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Relive Onward State’s Road Trip To Iowa City

This past weekend, photographer Sam Brungo, football writers Ryan Parsons and Gabe Angieri, and I drove across the midwest to cover the Penn State-Iowa game in-person at Kinnick Stadium.

It was certainly a wild weekend, and the Nittany Lions losing the game didn’t help. Still, we saw quite a bit over the course of roughly 24 hours of driving, along with the first top-five matchup for Penn State football since 1999.

With the game and the weekend behind us, let’s take a look back at our trek to Iowa City.

Friday

We were aiming for an early exit from State College Friday morning, but we didn’t end up truly hitting the road until just before 9 a.m. With Bagel Crust sandwiches in hand and hope in our hearts, we headed west on I-80 in Sam’s parents’ Subaru (thank you Mr. and Mrs. Brungo) and opened our 12-hour drive.

The vibes were pretty strong to start our trip. We enjoyed the fall foliage of western Pennsylvania and made some pretty great progress without any bumps in the road.

Besides the foliage, there really isn’t much to look at as you enter the great state of Ohio. Those were without a doubt some of the most boring hours of the trip.

On top of that, as a lifelong Penn State fan, I’ve been trained to dislike just about everything about Pennsylvania’s neighbor to the west, but I have to give Ohio credit about one thing — they know their rest stops. The Ohio Turnpike is littered with them, and they’re honestly pretty clean, spacious, and include some solid food options. To our surprise, the one we stopped at featured a Panera, and we couldn’t have been happier.

After fueling up on mac and cheese and bread, we pressed on and made it our mission to get out of Ohio without making another stop.

We kept rolling with Gabe at the wheel, and our drive continued to be smooth for about an hour or so. Things got a little hairy for a few minutes, however, when we got stuck in a massive rainstorm and it became tough to see out of the windshield. Traffic slowed down to about 25 miles per hour, and Gabe handled things beautifully. The storm ended with about five minutes of serious hail that we thought could’ve dented Sam’s car, but we still pressed on.

Our plan to get out of Ohio without a stop came to a halt when we actually witnessed a pile-up just one car in front of us in a construction lane. It was honestly pretty scary and unlike anything I’ve experienced before on a road trip. We were fine, and luckily everyone else in the accident just had some minor injuries to deal with. That stopped us for about an hour and a half before we could get moving again, however.

Eventually, we got moving again, and in about 20 minutes, we were out of the lovely state of Ohio and into Indiana. Once we got moving, Ryan actually became a traffic reporter and helped the folks out who were still stuck in the jam. What a hero.

Somewhere in the Hoosier State, we stopped for dinner at about 6:30 p.m. I opted for Burger King at the rest stop, as the only other option was Sbarro, and I really wasn’t in the mood for a New York slice in Indiana. We were pretty gassed at this point, but I got order No. 69 at Burger King (again), and that gave us a nice little laugh before hopping back on the road.

It was dark by the time we reached Illinois, and we honestly saw nothing as we drove through our last state before Iowa. We didn’t go anywhere near Chicago, so it was seriously just a straight highway and cornfields for quite a while.

I’ve been to Chicago once and enjoyed it, and Illinois seems like a nice state overall, but I do not have anything else to report from that portion of our trip.

Once we reached Iowa, however, our collective mood improved a whole lot. We got some music going, started chatting again, and got pumped for Saturday’s game. We got even more excited when the signs for Iowa City were appearing. That’s not where we were staying, however, as we opted for a hotel about 30 minutes away in Cedar Rapids.

So, with that, we arrived at our hotel at about 11:30 p.m. We decided we were all way too tired to do anything else once we arrived, and all got a good night’s sleep before a massive Saturday.

Saturday

We awoke Saturday morning and took our time before heading over to Kinnick. We grabbed some breakfast at Panera (where else?) and made plans for our coverage for the day.

Driving through Iowa City towards Kinnick Stadium was awesome. The tailgating scene was great, and the town was certainly buzzing for the big game. You can read more about what the lead-up to the game looked like in Ryan’s gameday observations, but overall, the Hawkeye fans clearly know what they’re doing.

Once we got into the stadium, we spent some time taking in the atmosphere and reliving some famous Nittany Lion moments before setting up in the press box.

As for the game itself, there’s no need for me to give a blow-by-blow breakdown, but it was certainly an entertaining college football game. After the Nittany Lions ultimately fell short, we covered coach and player press conferences, took in Kinnick Stadium for one last time, and hopped in the car to head back to Cedar Rapids.

Before officially wrapping up our night, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a restaurant called The Pedalers Fork and watched Texas A&M take down then-No. 1 Alabama in an absolute thriller. The vibe at the restaurant was pretty quiet, and unlike our post-Wisconsin shenanigans, no one at the bar was subject to a late-night playing of Zombie Nation.

After dinner, it was officially curtains on our night, and we went back to the hotel to get some rest before our long drive home.

Sunday

We did our best to move quickly on Sunday morning, but once again, we didn’t get rolling quite as early as we would’ve liked to. We made it about 30 minutes before realizing we should definitely eat breakfast, so we elected to make one more stop in Iowa City for some breakfast sandwiches at Bruegger’s Bagels.

After fueling up, we hopped back on the road and pushed our way through Iowa and Illinois. Our trip home was thankfully less eventful, and no terrifying rain, hailstorms, or car wrecks slowed us down.

We once again made a stop at a lovely Ohio rest stop, and I opted for two slices of Sbarro pizza this time. It was fine, but I really did not need two slices. If you’re going to need to sit in the car for hours on end, that is certainly not the best option to go with.

Either way, we pressed on and made yet another stop somewhere near Youngstown, Ohio at a Sheetz. We weren’t in Pennsylvania yet, but I’d be lying if I said ordering food at a Sheetz didn’t remind us how close we were. Ryan would disagree with me, however, as he’s a Philly guy and an ardent supporter of Wawa over Sheetz.

After that stop, we were finally back in Pennsylvania within the next hour. Gabe was back behind the wheel for that final portion of the drive, and he was certain we could make it to State College without another stop. Our bladders decided otherwise, however, and we made one final stop off of I-80 before finally making the last push home.

Just before 11 p.m. Sunday, we finally rolled back into State College.

With that, our weekend road trip finally ended. Although it would’ve been great to go to Iowa and have Penn State win the game, we still had a fantastic time trekking across the midwest and seeing a famous Big Ten environment this past weekend.

As fun as it was, though, I think I can speak for everyone when I say Penn Staters everywhere are ready for a bye week.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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