Road to Pasadena: How to pull off an ideal, six-day bowl road trip

What better way to end the season than at the 100th Rose Bowl?

By nightfall at the Wyoming border, we realized punch drunk’s not just for boxers.

We were pushing for Cheyenne, the final stop after waking in Chicago. This sounded ambitious but reasonable the night before, sitting in Wrigley Field calculating our next move.

My dad and I were on a cross-country road trip, from Connecticut to Los Angeles, stretching the contiguous US band about as far as it allows. From another trip a couple years prior, we learned that every land-based excursion of this nature includes at least one excruciating day. It’s merely a work day, a leg- and ass-numbing fee you fork over for the fun parts.

So this was ours, almost 15 hours and 1,000 miles. We didn’t think about that, though, after returning to our hotel around 10 the previous evening. We just set the alarm for 3:30 a.m. CT (2:30 a.m. MT) and told each other, “We’re getting to Cheyenne.” We felt a sudden rush, which really was just the daring adrenaline surge that rides in moments before trying something you know is stupid.

At 3:45 a.m. CT, we we’re gone, ripping through a sleeping downtown Chicago, heading for Iowa and the hundreds – and hundreds — of miles of corn that carried us across the impossibly wide waist of Nebraska.

We made great time on the road, but a meeting with the Iowa State Patrol (no ticket!) and a leisurely lunch at The Drove in Omaha, along with the normal gas and stretching and leaking stops, put us into Cheyenne around 8:30 p.m., 18 hours and a little more than 1,000 miles since we fled Chicago in the wee hours. We needed to eat, we needed to sleep.

Mondello Downtown Pizzeria was one of the few things open at this time, so we stepped in. The owner, a New Yorker, asked me what he could get us.

“Pizza,” I said.

“OK, what do you want?”

“Pizza.”

“ … Yeah, what do you want on it?”

“Pizza.”

It was bad. I physically could not place an order.

The look on the man’s face at that moment was part amazement at this blithering, wordless idiot leaning on the counter and part worry. Should he call for help? “Sorry,” my dad said. “We just drove from Chicago and are a bit woozy.”

We all laughed. The owner, having driven from New York to Cheyenne many times, understood, and so he turned around and started making us something fresh.

***

The best part of road trips is the freedom, the absence of rules, but there are two staples you should know:

1) On significant driving days, always start before the sun. Our goal on the two cross-country trips each day was to drive at least 100 miles before breakfast, preferably more. You will quickly see how much more manageable it makes the travel.

2) If at all possible, avoid a Chicago-to-Cheyenne leg. It’s not healthy.

With that in mind, let’s create a one-week college football bowl trip you and a few buddies can take a couple weeks from now if you have the means and the time.

This isn’t the perfect trip. I wish it included the South, an SEC team and at least one night in New Orleans talking yourself out of bad decisions. But, alas, we can’t have it all.

The mission: See a few good teams, have relatively good weather, hit the best BCS game we could manage and create enough miles on the road where hour-long, time-killing conversations like, “Why is every other billboard in Kansas advertising an adult video store?” are unavoidable. (My dad and I never did find an acceptable answer.)

The only thing I need from you: a week off work, from Friday, Dec. 27, through Friday, Jan. 3.

Deal? Deal.

You’re starting in Houston. If you live here, even better. If not, a morning flight is required.

The Texas Bowl is at 5 p.m. I know, I know — subjecting you to Syracuse-Minnesota isn’t a great start, but don’t lose faith. It’s the first day.

The only purpose of today is to reconnect with friends you may not have seen for a while, have some beers and barbecue together and see a little football, of any kind, to get into the bowl spirit. Plus, the Gophers are actually one of the year’s better stories. Give them some love.

If you can take only half of this game, here’s the World’s Best Bars for Houston. Leave Reliant Stadium early, find something you like and cheers to the road ahead.

You have two off-days to spend in Texas before the next bowl game. On Saturday morning, drive the two-and-a-half hours or so to Austin.

The current weather projections have it in the 50s and possibly pushing 60 – perfect December golf weather.  Get an 11 a.m. tee-time at Fazio Canyons (at Barton Creek Resort). Golf Digest ranks it as the seventh-best course in Texas and one of the 100-best public courses in the country.

If you want to spend both off-days in the Austin area – there’s plenty to do – Fazio is offering an unlimited golf package for $179 a person. We won’t keep you in Austin for two days, because that feels like cheating, but it’s an option.

For dinner, save the Tex-Mex bullet and go to Austin Land and Cattle Co. Order the biggest steak you can find. Guy’s trip, football – feels like a beef kind of night.

Lastly: We can’t leave Austin without music and a couple post-dinner drinks. As with anything, venues will be dictated by tastes. But I feel like I need to mention this as a public service announcement, if nothing else: Hole in the Wall, a college-ish dive bar, has a sign outside that reads, “Cheap music, fast drinks, live women.”

Austin!

Sleep in and get to Monday’s destination a day early. Mapquest has the drive around an hour and 20 minutes.

By now, you’ve had two days with a lot drinking/eating and little driving/sleeping, which means you have work ahead. So a “rest day” is important for you to maintain energy and sanity on trips like this.

Have breakfast and then get out to TPC San Antonio for a round. The AT&T Oaks Course hosts the PGA’s Valero Texas Open, and the AT&T Canyons Course hosts a Champions Tour event. Pick one, but either way, walk, don’t ride. We need a little exercise on this trip.

If you got steak in Austin, this is the night for your Tex-Mex fix. Hit Alamo Café and enjoy a casual evening. The next two days are big.

Game day – we have Texas-Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. The game is at 5:45 p.m. local time, so you can spend the previous hours however you like.

You can take in some of San Antonio’s culture or you can just head out to the game site and try to find the best Mack Brown Memorial tailgate honoring the last game of the legendary coach’s run with the Longhorns (news broke Tuesday that Brown will step down after 16 years).

It’s also probably a good morning to make a few phone calls – you know, to those who love you and might have a worry or two about six days, 1,500 miles and God knows what stands between.

What makes today tricky is at least one person in your crew needs to be able to operate a vehicle after the game. Why? Because you don’t want to do this:

Instead, it’s crucial to knock out an hour or two of driving after the game. Let’s say you’re done at the game around 9 p.m. Now drive an hour and 45 minutes to Junction before crashing for the night.

Junction will be your Lexington, Ky. What does that mean?

On our first cross-country trip, my dad and I got to Lexington around midnight with no hotel reservations, looking for a place to sleep a little and then continue on. The best we could find was a roadside Days Inn that laughed at sanitary codes. The “non-smoking room” wreaked like cigs, and splotches of blood – or, sure, Easter egg dye – could be found in the toilet bowl. We didn’t touch anything, slept for three hours and got the hell out.

Our night clothes sported such a stench we left them on the floor, fearing they’d contaminate everything else in our bags. We laugh now at the irony of having such a strong (and unfair) opinion of Lexington considering we haven’t even seen it in daylight. I wish you better luck in Junction.

Remember rule No. 1 for your work day: You’re driving before dawn.

Why did dad and I even think of going Chicago to Cheyenne in a day?

So we could slow down on the back end for this:

And this:

You slowed down in Texas and now need to set up the final 24 hours of the trip by pushing from Junction to Phoenix today. This is where you pay for the trip.

Junction to Phoenix will be about 12 hours, maybe a little more if you don’t leave before dawn, maybe a little less if you’re driving conservatively over the speed limit. And, hey, if you view speeding tickets as just part of the travel cost, then go forward and crush my travel estimation. But we preach safety and ticket-less driving here, so heavy-foot it at your own risk.

If you can crank out 12 hours, this puts you in the Phoenix area, where a superb nightlife scene awaits you to ring in the New Year with your buddies. You can’t go wrong with New Year’s Eve in Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale.

See how nicely this is coming together? We’re in shouting distance of the grand finale, boys.

I just need one final sacrifice.

This is gonna hurt, but remember rule No. 1!

We’re heading to Pasadena and ending the trip with Stanford-Michigan State and the 100th Rose Bowl. If you’ve never been to this game or this stadium, together they make one of college football’s most majestic settings. You’ll love it.

But you need to hit the road early after celebrating New Year’s the night before. It’s fine. Coffee, something good in the stomach, take turns napping – you’ll make it.

It’s 5.5 or six hours to Pasadena and a bit of luck is on your side: You will gain an hour on the way to Los Angeles. The Rose Bowl kicks off at 2 p.m. local time. You’ll want to tailgate some. So if you can leave Phoenix at 6 a.m., you should arrive in Pasadena by 11 a.m. with the time change. If you don’t want three hours to tailgate, you can trade one in for an extra hour of sleep. That’s your choice. Traffic shouldn’t be an issue at whatever time you leave on New Year’s morning.

The Rose Bowl will be terrific, just the spectacle and scenery will make the trip worth it. Afterwards, wash up and find a place in L.A. to enjoy a good dinner (maybe mix in a vegetable?) and salute your journey. Remember “cheap drinks, fast music, live women” at the Hole in the Wall? That seems like a month ago!

Thursday morning? You ditch the rental, hit the airport as early as possible and get home. You have a three-day weekend ahead to catch up on sleep before the coldness of Monday morning shakes you from the sheets and says it’s time to go to work and kick off 2014.

In between naps, you’ll reminisce about one of the best trips you and your friends have ever taken and vouch never to spend more than six consecutive hours in a car again, let alone 12.

Until next year, of course, when Chicago to Cheyenne seems a little less insane, adrenaline seeps from your pores and you talk yourself into doing it all over again.

Teddy Mitrosilis writes and edits college football for FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter and email him at tmitrosilis@gmail.com.