Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Road Trips

I grew up as a Mountaineer fan, and am proud to cheer on our state’s flagship school at numerous sporting events. I’ve been lucky enough to attend quite a few bowl games, as well as some nearby regular football season away games such as Maryland, Pitt, and Virginia Tech. Until this year, I’ve never had a season where I attended more than one away game—but in just the past two weeks, I was able watch the Mountaineers play twice away from home. It is fun to be part of “Mountaineer Nation” and go into a different stadium to cheer for your team. The fact that WVU has fans who are willing to travel has always put us in a good light (and helped us escape the Big East to land in one of the “power conferences”).

The first game occurred on August 30 this year. We (my daughter, Anna, and myself) had a mostly enjoyable trip to Atlanta to watch WVU play #2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic. Even though the final outcome of the game was a defeat for the Mountaineers, we still played pretty well against one of the best teams in the country. Although the Alabama fans outnumbered us (considering they didn’t have to come as far), I think they were surprised by how many of our fans made the trip from West Virginia. The blue-and-gold contingent represented our state well.

The three of us arrived late Friday afternoon (after purchasing $2.99 gas in Wytheville, VA—I’ve not seen a below $3 price at the gas pumps for a long time!), and checked into our hotel in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. By the way, our hotel was charging nearly $300 a night for rooms because of numerous events bringing folks to Atlanta (including the big NASCAR race just south of town), but I had immediately made a reservation last year when this game was first announced, which locked us into a $76 rate. It pays to reserve early!

We then headed to the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority) station, and learned how their light rail/subway works. We purchased a round-trip card and rode downtown, to test out what we would be doing on game day. Once downtown, we explored Underground Atlanta and other parts of downtown. I had seen most of the major sites during my previous visit to Atlanta (

During this same weekend, a large convention of science fiction/fantasy fans were in town, and there were lots of interesting costumes roaming Peachtree, the main street downtown. For example, characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, assorted superheroes, and even Waldo could be found around town throughout the weekend. We ended the evening with dinner at the salad bar of a Jason’s Deli, which proved both delicious and healthy.

The next morning, we again rode MARTA downtown dressed in our blue and gold game gear. There were hoards of people from both schools gathered near the Georgia Dome for the game. It had the same feel as a bowl game, with fans from both teams at a neutral site. Eventually we went inside and found our seats. Prior to the kickoff, I was also able to meet with a long lost friend whom I had not seen in about 30 years. It was the first time I’ve watched a game in a domed stadium—which came in handy when a thunderstorm rolled through about halfway through the game.

Speaking of halfway, the WVU Band did a fantastic job with their halftime performance. Even the few ‘Bama fans scattered on the WVU side of the field were impressed. We may have lost the football game, but our band (the “Pride of West Virginia”) won the halftime competition with their salute to the branches of the military.

The "Pride of West Virginia" forms the outline
of our state at the Georgia Dome.

After the game, we found a decent place for dinner. Then we drove to “The Varsity” near Georgia Tech for dessert—their Frosted Orange drinks. This overgrown drive-in has been featured on numerous food-related television shows. It is quite a large operation that has become an institution in Atlanta (

On Sunday, my daughter wanted to visit an Art Museum downtown. Fortunately, there was a display featuring old concept cars from car shows of the past. It provided me with an interesting place to spend my time.

We made it back to West Virginia, and I got to introduce my daughter to Little Buddy Radio ( as we passed through the Princeton area. We stayed overnight on Sunday at Hawks Nest State Park Lodge. This was primarily because I was taking my daughter ziplining the next morning, but it also provided us with the opportunity to stay at two different Hawks Nests, following our previous visit to the Hawks Nest Lodge during our trip to Maine (

We had a great time riding the Gravity Ziplines through Adventures on the Gorge—the first visit for my daughter, but my second visit there (read about my first visit at I was lucky enough to have the same guide from my trip back in June, and she remembered me.

After our aerial adventure, we picked up Anna, ate some lunch, and headed for home. It was a fun road trip even if we came up a bit short on the scoreboard.

Two weeks later (after watching a home game victory on the Saturday in between), we loaded up the Prius for another Mountaineer football game road trip, this time with my daughter’s boyfriend joining us. I was off this past Friday, so I was able to cheer on the WVU Volleyball team to victory over Kent State in the Coliseum that afternoon, but had to wait until the others got off work before we could leave. On our way east on Friday night, the four of us stopped in Frederick, MD, and enjoyed a nice dinner with a couple of old friends from Parkersburg who moved there years ago. Eventually, we checked into our hotel at College Park, Maryland.

The next morning we coordinated with Anna’s friends from her WVU days, and the ten of us eventually made it to our seats in the visiting team area of the stands at Maryland’s Stadium. Fortunately for us, the top rows of the lower section where we were seated were underneath the front part of the upper deck, so we were protected from the intermittent rain showers during the game. It was much more enjoyable to be dry, especially compared to sitting in the monsoon rains during last year’s miserable shutout defeat at the Ravens Stadium in Baltimore last year.

Speaking of last year’s game, one of the many things that went wrong that day was that Maryland had decided that the WVU Marching Band would not be allowed to perform that day. Despite a long history of joint band performances between WVU and Maryland at both home fields, a new athletic director decreed that only Maryland’s band would perform. Needless to say, WVU fans (many of whom consider the “Pride of West Virginia” to be nearly as important as the football team) were not pleased by this new policy, and rebelled against it in social media and elsewhere. The Baltimore Sun published several letters, including one that I wrote ( I pointed out that this new “No Visiting Bands Allowed” policy would not be permissible in the Big Ten Conference that Maryland was joining.

Sure enough, this year the WVU Band was allowed to perform, and both schools worked together on a fantastic halftime show. With the Bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore this past weekend, there were lots of events going on in the area to commemorate the Star Spangled Banner, which was written that day. The Terps football team wore special uniforms based on the Star Spangled Banner and Fort McHenry. Both bands performed a patriotic medley that told the story of the battle, and concluded with a humongous flag being unfurled which covered the entire playing surface of the football field. It was impressive—and demonstrated how much more entertaining halftime band performances can be when Maryland leaders show some respect for their visitors.

The game itself started off great! As the first half neared its end, we were ahead 28-6. However, I knew there was still a lot of time left. I remember telling my daughter that I wish we could just end the game right now, but she replied stating that she wanted to run the score up even higher after last year’s game. I told her not be overconfident, because momentum can turn around quickly in football games (and I’m old enough to have seen this happen numerous times to the Mountaineers). Sure enough, in the last few minutes of the half, Maryland scored two quick touchdowns to go into the locker room down just 28-20. Then, their quarterback ran 75 yards on the first play of the second half to make it just a one-point game, 28-27.

What had been the makings of a blowout in the first half turned into a nail-biter in the second half. Maryland never got the lead, but had been able to tie the game with only a little more than two minutes left in regulation. In the stands, the large contingent of WVU fans had been making lots of noise cheering on their team throughout the game. Emotionally, the game was very intense, and it all came down to a long field goal attempt at the end. Fortunately, the ball made it through the uprights and over the crossbar. The fans in the stands went ecstatic, with much jumping and hugging and high-fiving! It was an incredible roller-coaster game, and we all felt like we played a small part in helping the team to victory.

That evening and the next day, we explored downtown Washington, DC. My daughter is very familiar with DC, and I lived there for three years early in my career, but her boyfriend had never been there. Although we were only able to scratch the surface in the limited time we had available, I think he really enjoyed seeing the major sites (see for my tips on sightseeing in DC). I am especially glad that I took him over to see the Marine Memorial of the flag being planted on Iwo Jima, because it turned out that his late grandfather had been there for that battle.

We had a great time over this past weekend (especially since the football team didn’t lose the game), but eventually it had to come to an end. We made the long drive back into our Mountain State yesterday afternoon and evening because all four of us had to go to work on Monday morning. Even though the football team didn’t win both these games, we feel that we went 2-0 when it comes to having a good time going on the road to follow the Mountaineers!

After the initial excitement of winning the Maryland game, I finally remembered to take a picture as the players left the field.

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