NO NAME, Colo.—The mood Wednesday morning was more somber than previous years outside Rosenblatt Stadium as we watched workers dismantle Fan Fest booths while souvenir vendors pushed their remaining stock with closeout sales. That's because we all know what's coming. Or going.
I wanted to get one last picture of The Road to Omaha statue outside the front of the stadium. I had to wait in line. South Carolina fans were busy posing in front of it, alongside it, on top of it, all over it. One guy must have gotten every angle of the thing. Maybe he's going to go back to Columbia and make a replica. As excited as Gamecocks fans are, I wouldn't put it past him. I waited as patiently as possible for a man who had a 1,599-mile drive ahead. He finally finished, perhaps eager to proceed to the souvenirs, which were still crowded with shoppers. There were a few Gamecocks players among the crowd. I thought they already had authentic gear, but perhaps Coach Tanner made them turn it in.
My wife was rooting for South Carolina all along, and won't let me hear the end of it since I predicted a UCLA victory. My wife is a USC fan, although I always thought it was the Trojans. Backing the Gamecocks may have had something to do with the fact that her favorite team is anyone playing the Bruins. I picked her up a Carolina jersey, anyway, and hit the road.
Filling up the tank brought me to an annual dilemma, ethanol or regular unleaded? I went with the ethanol, and will say it was in support of the farmers (as opposed to the price being $2.679 a gallon instead of $3.059). Much of the drive was uneventful through Nebraska and into Colorado, although it is noteworthy that the temperature was 90 at one point in western Nebraska and dropped to 45 degrees by Wednesday night as I drove through the Colorado mountains. It seemed unfathomable to be cold, real cold, after spending the past two weeks in Omaha's heat and humidity.
A steady rain followed me up the mountain and checked in again now and then until I pulled into the Rock Gardens camping area around midnight. I was up bright and early Thursday morning for the most enjoyable part of the drive home—whitewater rafting along the Colorado river.
A warm day greeted us as we boarded a school bus for a ride up the road to the spot where we put in for the 15-mile ride down the river. Eight of us piled into a 16-foot boat, each up the river with only a paddle. This was my fifth time on the Colorado and I was a little more concerned than on previous excursions because of two things: 1) They gave us not only lifejackets but also helmets to wear this time. Helmets were never previously required. 2) Trey, our guide, mentioned he just finished training recently for his certification. He waited to tell us this as he was pushing the boat away from the shoreline.
Trey said he needed two strong, courageous volunteers to take the point. I, of course, volunteered without hesitation—after failing to cajole any of the children or women to do it. The most treacherous part of the journey came within the first few minutes. We navigated Shoshone and Maneater flawlessly, although I was completely soaked with water in the process. That may explain the look of shock on my face in the above photo (the water temperature was about 55 degrees). Or it was Trey revealing after the Grade III rapids that this was his maiden voyage with paying customers.
The remainder of the two-hour trip enabled me to dry off, recover from the shock of Trey's revelation and enjoy some spectacular scenery floating through the Glenwood Springs area.
Then it was back in the car for the remainder of the drive home to San Diego. There's 900 miles to go before I sleep.