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Welcome to Nebraska ... where they have Arbor Day, green buildings and mobster steakhouses

So, my buddy Berry Tramel is the king of the travel blog.

Truth be told, he’s the king of the blog. No one blogs more, blogs better, blogs smarter … well, you get the idea. But one of my favorite genre of his blogs is the travel blog. When Berry goes somewhere, he writes about it, he takes us along for the ride, and it is so much fun.

I decided that it might be fun to write about my trips, too.

No way it’ll be as good as Berry’s. But part of my blog will be my adventures in running on the road — I’m preparing for the half marathon in the OKC Memorial Marathon in a little over a month — so, my travel blogs will also have running.

The only time I’ve seen Berry run is when he’s trying to get from an interview to the work room on deadline.

John Helsley and I set out for Omaha on Wednesday morning. That’s where Oklahoma State is playing its NCAA Tournament regional games, so that’s where we needed to be.

Because of the quick turnaround on travel for the NCAA tourney, getting flights is always a trick. The prices are always sky high because we’re booking on a few days’ notice. Add in the fact that this is spring break time, and some places can be darn near impossible to get to without paying with a kidney.

So, we are earthbound on this trip.

It’s a drive trip for us. Hels took care of getting the rental car, a Hyundai Tucson that isn’t that much different than the Hyundai Santa Fe that I drive, and he picked me up to head north at 11 a.m. Wednesday. He drove the first couple hours, then after we stopped to fill up with gas, I took over the driving duties just south of Wichita.

Hels had some work to do, so he transcribed interviews, wrote stories and even did a couple radio interviews with Omaha stations from the passenger’s seat.

He told me that he had driven the road north from Oklahoma City a bunch in the past year. There were OSU football games to cover in Lawrence and Manhattan, then OSU basketball games to cover in the same locales.

I have made the same trip north on I-35 to Wichita a bunch, too. My folks live in north central Kansas, so we always go that way to get there. But in Wichita, we head straight north on I-135 to Salina, then continue on north.

I hadn’t been on I-35 north of Wichita in years. The scenery isn’t all that great — and Wednesday, it was rainy, so I was paying even more attention than normal to the road — but once you come through El Dorado, you hit the Flint Hills. And that is some pretty country.

Or at least the Kansas farm girl in me thinks it’s pretty.

There’s not much in the way of towns and people out there, but if rolling hills and vast open spaces and soaring skies and grand horizons appeal to you, there’s nothing like that area of the country.

We stopped in Emporia for a late lunch. There’s a stretch of chain fast food restaurants on the south side of town, but Hels knew where a Planet Sub was. I had a California club sub with crab and bean sprouts. I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for bean sprouts. And this was a pretty outstanding sub.

Once we got back on the road, it wasn’t long before we came through Topeka and headed north on Highway 75. It was a road that I had been on more than a decade ago, but I really don’t remember much about it. And I definitely hadn’t been as far north on it as we were going.

We went through several small Kansas towns. Mayetta. Holton. Sabetha. Then, we hit the Nebraska state line.

“Nebraska,” it read, “the good life!”

Then at the bottom: “Home of Arbor Day.”

I have to admit, I hadn’t thought about Arbor Day since elementary school, though I can’t remember why we wouldn’t talked about Arbor Day in elementary. Frankly, I couldn’t even remember exactly what Arbor Day was about.

I’ve since looked it up: it’s a holiday where people are encouraged to plant or care for trees. Nebraska City, Neb., was apparently the first American city to have an Arbor Day.

Not sure if Arbor Day has anything to do with this, but the towns in the southeast corner or Nebraska, of which Nebraska City is one, are quaint places. Dawson is built on this massive hill; you can walk from the south end of town to the north in 10 blocks or so, but you might need to stop a few times to catch your breath. Auburn has a cute downtown, including a theater with an old-timey neon sign, as well as a football field just off the main street that is set below the street and just looks like it could be the backdrop for a movie. Nebraska City sits by the Missouri River.

And what do you know? When we crossed the Missouri, making a quick jog east to hook up with I-29, we got a bonus trip to Iowa.

About an hour later, we rolled back cross the Nebraska stateline and into Omaha — and soon found ourselves on a seven-lane highway.

Yes, SEVEN lanes in Omaha.

Seven lanes going our direction, and I suspect there were seven lanes going the other way. What are they doing with seven-lane highways in Omaha? I know that the Omaha metro also includes Council Bluffs, Iowa, as well as Offutt Air Force Base, but I thought maybe I’d missed some sort of mass migration. I did a little googling, and I did not miss anything. Omaha’s metro area has a population of 1.3 million. Oklahoma City’s metro area is 1.3 million.

We don’t have seven-lane highways in Oklahoma City!

I’m here to tell you, seven-lane highways cut down on traffic congestion. With Hels providing navigation from his phone, we breezed into the Marriott Omaha.

When we pulled in the front lot, a charter bus was parked near the front door. An NCAA team staying at our hotel? The bus gave us no sign of who it might be, but as soon as we walked in the lobby, we had all the sign we needed.

“Welcome … Indiana basketball”.

No sign yet of Tom Crean, but I’ll keep an eye open when I run down the hall to the ice machine.

When we checked in, I asked the nice man at the hotel’s front desk if there was somewhere close where I could run. He pointed me in the direction of a lake, and he said that just behind the lake, there were trails that stretched for miles. I wasn’t sure what he meant by “behind the lake”, but I figured I’d give it a try. Even though training for half marathon while traveling for work is tough, it’s even tougher for me if I have to run on a treadmill. I hate the dreadmill, so running outside was definitely my preference.

After a quick change into my running gear, I headed out and soon found the lake — and sure enough, there was a little hill on the backside of the lake where, behind the lake, there were trails. Paved. Wide. Well-traveled. The scenery isn’t great– the trails run alongside Big Papillion Creek, which is more drainage ditch than rolling river — but that doesn’t bother me. I got to see a few youth baseball fields, where it looked like a bunch of dads were working. There was the massive green TD Ameritrade headquarters building. Yes, green. It glows green, and apparently, it has a bunch of eco-friendly (i.e. green) features.

It’s always interesting exploring a new city as a runner. You never know what you’ll find.

I got in five miles, and Friday, I hope to do my long run for the week. Eight miles. I’m thinking I may go the other way on the trial behind the lake and see what else I see.

I’ll keep you posted on that.

After my run, I met up with Hels for dinner. We wanted to do something quintessential Omaha, so the same nice man at the front desk suggested The Drover for steak and Spezia for Italian. We opted for The Drover.

It is not the easiest place to find. Thank goodness for Google maps. The restaurant is tucked back behind some office buildings and hotels, but we quickly realized that it was legit. For starters, it had a massive wooden door, and once open, there is the most amazing smell of meat. That’s a good start. Then, after 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, we discovered there was a bit of a wait for a table. When a place is busy late on a weekday, that’s a great sign.

It wasn’t fancy. Lots of folks like us dressed in jeans. But the decor was a serious throwback. It felt like a 1970s TV drama could’ve been shot there. Low light. Brick and wood. Red vinyl. All it needed was a pack of mobsters in polyester suits.

I opted for a sirloin in the restaurant’s signature whiskey marinade. Hels went with the halibut. Neither of us left anything on our plates. After a long day of driving — and some running for me! — it was the perfect end.

Thursday will be OSU’s practice and press conference day at the arena, and while it’s a work day for me, it’s also a rest day. No running! But perhaps I will carb load at Spezia.

Stay tuned.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›