My administration and I have a rule that if a speech meet is more than two hours away, we stay overnight in a hotel. We do this because speech meets start at 7:00 in the morning and usually last for 10-12 hours. The hotel stay makes that doable.
We were supposed to go to Calhan yesterday, which is two hours away. Conscientious of budget issues for the school and for team members (students pay for their own rooms unless they are on fee waiver), I made the call to make it a non-overnight trip, and we planned on departing bright and early at 4:45 AM Saturday.
Then the Calhan coach, who is new this year, emailed me on Monday with a slew of questions such as “Debate sounds like fun! What do I need to do to put on debate?” and “I have 10 people who are pretty sure they can judge. Is that enough?” (Note: No, it is not. I had 32, and was still trying to recruit up to the day of.)
These questions made me 1) panic, 2) strongly and nicely encourage the coach to cancel her meet and try again when she has more experience (she was actually relieved to hear me say that, and happily took my advice), and 3) reschedule my team to go to Eagle Valley instead.
Now four days away from the meet, I didn’t want to deal with arranging for and booking a hotel room on such short notice. I told the team we would be meeting at 4:15 AM instead, then, in response to their groans and complaints, told them to suck it up and deal with it. Maybe that’s why some parents complain that I’m not approachable.
In any case, as you saw, I set my alarm for an obscene hour and met my students outside the bus barn not 12 hours after we had wrapped up our practice session the day before. They were blurry-eyed, dressed in pajama pants and hoodies, and most clutched giant pillows and fuzzy blankets. When I greeted them with a cheery “Good Morning!” they responded either with silence, with groans, or with a look like this from over the top of the bus seat backs:
I took role and told them we’d make a bathroom stop halfway, but in the meantime they should settle in for the 2.5 hour ride.
As we climbed over the mountains, we soon discovered that it had snowed the night before and the roads were iced over in the pre-dawn chill. It took four hours of crawling along at mostly 30 mph to get to the meet. We hit the halfway point a little before 7:00, and the students and I made only a quick dash to the bathrooms in Wal-Mart before we huddled back on the bus to continue our slog upwards. I began texting the hosting coach updates of our progress, begging her to move my students to the last speaking positions in each event so they could still compete without being disqualified for all of their morning events. The students changed on the bus, taking turns making modesty shields out of the blankets and wriggling into their skirts and suits as best they could. My assistant coach, who had driven over the night before due to a previous engagement, texted my the room assignments and when we finally pulled into Gypsum at 8:30 the students ran to their first rounds while I was greeted with a big hug from the hosting coach who thanked me for putting up with the drive in order to come to her meet. I thanked her for helping my kids still compete, and assured her it wasn’t a big deal.
If only I had known.
The meet itself was a little slow, but smooth overall. We won a lot of awards, as we do, and the kids were pleased overall with how they did.
I, meanwhile, was dreading the drive home. While working the judges’ table all day, I noted the skies turning grey and the occasional bought of light snow. I started checking my weather app every 20 minutes, watching the progress of this:
When we gathered in the auditorium for awards, I warned my team that we were going to make a break for it as soon as we were done. And, indeed, when we left the school and piled on the bus at 5:30, the snow was falling.
The sun set. The snow got thicker. Vail Pass was clogged with semis and slide-offs, and we crawled through the mountains.
The nice thing about coaching speech is that the kids are the good ones. I wasn’t too worried about their behavior in the dark of the bus, and their only complaint was the occasional request for a dinner stop, which I told them depended on how bad things were on the other side of the pass. If we ever got through the pass. The bus was moving slowly enough that I could ride for a while in the back of the bus. I joined my students; and kept them entertained by making predictions about their futures, discussing the meet, and talking about the musical this year.
After three hours, we hit the halfway point at Frisco. I gave the kids ten minutes to run into either Taco Bell or A&W to grab some dinner to go and use the facilities; then we pulled back out into the darkness. The traffic from that point was lighter, as you would expect off of I-70, but the snow was thicker and the plows less frequent. Satiated with burritos and fries, the students curled up into tight bundles on their seats and slept while I watched the winds toss the snow about and thanked God, not for the first time, that I didn’t have to be the one driving.
We pulled into the bus barn parking lot at 11:45 PM, over six hours after leaving the meet. The last of the parents showed up a little after midnight, and I waved the last kiddos off as I climbed into my car. The wait in the cold woke me up enough to drive all the way home. The snow was barely a dusting on the road within 5 miles of the school, and by the time I reached Littleton the roads and fields were dry. There was no sign at all of the storm. Melting with exhaustion, I dropped my bags on the floor, greeted my anxious cat, brushed my teeth and tumbled into bed just after 1:00 AM.
Thank goodness I have a month to recover before our next meet. I need it.