Friday, July 10, 2015

Learn to Race a Sailboat—in Nebraska

I recently had the privilege of joining the Lincoln Sailing Club for a day on the water (and some of it on land.) The occasion? Learning how to race a sailboat. They invited members of the Lincoln Young Professional Group out to Branched Oak Lake, where we learned the ropes on their snipe fleet. 

Sailing, as I heard often throughout the day, is the most fun you’ll ever have—a simple but true mantra. The club’s official mission is to promote and encourage the sport of sailing and sailboat racing, something they clearly take to heart. 

They welcomed the Lincoln YPG-er’s into the group and soon had us speaking some sailboat terminology. In just a few short hours, we knew the difference between tacking and jibing (ok, some of us—I was a little slow.) And by the end of the day, we’d all sailed in a bona fide sailboat race.

The 50-member club facilitates sailboat racing most Sundays, and the public is invited to watch. They also plan to host another sailing seminar this summer. Interested in joining the fun?  Just contact a member of the Lincoln Sailing Club.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pioneers Park: A Self-Guided Tour

Pioneers Park is one of my favorite frolicking spots in Lincoln. Enjoy the green space and trails, but here are the 7 things you should really be doing:

This map is your guide. Pair with descriptions, below, for a true Pioneers experience.

1. Marvel at the bison statue. This majestic guy guards the easternmost entrance of the park, off Coddington Avenue. He foreshadows what’s to come, aka the real deal. (See number seven.) 

The majestic bison. Also probably the reason "Bison Trail" is part of the Lincoln bike system.

2. Continue to the Great Pillars of Ancient Lincoln. Who needs ancient Rome when you’ve got the Great Pillars of Lincoln. They’re perplexing, pretty and provide shade. I’m all for them. I’ve also been told they’re a popular engagement spot. (In addition to the Sunken Gardens.)
Ruins of a bygone era.

3. Go sledding. There’s a great sledding ramp, just west of the main parking lot in the middle of the park. (Confused? See map above.) It’s more of a winter use thing, but I’m sure a blanket/burlap sack would work fine in the summer. Try it and let me know in the comments below. 

4. Check out the Nature Center. This mostly applicable if you have kids, but it’s still cool without ‘em. The Pioneers Park Nature Center has been around since 1963 and, in addition to hosting exhibits, also has various activities available throughout the year. Night hikes, hayrack rides and other (mostly kid-related) events. 
Nature is a beautiful thing. As are Nature Centers.

5. Crash a car show. Or at least, that’s what my sister and I like doing*. The open spaces of Pioneers Park attract all manner of family reunions, car shows and birthday parties. Just stroll through and act like you belong. 
*no photo available for such borderline illicit activities

6. Hit the golf course. I’m not a golfer. I’d consider a golf outing if, and only if, I get to commandeer a cart the entire time. But for the golf aficionados, Pioneers offers the oldest public golf course in Lincoln. The 18-hole course, according to their website, boasts the title of "most rounds played" in Lincoln.

7. Go bison hunting watching. I didn’t believe it until I saw them, but there are real, live bison in Pioneers Park. Part of the park’s mission includes conservation via wildlife sanctuaries, so I guess this explains their presence—if bison count as wildlife. 

On the bison hunt lookout. They're slightly obscured by the wheat-looking grass blades.

An ode to the Sunken Gardens

If you ask a Lincolnite for some of the city’s must-see attractions, the Sunken Gardens will probably be on their list. (It’s on TripAdvisor’s too.) Here are my five favorite things about the Gardens: 

1. It has an impressive backstory. The 1.5-acre site was constructed in 1930 as a Depression-era project. (Maybe Nebraska Mountain isn’t so far-fetched?) Ok, cool story. Did I mention the 1.5-acre site used to be a dump? Slightly cooler story. The Lincoln Parks Foundation will tell you everything else you’d possibly want to know. 
Entrance dome. Also where wedding parties and prom groups congregate for photoshoots.

2. You can cuddle with a cat. The Sunken Gardens cat is not just a legend; he’s the real deal. If you go to the Gardens, you’ve got a 50/50 shot of seeing (and potentially cuddling with) this calico cutie.. I’m a Millennial with an aversion to pet commitments, so this is as close as I get. Local tip: Garden Gary* loves mornings. If you’re cat stalking, swing by in the a.m.
*not his real name
Garden Gary really is in this photo, center path.
He's a friendly fella, but he got distracted by a bird or something.

3. The people watching is sublime. In addition to Jazz in June and bluegrass shows, the Sunken Gardens has some of the city’s best people watching. For the novice people-watcher, check out this Wiki tutorial
Watching people watch fish.

Watching more people watch fish.
4. You can fill your smartphone to capacity with flower photos. And you won’t be the only one doing so. Visitors stage senior photos (last week featured a ballerina), family shots and even video montages. Volunteers rotate the flowers as the seasons change, meaning you’ll be missing out if you only visit once a year. I’m definitely not a horticulturist, but I do appreciate the variety. The Garden’s big puffy white flowers, I just learned, are hydrangeas.
Almost the American flag.
I believe these are hydrangeas. Or something.
Traditional flic (flower pic.)
A little jungle foliage for diversity.

5. It doubles as a great workout spot. As with cat cuddling, I’d recommend you save Garden workouts for the a.m. Don’t have access to high school bleachers? The Garden has several great spots to run stairs, pictured below. You may get a few funny looks from the 7 a.m. volunteer gardener, though (or maybe that's just me.) 
Stair workout #1. Boy + dog = proof that you shouldn't work out here past 9 a.m.
Stair workout #2. This one is kinda wimpy, but a nice lady was sitting on my prime stair-stepping spot...
So I (politely) asked her to move, because I had to show you this: The Garden-Stepper Xtreme.
Otherwise known as stair workout #3.

Climb Lincoln—the OAC

My first experience rock climbing was in Colorado. In a rock-climbing gym. Among some of the city’s elite climbers—the people who scale a wall in seconds, compete on the weekends and spend their free evenings outside with a harness. 

It was only semi-intimidating. So when I showed up at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s new Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC), I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be the only newbie. 

As it turns out, I wasn’t. That’s one of the best things about a University-sponsored rock wall—there will always be waves of new students to tone down the level of intensity. Compared to stand-alone climbing gyms, the OAC has an inviting, all-comers atmosphere. 

For those of you whose eyes glazed over when I mentioned “University,” this rock wall is also open to the public. Located on UNL’s city campus at 930 N. 14th St., it’s easily accessible from downtown Lincoln. 

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Outdoor Adventures Center. Great facilities, not intimidating. Win-win.

One of the best parts about OAC’s rock climbing wall is its low barrier to entry. The OAC provides $10/climb guest passes. If you want unlimited access, you’ll need a membership (if you’re not a student), as well as a $20, four-hour introduction class. That’s it. You can rent shoes ($1.50) and a harness (free) each time you climb. And your introductory class qualifies you to belay, so bring a buddy and avoid the dreaded auto-belays. 

Now that I've got my first, second and third climbs out of the way, I continue to be impressed by the OAC’s climbing wall. It’s staffed by students, who are more than willing to belay or answer any questions. (And of course, they’ll let you know if you’re doing something wrong—definitely a good thing, when you’re responsible for safely belaying someone several stories high.) 

Nebraska has no mountains (until we build Nebraska Mountain), but the OAC’s climbing wall is the next best thing. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bike Lincoln—and a bid for Nebraska Mountain

Lincoln is something of an undercover biking haven. Or maybe just an outright biking haven. The city boasts 131 miles of both pavement and gravel trail. 

Here’s a shot of the trails—if it looks like a lot of meaningless green scribbles, the Great Plains Trails Network has a better map to download.

Maybe this is why Lincoln was voted No. 1 for well-being in the country a couple years ago. Never mind that it was a Gallup-based poll (headquartered in Omaha.) I think Lincoln has a right to the title. 

No, we don’t have mountains like No. 2 ranked Boulder. Who needs mountains when you have bike paths? (Said no one ever. If there’s another Works Progress Administration, I’ll be the first to sign up for the build-Nebraska-Mountain project.) 

Lincoln’s bike paths are multi-purpose (runners, walkers and the occasional yogger—yodeling while jogging) but the city also has a close-knit biking community. One group leaves each Tuesday around 5:30 from the East MoPac trail for the Nacho Ride to Eagle, Nebraska. 

There’s also a local biking brewery tour, giving 21+ year-olds the opportunity to booze, bike and socialize. A spinoff of its French counterpart, the Tour de Brew LNK is a monthly ride from March to September. It starts at 4:30 (sorry all you nine-to-fiver’s out there) and ends at a different brewery each time. Their upcoming ride July 23 ends at Zipline Brewing Co. 

Whether on pavement or gravel, sober or not, Lincoln’s biking scene has something for everyone. At the very least, it’ll tide us over until we build Nebraska Mountain.

How to become a Husker fan—or fake it—in 4 easy steps

This post isn’t for the diehard Nebraska Husker fans. You know who you are—the ones born wearing a Go Big Red! onesy, who put out an inflatable Herbie Husker in the lawn for every home game (or maybe that was just my old neighbors.) 

This post is for the transplants, the unenthused, the couldn’t-care-less-about-football folks. Because when you find yourself in Lincoln, Husker fandom—or being able to fake it—is necessary for survival. 

I’m one of the transplants, the unenthused and the couldn’t-care-less-about-football folks. At least I was, until I started working with some of the most Husker-obsessed coworkers in the city. At some point, you just start learning by association or osmosis or something. 

So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Here are four easy steps to reach true Husker fandom: 

1. Befriend the fans. Enthusiasm is contagious. It’s a lot easier to be excited—or disguise your boredom—if you’ve got friends, coworkers and family who live and breathe Huskers. And if you live in Lincoln, or really anywhere in Nebraska, they shouldn’t be hard to find. 

If you're on the road to fandom, befriend this man: A True Husker Fan(atic?)
2. Get the gear. As you’d expect from the team’s headquarters, Lincoln has Husker stores all over town. For great deals, check out the newly relocated Husker store inside the downtown Pinnacle Bank Arena. For awesome sidewalk sales, ask the campus bookstore when their stuff goes on sale. You’ll have to fight through lines of college students in front of UNL’s Union, but a good deal is a good deal. (Even though all Husker gear is essentially overpriced polos* with an “N” stamped on it.) 

*Or sweatpants. Or sweatshirts. Or umbrellas. The magic “N” artificially inflates the price on any generic item.

3. Check out the stadium. No, you don’t have to wait until game day to see Memorial Stadium, and you don’t even have to buy tickets. Just go through the red-gated door on the east side of the stadium. Bonus tip: If you run the Lincoln National Guard Marathon and Half Marathon, you can finish your 13.1 mile jog on the 50-yard line.

The magic red gate. Keep an eye out for True Husker Fan(atics).    
4. Use Twitter to learn the ropes. Bo Pelini may be living out his $7.9M severance paradise in Youngstown, but the fan favorite @FauxPelini account is still around. I turned to a diehard fan (see Step 1) for more Twitter suggestions, and this fan recommended following: @937Lanny, @TheGundy, @Andy_Vaughn and @Sean_Callahan

And there you have it. Husker fandom made simple. 

Try any of these things? Leave a comment below. Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to master my Husker mojo before football season starts.

The best of Lincoln food trucks: Nitro Burger

When I think ‘50s diner, a few things come to mind: old-school decor, jukeboxes and delicious burgers. Nitro Burger has all of this—plus mobility. The food truck calls itself “half food truck, half eat-in ‘50s diner,” and serves a wide array of burgers, hand-cut fries and ice cream. 

How can you find Nitro Burger in Lincoln? The roving burger truck keeps customers updated through their Facebook page and Twitter. They aren’t the only ones to use social media as a platform for engagement and updates. The food-truck-and-social-media-phenomenon started in L.A. with Korean BBQ and has been going strong ever since. 

Food trucks and Facebook: The perfect pairing.

My first trip to Nitro Burger was an eat-in affair, as coworkers and I bid adieu to a member of our team. What better way to say Happy Trails! than with burgers on a bus*

*Plot twist. Nitro Burger is actually a re-purposed school bus, but I’d say it still fits into the food truck category. If you’re curious to see how they made a school bus into a retro eatery, check out this photo montage. 

My second Nitro Burger experience didn't require a trip; the bus drove over to my place of employment and set up shop in the parking lot. They’ve got an entire catering section listed on their website, so if you “Want to See Nitro Bus At Your Next Event?” then just fill out the form on the homepage. 

Both times, Nitro's burgers lived up my relatively high expectations—a tough feat, seeing as Lincoln probably has one of the highest per-capita burger restaurants in the country. I've tried both their Acapulco burger and the class Stars and Stripe. Rather than bore you to tears with my non-foodie description, I’ll save you the agony and direct you to their menu here.

Not every burger is offered all the time; you’ll have to up your social media game to learn what the Bus is serving and where they’re serving it from. 

Finding them is half the fun—and definitely worth the pursuit.