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Column: A March Madness Road Trip

I’m an avid sports fan, and my absolute favorite time of the year is the NCAA Basketball Tournament, especially the first four days. I may not leave the couch this Thursday morning until Sunday night, and I’m perfectly okay with this.

As a kid, I attended the tournament with my grandparents, cheered on the University of Wyoming basketball team, and witnessed their magical run to the Sweet 16 and a heartbreaking loss in the first round the following year against Loyola Marymount. Unfortunately, they have not returned to the NCAA Tournament too often since then. In 1999, I started to take an interest in the Gonzaga basketball team and now rarely miss watching even a regular season game, and half my wardrobe consists of Zags clothing.

The love only intensified when I lived in Washington State for several years.

There has undoubtedly been a lot of joy following them and also a lot of heartbreak. More importantly, there has been plenty of March Madness.

After years of wanting to watch Gonzaga play in the NCAA Tournament, I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was and, in 2018, decided to go and watch them play a first-round game in Boise.

Looking back on the trip, it was a wild and crazy day, just as it should have been.

I was living in Butte at the time, where the weather always seemed to be a little colder with a lot more snow in the winter; I decided to try and beat the storm and went as far as Pocatello the night before.

After having a childhood favorite of Arctic Circle for dinner, I went to bed early, knowing I would need to be on the road early to get to the arena for the 11 a.m. game against UNC-Wilmington.

I hoped to get to Boise in time for a late breakfast and possibly a few cold drinks with fellow Zags fans.

I arrived in Boise and went to University Drive to find parking at what was then called the Taco Bell Arena. It is pure chaos. The traffic is like that of Seattle, and people are darting in front of cars and walking to the arena. I’m about to pull into a lot, and right before I do, a man places a sign in front of it, and they close it. They direct me to a parking garage.

I arrive at the parking garage and am told it is completely full and to go to another garage. I ask where it is, and this guy tells me he doesn’t know. I ask, “Why the hell would you tell me to go somewhere you don’t know the location?” He ignores me, and I start to drive in circles. There is nowhere to park. Even the spots in front of houses are full. I began to think of the people at the University who spent more time on parking than trying to be unique with a stupid blue football field; this would not be a problem.

At 11 a.m., I’m starting to panic. Tipoff is at 11:30 a.m., and I don’t know what to do. I find a grocery store and decide to park there. As I’m walking away from my car, an employee of the store says that it will be towed if I leave my car.

I’m not going to share what I told him, but it wasn’t pretty. I was starting to think I may miss part of the game and was in a NASTY mood.

I go back onto University Avenue and ask another person where the other garage is, and he gives me great directions. I get to the garage, and they tell me there is plenty of space. I search every level and found nothing. On top of this, they want $30.Are you kidding me? Unless this money helps remedy the parking problem or get a real football field, I would have had a rough time paying for it.

I pull out of the garage, and I’m almost in tears. I’m over a mile from the stadium and don’t know what to do. I finally decide I am pulling onto the campus and am going to park somewhere even if I get towed. I find a little park with a few spots and get out of the car.

At around 11:20, I’m 1.3 miles from the Stadium (Thanks Google Maps) and have eight minutes. I’m not young anymore, but you should have seen me move. I was as quick as a cheetah but not so graceful. Not paying attention, I almost knocked a lady off a bridge over a creek. I was going so fast and nothing would stop me from tipoff. Almost nothing, I would have gone and rescued the person in the creek if need be.

I’m not sure how, but I made it for tipoff. I wasn’t in my seat, but I still watched. At the first timeout, I went to get my seat, and someone was in it. He was an older man sitting with what appeared to be his grandchild, and I decided not to approach him. It reminded me of times with my grandpa, and I wasn’t going to ruin that for them. The only empty row in the arena packed full of Gonzaga fans was behind me, and I sat there. An energetic Zags fan soon came and also sat there, and he quickly realized he was in the wrong section. I told him my dilemma, and he told me to hang tight. Five minutes later, he came back to get me. I had gone from row 17 on the left side of the basket to midcourt in the 12th row. It meant so much to me to see the Zags play at the tournament, and we were both very boisterous. It was an incredible atmosphere.

It appears there is only one bathroom on my level. You would think a place called “Taco Bell Arena” would have more toilets, but I guess I’m wrong.

After winning most of the second half comfortably, Gonzaga falls behind by one point late, and I’m nervous. What a depressing trip this will be home if they lose.

Zach Norvell Jr. drills a three-pointer, and the Zags take the lead. It was pandemonium. Everyone in my section had acted the whole game like we had known each other for years, and at this point, we were hugging and screaming. It may sound weird, but it meant the world to me.

I start to make my way to the car, and I can barely move. That 1.3 miles in eight minutes did a number on me, and I am slower than a turtle.

I start my journey home. At one point, I thought it could end up being a horrible day and missing the game, but one of the best days of my life.

I arrive home and watch the last two games on tv.

I LOVE MARCH MADNESS and cannot wait to watch the Zags this week.