Saturday 23rd November
It’s Badgers game day - and my last home one for the season. I have a nice sleep and I’m feeling energised to hit the gym. Planet Fitness is not too far away and I downloaded a complementary day pass off their website. It’s a good workout and I push myself pretty hard. Once back at Tristin’s place I get myself showered and game day ready. I’m taking my New Zealand mate Craig to today’s Badgers-Boilermakers game. The Millar family lives in Monona just outside Madison and so on the way to their home I stop for breakfast at a place called The Original Pancake House, which has good reviews but as a result is packed upon arrival. I end up having a burrito bowl at a nearby Mexican place before heading to Craig’s house where I get to meet up with wife Carla and three children Moses, Violet and Roman again. Ian from Bucky’s Rescue Unit has kindly provided another invitation to his tailgate so we drive towards North Mills Street to catch up with him and his fellow tailgaters. There’s plenty of parking around but each vehicle must be displaying a yellow tailgate parking sticker. I try to purchase one off StubHub but unfortunately they are all sold out. In the end I head over to my usual parking spot on Villas Park Drive. At the tailgate Brad from The Fromigos comes and join us as do a couple of UW senior’s originally from Green Bay whom wanted to meet me after reading my latest story online. Andy and Colin are a nice couple of lads and it’s heartening to receive their support. On the way to Camp Randall I manage to secure a couple of free tickets for Craig and I off a guy offering them at a spot where people are either donating or selling spares. Craig is both impressed and bemused and I tell him that this area is a sweet spot whereby I have good success in the past, such as the Badgers-Wolverines game too. Our seats are in a really good location, section T row 24. As it’s the last home game of the season we arrive in plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and take in the Wisconsin marching band, whom I think are the best in the country - well I would said that wouldn’t I!? The stadium is slowly filling up for the start, which is a good one for the Badgers as they are 14-3 at the end of first quarter. But Purdue comeback strongly to take a 17-14 lead at the start of the second quarter. A touchdown and a field goal ends the first half 24-17 in favour of the Badgers and three second half touchdowns seal both a comfortable and strong 45-24 win, setting us up nicely for the Gophers Big Ten title spot decider in Minnesota next Saturday. My favourite player like most Badgers fans has been Jonathan Taylor and he bowed out of Camp Randall in style, recording 222 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on 28 carries. Not only is he a strong candidate for Heisman Trophy but also for the 2020 NFL draft. Craig and I stay for the fifth quarter finale as it’s the last game of the season - and what a finale! Similarly to Lambeau, Camp Randall has been voted one of the top college game day experiences. Tailgating, the bars on State and Regent Street’s, being in the student section, singing with tens of thousands the chorus of Build Me Up Buttercup, going crazy to Jump Around at the end of third quarter and linking arms for varsity were the top highlights for me. After the game Craig and I nip into the Sconnie bar for a post match celebration drink. At the bar there is a menu of game day drinks and food and I cannot but not take a photo as everything listed is not good for you, including the non alcoholic (sugary) beverages of soda and energy drinks. My body and wallet will most certainly not miss Madison but my mind will have fond memories to last a fairly long time. We walk back towards the car and I drive Craig back to Monona, stopping at a Caribbean restaurant for take out. It’s just Craig, Carla and I for dinner as their kids are on a sleepover. The food is really good, reminding me of my couple of visits to the West Indies to watch cricket. Tomorrow is gonna be a long day so not long after I have eaten dinner I say goodbye to Craig and Carla and drive back to Madison. I get myself organised for tomorrow morning, set the alarm on my phone early and then I’m off to get some much needed rest.
Sunday 24th November 3200 KM 2000 M
It’s Packers game day and I’m facing a long journey to get there as the team are playing the 49ers in San Francisco. I’m up just after 5 to fly out of Madison airport. Luckily I have given myself plenty of time as the Lyft driver takes around 20 minutes to arrive at my mate Tristin’s place. David loves my story and as I’m leaving the car he takes details of my website. I’m taking just a small backpack for the trip to California as I’m only staying there a night before flying back to the mid-west. Similarly to Green Bay, Madison airport is small and compact with not many dining opportunities. A bagel with cream cheese ends up costing $6! But at least it will keep me going until I’m in San Jose, the airport that is closest to the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The first flight takes around 4 hours with time spent listening to music, working on my website and sleeping. It’s a short layover in Phoenix and as I’m waiting to board the flight to San Jose I notice a guy wearing a Packers t-shirt and I’m a petty obvious fan as I have my cheesehead hat on my head! He’s originally from Wisconsin but living in Phoenix and is amazed at how I was at the Badgers game yesterday and that I’m now heading to the Packers-49ers Sunday night showdown. Although slightly delayed taking off the flight lands not too far from the scheduled arrival time. I’m straight out of the airport to ground transportation from where I will be taking a free shuttle bus to Santa Clara, which conveniently stops along the way at my hotel accommodation for the evening. Before I check in I go for lunch as I’m pretty hungry. There is a Thai restaurant with good reviews just across the road so I pop in for a nice curry dish. It’s not as good as the place in Madison from Friday lunchtime but still good overall. The hotel that I have chosen is a strange building, with a display sign saying Chinese acupuncture. I’m slightly confused so I ring the number provided on the hotel app and no doubt answering the call is an Asian sounding man. He’s really helpful and tells me the code for the keypad and the allocated room. The room reminds me of some of the cheap places that I have stayed in over the years in Asia and more recently in South America but it’s clean and exactly what I need just for somewhere to sleep for the night. I get showered and game day ready and walk over to the nearby bus stop with the bus taking me close to the stadium. I walk over to the blue tailgating spot where I will be meeting the SoCalPackerBackers whom have organised me a ticket for today’s game. It doesn’t take long to notice David and Marcos aka Senor Cheesehead whom I both met at the prep rally in LA earlier this month. David is trying to transfer a ticket to me, which is proving to be a difficult process as the reception is pretty slow. After around half an hour or so we eventually manage to sort it and I hand over some cash to David in return. At the tailgate I meet some more green and gold fans from California, a family from Utah, a couple of guys from Canada and Matt all the way from Sydney, Australia. I’m part of the Australia and New Zealand Packer Fans Facebook Group and a member called Shane messaged me saying how one of his good mates is gonna be at the game. I told Shane to give him my contact details so he can attend the tailgate and I bump into Matt whilst Dave and I are trying to organise tickets. Matt and I chat for a while about my trip and sport in general. We both agree that you couldn’t get a tailgate experience in Australia due to a small population plus strict drinking laws as a result of a small number of troublemakers. I get to my seat in the stadium just after the first play and it doesn’t take much long thereafter for the 49ers to score their first touchdown. The first half and the whole game in general is one to forget with the Packers facing a deficit of 23 points going into the third quarter. I thought the Chargers game was disappointing but this performance is even worse with a total passing of 81 yards, 0-14 in third down plays and a season low of just 8 points. Our defense also had a night to forget and coming off a bye with a pretty healthy squad has created lots of questions marks. But maybe it’s just a California thing based on our two road games in this state and to be 8-3 and top of the NFC North is still a good achievement for this young team and young coach. After the game I take the same number 60 bus back to my hotel. For dinner I decide upon curry and the nearby restaurant I choose has serving staff from Northern India and so not only do I get to speak in my local language but the food is delicious and good value for money. Due to a combination of both jet lag and travel, by the time I get to my room I’m really tired and it doesn’t take me long to fall asleep.
Monday 25th November 3200 KM 2000 M
Despite a busy day of travel, watching football and a two hour time zone change I manage to get some decent rest. My first task is to to speak to my family in India. It’s great to catch up with my mother and my cousin, also originally from England but now residing in England. After showering and getting ready I check out, which simply entails putting the key of the room onto a hook from where I originally picked it up. For breakfast I decide upon a placed called Sara’s Kitchen, a short walk from the hotel. I’m feeling a bit down from yesterday’s performance so the server recommends substituting toast for a pancake with my garden omelette. The omelette is awesome but the pancake is something else - I think it’s the best pancake I have ever eaten. I don’t have much planned until my flight later in the day so I catch a bus after breakfast to Sunnyvale transit centre to hop on a train to Belmont. From Belmont I will be taking a bus to San Francisco International Airport but have a few hours spare. It’s a short train ride from Sunnyvale to Belmont and upon arrival I nip into a coffee shop where I spend a couple of hours working on my website whilst sipping tea. On google maps I do a restaurant search and see that there is a Indian restaurant a short walk away. I’m not feeling too hungry but a buffet lunch will ensure that I don’t have to eat anything both either at the airport or purchase some (small, mediocre and expensive) food on the plane. After my average lunch buffet I hop onto a bus to the main airport for the Bay Area, arriving in plenty of time. After clearing security I see a guy sitting at a bar with a Packers jersey and he notices me carrying a cheesehead so we end up having a chat. He also happens to be with a group of other Packer friends plus one 49ers fans. It turns out that they are from Utah and too flew to California for the game. One of the guys is heading to South America soon for a month of travelling so I give him my social media details and some tips based on my experiences backpacking around the continent. Before boarding the flight I do some social media work and as I have booked basic economy I will be one of the last to get on the plane. However I ensure that I am the very last person so that I can potentially get a spare windows seat as I have been allocated a middle row seat for a flight just under 4 hours. It turns out to be my lucky day as not only is there a spare window seat but also the middle seat next to it too - a nice positive double whammy. As I have a new iPhone my headphones do not fit into the small screen on the back of the phone. Thankfully the lovely flight attendant gives me a complementary pair, usually sold on the domestic legs of most airlines. I end up watching an English film based on football (soccer) called The Bromley Boys. It’s about a young teenager football fanatic who ends up saving his local amateur team through his sheer enthusiasm and obsession with both the sport and club. The flight time is quicker than scheduled, landing into O’Hare just after half 10. As soon as I leave the plane I run towards the airport coach center as there is a 11pm coach departing for Madison. It turns out everything off the field went well for me for my short trip to San Francisco - shame about the on field result! For the first part of the journey I listen to the latest UK and Irish Packers podcast, which is rightly called “Was our loss to the Niners THAT bad?” and as summarised by the lads, you’re never as bad as your worse game but not as good as your best game. I fall asleep once the coach leaves Rockford and I wake up just outside Madison. Similarly to Sunday morning the Lyft takes ages, but whereas then I had a warm house to wait in, now I’m standing in the freezing cold. My driver today is from Jordan in the Middle East and tells me during the short journey to my mate Tristin’s place about a friend of his who is enjoying life in Australia. It’s 2am by the time I hit the mattress and I’m so tired after a crazy but still enjoyable weekend, even though the Packers got annihilated in California - again.
Tuesday 26th November 200 KM 120 M
When I wake up at 8 it feels more like 6 as I have been on the pacific time zone for the past couple of days. I don’t wanna snooze and feel worse later is so I’m up and get myself ready for my drive back to Green Bay. This will probably be the last time I’m staying in Madison and there are so many fond (and hazy) memories of attending Badgers games over the past few months. I can’t thank my good mate Tristin enough for providing me with a base in Madison. He’s currently in Argentina and his social media posts remind me of my travels there earlier this year. It was in a tent in Patagonia when the Packers schedule came out back in April and I spent a few hours in the evening planning my Packers and Badgers itinerary. For breakfast I decide to pop into the the Original Pancake House. Each omelette is made with four extra large eggs and combined with baking soda it’s one of the biggest I have ever eaten. Based on yesterday’s pancake I substitute hash brown for three pancakes. Although not as amazing as Sara’s Kitchen in Santa Clara they are still good and I take a box for the half leftover omelette. It’s a pretty straightforward drive back to Green Bay with Above and Beyond’s latest Group Therapy podcast providing the soundtrack for the journey. As I’m heading out of Madison a flood of nice flashbacks enter my mind - I will miss this place dearly. I stop for petrol (gas) in Appleton and then my first stop in town is Uncle Mike’s Bakery. As it’s Thanksgiving week I decide to purchase an award winning kringle for James Radish and his family plus a pumpkin pie for my host family. One of the staff recognises me and we chat about Australia as she has been there a couple of times. There is a huge selection of kringle to sample and I’m encouraged to have a bit of each. It would be rude to say no! Each one is amazing in its own different way. They also have bread to sample too and I can’t imagine anything not being great in this bakery. Once I’m done with sampling each item there is no need to have the omelette as a late lunch! From Uncle Mike’s I pop into Shear Sports for a haircut followed by a visit to a couple of different banks to get some cash. It’s just after 4 when I get back to the house and Heather is at home relaxing. I unpack my things and print out my my coach ticket to Minneapolis on Friday morning and my leave form from my work back in Perth to extend my sabbatical. Nick and Jack arrive not too long after and it’s nice to be back with my host family. Heather is catching up with a friend for dinner so it’s just us three boys to eat yet another nice meal cooked by her. After washing up I leave for the Radish family home up in Little Suamico. Once I’m there I get to hold baby Owen for a short family before Heidi feeds him. The other boys fall asleep not too long after my arrival as it’s pretty late. As soon as all the boys in bed James and I nip to a couple of local bars to catch up over some drinks. We don’t stay out too long as we’re both tired. I’m back at the house just after 11 and go straight to bed.
Wednesday 27th November
I first wake up at half 6 but I’m back to sleep for another three hours or so. For breakfast I have leftovers from yesterday and then drive back to Shoots for the Bay Port Thanksgiving 10:53. In previous years the school has been on a reduced timetable on the Wednesday the day before Thanksgiving with staff leaving immediately at the completion time of 10:53 to pop into Shoots for food and drinks. Today there is no school timetabled whatsoever so the turnout is a bit smaller than usual. I arrive early to get a decent parking spot and an hour later the bar has a sizeable number of Bay Port teachers. Over the next few hours I chat to some staff members whom I have previously met plus I get to meet new ones, such as a History teacher called Stacey currently teaching American Civil Rights. Geography teacher Lisa wants me to come to her classes next Thursday after I get back from New York as she has just started a unit on Australia. It will be good to teach and observe lessons during my next visit to the school. I leave Shoots to head back to the house to do some washing, work on my website and relax whilst watching The Good Place on Netflix. It’s not long before I’m getting ready to leave again. I’m gonna be watching the Green Bay Gamblers in an ice hockey game at the Resch Center with James, Bay Port School Counsellor Katie and boyfriend Taylor. First I’m popping round James’s place with a pizza for dinner with him and the boys. I choose Glass Nickel Pizza as I had some around Craig Millar’s house in Madison a couple of months ago and it was so good. Tonight’s is just as delicious and whilst Heidi is organising to leave for work at the Resch Center and James is making a Thanksgiving dish so I’m on baby duties with little Owen. Once everyone has eaten James drive me and his four boys to the Resch Center. After parking at the back James rings Heidi who lets us in and she has kindly arranged for us to be seated at a VIP table and not longer after we arrive Katie and Taylor join us. The crowd is pretty small due to Thanksgiving and it turns out to be the second Gamblers home loss that I have seen, going down 3-2 to the Madison Capitols. During the first period the Gamblers took a 1-0 lead and had so many shots on target but failed to convert many of them. But there were a few decent fights between players and James, Katie, Taylor, a random guy and myself took place in the Bud Light Beer Can Race. So basically you have to carry this huge beer can across the ice rink and the winner is the person to get from one side to the other. Mine is the heaviest and I’m scared on getting injured so I finish last but at least I didn’t slip over. James is the winner and is rewarded with a couple of complimentary tickets to see a comedian next Saturday night at the venue. Heidi takes the kids at half time back home and after the game the rest of us pop into Boehmers Bar up in Howard. A few people have told me that the night before Thanksgiving is the busiest bar night in the country and I can see why as the place gets really busy. As Green Bay is so small I bump into a colleague of Nick’s and meet some patrons whom I chat with about my football adventure, and as per usual making some new mates. James and I leave not too late as we are both feeling tired. I end up crashing in the spare bed in his basement.
Thursday 28th November
It’s Thanksgiving Day! Plus it’s my first ever so I wake up pretty excited. I wish Happy Thanksgiving to the Radish family as well as safe travels before I leave, as they will be traveling to Sussex, just outside of Milwaukee, to spend time with James’s parents. Once back at the house I get showered and ready for lunch. We will be going to Nick’s uncle and aunt’s place in Combined Locks, a small suburb located between Green Bay and Appleton. I enjoy meeting more of his and Heather’s extended family. Jimbo and Barb are also there plus for the first time I get to meet Nick’s brother Nate and his eldest son Chase. Now lunch is something special as it’s traditional for everyone to bring a small plate as a contribution to the meal. In total we have mashed potatoes, cheesy mashed potatoes (only in Wisconsin!), green bean rice casserole, baked beans, Heather’s carrots and cheesy brussels sprouts, cornbread as well as a few other dishes. And of course turkey. The food is so good and after one large plate I’m feeling pretty full and tired. I just about have some space for desert, consisting of a few different types - kringle, Nick’s grandma’s home cooked apple pie and my contribution of Uncle Mike’s pumpkin pie. I really enjoyed grandma’s apple pie and it’s a shame she couldn’t attend. She wasn’t feeling well probably from as Heather pointed out from waking up at 3am to do some pie cooking. But I can thank her when Nick and I go to the Packers-Redskins game next Sunday. One of Nick’s aunt’s won a couple of tickets and kindly donated them to us and we will be parking at grandma’s place as it’s walking distance from Lambeau. I say thank you and goodbye to everyone as we are leaving to head back home. I’m feeling so sleepy and Jack falls asleep on the journey. As soon as we arrive back I’m straight to bed, getting a good couple of hours rest. Both last night and lunch took it out of me! Upon waking up I go downstairs to catch up with the others and to watch the Bills-Cowboys Thanksgiving game. I enjoy the Bills win in Dallas and billionaire Jerry Jones not looking too happy! At the same I also watch the cricket on my phone. It’s the second test of the two match series between New Zealand and England, live from Seddon Park in Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand. Th English bowlers struggle again against the patient and determined approach of the Kiwi batsmen with Tom Latham scoring an unbeaten century and Ross Taylor a half century. Luckily for England the rain provides a welcome rest and early finish to the day’s play, allowing me to concentrate on the Saints-Falcons game. I think the Saints have a good set up and playing roster as they go 10-2 for the season after tonight’s win in Atlanta and based on the 49ers-Packers game last Sunday night, a 49ers-Saints NFC championship game could take place in San Francisco at the end of January. After the game is over I do some packing for my short trip away before heading to sleep.
Friday 29th November 450 KM 280 M
It’s a long day of travel coming up as I’m catching a coach to Minneapolis. I do some last minute laundry so I won’t have to do any during my travels and after breakfast I get showered and ready. Heather is kindly dropping me off at the Greyhound coach terminal in town. On the way there we stop at a coffee shop to get a take out sandwich for the journey. As it’s the day after Thanksgiving the place is busy and consequently service is slow. We get to the bus terminal in plenty of time with the coach arriving on schedule. I would have preferred to fly but it was a lot more expensive. The journey takes a total of 7 hours with quite a few stops on the way, including Eau Clair, a small city where Nick and Heather first met many years ago at college. Between Eau Clair and St Paul the driver stops at a service station due to a technical issue. All the passengers are told it’s a minor issue and luckily the driver’s initial assessment turns out be correct as everyone is back on the bus in a short period of time. Overall the journey is fine and it goes pretty quickly whilst listening to music, working on my website, reading and napping. Upon arrival at Minneapolis coach terminal I am picked up by a good friend of Heather’s called JT. He drives me to his home in the suburb of Bloomington where I get to meet his son Noah. I cannot but help notice the huge amount of snow. Most of Minnesota received quite a bit over the past few days and this weekend it’s gonna get a lot worse. We head to a local diner called Scruffy’s for dinner where the food is nice but not the healthiest. JT takes us back to the house so that Noah can drive back home to his mum’s place in the northern suburbs before it starts snowing pretty badly. Once Noah is gone JT and I go to a couple of local bars to get to know each other more over some drinks. We don’t stay out too late as the weather is gonna take a turn for the worse and both of us are feeling tired. JT has kindly let me stay in his room and will be sleeping downstairs in the basement.
Saturday 30th November 1600 KM 1000 M
It’s Badgers game day against Minnesota and the battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe, one of the oldest college football rivalries going back to 1890, with 1906 being the only year that the teams didn’t meet. It’s extra spicy today as ESPN College Game Day will be live from campus this morning and the winner of the game will not only claim the axe (currently with the Gophers after their win in Madison last year) but also progress to the final of the Big 10 championship against the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes in Indianapolis next Saturday night. I’m game day ready by half 8 and then JT drives me to Walmart to pick up a red poncho. The snow wasn’t too bad last night and once we have got the poncho JT takes me to Denny’s for breakfast. It’s not the best place for food but there aren’t many other restaurants around. After JT kindly shouts breakfast he drops me off at the airport so that I can catch a light rail train to downtown Minneapolis. We will be meeting later at the departures passenger set down zone so that I can pick up my luggage for my evening flight to Newark for tomorrow’s Packers-Giants lunchtime game in New Jersey. The journey is nice and smooth and it’s only $4 for a day pass for both light rail and buses in the local area. Upon arriving downtown I walk to the Renaissance Hotel where I am going to pick up my ticket for today’s game and to attend a tailgate party. The Pohle Blast are a Wisconsin alumni society that organise an indoor tailgate and I was told to contact them after I placed on Twitter a plea for a spare ticket as secondary market prices are super expensive due to the important nature of the game. I sent an email a few days ago and I received a quick reply from President Nicole that they were struggling to find tickets for their members. But I also sent the same email to Vice President Phil and luckily for me not only does he have a spare but he is kindly offering it to me at face value. Phil initially told me the tailgate would be $50 entry but earlier this morning he generously offered a free pass. I arrive at the hotel function room lobby as they are setting up and I don’t have to wait long for Phil to arrive and introduce me to fellow members of the Pohle Blast. The Wisconsin marching band play their usual classics and it’s a pleasant surprise as I thought last Saturday in Camp Randall would be my final opportunity this season to see a performance. I mingle with mainly Badgers and a few Gophers fans but the highlight is having a photo taken with the Badgers mascot, Bucky. A true hero and legend it’s great to finally meet him and I get two decent photo opportunities with a Wisconsin icon. Also I manage to catch up with Badgers legendary fan Ken who has attended 508 Wisconsin games over his lifetime, an unbelievable achievement. He has also invited me to his home in Milwaukee whenever I’m next passing through town. After a couple of hours I thank Phil and leave the hotel to catch a bus to a tailgate zone near the Gophers stadium. I’m meeting up with Tina from Green Bay in Lot 37 but I can’t find or even contact her so I end up chatting to some Badgers fans. It’s getting close to start time so I don’t hang around for long and make the short walk over to the TCF Bank stadium. My seat is in a good location and I’m surrounded by a mixture of Badgers and Gophers fans but overall as expected the majority of the crowd are both wearing and supporting Minnesota. The atmosphere is pretty good with local fans expecting to retain the axe and to win the Big Ten West for a Gophers-Buckeyes championship title showdown. This expectation is met with a good first quarter performance from the Gophers as they claim a 7-0 lead. But then Wisconsin take over shutting out the Minnesota offense completely in the second quarter and taking a 10-7 advantage at half time. The second half is a truly great performance from a team ranked 12th away to a rival school ranked 8th as Wisconsin score 4 touchdowns, 2 each in the third and fourth quarters against a total of 10 points from Minnesota. Quarterback Coan has a good game in difficult snowy conditions to go 15 of 22 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns as Wisconsin record a great 38-17 win. The Minnesota defense were obsessed with shutting out star running back Jonathan Taylor but he still made 18 carries for 76 yards with a touchdown. I leave the stadium after the Badgers have a 21 point lead as I have a flight to catch and the weather isn’t the best plus there will be so many people trying to get onto the light rail network. All these factors combine to cause a delayed journey back to the airport but I arrive in plenty of time only to receive a text message alert that my flight is delayed. I meet JT back to pick up my luggage and go through security to get some dinner. JT was a really nice host and I can’t thank Heather enough for putting me in contact with him. My Delta flight to Newark is delayed by an hour but it takes a further hour to depart Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport as there is a line of planes waiting to be de-iced. Consequently my flight lands a couple of hours late and upon arrival into Liberty Airport I hurriedly rush to baggage claim to pick up my luggage. Now I thought I had the correct bag but after leaving an Uber and self-checking into my Airbnb I realise that I have picked up the wrong bag! I quickly order an Uber back to the airport but the Delta luggage office is closed and so I return back to my Airbnb in a Uber. It’s 3am by the time I get to sleep and what a day.