“Are you a runner?”
It was the first question that Cher Maybee asked as she granted me entry into the bed and breakfast.
“No,” I replied cautiously. I had just driven across almost the entire width of Nebraska with barely a break and was uncertain if the 460 miles of fairly uninspiring landscape had dulled my hearing, or if it was a trick question. “But I walk a lot,” I added, hoping that might help.
Cher smiled. “We’re having a marathon tomorrow morning, and I thought you might be one of the runners staying here tonight.”
No, I explained, I hadn’t come to western Nebraska to torture my body with a 26-mile run, but rather to explore Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff National Monument, and the Sandhills, and to stay in this intriguing accommodation just past the edge of Scottsbluff and over the North Platte River.
Barn Anew sits across from a cornfield on some generous acreage a stone’s throw away from the old Oregon Trail on the dirt Country Road L. As the name implies, this B&B was originally a barn, built in 1908. A former owner wanted to raze it as it fell into disrepair, but she kept having dreams not to. So, obeying her subconscious, she and her spouse converted it into a very comfortable bed and breakfast instead. The current owners, Cher and her husband, Allan, have been maintaining that spirit for eight years now, opening up their home for travelers like me, their grounds for weddings, and a separate outbuilding that used to be part of a POW camp for German soldiers during World War II for community events.
Cher gave me the tour, beginning exactly where we stood, pointing out the Remington bronze statues and the abundant Native American artwork displayed everywhere — paintings, beadwork, and apparel made by Arapaho friends that were gifted to her and Allan when they taught at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming for a few decades. She showed me where the stallion used to be kept (now a player piano room), where the mares stayed (now the dining room, complete with a pastoral mural that wraps around all four walls, depicting the barn and its environs), and the old tack room.
Upstairs, four agreeable bedrooms (mine, the Pony Express Room, featured worn saddle bags, leather riding gloves, pictures of young men on horses delivering mail, and an antique bat wing dresser) led to a large common living room with comfortable leather sofas and a balcony to take in the scenery — a delightfully serene space where I browsed through a couple of issues of Nebraska magazine and monitored the full moon as it slowly crossed the clear sky over the distinctive sandstone, siltstone, volcanic ash, and limestone formations of Scotts Bluff National Monument, just a couple of miles away, before heading out to dinner at my hosts’ recommended restaurant, the outstanding Emporium Coffeehouse and Café.
The following morning, by the time I shuffled downstairs after a silent night’s sleep, all the other guests had already left for the marathon, an annual event in Scottsbluff that has gained some traction in the running world. So I had breakfast and the company of Cher and Allan all to myself in the warmly lit sunroom — formerly the milking station and cattle shelter. Over a palatable meal of orange juice, baked French toast with deliciously sweet chokecherry syrup, perfectly cooked bacon, and a fruit cup, I learned about this intriguing couple who, among other exploits, co-wrote a motorist’s guide for the Scotts Bluff County Tourism Department and sailed from Barbados to Rome on a seven-mast clipper with 42 sails. Further, Allan created the Midwest Canoe Association; founded the University of Nebraska rowing team; was featured in National Geographic for leading three enlisted men of the 7th Calvary and five frontiersmen on an 1,100-mile trek along the Santa Fe Trail; and traveled by jet ski from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, down the Snake and Columbia rivers, and into the Pacific Ocean — a journey of more than 5,600 miles over 43 days that landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest distance traveled on a jet ski.
Their admirable tales of accomplishment delayed my planned early start for another long day of driving, but it was the most enjoyable delay I had experienced in years. After we exchanged farewells and I packed up my rental car, I took a good look around. If I had more time, I would have settled into the hammock or the tree swing in the courtyard, a peaceful place to relax, watch the clouds go by, and admire the poppies that were planted a century ago by the original homesteader. Or I might have pondered staying an extra night in the old sheep wagon, near the former cattle chute, that’s appointed with a full-size mattress, stove, and cupboards. The open road beckoned, however, but after a splendid stay at Barn Anew, I was ready for the highway, feeling completely born anew.