Sunday started with a Blintz. A Blintz is a Polish pastry, similar to a giant crêpe, but filled with cottage cheese, and topped with fruit and sour cream. I get it, it sounds disgusting…but dang, is it good. When we talked to Mr. Mackesey, our family friend, the night before and told him we were going to Mr. Pancake (right across from Noah’s Ark), he went on a 10-minute rant about how good the blintzes were and invited himself to breakfast. We were excited to have him and the Mackesey’s there, but it meant that I had more pressure on myself to try the blintz. I ordered the strawberry blintzes, and it came out as three giant blintzes. They were delicious and so filling and it was the first time in probably 15 years that I haven’t finished my meal. Not only that, but I got shown up by Granny Mackesey who ate all three of hers.
We left Mr. Pancake around 10 and headed to Madison to look around on State Street. We started near the Capital building and walked down to the beautiful Union Terrace. Some nice cloud cover helped us dodge the heat. My dad was the jokester of the day and kept yelling to get out of the road when a bike or bus was 200 feet away from us, coming our way on State Street. He also thought every shoe, no matter how ugly, would be perfect for the girls. I found a really funny store called POP Deluxe and I got a coffee mug- pretty happy about it.
We had fun and saw some people learning how to sail at the College Union. I left them and headed to the field because it was a 5 o’clock Sunday game. It was a really cool night because it was our annual Pink in the Park Night. We had pink uniforms, including pink socks, hats, and wristbands, used pink bases, and had pink bats. Everything was auctioned off after the game (except the socks and wristbands) and all proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen For The Cure- Madison foundation. I don’t know how much the total donation was, but each jersey went for about $100 a piece! In my first at bat with the pink bats, I blooped a single to center field, driving in a run. I also had my best game in the field for the season, in front of my family. My family stayed for one more day and since we had an off day, we went to Noah’s Ark. My mom, my two sisters, and I ran around the park and rode every ride, while my dad enjoyed the wave pool. He’s not really into the real rides (chicken!). The Scorpion’s Tail was a favorite again. The lines weren’t too bad and we had a great time at the park. After a hot day at the park we went to the famous Tommy Bartlet Show. Tommy Bartlet, a former radio announcer, started a waterski show 50 years ago and it has grown and changed into what the show is today. The show had a clown waterskiing, a backwards-barefoot waterskiiers, jugglers, and other fun shenanigans. There was a really funny, old, juggling comedian. We had a great time at the show and I highly recommend it for anyone going to the Dells. aB
We had fun and saw some people learning how to sail at the College Union. I left them and headed to the field because it was a 5 o’clock Sunday game. It was a really cool night because it was our annual Pink in the Park Night. We had pink uniforms, including pink socks, hats, and wristbands, used pink bases, and had pink bats. Everything was auctioned off after the game (except the socks and wristbands) and all proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen For The Cure- Madison foundation. I don’t know how much the total donation was, but each jersey went for about $100 a piece! In my first at bat with the pink bats, I blooped a single to center field, driving in a run. I also had my best game in the field for the season, in front of my family.
My family stayed for one more day and since we had an off day, we went to Noah’s Ark. My mom, my two sisters, and I ran around the park and rode every ride, while my dad enjoyed the wave pool. He’s not really into the real rides (chicken!). The Scorpion’s Tail was a favorite again. The lines weren’t too bad and we had a great time at the park. After a hot day at the park we went to the famous Tommy Bartlet Show. Tommy Bartlet, a former radio announcer, started a waterski show 50 years ago and it has grown and changed into what the show is today. The show had a clown waterskiing, a backwards-barefoot waterskiiers, jugglers, and other fun shenanigans. There was a really funny, old, juggling comedian. We had a great time at the show and I highly recommend it for anyone going to the Dells.
The heat wave was still coming on strong when we went to Waterloo, Iowa for our two-game trip. We left extremely early because we planned on stopping in Dyersville, Iowa, the site of the field from “The Field of Dreams,” on the way. After a few dirt roads surrounded by cornfields we arrived at the field. Everything looked the same as it was in the movie: the house, the field, the bench. I have probably seen The Field of Dreams a dozen times and it is my second favorite baseball movie, behind #61. We walked on the field and out to the outfield where the corn was. Just like the ghost players disappear in the cornfields at the end of the day, we took turns taking pictures disappearing into the corn.
We got to Waterloo and we hung out in their extremely nice locker rooms until game time. That is not being sarcastic…the visiting locker room is pristine with nice big steel lockers, a flat screen TV, a training room, and a coaches office. When we went out to the field, I got interviewed by a local reporter about the heat and how to prepare yourself for the hot days on the field. I believe it’s all about water intake. If you do not start chugging water when you get up, you will be toast by game time. The game was good. We came back from a 6-run deficit in the 7th and 8th to win the game. We got back to the hotel and I fell asleep at midnight with the lights on. That was my earliest bedtime of the summer!
Breakfast was at of course, Burger King! I usually sit in the back of the bus, but this time I made the tactical choice to sit in the front. If you sit in the front, you get off first, order first, and get your food first. It paid off big. Gotta love 2 p.m. checkout days! We got back to the hotel at 10:30 and I slept.
The game was a bit more frustrating this time around. The one Northwoods League rule that has gotten us in trouble this year is the 35-pitch rule. If a pitcher throws 35 or more pitches in an inning, he cannot come out to pitch in the next inning. Earlier in the year, Nick Sutherland threw exactly 35 pitches and had to come out after the 2nd inning. This time around, Rusty Shellhorn, arguably our best starting pitcher so far this year got in trouble. One hitter had an extremely long at bat and got a hit, and he walked 2 more and gave up one hit. He was about 25 pitches into his first inning without recording an out. We got two relatively quick outs and he had a runner on first with 34 pitches in the inning. We decided that our best chance to keep him pitching was to try to pick off the runner from first. The first throw over was a perfect throw and a bang-bang play that the umpire called safe. After that, we tried picking the same guy off about 14 more times, unsuccessfully. I played first so Rusty and I got a lot of boos from the stands, but that was the situation we were forced into. We even tried to throw away a pickoff move, where Rusty threw the ball 10 feet away from me, hoping the runner would try to advance to second so we could try to throw him out. The ball bounced perfectly off the brick wall, but unfortunately the Bucks did not fall for our trap. Rusty decided to throw his 35th pitch and eventually got out of the inning, unable to return for the 2nd. It hurt to use our whole bullpen from the 2nd inning on, and we brought in two position players (Matt Maribal and Jordan Owen) to finish off the game. Unfortunately we lost the game, splitting the series with the Bucks.
(picture: Noah’s Ark waterpark- Day 2 of the break)
All-Star Break started off with a bang midday on Sunday when I got invited to brunch by Michelle (Jonathon Crawford’s host mom). I left with Jonathon Crawford, Zack Powers, and Denny Clement and headed to the Jet Room. The Jet Room is a neat little restaurant on the backside of the Madison airport, where all the private planes fly. Right outside our window was a little blue and orange colored jet. Besides the view, it was the best breakfast I’ve had this summer. Don’t get me wrong, I love my peanut butter and banana waffles I make everyday, but I had some awesome Eggs Benedict. On the way back, I drove through town and saw a big commotion on State Street. Apparently one Sunday in the summer (Maxwell Street Day) all of the stores and some local vendors set up outdoor shops. There had to be at least a thousand people on State Street, so I took the opportunity to “people watch.”
After a while of watching, I had to drive back home to watch the Women’s World Cup Final. U.S.A. vs. Japan. The U.S. had girls twice the size of the small Japanese, but we gave away two goals and they tied up, 2-2, and forced overtime. I had a busy day and had to leave for Sean’s (my host brother) baseball game. We left as soon as the U.S. scored their first goal in overtime and thought that would be enough to hold them. It was so painful listening to the U.S. implode on the radio. It was such a shame we lost, but at least Japan got something to be happy about after a devastating year. Sean’s game was fun and it was the first time I watched him play all summer. He plays in a local wood bat league where the players are 18-40. The other team had some really good guys in their 30s and beat Sean’s team by 12.
Highlight of the night was beating Spyro the Dragon, finally. Ryan and I worked so hard on it and finally the work paid off. Next up on our list of retro games we need to beat: Gauntlet Dark Legacy (PS2). After beating the game I went to the gym and kicked my butt at squats. It was a good off day.
Wisconsin Dells is a very touristy place, which my dad describes as a “mini-Vegas.” There are hundreds of hotels and it seems like all of them, like The Great Wolf Lodge and The Wilderness, have their own water parks. One hotel, The Carousel, even boasted that they had 9 pools inside!
On Day 2, about twelve members of the Mallards set off for the largest waterpark in America, Noah’s Ark, in Wisconsin Dells. If you go to Noah’s Ark, make sure you get the $10 discount after filling up at Shell Gas Station. After a 45-minute drive to the Dells, we were there, ready to ride some watercoasters! There was one problem- there was a thunderstorm. Water parks will stay open if there’s rain, but not for thunderstorms. One really dumb lady when she heard that the water coasters were shut down temporarily asked, “Is the lazy river still open?” After a 30-minute delay, it was hot and sultry again and it was time to ride. We stayed there from 10 a.m. to the 8 p.m. close- a really long day. We left the park twice to eat two terrible meals- at Burger King and Taco Bell.
The best ride at the park was the Scorpion’s Tail (giant blue ride with the loop, right of center). You step into this telephone booth-like chamber and when the door closes, you hear a voice counting down “3,2,1…” At the end of the countdown, the floor drops out of the telephone booth and you virtually freefall for two seconds, building up speed for the eventual loop. The worst ride there was The Curse of the Crypt. Nick Sutherland, one of our pitchers, said he had ridden on it last year and said it was horrible. We interpreted that to mean that the ride was scary, so despite being scared, our bravado told us to check it out. It ended up being the dumbest ride I have ever been on. You walk through this cold basement for 10 minutes to get to the ride, and when you finally get there, you sit in a giant motion sensor room. The ride is based on optical illusions, but it was not at all scary, or good, for that matter. So, when he said horrible, he meant horrible. The Plunge (the two smaller blue slides) had the most bang-for-your-buck. The line was extremely short and you could race each other. Also, off the second jump, if you lift up, you can get some serious air.
The tallest drop, The Point of No Return (tall tan slide) was only okay. It is an older slide and scratched your back up on the way down. The ride should actually be named “The Atomic Wedgie,” and it was far from my favorite. The Stingray (tan half pipe on the left) was a great 2-person ride and Time Warp (not in picture) was another really fun one. We were exhausted from the sun beating down on us the whole day, so we drove back that night.
I slept in and went to Lake Mills with my host brother Sean. I went to Lake Mills in the first week in Madison because we have family friends who live on the lake. Even though I was a bit waterlogged from the day before, I am always up for a little tubing. I got into the boat with Sean, Leo (family friend) and a kid who plays for the St. Cloud River Bats, named J.R. Reynolds. He goes to Ohio University and was at Lake Mills visiting his cousin on his last off day of All-Star Break. Small world that we would both know someone in a town of less than 3,000 and be in the same boat on the same day. Sean and J.R.’s cousin tubed for about 20 minutes and it was time to switch. We turned off the boat, switched life jackets, and got in the tubes. The boat wouldn’t start. We determined that the battery was dead and we were in the middle of the lake. A nice family towed us back in and we swam in the lake a little and got burnt.
I would’ve loved the opportunity to playin the All-Star game but overall, it was a good All-Star Break. Note: “Break” is a relative term. I didn’t really stop moving the whole break, which is why I’m now posting about it a week later. But, it was a good time to step away from baseball, get two lifts in, and have some fun in the water.
(Notice: this is not our Coach).
Yesterday was Bacon Appreciation Day. I was confused at first to what that meant exactly, and to be honest, I am still a little confused. But, from what I gathered, it was a night where the concession stand made everything (2 foot long brats, ice cream sundaes, etc.) with bacon in it and there were different promotions involving bacon. The first 500 fans received small Piggy Banks, something my host brother, Ryan, had been looking forward to for a long time. When he found out he had a baseball game last night, the thought even crossed his mind to miss his game and get the piggy bank. But he got the best of both worlds- he played the game and I got him a piggy bank. The only problem was that the piggy bank didn’t stay closed…tough break.
The promotions were pretty funny. My favorite one was when the dressed three of the interns up in pink pig costumes and had 20 kids run out in the outfield and chase them (“pin the tail on the pig”). There was a chef contest in between innings where one of the contestants melted M&M’s on the bacon to make it blue, red, and yellow. I was extremely happy when they played clips from my favorite comedian, Jim Gaffigan’s, “Bacon” skit. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to it now- as well as the “Hot Pockets” skit.
The game was really good. Estevan Uriegas (Texas A&M) pitched extremely well and our relief pitchers did a great job too. Travis Parker (St. Louis University) is a two-way guy who plays third base and is also a side-arm pitcher. He hit in the 4-hole last night after not hitting live pitching for 2 weeks. He had a great game and drove in 2 runs, helping us win, 4-1.
Right before the team meeting in the outfield, we were so excited that Jordan Owen and Estevan dumped the water cooler on coach. He was freezing. If you are a sports fan, you know this usually happens when a team wins the championship of their sport, but the win last night only brought us to 2-6 in the second half. The game broke our six game losing streak and we had so much fun that we needed to do it. Summerball!
Shout out to Gary “Big Dog” Breneman for getting us Quench Gum in the dugout yesterday. We had been missing Quench Gum for over a week and it might have contributed to the “W.”
Heading to La Crosse now- watching “Miracle.” Really looking forward to the pregame meal at North Country Steak Buffet. I think the whole team is.
I want to apologize for slacking on the blog lately. It’s been a productive past 3 days, I’ve gotten in two lifts, a haircut, got some new batting gloves, and eaten some vegetables. I feel pretty good about everything that went on the last 3 days except for the fact we’ve lost everyday this week (now at 6 straight losses).
I was planning on growing out my hair- but it looked awful and I needed to change it up. I was clueless on where to go to get my haircut and my host brother, Ryan, suggested SportsClips. I immediately ruled them out because of a horrific experience 8 or 9 years ago in Nebraska. (Flashback) When I showed up for my haircut, I was excited to transform a usually bad experience (haircut) to a good one with “sports.” There were tons of TV’s around the salon, but I didn’t have a chance to watch any of them because the lady painfully yanked my hair for 45 minutes. Not only did she yank my hair for 45 minutes, it was a terrible haircut. I will never go back to SportsClips. So, looking for alternate options, I found a GreatClips…much safer choice- and it was a really good cut.
This week has been hard for the team- we have lost 6 straight. Hopefully, we can end that streak tonight against Waterloo. We have not fielded well or hit well during this skid. Last night Nate Theunissen (Central Michigan) ripped an oppo bomb in the bottom of the ninth, which brought excitement to the dugout and the crowd. Jordan Owen (UT-Martin) also crushed a groundball that skipped up and hit their third baseman in the head. He was okay, but man was that ball smoked.
Congrats to Derek Jeter (amazing), Robinson Cano, and Prince Fielder for their accomplishments this week. It was awesome to see Cano’s dad throwing to him in the Homerun Derby.
Going to workout after the game today. Getting after it- can’t wait to bring all that I’ve learned to Davidson in the fall.
Photo Courtesy of: Todd, Geri, Maddie, Ann & Michelle (troopers that came all the way out to Green Bay to watch Jonathan Crawford pitch)
We left at noon for the 2.5 hour trip to Green Bay, although Big Dog, our team manager, swears the trip is only 2:20. And he’s really good with directions. Anyways, we get to Hardee’s early for a sit down lunch. Yes, the burgers are good there, but the thing I like the most about Hardee’s is their milkshakes. Plus, they taste a lot better than they usually do because they are free (to us). I would say more than half the team got one, and I ended up with a Strawberry. While drinking my milkshake, I was thinking, “This has to be the best decision ever,” but five minutes after until the game was over I was thinking, “That was probably a stupid decision.”
We finished Hardee’s, walked around a fireworks shop which featured some $500 giant fireworks display. I really wonder how many people get that one. We left at headed straight for Lambeau Field (again). The last time we went to Green Bay, we only drove around the stadium, but this time we actually got to go in it. I do not have any pictures of that because we only had 30 minutes there and a tour was going to last an hour- so we unfortunately did not get to see the field. But, we walked around the giant main floor and went in the pro shop. I doubt anyone got anything though, just browsing. And, they did have Brett Favre jerseys, hidden in the very back of the store. We were all suprised there.
During the game, Green Bay must have been out of pitching because they pitched mostly position players. This was to our advantage because position players who do not pitch are usually not as accurate, and they walked us a lot. We ended up beating the Bullfrogs 12-1. Despite them throwing position players, they did have really good arms and I didn’t have the best game of my life. I broke two bats, moving my total to 9 on the year. That is a ton of broken bats for just a small amount of time, but I am working on it. My assistant coach always gets mad that I break so many, but they are free, so I don’t know why he gets upset. The good thing about breaking bats is that the Mallards made a deal with Barnes, Inc. and the Madison Parks Department to plant a tree for every broken bat this season. So, for all you environmentalists out there, I have essentially planted 9 new trees so far this summer. Also, tonight was the second time I was the Beer Batter, and the first time I struck out (in the 2nd inning). I did not see it, but one of my teammates said about 300 people stood up and made their way to the concessions stand to get half priced beer. You’re welcome.
On the bus ride back we were suprised because Dave, our bus driver, got the color on the TV to work. For about three weeks, we watched all our movies in black and white, and now we got that fixed so we can watch them in color. We watched SpaceBalls, which was exponentially better when I was a kid, but there were still some good parts. I am almost finished with The Girl Who Played With Fire, it is heating up! Some of the other guys played a game, Password, on the bus, all the way home. We got back at two, and when coach unlocked the press box, an alarm went off. So we had to wait to get another key. I finally got in bed and immediately passed out.
Tonight is Rhythm and Booms!!! I can’t wait. Game is at 5 or 6- fireworks and a carnival type thing going on after.
Bullfrogs 7 (16-10)
Mallards 1 (17-11)
For a typical home game, we are at the field from 2:30 to around 10:30 and most away games, between travel, warmups and the game, take a full day. On home-game days, many of the Mallards like to lift at the Princeton Club to stay in shape and to improve. No matter how hard and long the season is, lifting is a crucial part to keep the body strong and healthy. My coach always says, “Lifting does not break down athletes, it builds players up…games break down athletes.” There is a lot of truth to this, so I try to lift 3 days a week. Jordan Owen (UT Martin), on the other hand, tries to lift 6 days a week. Since summer ball players do not have that much time outside of baseball and development, we need to get money somehow (because most of us are broke college kids).
Today was our first opportunity to do so, and 15 of the players worked a camp for about 600 daycare kids this morning. We all had been assigned jobs like working the dunk tank or the moon bounce, but I chose to do the inflatable hitting tee game. To start, this game is extremely difficult. It is a giant inflatable, where the ball floats on 6 inches of air and you are supposed to hit the wiffle ball into tiny holes on the back panel that read “home run” or “double.” They keep this game out during the Mallards games, so I always try on my way to the dugout and in about 20 swings, I haven’t won yet. So for three hours, I placed the ball on the air-tee and kids aged from 2 to 12 took hacks. I got a lot of enjoyment out of it and there were some really good hitters, and some really bad hitters. Each kid got three swings, but three swings implied contact, so some kids swung 20 times before they actually touched the ball. In the 600 kids that stopped by my station, only 5 of them hit the ball through a hole in the back panel. I decided to change the rules of the game and made up a “single/double/triple/home run” call for each swing. It turned 5 winners into 590 winners. There were still those 10 kids that could never touch the ball. For only working three hours, each player got paid $40. It is really cool that the team provides the players with opportunities like these to 1) Get more involved with the Madison community and 2) Get paid a little for working camps.
I had the game off, so I went to early work, took BP, threw, and then saw Jonathan Crawford (Florida) doing some ab workouts down the left field line. I joined him for the last few and then got read to watch the ball game. Tonight’s big celebrity at the game was WWE Hall of Famer “The Million Dollar Man.” Nick Sutherland (Mankato State), who watched WWE growing up, remembers “The Million Dollar Man,” his catch phrase, and his biggest victory. “The Million Dollar Man” wore a cool jacket with a lit-up dollar sign on his back, and did some of the in-game promotions tonight. I personally do not know much about WWE, but it was still cool to have someone like that at our game.
Tonight’s game was hard to watch- there was no other way to describe it. Unfortunately “The Million Dollar Man’s” superhuman WWE strength did not wear off on us tonight…for some reason, Green Bay has our number this year. We need to come out focused and ready to compete if we want to win against them. Today just wasn’t our day. On the positive note, Matt Juengel (Texas A&M), went 1 for 3 with a walk tonight in his Mallards’ debut. Matt is fresh from his team’s CWS run in Omaha and will be a great addition to our team.
After the game I got to see a Davidson friend of mine, Anne Tabb, who is the girlfriend of Green Bay/ Davidson’s catcher, Daniel Gerow. She lives in Texas and I was so caught off guard seeing her in Madison that I barely had the chance to say hi to her. Fortunately, she will be at tomorrow night’s game and we can catch up then.
Tomorrow we have another camp in the morning, so it will be another early start, but I can’t wait.
Looking to invest in some Gold Bond soon,
All I had on the table today was a team meeting late in the day, so I took the rare day off to hit the lake. I drove 45 minutes out to Legendary Lake Mills and enjoyed a quiet Memorial Day afternoon cruising a beautiful lake.
Update on the host family: They are great. Two kids (they both play baseball too) and the mom and dad are sweet. They have a little dog named Mocha. Apparently they named her when she was born and was the color mocha, and now she is white. I have a room in the basement which is cool and dark- perfect for getting quality sleep. Favorite part of the house so far: MLB Network. MLB Network is crucial for any aspiring summer baseball host family if you want your host player to have fun/ a good summer. It is something that I don not have at home and I was pumped about when I asked my host dad if the family had it (Yes). Last year, I would come in from games around 11 p.m. and watch the same MLB Network episode two to three times. This summer I only plan on watching each episode once, and get some reading done…but nevertheless, MLB Network is key.
Team meeting was good. The first two pics are of the newly renovated “Duck Pond,” where the Mallards play. In preparation for this summer, they dropped a cool $1.8 million for renovations. The park has the capacity for 6,750 people and the first 4 home games are already sold out! This is unreal! We have a great team and are looking to win a lot. Madison, get ready!
On the way back from the field, I drove along Gorham Rd. and passed the lake where I took the third picture. I figured this would be my only opportunity, so I sat in the local park and watched the sunset. Madison, WI is beautiful in the summer. I get to drive through downtown everyday and see some really interesting people. I’ve also noticed how much this town loves baseball- especially, the Brewers. I can’t say I have ever rooted for the Brewers, but I might have to pick up some gear while I’m here.
I’m off to bed. Two practices tomorrow and then we start 70 games in 75 days.
p.s. I love Brian Wilson, but those MLB commercials with his beard are played way too much and they are not good.
Ask any of my friends- I love to talk and love baseball- this is the basis for “dugout chatter.” I just finished my sophomore year at Davidson College where I play baseball (if you are interested, you can click my bio for more). I am currently on a 13-hour car ride from Cumming, GA to Madison, WI, where I will spend the most amazing summer of my life. This summer I will play baseball for the Madison Mallards summer team in the prestigious Northwoods league. This blog will be host to banter and anecdotes on my road to discover “America’s pastime” in the Midwest.
The Northwoods League has been around since 1994 and many now-famous MLB players like Curtis Granderson, Ian Kinsler, Andre Ethier, and Jay Gibbons have played in it. The League is split up into two eight-team divisions (16 teams), making it the largest summer league in the country. The league also boasts the largest area covered- teams are located in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and one team in Canada. The league is renown for its talent and ranks as the #2 summer league in the country, only behind The Cape. College players from all over the country come to this league and stay with host families.
Life isn’t easy as a summer college baseball player. The teams in the Northwoods play 70 games in 75 days. Combined with the typical 56-game spring season, players in the Northwoods will be playing more games per day than the pros! The games will be a grind. I’ve heard stories of teams sleeping until they arrive into a town, coaches poking the kids with fungo bats until they wake, getting off the bus, and playing. The good news about the average 6-12 hour bus rides will be that I will have time to jot down what happens in between games. Every team plays two games in a town and then hops on over to another one. You better have your hammer and your hard hat or you won’t make it in this league. The pitchers will all be good, and they will get some extra help with the wood bats. As many of you know, college baseball switched to BBCOR bats- it will be interesting to see how the ball jumps off the wood.
Look at this blog if you are into an eclectic mix of stories of roadtrips, lessons learned, what I see and who I encounter (there will be pictures), as I gain a new perspective on life and baseball in Madison.
So…back to the car. We (Pops and I) left at 6 a.m. in Georgia and plan on arriving just after 7 p.m. central time. Fun times. I’ve slept, read some The Girl Who Played With Fire (yes, I know I am behind), and seen a lot of…farms. The ride has been enjoyable despite a solid pain in my neck, but we’ll be there soon. Despite the incessant cloud cover, I am still rocking my newly fixed RayBans. When the guy at the store fixed them, he said, “Now you can get back to your risky business.” I think he was kidding, but that’s just what’s about to happen. I will meet my host family in a few hours, and man, I am I pumped! Madison, WI, with your excitement and 6,000 plus crowds every night—Bring it on! This is my story.