Following the Sooners: A day-to-day account

Sooners Illustrated's Justin Hite followed OU around the Iron Belt for almost two weeks

Another March means that it’s hopefully time for another long road trip, and this time, the Sooners didn’t disappoint.

With Oklahoma reaching the Sweet 16, a once planned weekend trip up to Columbus turned into an Iron Belt excursion, complete with late nights, worried phone calls (my house is in Moore) and a range of emotions – from the triumph of advancing to the disappointment of being sent home.

The Sooners’ path from Columbus to Syracuse was well-documented – at least I hope you think it was. But there was a less glorified trip around the Great Lakes take by yours truly.

Here’s a recap of the day-to-day operations of one, Justin Hite:

March 19: Up before sunrise to catch an early flight out of Oklahoma City. The destination is Columbus, and I can’t help but hope I make it before availability, which was coming almost seven hours later but less than 90 minutes before my scheduled landing. Luckily, no problems with my layover in Chicago, and I made it with plenty of time to spare – catching a cab, checking into my room and meeting with the team.

March 20:

It’s game day in Columbus, although it’s more like game night since the Sooners had the late tip-off inside Nationwide Arena. You’ll find out very quickly that when I travel, I like to sample the food from a region. They’ll be a lot of mentions of meals throughout this blog. On this day, I visited Katzinger’s Deli. Columbus had some great sandwich shops, and this one was packed. Had a roast beef and turkey sandwich. Pretty good. As for the game against Albany, not a ton of surprises there – which is always a nice thing this time of year. Oklahoma marches on and I stick around for a few more days.

March 21:

A day off in Columbus and a chance to visit the city. I walked around downtown a little bit, which is just a mile or two from the Ohio State campus. I had been eyeing the North Market for a couple days and ventured over there around lunchtime to see what it was. It reminded me of home: A massive enclosed market with nearly 10 restaurants and plenty of shops. I picked up some local pierogies – sort of a polish pastry filled with potatoes and cheese. It was one of the best things I had all week.

March 22:

Missed the chat this night, sorry about that guys. I was a little busy. Against Dayton, it never felt like Oklahoma was in trouble. There were a few tight moments, but the Sooners were in control from the start. But with a game comes another late night. This time, I was up until 2 a.m. working and trying to figure out how to get to Syracuse.

March 23:

Checked out of the hotel in Columbus after the decision was made to drive and headed to Pittsburgh to stay with my aunt and uncle for a few days of recovery time. After a couple hours sorting out issues at the Pittsburgh airport, I arrived at their house to a home-cooked meal. There was nothing left in the bowl. It was tuna noodle casserole, but it might as well have been a filet mignon.

March 24 and 25:

I won’t bore you with my work days in a café, but there was some good food involved and some stressful nights. I went to Primanti Brothers – a burger bar that puts fries on its sandwich – and took a car tour of Pittsburgh, which has five colleges within its city limits. Wednesday night was a tough one, though. My fiancée and I live in Moore and since she was working late – hoping to avoid the storm – I had to wait until 11 p.m. to find out that our house was still there. Luckily there was no damage outside of our fence, my beloved grill that was left outside and the power outage. I went to sleep that night pretty quickly – relaxed from a couple ‘days off’ and the relief of knowing my fiancée was alright.

March 26:

The toughest travel day of them all. Up early again, this time a little after 6 a.m., which was about 90 minutes later than when I caught the flight to Columbus. Someone else was driving, then. This time, I drove from Pittsburgh to Syracuse – a five-hour drive with three-and-a-half of it in a driving blizzard. Flakes and chunks of ice the ice of quarters falling from the sky as I weaved in and out of 18-wheelers. When it wasn’t snowing, it was raining or sleeting. Not fun, but made it to the Carrier Dome with five minutes to spare before Oklahoma’s locker room opened. A couple quick stories to write and dinner at Dinosaur BBQ – a popular place and the most well-known within the city limits. ESPN’s crew was there, as was N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried and his family. 45-minute wait for a party of five but it was completely worth it. Fall-off-the-bone ribs and some very nice mac and cheese. Definitely a yin and yang day, but I went back to my hotel happy and full.

March 27:

Game night and it was a late one. I didn’t get to bed until 4 a.m. after all my work. This was 4 a.m. local time because I think I had adjusted to Eastern Time at this point. In the afternoon, I hit up a pasta bar called ‘Pasatabilities.’ It was a cafeteria-style place with a line out the door – worth it. Game was a great one, though. It didn’t have the ending that most Oklahoma fans wanted, but it was a special game.

March 28:

Needing some desperate rest, I managed to sleep in until about 9 a.m. – just five hours – before waking up for a little bit more work. Had to put some of it off. Strangely, I don’t function at my best at 4 a.m. I went to availability for couple hours, just to check things out and keep my mind occupied. I wound up writing for the Michigan State site before coming home having dinner and trying to go to bed early. Except that a few co-eds took up the room next to me. I let the party run until about 1 a.m. – I’m not that old – before I shut it down. They were respectfully compliant for having gone through three cases of beer.

March 29:

With an albeit unexpected day off, I took to catching some free basketball. Since the Michigan State site was still in town, I helped them out by writing a secondary story from the game. A really great game to just watch. I hadn’t watched a college game live in a very long time without having the cloud of a deadline behind me. Dinner on my final night was penne pasta carbonara – and yes, this is the last meal you’ll hear about.

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If I’ve learned one thing from being on the road, it’s that I’m not a huge fan of being on the road. At the very least, being away from home makes you realize how comfortable your bed can be, how nice it is to drive your own car and how good it feels to cook and plan your own meals.

Oklahoma’s men’s basketball season is officially a wrap, and I’ve got a flight home to catch.

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