2013 Final Four: a tale of two road trips

talladega alabama 2013 Final Four road trip to follow Wichita State Shockers

This is the first of a two-part guest post from Lee about our amazing road trip to follow one of our favorite teams to the NCAA Championship … something neither of us were sure would happen in our lifetime!


The road trip to Los Angeles was 25 hours – and I had seriously considered making the drive to watch the Wichita State Shockers in the NCAA’s Western Regional. So when the Shockers won that regional and advanced to the Final Four, I had no qualms about driving 15 hours to Atlanta. I’ve always enjoyed driving and we would have enough time to break it up and not drive all the way in one day.  Unlike my charming wife, I can’t sleep in a car so we usually limit our driving days to no more than 12 hours.

2013 NCAA Final Four following Wichita State Shockers

View of Georgia Dome from next door.

The Final Four game at the Georgia Dome was the pinnacle of our trip but I will say we packed as many things into five full days as physically possible. This post is about the road trip.

Day 1

road trip to the 2013 Final Four to follow the Wichita State Shockers

It was a rainy road trip to the 2013 Final Four to follow the Wichita State Shockers.

The first day our driving path wasn’t very far. Just going from Wichita to Fort Smith, Ark. We didn’t leave until after work on a Wednesday and the first hour of our drive was actually in Wichita – we grabbed dinner at Sonic, looked around Wichita stores for WSU flags or shoe polish to paint windows (the entire city had been pilfered of anything black or gold) and returned to our house when we realized we forgot the camera!

Once we were on the road it took about 4 1/2 hours to get to Arkansas, with most of the drive in a constant rain so we were both happy to get to our destination. I had only been to Arkansas one other time, which was 2011 when we went to see a minor league game in Springdale and visit a wildlife sanctuary near Eureka Springs. That trip had been purposely planned to continue my quest to visit all 50 states (to count on my list, I have to spend a night in the state). For almost a decade I thought I’d already checked Arkansas off the list, but MeLinda informed me that our stay at Tablerock Lake when we went on a boating trip was close (Missouri) but no cigar.

Day 2

stop in Fort Smith Arkansas during road trip to the 2013 Final Four to follow the Wichita State Shockers

Miss Laura’s is a former bordello turned visitor’s center in Fort Smith, Ark.

memphis bbq on 2013 NCAA Final Four road trip to follow Wichita State Shockers

Road Side BBQ …. literally. West Memphis.

Rickwood Field Birmingham on 2013 Final Four road trip to follow Wichita State Shockers

Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

The next morning we planned to make several stops beginning with a visit to the local bordello. Of course, MeLinda left out the part that it hadn’t been in operation since the early 1900s. Though my disappointment was short-lived; we planned to stop in Memphis for lunch for BBQ.

Those who know me, know that my lunch might fall at the latest around 12:01 so I shocked MeLinda when I said it was OK if we waited until 2:30 p.m. to eat when we reached Memphis. She spent a good portion of the morning picking out a place but as we got closer to Memphis she thought it might be smart to call ahead and make sure they were open (this is the result of a closed Dunkin Donuts fiasco in Detroit a few years ago). It turned out the BBQ restaurant didn’t open till 4 p.m. so she resumed her search and I was really starving so we settled for a place along the highway in West Memphis. Seriously, on the highway. It was called Roadside BBQ for a reason.

We drove for 13 hours that day and the rain had followed us all the way — even to the hallowed grounds of Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Miss. I’m not a big Elvis fan and probably have learned the majority of my knowledge on this subject from the Don & Mike Show. Though most of the conversation on their radio show began with the weight of his colon when he died.

Day 3

The full day of driving on Thursday had ended in Birmingham, Ala. (FYI – this meant I could add Alabama to my list of states I’ve spent the night in.) That left us with only a short drive to Atlanta on Friday, to be highlighted with a trip to Rickwood Field before we left Birmingham’s city limits.

This is the oldest ballpark in the country and MeLinda posted about it already. It was awesome to see the list of all the players who had stepped on this field and the history that had occurred in the stadium. I always enjoy going to minor league ballparks with all their different designs and tastes of the past.  We just had a few more hours to drive and other than one little hiccup in the crazy highway system of Atlanta, I avoided any detours to Mexico.

Georgia Dome during 2013 NCAA Final Four road trip to follow Wichita State Shockers

Lee outside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for Wichita State’s Final Four game.

The Final Four and the trip home

Chattanooga Choo Choo on 2013 Final Four road trip to follow Wichita State Shockers

Outside the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

missouri lambert's on 2013 NCAA Final Four road trip to follow Wichita State Shockers

Lambert’s in Sikeston, Mo. Home of the throwed rolls!

Once we got to Atlanta, it was all about basketball. We stayed in the Buckhead area of the city and took the Marta train system down to the Georgia Dome and spent our time either outside the venue watching concerts or inside watching games.

The Shockers lost on Saturday but instead of hanging our heads in Atlanta, the consolation prize was a road trip home with a different route this time – through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. We could have stayed in Atlanta with plenty to do there, but we wanted to see some new cities and spend some time on the drive home so we left Sunday morning.

Having a wife who loves to do research is quite the benefit when going on a road trip. I had never even read anything about Chattanooga, Tenn., but MeLinda had done quite a bit and found out they had a nice downtown area, great aquarium and easy access to a national military park. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and then we made the quick drive to Nashville for dinner. I hadn’t been to Nashville and we headed to the downtown area and got a quick taste of the city and once again had some more BBQ while listening to live music.

We had planned on spending the night in Tennessee but when I saw how close Kentucky was, it all fell into place to spend the night there and add it to my list of states. The only other time I had been to Kentucky was on a baseball trip in Ohio where we just drove across a small area of the state but didn’t spend the night. So when I saw Paducahville {editor’s note: Paducah is the name of the town but Lee kept incorrectly calling it Paducahville} was only two more hours of driving after Nashville we had to make the trip. I’m sure there is a reason people visit Kentucky but from the area we drove through I can’t figure out why.

The highlight of our second day of driving home was the much awaited trip to Lambert’s in Sikeston, MO. I have wanted to go to Lambert’s ever since I saw it on The Travel Channel about five years ago but the timing never worked out on any of our trips. How can you beat when you are at a restaurant and before, during or after your meal all you do is put your hand in the air and a waiter throws you a hot roll? If I ever own a restaurant I guarantee we are throwing something at our customers. In fact, MeLinda and I spent most of the meal talking about what that item could be.

After having lunch at Lambert’s it was a stop-free drive – except for gas – as we finished the trip back to Wichita in time to root against Louisville in the championship game.

Here’s video of Lee getting roll-blocked by a lady in the booth next to us at Lambert’s.

This entry was posted in Lee, Sports, travel.

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