Monday, September 26, 2011
The Last Walk (For Now)
September 22: I woke with the finish line for 2011's hike nearly in sight. Given my late April kickoff stopping in Omaha makes too much sense. Winter is approaching with increased vigor and I would need to send for my cold weather gear to continue onward. In truth I wouldn't have minded some warmer clothes the last two weeks. My sleeping bag only gives enough protective heat to ward off temperatures of forty degrees or more and the nights have fallen below that plateau on occasion.
Even if I were to press on despite the elements, my current pace would mean reaching the Rockies around November. Many of the passes are 12,000 feet or more in height and would still be closed for months. Better to restart in April and arrive in the same area at a more reasonable season of the year.
Amazingly I had reasoned all of this out months ago and wasn't deciding via the typical whimsy to stop here. Therefore my demeanor was even gayer than usual as I stepped from Dan's car. I heartily sang the trip's theme songs as I skipped along (see "The Hiker's Mixtape") and the short distance flew by as I mangled the lyrics and eviscerated the concepts of harmony and rhythm.
The last few hundred yards of the Lake Manawa Trail quickly disappeared behind and another path led me back to Veterans Memorial Highway, where yet another pedestrian friendly walkway carried me the final couple of miles to the promised land. I was overwhelmed by too many thoughts and feelings as the bloated Missouri River passed underneath. A couple of the larger structures of Omaha appeared to the north and I followed their beacon into the city.
I had arranged to meet Meggan downtown at two. With the current hour only noon why not knock out of few extra miles? The ADT headed north through some of Omaha's better known landmarks, Rosenblatt Stadium and the Henry Doorly Zoo.
Rosenblatt played host to the College World Series from 1950 to 2010 when the Armageddon of a South Carolina Gamecocks national championship caused the opening of a new facility, which the Gamecocks subsequently attempted to destroy in 2011 by winning again (the second stadium seems to have survived this unthinkable event).
Rosenblatt's neighbor is the Omaha Zoo, where thousands of animals are kept imprisoned. The inmates do get plenty of visitors, over a million attendees pay for the privilege of gawking at the caged wildlife. In 1963 the zoo was renamed in honor of Henry Doorly, a former engineer used to not caring about people, much less animals. His particular Horatio Alger story is worth telling.
After marrying into a rich family of newspaper publishers Doorly was given a job on the Omaha World-Herald, where he failed miserably but kept his job thanks to his connections. Eventually he inherited the publication, living the American dream, continually rising because of who he knew rather than by his own merits.
Howard Street Market, which I reached less than a half an hour later was more to my liking. A string of restaurants and quaint shops housed in old brick buildings line either side of the street. The Old Market sprung up here only a decade after the Civil War thanks to the city's location as a major central hub on the ever-expanding American railway network. The entire area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I had traveled only ten blocks more when Meggan's class ended and we arranged a rendezvous at the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center, on the corner of 20th Street and Farnum. 2012's journey will begin in that very spot, my feet, back, and shoulders having all successfully reached this year's resting place.
Dan joined us for a celebratory lunch on a break from work. Since we were in Omaha I eschewed the offer of another terrible tenderloin in order to pay homage to a local original. According to sandwich lore, the Reuben was created at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha by Reuben Kulakofsky sometime during the 1920s. One succulent bite of corned beef and sauerkraut is enough to affirm the juicy genius of his invention.
We spent the rest of the day at O'Leaver's, keeping Dan company during his shift at the Irish pub. With the names of the cast of "Friends" etched in ironwork on the patio fence outside and LPs covering the inside like wallpaper, O'Leaver's is not your ordinary bar. Besides hosting a variety of musical acts they also create their own events, such as the Man Pageant, where the events of a Miss America's contest are opened up to the male gender. Creativity is highly valued and the Speedo is finally fully appreciated during the swim suit competition.
As I sat with Dan, Meggan, and their friends I felt a sense of satisfaction at reaching my first year's hiking goal. Even though the trek is done, there is yet more work to do. With only a little more than a month remaining in this year's fund-raiser I am only two-thirds of the way to my 2011 goal of $10,000. I've had some great experiences over the last five months, but all is for naught if I don't fulfill my promise to Ken and to the Wounded Warrior Project. There are still some more hills to climb.
10 miles/1796 total miles
Thanks to all my new friends in Iowa:
Trevor and Teeni Schellhorn
Matt Butler and Heidi Mannetter
Daniel Kemp and Meggan
Ken and Lois Irwin
Monty and Terry
Craig and Connie Klinefelter
The Marshall family
Mel and Barbara in Henderson
Claudia and Herb in Henderson