Sometimes the mind and the soul need a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. For many people, this may mean a day off, but for Merle Spickelmier, this means a trail ride.
Every year at the end of September, Spickelmier hosts a trail ride that anyone can attend, free of charge. It’s a two-day ride where people can get away from their lives, and enjoy the Nebraskan countryside.
“One question people always ask me is what are the rules of the trail ride? I tell them there are no rules, no fees, just that you have a good time!” he said.
The trail ride was started 36 years ago. “I started the ride back on July 4, 1976. It was wheat harvest time here in Hayes County, and it had rained so we decided to go ride horses at the lake and show the harvesters from Oklahoma the monument,” he said.
Around 1999, the Lions Club of Hayes county decided they wanted to have an annual rendezvous, and asked Spickelmier to have his trail ride during that event.
“We changed the ride to the last weekend in September, which is when it has been ever since, and will continue as that is rendezvous time of old, and the fall colors are really beautiful at that time along the Red Willow Creek,” Spickelmier stated.
Two years ago, the rendezvous was stopped by the Lions Club. However, Spickelmier still continues to hold the ride every year, and the Lions Club still supports his efforts.
“I hope to grow it back to what it was with the rendezvous, but I live 250 miles away now, so it is hard for me to line up much from that distance. The Hayes County community is behind me with help, and permission to ride on private land, and in all aspects of the ride,” he said.
People come to the ride from a wide area, and he usually has 20 to 30 people, but has had as many as 40. The people come from all over Nebraska, and surrounding states including Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Montana.
The two-day ride is led by Spickelmier, and each night they gather around the campfire to tell stories and share their lives.
“I have a lot of stories to tell, mostly all funny and clean. When people want to hear of my outings, or stories, I just tell them we will have to wait until I have a campfire,” he stated.
The campfire is the place where the riders really get to know each other. “We have some great times around the campfire every year with story telling, adventures of others. A lot of plans are made to meet up and go on other rides that others have done and enjoyed and want to share as well. Some great friendships have been made over the years, and now this is a once a year meeting of old friends and making new ones. We have a lot of young people ride, and older people as well,” Spickelmier said.
Spickelmier’s father, who is 90, was at the ride this year. “My dad, Harvey, has made most of them. He doesn’t ride anymore, but does come and enjoy the visits with the riders and tell his stories of when he was a kid and worked at the lake for a time selling pop to the visitors, of the dance hall that was there in the old days,” he said.
The story that Spickelmier tells of the trail, however, is one that attendees are sure not to miss. “The Russian Czar Alexander II sent his son, the Grand Duke Alexis, to hunt buffalo in Nebraska. Why? Because the Duke was seeing this gal in Russia that the Czar didn’t care for, so to cool the Duke’s heels and love for this gal, he sent him to America to hunt buffalo,” he said.
He continued the story, “Well that worked, but the Duke met this gal in Chicago that was from New Orleans, and fell in love with her. So after the buffalo hunt, the Duke and the daughter of some high-falutin’ politician in New Orleans went to Louisana, and that was the first Mardi Gras.”
The story is legendary on the trail ride. “I read that story some where, and have passed it on every year, with a lot of laughs, raised eyebrows and doubt, but it is my story, my ride and I am stickin’ to it,” he said. ❖