Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Justin Hall's Fantasy Bike Ride

A friend and teammate of mine back in Davis is a bit of a card player. Well, he's also a bit of a race-car driver, tech. company manager, and master's bike racer, but he's talked a fair amount about driving to Northern California casinos for "cash-flow positive recreation."

From the Sac Bee:

So how many poker-playing bike racers are there? I couldn't begin to guess. But I know of at least one--and man, do I have a bike ride for him.

Leaving my house in Country Club and rolling east through Omaha's residential neighborhoods  seemed a bit intimidating at first, but with my new-found  Omaha Commuter Map, I pieced together a route along side streets without a ton of stop signs:

For Omahans, I started at 49th and Blondo and followed Lincoln Blvd to 33rd, scooted over to Burt, and then continued east on Burt to the Quest center, using the new Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge as a sightline landmark.

I grew up in this town, and I thought I knew its streets pretty well. But I rode down boulevards and avenues I'd never seen, past some pretty stunning architecture:

When I got downtown after about 10 minutes of easy spinning through idyllic, historically preserved neighborhoods, I saw some immediate signs of Omaha's future:

That's the new home of the College World Series and Omaha's AAA baseball team; to the right is the new Qwest Center arena where Nebraska plays hockey and hosts the collegiate women's volleyball Final Four every few years. I think there's an NCAA basketball super regional scheduled there this year, too. Neither facility was even in the planning stages when Jess and I moved to Davis seven years ago.

Downtown, the riding changed from neighborhood side streets to multi-use bike paths:

That's the bridge over the Missouri River; it's reserved for non-motorized travel only. There's been a spate of vandalism lately, but the bridge provides a vital link from urban Omaha to a trail network that leads to the rural Loess Hills on the Iowa side of the river. 

After I crossed the river, I rolled along a nice, wide, multi-use path that followed the water south for 2 miles. But then things took a surreal, JHall-friendly turn.

See, Omaha let its AK-SAR-Ben horse-racing track die in the mid-1990's by refusing to allow the non-profit foundation that ran it to install slots to compete with newly built casinos on Native American reservation lands 30 miles away from town. However, Council Bluffs, IA decided that it couldn't watch all that gambling money drive north out of town to be deposited with the Omaha, Onawa, and Winnebago tribes, so the little Iowa town allowed Vegas gambling interests to build hotels and Riverboat casinos just across the river from downtown Omaha. 

So I'm rolling south on a perfectly lovely trail, and what do I see? I'll let the pictures tell the story:

The path actually meanders under the walkway from the hotel to the boat, through the parking garage, and past the boat itself:


On the other side? A continuance of the sylvan path. But wait! Wait? Just in case we override our compulsion to freak the hell out of the losers sitting around in a smoky haze and playing quarter slots at 10:00 on a Saturday morning by waddling past their tables in our spandex and cleats, we have another choice just two more miles down the trail:

Let's parlay those roulette winnings into a brunch-time run at the hold-'em table. We already have our Oakley's with us! Or better yet, let's sit down for a few hands of Omaha! There's a prime rib buffet for recovery! 

So, my new version of the 20-mile Davis to Dixon loop includes laboring over steep hills through midtown, surviving a tourist-dodging foray across a twelve-million dollar pedestrian bridge, and buzzing UNDER and past TWO riverboat casinos.

If I keep pedaling south along this trail, I can eventually link up with the Wabash Trace, a crushed limestone rail-to-trail conversion that runs 70 miles into Missouri. Evidently, every hairy-legged Fred in Omaha convenes on this thing for a drunken, often topless weekly  Taco Ride during the Summer. 

Justin, pay me a visit; I'll take you you on a Poker Ride with a Taco Ride for an encore.

Things have definitely taken a turn toward the bizarre.