Honey, the girls and I arrived at Williams Mill Road in Atlanta this morning at 1:45. Now I know why  UAA teams travel by airplane.

• Sept. 27-Nov. 10, 2010

• 5,456 miles

• Eight great cities, eight great universities.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible.

A FEW FINAL REPORTS FROM THE ROAD

Honey update, November 7

Honey sprung a leak, and it’s ugly. The kind of leak that leaves a mark and a smell.

It must have happened because the temperature reached 26 on Friday night. Or maybe her plumbing just gave out. I doused it with bleach.

I had to drive into St. Louis this morning (I got lost) and find a year-round RV park with “dumping” facilities.
Problem solved, but now I’m going to have to find other facilities.

At Washington University, we’re parked inside the massive iron gates of The Francis Field. It’s on the Register of Historic Landmarks and, along with nearby Francis Gymnasium, was built for the 1904 Olympics. Most of the stands that once held 19,000 have been removed. Today, one long section remains along the south side of the soccer/football field that holds about 3,300 fans. It has Field Turf, and a modern, dark clay colored eight-lane track named Bushyhead Track. The light standards are old, faded utility poles crowned with banks of floodlights, and one has a security camera attached. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest sports venues west of the Mississippi still in use. That’s pretty vague, but there’s no doubt that it is really old AND still being used.
Honey is honored

4,765 miles later, November 5

I woke up this morning about 5:15 on my couch, in Honey, parked at a truck stop off Interstate 55 near Auburn, Ill. It is really cold.

My dogs, Claire and Leia, are anxious to get back to Williams Mill Road and their big, white and elusive German Shepherd friend.

My generator stopped in the middle of the night, as it usually does. I got dressed in the dark, went outside and pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled on the starter cord, as I usually do, first with my left arm, then with my right. Out of gas. I filled the tank and pulled some more and played with the choke until it kicked in and kept running. Then I made coffee.

The final stop of this road trip is close. Washington University, 80 miles away in St. Louis, where I will interview several coaches who have won national championships and the school’s chancellor emeritus for the book I am writing.

When I set out Sept. 27, my speedometer read 59,584. This morning it reads 64,349. A lot of miles to see 14 college soccer games.

My aim is to connect an athletic conference that is not bound by geography, but is bound by the idea that excellence in the classroom and excellence on the playing fields are not mutually exclusive. An athletic conference comprised of the best universities in the country, in the biggest cities in the country. Schools known for their scientists, their writers, their artists, their doctors, their thinkers.

The classes I attended ranged from advanced calculus to abnormal psychology to economics to micro-biology to the films of Andy Warhol. The professors were intent, the students attentive (mostly).

I passed president’s  birthplaces, Civil War battle sites, historic “furnaces.” I crossed  the Erie Canal, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the Allegheny River, the Potomac River, the Chicago River, the Cuyahoga River, the Delaware River, the Chattahoochee River. I saw Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Springfield, Lake Alatoona, Lake Michigan, the Atlantic Ocean.

I stopped at Travel America Centers, Pilot truck stops, Shell stations, Marathon stations, Flying J truck stops, Love’s truck stops. Exxon and Gulf. BP.

The coaches were intense and measure their success not only in wins and losses but in how their charges grow while at school. And how they achieve in life four or five years after graduating. They are determined to win as competitors and dedicated to teaching their kids about life as well as coaching them on the fields and courts. The kids are articulate, self-aware, passionate about their sport. They breed hope.

From Atlanta to New York to Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Rochester to Boston to Atlanta to Chicago to St. Louis, Honey has rolled along Interstate 85, Interstate 77, Interstate 81, Interstate 78, Interstate 280, Interstate 80, Interstate 77, Interstate 90, Interstate 271, Interstate 480, Interstate 80, Interstate 76, Interstate 79, Interstate 279, Interstate 579, Interstate 79 and 90 again, Interstate 490, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 87, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 95, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 84, Interstate 684, Interstate 87, Interstate 95, Interstate 78, Interstate 81, Interstate 77, Interstate 40, Interstate 85 again, Interstate 75, Interstate 24, Interstate 80 again, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 55 and Interstate 64.

Miguel lives in a motel at exit 100.

And this morning I am parked at another truck stop. Rows of bright green and red and blue diesels are lined up at the pumps., idling a capella There are long-haul truckers and local rigs towing yellow earth moving equipment or open cage trailers full of long plastic pipe or anonymous trailers simply painted white.

Big men made even bigger by their cold-weather coats and vests and sweatshirts and bright orange safety vests climb down from their rigs to fuel up with breakfast rolls and coffee and cigarettes.

I talked to one of them, Miguel, who works for Union Pacific. He’s a welder with a huge crew that is installing high speed tracks from Alton to Chicago. His huge white truck has a Union Pacific logo on the side, track-rider wheels tucked up underneath, oil cans, gas cans, a generator, a welder, wrenches, water and track pullers, which draw the rails together end-to-end so they can be welded.

Miguel’s hair is long and dark and reaches the collar of his canvas coat. He has several ear piercings. He’s been on the job for months, and still has months to go and hasn’t been home in a long time. He stays in an economy motel at Exit 82 off Interstate 55 with the rest of the high speed crew.

Sitting in the shotgun seat five feet above me, he tells me that the most amazing piece of equipment is just up the road. A massive contraption that picks up and discards old ties in the front end and lays new rails and concrete ties out the back end. At least I think that’s what he said over the sound of idling diesels. Sounds like some new-fangled  horseless carriage. I should go see it, he says, but I probably won’t, because it will mean backtracking several miles.

Then I ask Miguel where he lives. Grand Junction, Colorado, he says, which is where I had my first newspaper job 29 years ago.

I’m coming home.

Writer Kevin Austin and Honey, his untrusty 1984 recreation vehicle, have been touring universities for Austin’s upcoming book on the University Athletic Association.

Excerpted from Kevin Austin’s blog:  2010 UAA Ultimate Road Trip

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Kevin Austin

Kevin Austin

Kevin S. Austin is from Poncey Highland -- and proud of it, Atlanta, GA, United States. Reporter, writer, newsman, clown. Hail fellow well met.  He recently embarked on a 45-day road trip to visit each of the eight universities in the University Athletic Association and attend soccer matches at the schools for a book he is writing.