Utah 2023: Day 1

Author’s note: Yes, I realize that I have like 5 different blog series going on right now. They’ll get done when they get done. Fortunately, Elizabeth and I have no major travel plans in 2024 so far, so maybe I can get caught up.

I’m 26 years old now! Closer to 30 than 20, managing my 401(K), kicked off my parents’ health insurance, and with a wedding ring to boot – it’s been a year of facing the music as a real-life adult as opposed to the kid trying to make his way in the world. But one of the nice things about being an adult – aside from being able to eat whatever I want for dinner – is that I have the time, money, and wherewithal to travel places. As a lifelong college football fan, traveling to the various stadiums that I’ve seen has long been near the top of my list.

Conference realignment in college football has done much to kill the great traditions of the sport, but in 2023 it gave me an opportunity. Although it wouldn’t be the Holy War, Oklahoma and BYU overlapped in the Big 12 for exactly one season prior to OU’s departure for the SEC. As luck would have it, the game was at LaVell Edwards stadium… on the weekend of my birthday… on a weekend in which I had Friday to Sunday already off. It was destiny, as long as OU didn’t suck so bad that I had no desire to go (the West Virginia game of 2022 still stuck in my memory). Elizabeth, willing as ever to dive into the next great adventure, booked a refundable AirBNB in Provo for the weekend of the game. Eventually, we tacked on flights from Thursday to Sunday using our Southwest companion pass. And, in a move that in hindsight reeks of hubris, we finally purchased tickets to the game in the wake of OU’s stunning win in the Red River Shootout to remain undefeated.

In the lead-up to November 18, the luster fell off of the matchup at least a little bit. OU lost back-to-back games to Kansas and Oklahoma State before rebounding with a crushing win over West Virginia, while BYU faltered badly in Big 12 play after a decent start to the year. Still, I was excited to see the stadium, the area, and the game. And to celebrate 26 in a big way.

This post will cover the first 12 or so hours of our trip, both because I want to keep my entire birthday in one post and because I’m nearing the end of November with only two blog posts written. Gotta keep that streak of three in a row up, right?

I was fortunate enough to get to work from home on Thursday, November 16. We got Scipio squared away at Fetch and Stay while Elizabeth went to Newcastle for a disaster readiness meeting of some sort (she’s very good at saving the world). I took an hour of comp time at 1:00 so that I could have time to get Elizabeth her Starbucks Red Cup (it’s a big deal) on the way to the airport. We got her bag checked and through security in plenty of time for me to be able to work on editing photos for my Oregon Coast Highway blog (the previous one I’d written on this site, in fact) while sipping on some tropical smoothies.

Our flight to Denver was mericfully uneventful. It was cloudy pretty much the whole way, so there was no chance to see some Mountain Views on the way in, but you’ll settle for an early landing every time. Except… maybe… for this one? Because we had an insanely long layover – like four hours long. It makes sense when you consider the number of OU fans who were on our flight from OKC to Denver – the immediate next flight from Denver to Salt Lake City was no doubt equally as crowded with Sooners boisterously recounting their previous exploits at the Red River game. That left the two of us with plenty of time in Denver to hit up the AmEx platinum lounge – a perk of Elizabeth being added to her cousin’s AmEx card as a wedding gift.

As you can see, the lounge literally sits above the concourse below and has a full-service bar, plenty of food, and tables to kill time (perhaps by doing some photo editing. It does cost $50 to bring a guest in, but given the four beers that I drank plus the meal, I’d say $50 between the two of us is a pretty good price. And that’s not even getting into how much gelato Elizabeth made me bring her.

Finally, well after darkness had fallen in Denver and when I was well into rueing an exhausting day that had started at 5:00 am MST, our flight to Salt Lake City boarded and then departed into the night. It was a much shorter flight than I think even I had mentally prepared for. In no time at all I was straining to get any view of the Salt Lake City area that I could as our plane descended. Because SLC is a Delta hub, and because we were flying Southwest, our plane arrived at the nearly deserted B terminal. Seems pretty cool, right? Well, apparently there’s no actual way to mass transit between terminals other than a long, long tunnel, so it took a solid 10 to 15 minutes of walking to reach the rental car area. Mercifully, there was no line at Enterprise – I know Elizabeth didn’t want another repeat of the Budget San Jose incident. Within a couple of minutes of talking to a friendly customer service agent and another couple of minutes waiting in the garage, we’d been handed the keys to a BMW (!!!) and were on our way south on I-15 from Salt Lake City to Provo.

It was hard to see too much from the Interstate, but miles away to the left one could see the lights of houses and roads in the Utah Valley grow upslope. Then they abruptly cut off, and the night was pitch-black from there. From that, I made the assumption that we were among the mountains of Utah. My first time in the northern part of the state!

After about 40 minutes of smooth cruising down I-15, Elizabeth guided me off the Interstate and town the “undoubtedly college town” sized roads of Provo. Our AirBNB was located just off of campus in an condo complex with a parking garage underneath. The unit was nice – two well-furnished bedrooms, a half-bath upstairs, and a small living area downstairs. It was perfect for what we needed – our home for the next three nights.

Laying in bed, I checked my phone. It was midnight. 17 hours ago I’d begun my workday on November 16. Now it was November 17 – my 26th birthday. And little did I know how special 26 was going to be.

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