Chasing the game: 8,611 miles in 4 weeks

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Grand Canyon

It really wasn’t all that long ago that traveling from A to B was a difficult undertaking. Even getting into town could take an entire day. To get from New York to California took months, and you really weren’t guaranteed to get there. I guess you’re still not guaranteed to get somewhere, especially if you’re flying American Airlines (referencing abhorrent efficiency of operations, not like crashing or anything).

With the way things were 100 or so years ago, my most recent odyssey/fiasco would’ve been the stuff of legend. It’s not exactly legendary these days, but it’s an interesting story.

If you don’t think it’ll be an interesting story, I’d find some cat video or Trump conspiracy theory to click on, because the remainder of this article details my 8.5k+ mile couple of weeks.

Chasing the Game

I was at home. Home is Oswego, New York. I’m not particularly fond of Oswego, New York, but it’s a nice place to be from. I work seasonally, and that season is coming. Winter is coming… However, that seasonal work is in the Beehive State of Utah in a ritzy little ski town by the name of Park City. I had to get from Oswego, New York to Park City, Utah. That’s pretty simple. You dial up the good folks at Southwest, pay like 160 bucks, and you’re home for dinner.

Too easy. My father was coaching girls’ soccer at the district he taught at/retired from. Their season wasn’t going all that well, and Dan (patriarch) was getting a little frustrated. I had planned on taking Reptar (canine/bastard/wizard) back to Park City with me for the Winter, thus I was going to rent a car and drive out. Dan came home after a loss, or maybe it was a practice, but either way a loss, and said he needed a vacation. We had talked about making it out to Hawaii for that bucket list of a tournament that has eluded my attendance thus far. To boot, last year after his girls’ season was over, he had come out to Australia to visit me and we went on a two-week tour all over the land down under, so he figured he was due.

My father writes articles (I abhor the term ‘blog’) under a weekly column dubbed “Road Trip Dad” published exclusively on JustLacrosse.com. Besides the whole ‘lacrosse’ thing, I also got a knack for roadies and writing from my old man. How neat.

So it was settled. We would drive out to Utah, but that is just an absurd chore, and not really much of a vacation. So we looked at a map and a calendar and plotted out some stuff. We would spend a couple days driving out, stop in Denver to see my brother, Eric, who had just moved there. We would catch a couple box lacrosse games in the RBLL’s pilot series. My rights had been drafted along with my brothers when I contacted the facilitator of the league, Brandon Scharaga, and mentioned I might be in town for a game or two.

Between Saturday games we would head across the mountains of Colorado and the desert of Southern Utah to see the Grand Canyon, and then we’d go from there.

A week or so before we left, I caught a heartbreaker of a call from my roommate saying that the Home Owner’s Association at our new place has a strict no dog policy. As much as it hurt my soul to leave my boy at home, it crushes him even worse every time he sees a bag and backpack piled up by the front door and he doesn’t get the “gitinthecar!” Seriously, gotta see that mutt’s eyes. It’s god awful.

Brian Witmer Witmer family dog
Look at those eyes!

So there really wasn’t much of a reason to drive anymore, but we decided to make the trip anyway. Road trips are fun, we’d get to see my idiot brother and his awesome girlfriend, Abby. Play some box lacrosse, see a big hole in the ground.

It Starts

Day 1 was one of the highlights, when originally we had written Day 1 off as just a driving day through states nobody particularly enjoys driving through. I-90 in New York all the way until somewhere in Ohio where we’d crash for the night. Uneventful. Been there, done that.

We left the driveway without any plans. No reservations. No destination. Just a stack of CD’s and a full tank of gas in my father’s super masculine Nissan Sentra. Maybe twenty minutes into the drive, I peeped up and asked Dan “So… where are we going?” He shrugged. The car was pointed west. Can’t really go wrong. He said we’d aim for Cleveland or Cincinnati. I asked if he knew anyone in either city, and we came up with a couple names.

We mutually remembered that Mike Cotsonas was in Cincinnati, or somewhere in the Cincinnati area. Mike played for Dan during my father’s 28-year tenure as head coach at Oswego State, and Mike had extended an invite to me to come out to his men’s box league out in Cincinnati this past summer. I couldn’t make it, as I was in Budapest for the Euros at the time. You don’t get to say “sorry I can’t, I’m in Budapest” too often. In lieu of my attendance in Cincinnati, I had hooked Mike up with Connor Wilson’s contact info for the LASNAI box tournament this past September, and Mike played for the Lax All Stars house team, so we ended up meeting after all.

I told Dan I didn’t have Mike’s number, but I had his email, so I took a shot in the dark and sent him a message to see if he was interested in getting dinner or if his offer of a place to crash was still valid. I got a reply back almost immediately, and it was by far the finest example of universe meets timing I’ve ever been a part of.

Ahh, Cincinnati

Dom Starsia was speaking at the local high school at 7pm that evening, and Mike wanted to know if we wanted to come to listen and then accompany Dom and himself out for dinner afterwards. He sent me the address and said we’d have a place to crash even if we didn’t make it in time. I put the address into the GPS and we stood to arrive at 6:45pm to Loveland High School. Mike emailed me and said he used to think he was the luckiest guy in the lacrosse world, but I think the crown might get passed after this one.

A stop to fill the gas tank and a stop to empty our own personal tanks had us in the door at 7:01pm. If we missed more than thirty seconds of Dom Starsia’s opening remarks, I’d be surprised. Starsia’s speech was one of the more honest and down to earth approaches to not only the game of lacrosse, but life in general and setting yourself up for success. I’m reluctant to call it a lecture, as it was very much an interactive chat more than someone talking at you for an hour. He took as many questions from the parents and players who made up the audience as the audience was willing to throw at him. We honestly could’ve been there all night and I would’ve listened to every last word. No matter how much I might not have liked the question Starsia was asked, his responses were phenomenal and really had a pure and honest demeanor that really was quite refreshing to hear.

Mike stood up to thank everyone for coming, but in his closing arguments, he caught sight of Dan and me towards the back. He went a little off script and mentioned that his college coach, as well as his world traveling vagabond son were in the audience. Mike talked a little about the opportunities that this game offers to those who truly fall head over heels for it. He mentioned how Dom and my dad play get to play up at Lake Placid every year, and how he and I got to share the floor this September at the LASNAI. He went on with a lot of flattering words, but his closing sentence had me smiling from ear to ear.

He mentioned that we were on a big old road trip, talked about how lacrosse will take you all over the country/world, and ended his speech to these bewildered parents and players with “because in the end, we’re all just lacrosse guys looking for a couch to crash on.”

Montgomery Inn Cincinnati Ohio Brian Witmer Mike Cotsonas Dom Starsia
S/O to the Monty Inn & Dom!

We went out for a banger of a rib dinner. Talked lacrosse with a couple area coaches, as well as the local US Lacrosse representatives. I had seen Dom Starsia at Lake Placid before, but I had never had the opportunity to meet, much less talk to him over a rib dinner. Cloud nine folks. We talked about the good work Harlem Lacrosse is doing, and how they’re plans of expanding are really poised to bring the game to hundreds of kids who wouldn’t have had the option of playing lacrosse and how the game serves as a vehicle to a more successful life in the long run.

We crashed at Mike’s, and we were up and ready to hit the road a little after eight in the morning. We said our thanks and goodbyes, and we left Cincinnati. A couple of minutes into the ride, maybe as we hit the highway, I peeped up once again and asked Dan “So now where are we going?” We had a tentative plan, so Dan’s reply consisted of something like “We’ll make Kansas City… and I’m not sure who you know there, but I dare you to top last night.”

Keep Pushing

I actually did know someone FROM Kansas City, but Ryan Wallace is currently over in Cologne, Germany coaching there. Kansas City wasn’t much to mention. Beautiful barbecue, but that’s hardly news.

The third day we’d be in Denver and sleeping at my brother’s place. We got dinner, and met up with our college teammates Keenan and Rem who also lived in Denver. The next day Eric and I were playing box lacrosse for the Parker Rangers.

We won 15-10. I didn’t do a damn thing. Pulled a hamstring. But it was a team win and it was actually very high quality box lacrosse. I was impressed.

We took off Sunday morning for the Grand Canyon. It would take us a while to get there, so we stayed over in some hotel off I-70. In the morning we took a minor detour and headed out to see Bryce Canyon National Park. This wasn’t originally scheduled into the itinerary, but it definitely topped the list as one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. The size and scope and just the shape of these formations just blew my mind. I guess I’m supposed to be better with words in describing this place, but I’ve spent five minutes typing out sentences and deleting those same sentences. Words fail here, you need to see Bryce for yourself.

bryce national park
Helloooo, Bryce!

We hiked to the bottom, and then back up (semi-obviously) all in the course of the day, and still made it in time to the Grand Canyon North Rim to catch the sun setting over the canyon. It was cold and windy, with thunder and lightning threatening our stroll out to a vantage point to look off into the great divide. What we didn’t know, is that the sleeping accommodations in the park had closed for the season, and the nearest lodging was 40 miles back the way we’d come at a crossroads named Jacob’s Lake. We got a room there, got dinner at the little diner counter… which was amazing. It was some sort of bull meat burger thing. I don’t eat beef often these days, but you could tell what I was eating had grown up a couple miles away and that sucker had a darn good life. Or not. What do I know?

We spent the next two days hiking around various trails and parts of the North Rim. The silence of the canyon really came across as impressive as the size of that big hole in the ground. Okay, maybe not quite as impressive, but I’m 100% glad we caught the GC in the off-season. I’d like to think I’m a pretty tolerant person, but busloads of selfie-stick waving tourists from other parts of the world that are apparently very loud speaking places drive me up a wall. Their absence was much appreciated.

Grand Canyon
Big hole, obvi.

We drove off to Page, Arizona for the night after our third day at the Canyon. We stopped off to see the wild anomaly that is Horseshoe Bend. I say that it’s an anomaly not because of the radical sculpting that the river has imposed on the rock to form a horseshoe-shaped bend, but because there’s no fence holding people back from the edge and according to Google, only like three people have died there in the past decade. I was figuring like four a year. People were getting right on up to the edge there for the best possible picture. Just snag one off Google. Nobody’s going to know you didn’t take the actual picture.

Horseshoe Bend
Get the picture?

We DIDN’T stop to tour Upper OR Lower Antelope Canyon, and I shall remind my father of this until we do get to see the brilliant slot canyons. This is only included because I’m guessing Dan is one of the only people who are still reading this. Dropped the ball on this one, Pop.

We stopped next in Durango, Colorado. I got a hold of Brockport alum, long time friend, and current head coach for the women’s division two Fort Lewis Skyhawks, Julie Decker. We bopped around the rustic little mountain town, toured the beautiful campus, and went out for a couple beers a little later on. We crashed at Julie’s apartment, which we were most grateful for, and the next stop was back at Eric’s apartment in Denver.

Back to Colorado

A giant big ole loop. I don’t know why anyone would really drive that sort of distance just to get back to Colorado to play a men’s senior B level lacrosse game, but that’s kinda not even that bizarre of a situation in our world, and we didn’t bat an eye at the thought. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me until now how ludicrous that distance was, but hey, little late now for reasoning.

We played up in Fort Collins, and won by a score of 10-5 and which took us to 3-0 in the best of five, thus bringing home the inaugural Front Range Cup. We poured beer in it. We took pictures with it. We poured more beer in it. We took more pictures with it. After we won, Preston Plume pulled out a growler of craft beer to pour in the cup. It was the most Colorado thing anyone could’ve done in that moment.

Brian Witmer Witmer family
Those wacky Witmers.

We stayed up in Fort Collins. My college roommate, Brian Chapman, lives in FoCo and he caught the game and we went out for a couple sodas after the game. It was pretty cool, playing box lacrosse with my brother while my father, my brother’s girlfriend, and one of the best friends I’ve ever had the pleasure of making watched. Definitely worth the miles.

The next day we pinned it straight across Wyoming and crossed over into Utah in the early afternoon. I gave the old man the 101 of the town I’ve spent my past three winters in. It was good to be “home.” I dropped my bags and took Dan up to the hotel I used to work at to get him a way nicer room than necessary.

Dan left to drive 1,200 miles back across the country to New York in the morning. I felt bad he’d have to make the last legs alone, but he didn’t seem to mind. The guy really does like driving. I was pretty excited not to be in a car anymore.

It was good to be in the place where I could actually plan on being stationary for the next six months. Or so I thought.

Sayonara, Dan!
Sayonara, Dan!

Wheels Up

Two days after Dan had left, I got a call from my mother. Calls from my mother always terrify me for some reason, but not without warrant. She called to say that my Aunt Jean’s condition had gotten to a new low, and that she’d been moved to palliative care. My Grandmother’s sister, she was technically my Great-Aunt Jean, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue all that well, even if she was a great aunt.

I didn’t know what palliative care was, and if it weren’t for spellcheck I wouldn’t even know how to spell it. When she told me that it pretty much was a comfort care wing for those who are going to be leaving us shortly, I was pretty miffed that I was two time zones away when I should be there with my family for this. I asked if I should come home, but my mother gave me an answer that didn’t really make sense; “I don’t know”.

They didn’t know how long Jean would be with us, thus making it a tough call. She eventually said, “it’s up to you”. Like a can of spinach to Popeye, my brain started spinning trying to figure out how to make this work.

Not to be cocky, but when I want to be somewhere, I figure out how to get there. I was initially supposed to fly SLC-Philly the following weekend to referee the FLG in 3d Fall Shootout. I called up my boys at Southwest, who DON’T HAVE CHANGE FEES, and they said, “hey man, let’s get you home to see your family.”

I was on a plane two days later. I went down with my buddy Dylan to have dinner at my buddy Joe’s. I crashed at Joe’s, got picked up by my buddy Kevin, coached box lacrosse for True Lacrosse for a couple hours, got a burrito, and then got on a plane. Point of this paragraph: buddies are the greatest. I love my buddies.

Two uneventful flights ended with a terrifying landing in Rochester at 10:25pm. I was in Strong Memorial Hospital to visit my Aunt Jean Cammer by 11pm. My mother and I stayed and visited for maybe half an hour, maybe a minute or two more. We went back to my Aunt’s townhouse in Webster, New York, where all the family was staying in a very hostel-esque manner. My mother had a couple blankets on the floor for me. The family consensus was “He’s slept on worse” and I couldn’t argue with that logic.

A call came in two hours later, roughly 1:37am (that was daylight savings… so I’m not sure if it was 2 hours or 3?). The nurse regretfully informed us that Jean Cammer had passed away quietly and peacefully in her sleep. She had been in pain for seven months with a litany of health problems stemming from a heart condition compounded by a broken hip, riding a roller coaster of improvements and frustrating relapses. I’m 100% of the opinion that Aunt Jean had overheard my family say that I was flying in Saturday night and that she waited for me to stop in and say goodbye before she left us. It hurts that she’s gone, but I’m glad she waited up for me before letting go.

I went home with Sue (matriarch) the next day. The dogs were elated to see us, as it was promptly dinner time.

Back Where I Started

I spent three days in Oswego, then I had to figure out how to get down to Philly to meet up with these reffing guys to get me down to Delaware. Dan offered to get me don halfway, and Alyssa (neighbor, childhood/lifelong friend) offered to get me the rest of the way and offered me an air mattress at her spot in Philly. We got cheesesteaks. It made me happy. She ran me out to the airport in the afternoon, and I met up with the guys I was supposed to meet up with. We then drove the hour down to Delaware to a house we had rented for the weekend.

Refs at 3d
Stripe it up!

Jack Gormley was a guy I had met when I lived in Denver/worked for 3d and he’s the one who had offered me work reffing this tournament. Each day was a ten-hour ordeal that left my feet begging for the hacksaw, but it was an awesome event. Games were quick, the players were extremely talented, and I had the best seat in the house.

I saw a couple familiar faces as well. Casey Vock gave me my start when I wrote an article about Lake Placid a few years ago and he published it to Inside Lacrosse, and it’s all sort of gone from there. Jason Lashomb was one of the assistant coaches when I played at Brockport, and he was down there recruiting for Nazareth. Always good to see the guys who you used to bust your ass for. I saw a couple guys from the central New York area. Zack (no clue with the last name) was always one of my favorite goalies to watch in the Masters games when I would work score tables for summer work. He was there coaching an Orange Crush team. Corey Bulken had gone from an assistant job at Virginia to an assistant job at Ohio State, and he continued the trend of always being in a new and equally-if-not-more-badass job than the last time I saw him. Sara Munro was running the whole show, as she’s always running the show. She was my boss when I worked at 3d for a summer out in Colorado, and she’s arguably one of the nicest people in the world and I still thank her for having me out that summer.

I probably forgot someone. Maybe a couple. Probably more than a couple.

Tournament ended. I got on a flight for Salt Lake via Chicago at 5:30 in the damn morning. Which meant we had to leave by 3:15 to get to Philly by 4:30. Misery. However, this was the first time I’d ever slept through BOTH flights. Not just the short hop, not for a chunk of the long haul, I’m talking the entirety of both flights. Waking up to the commotion of a plane landing is absolutely horrifying and I’d pay to see what my face looked like.

Resting Place

Now I’m in Park City… for good? For now? I don’t start work for another couple of weeks, so I’ve got time to kill. The weather has been obnoxiously beautiful, but in lieu of snow, it’s been fun getting out to shoot around. Today my buddy Kevin and I went out and played 3x with a couple local kids, and Adam Ghitleman popped up for a couple games before he had to get off to a Ute practice. I had met Adam randomly in Radotin this September. He and Marcus Holman were traveling as part of Casey Powell’s World Lacrosse Foundation and they were shooting around on the world-famous LCC floor when I pulled into town. That Utah D1 media fiasco had just gone down, so it was kinda cool to talk to the boys about it. Get the actual story from the actual guys.

3x in Utah
It’s dark, but pretty!

That’s how I’ve spent the past four weeks. After some quick distance estimates… 2326 113 160 81 260 336 65 434 2091 110 48 48 302 80 1399 758….. all these numbers matter, I promise. After some rudimentary estimates and points plotting, I came to 8,611 miles in four weeks by planes, trains, and automobiles. For reference, there are 4,209 words in this article. That’s almost two miles for every single word in this 7 page whopper of a story. This doesn’t include a bunch of the running around in the middle, but I doubt that adds up to the additional 1,389 miles it would’ve taken to get to 10,000 miles in four weeks.

I got a lot of lacrosse in. I got to play alongside my brother while my father watched. I got to coach box lacrosse in Utah with True Lacrosse. Taking a reffing gig afforded me the ability to get home to be with my family when I needed it most. I got to listen to Dom Starsia speak by the wildest luck imaginable. I do not have a fancy (or any) car. I do not have a career that is easily explained on a resume or in a job interview. I was not an amazing player (still kinda suck).

When you spend 4 weeks covering more than 8,611 miles to pursue something you’ve been in love with all your life, it’ll pay you back. Maybe not financially, but you can keep your damn greenbacks. If this is the life I can be afforded by just chasing the purple dragon to ends of the Earth and back, so be it. It wasn’t what I pictured when I was a kid, but that’s alright, because I still have no clue what it’s going to look like tomorrow, five months from now, or god willing ten years down the line.

If you love it, you love it. That’s kinda all there is to it.