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Rose Bowl Road Trip: Two Penn Staters Take The Long Route To Pasadena

Penn Staters flocked to Pasadena by the thousands earlier this month to watch the Nittany Lions take on Utah in the Rose Bowl. Most of the Penn State faithful simply flew to California. But for Charlie Blenko and Abbey Foust, “The Granddaddy of Them All” was just the exclamation point to their road trip of a lifetime.

Foust graduated from Penn State last May and is back on campus for her master’s in speech therapy. She started college at a Penn State branch campus and intended to transfer to University Park, but due to COVID-19, her senior year was her first in State College. Fortunately, she quickly met Blenko through some mutual friends. 

Blenko graduated in December with a degree in civil engineering and was recently hired as a bridge engineer at Gannett Fleming. Though he was still a student during the regular season, the 2023 Rose Bowl was his first game as an alum. 

“It still kind of feels like I’m on Christmas break now, and I’m just waiting to go back,” he said.

Blenko’s family is originally from the Pittsburgh area but has mostly migrated to California in recent years. Some of his relatives visited last summer and encouraged him to take a bit of time off for himself before starting his job. Taking their advice, he was able to push back his start date until March in order to embark on the road trip of a lifetime.

Originally, Foust and Blenko planned to drive to San Francisco to visit Blenko’s family. Hardly any news outlets predicted Penn State would end up in the Rose Bowl while they were figuring out the logistics of their trip, so they paid it no mind. It was only after Utah defeated USC in the Pac-12 Championship that the couple realized that they would have a golden opportunity. 

“We looked at our plans, and it lined up,” said Blenko. “We’re already going out, why not get tickets?” 

The following week, they loaded up Blenko’s navy blue Subaru Crosstrek and hit the road. Their first stop was Ohio State’s campus, where they visited the Shoe in true Penn State fashion.

“There’s not much to see in Ohio,” Blenko said.

Once they reached the Midwest, they pulled over at the St. Louis Gateway Arch, an architectural triumph that soars 630 feet in the air. 

Courtesy of Charlie Blenko and Abbey Foust

“We had to travel pretty far each day, so there wasn’t a ton of stuff we could stop and do in-depth, but the Arch was one,” said Blenko. “Another Penn State friend had recommended that we do that, and it was really cool.” 

They traveled along Route 66, passing through the “crazy, funky town” of Uranus, Missouri, home to what is purportedly the world’s largest belt buckle. 

“Growing up watching the movie “Cars,” we had to explore it a little bit,” said Foust.

They found that the towns were just like the movie described, even coming across one sporting rusty replicas of Tow Mater and Doc Hudson. 

Courtesy of Charlie Blenko and Abbey Foust

“The interstate bypasses them all,” said Blenko. “Tumbleweeds blowing around, dogs barking, that’s about it.” 

They turned south as they left the Midwest to avoid potential snow, making their way through Texas and New Mexico. There, they pulled over at the Four Corners, the intersection between New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.

“Around this point of the trip, the scenery started to change,” Foust said. “The mountains in State College are a lot different than the plains out west.” 

“This was our first time being in the Southwest,” Blenko added.

Blenko and Foust wore Penn State merch for most of the trip and ran into Nittany Lions wherever they went, from gas stations to diners.

“Wherever we were, there were people saying ‘We Are.’ It still makes you feel kind of at home,” said Blenko.

It was only after they pulled into the Rose Bowl parking lot that they realized how far they had come.

“I saw no other Pennsylvania license plates… a lot of Utah license plates,” Blenko said. “We felt proud driving in. It was still really cool, knowing that everyone had traveled far for the game and really cared.” 

While the game itself was atypically rainy, Foust was unfazed, cheerfully calling the conditions “a nice day at Beaver Stadium.” 

They made the most of their time in California, visiting sea lions, touring Alcatraz, and even meeting up with some old friends who lived nearby.

“The comforting thing about graduating college is that you have friends everywhere,” said Blenko. “Wherever you are, you still run into people from Penn State. You still feel that strength of a big college.” 

Foust flew back early in order to make it to State College by the start of the semester, leaving Blenko to drive home by himself. He passed the time by calling practically everyone he knew while he was on the road. As the miles began to blend together, one bright red sign tipped him off that he was nearing the finish line.

“I felt like I was almost home when I saw the first Sheetz,” he said.

Both Foust and Blenko would like to do another road trip, and soon. Foust hopes to travel north over the summer, while Blenko would like to visit some of the national parks.

They both felt like attending the last “traditional” Rose Bowl, as well as Sean Clifford’s last game in college, made their trip “special.”

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About the Author

Adam Babetski

Adam Babetski is a senior double majoring in broadcast journalism and medieval history and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He's from the only part of Virginia without tractors and southern accents, except Richmond (reportedly). You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBabetski for hot takes about sports. For serious inquiries, email [email protected]

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