, hang out at the local cafes and bars, get up to enjoy the sunrise, enjoy exploring the scenery and the historic towns you may run across on your way. After all, its about the journey, not the destination.
Janine’s Post Script: I highly recommend this companion book to the trail. It added to my appreciation of the area.