On the road: team travel has benefits

The daily life of an athlete at any age is much more complex than just wins and losses, practices and games. Although the box scores and history books only record what happens on game days, there is an entirely separate facet of athletics that probably flies under the radar of St. Olaf’s more artistically-minded student body: the road trip.

While many of St. Olaf’s musical groups know exactly what it is like to perform and spend extended periods of time away from Northfield on concert tours, there are bound to be many Oles who have no idea what happens when 30 to 40 teammates climb aboard a bus and do not come back until days later.

St. Olaf teams, through their participation in the MIAC, aren’t typically faced with a daunting travel schedule, as the majority of their opponents are within an hour-long bus ride away from campus. However, coaches have the opportunity to traverse the country or beyond when they schedule their non-conference games. For example, the women’s hockey team took a trip to Italy over the summer and the men’s hockey team myself included spent its Thanksgiving weekend in Boston, Mass. Members of the mens’ hockey team – most of whom are graduates of junior hockey programs – are seasoned veterans of life on the road.

Any athlete can tell you that road trips are centered on the bus ride. Teams cram onto charter buses for trips that, depending on the destination, can be anywhere from a couple to 20 hours long. The bus is almost a separate world, where the greatest possible scenario is having your own row of seats, a luxury normally reserved for upperclassmen. The biggest challenge one faces is finding a comfortable position in which to either sleep or perhaps get some classwork done which often quickly turns into the former. Bus entertainment comes in the form of movies – once again determined by upperclassmen – games, deep hypothetical conversations or anything else to help pass the time.

A variation of the bus trip is team travel via air, where all of the minor details remain the same, except that one has to deal with two primary annoyances: waiting for long periods of time at check-in, security and baggage claim areas and dealing with the inevitable small talk with random airport strangers asking where you are going, who you are playing and – my personal favorite – what sport you play. In my experience these questions are more fun if not answered truthfully.

Long road trips often mean hotel stays, which is quite a different animal when you stuff a roster of 35 people into a handful of rooms for the weekend. The men’s hockey team’s recent trip to Boston featured bed space and pillows at an absolute premium, with a surplus of shenanigans. Prank wars between rooms were commonplace, with the favorite move being the “leaner,” where you prop a water-filled garbage can against the door of your unsuspecting victims, which will hopefully spill its contents in their entryway once they answer your knock.

When teammates aren’t eating, napping or partaking in other skullduggery, they are jockeying for control of the TV remote. As seems to be the trend, this usually ends in favor of the elders. Much like on the bus, the ultimate goal is to pass the time, so it is not unusual to take in a three-hour marathon of some random show on Animal Planet or the Travel Channel.

Even though each road trip takes on characteristics of its own, they all share in the fact that they provide a fantastic chance for teams to grow closer together. The camaraderie created when you endure a 15-hour travel day with your teammates and the hilarity that often ensues in the process can unite a team more than any home stand might. Although it can seem like a pain at the time, looking back, one can see that some of the best sports memories are created far away from home.