A Tokyo "Test Run"

On Friday I attended my first ever Friendsgiving, where I got together with a bunch of people and we had traditional Thanksgiving foods! Throughout the evening we ate and laughed and talked about a
bunch of stuff. Someone brought up the fact that I was going to the Olympics, and everyone became envious. I realized that I have a lot of people who are going to be excited to hear about all my travels and see all the cool things I've done. That's a big responsibility!

The best thing to do is to practice a little bit. I need to be able to get comfortable getting around an unfamiliar place, get into an arena with little difficulty, wear weather-appropriate gear, and be protective of all my stuff. 

Luckily, earlier that evening I was offered a free ticket for the next day's Notre Dame football game in South Bend, Indiana, a mere 45-minute drive from my house. I decided to execute the practice - a test run, you could say - at the game. 

With less than 24 hours of prep time, I quickly did some research online. The biggest thing was parking. When I would park in Michigan, I knew an area about a mile from Michigan that provided free parking. But I rarely go to South Bend, and had never been on Notre Dame's campus. How was I to know the best place to park? 

The area had a lot of parking pass-only parking, as well as two fields that offered shuttles to the stadium...but you still had to pay $30. And there's always people's yards, where you'll still have to pay. But on the official Notre Dame website, they mentioned a couple of other options - one of which was a partnership with the official transit authority of South Bend - named "Transpo" - and gave people free bus rides from downtown South Bend. Even better, a lot of parking in the downtown area is free!

Of course, when I consulted other forums, no one mentioned the free Transpo shuttle. Really, they all talked about tailgating or Uber. I decided that I could do Uber if my first option failed. Why not give it a shot?

The key with the Transpo shuttle was that the last one leaves the downtown area a full 1 hour before kickoff. To me, I'm used to watching tailgaters and getting to the stadium for the festivities that take place there. But now I was going to have a large amount of time to wander around. 

The biggest difference between the stadiums in Ann Arbor and South Bend is that Notre Dame's stadium is actually on the campus. And that campus has several large attractions: the Golden Dome, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the mural appropriately titled "Touchdown Jesus" because of how it overlooks the stadium (and you can actually see it from the upper deck seats). 

The travel to South Bend didn't just include the game, but some pretty popular places. Kind of like Tokyo during the Olympics! 

I set out from my house at noon for a 2:30 kickoff. I knew the game was going to be cold: the weather forecasted a 40-degree (Fahrenheit) high temperature with cloudy skies. To be outside for 4-5 hours requries a lot of warmth. So I used some of the items I used from my skiing days: athletic innerwear (pants and turtleneck), my thick hiking socks, jeans, my heavy jacket with a faux fur-lined hood, my full head cap (which covers everything from the neck up except for my nose and eyes), and my ski mittens. I stopped at a hardware store and picked up handwarmers, too. The boots I have aren't meant for long walks, but they are lined completely on the inside, so I knew they'd do the trick.

Notre Dame (like all other football stadiums) has a lot of policies on things you can't take inside the stadium. If one is to take a bag inside, it needs to be made of clear plastic. I don't have one of those, so I knew I'd need to greatly reduce my load. 

I used my SPI belt to keep my driver's license and a credit card. My jacket is longer, so I kept cash in my front pants pocket. My phone, my car key, my ticket, and my sunglasses I kept in my coat pockets, which wonderfully can close with zippers. And that was all I needed!

The trip to downtown South Bend had no football traffic, and I drove into a pretty empty downtown. The convention center was one of the places that had free parking. And to my surprise, I found that one of the shuttle stops was less than a block away! How did I know? It was one of the other places where there was a group of people also bundled up. 

Each shuttle stop had a sandwich board so people knew where to stop. Within two minutes of my arrival, the bus pulled up and could easily fit all of us on board. After one more stop, we drove a few miles northeast to the campus!

We were dropped off at a designated shuttle drop-off area by Eck's Visitor Center, which also contains the campus bookstore. I got to campus about 80 minutes before kickoff, so I did actually go inside. The bookstore does have study sections, but it would have been really dumb to try to study when there were hundreds of Notre Dame fans wandering around. But that place was HUGE! 

After the bookstore, I wasn't really sure where to go. There were a ton of people around, so I decided to just blend in with the crowd and go where they went. So my wandering ended up taking me to the Golden Dome and the Basilica, which were right next to each other!

To my delight, the Notre Dame Marching Band was situated in front of the Main Building (AKA the building with the Golden Dome) and doing some performances with their different sections. While that was happening, I got to go inside the Main Building, where many of the offices are, and see some murals that were painted in the 1880s to celebrate the life of Christopher Columbus in honor of the 400th anniversary of his travels to America. Of course, with what we know now, this area is kind of hard to look at. But I heard as I was leaving that they were going to be covering up the murals soon. And the person I overheard was right! 

My next stop was the Basilica, which looks like a regular church until you go inside. Then I was suddenly transported to Europe, because the setup looked so much like the cathedrals of that continent. It was gorgeous! And people all geared up for a football game were treating the area with great respect. (Fun fact: the Basilica hosts mass 30 minutes after every Notre Dame football game. They even have a fun "ad" that airs on the big screen during the game!)

As I was on my way to the stadium, I noticed that the band members were getting into formation, and crowds were starting to line the sidewalks. I put 2 and 2 together and took a place on the side. Sure enough, the cheerleaders (and the Irish leprechaun) gathered right in front of me, and then suddenly a shout came out from the marching band. It was really great to see them marching right in front of me! Here; I even took a video:

I knew that the time was getting closer for the game to start, so I followed the crowds once again, and found myself right in front of the Hesburgh Library - the location of the Touchdown Jesus mural. It's quite a sight to see, especially because it is so much more than just Jesus on the mural. 

Finally, it was time for the game. I found the nearest entrance and found a tent with metal detectors. It was just like when I went to Star Wars Celebration, Disneyland, the US Figure Skating Championships, and other pro events. I took my phone and key out of my pocket, held them up in my hand, and walked through. And that was it! The lady waved me through, and my ticket was then scanned. 

My seat was in the upper deck, but any seat is a pretty good seat in a stadium like that. The main field is actually level with the ground, so I had to climb a ways to get up to the top. 

It was big news last week that Notre Dame's sellout streak was ending, and there were a few empty rows in the upper deck - including the five seats next to me! Plus, the group of dudes in front of me only were around for a quarter and a half, so it was pretty nice not to be crunched. 

The rest of the game was normal for a football game. I got some food (the only time I had to pay for stuff the entire afternoon), found my seat, watched the marching band warm up the crowd, and then viewed the football game. There was a helicopter flyover after the National Anthem, and I noticed that there were quite a few airplanes flying over the stadium - they have to because the airport isn't very far away. Right before halftime I used my handwarmers, and they kept my hands warm for the rest of the afternoon.

I left at the beginning of the fourth quarter and found my way back to the shuttle area with no trouble, and was on the first bus out of the campus. It took me right back to my car!

I had no idea what to expect, but I was thrilled to see that my research resulted in me saving a ton of money. I'm sure not many people only spent fourteen dollars to drive, park, eat, tour, and attend a Notre Dame football game. I was warm, my phone's charge lasted the entire time (though it did get to low battery when I was waiting for the bus), I wasn't crunched in my seat, there were some exciting football moments, and transportation was unexpectedly easy. 

I know I'll have more hiccups when I'm actually in a different country, but this kind of practice gives me a great chance to warm up to the basics of attending events in an unknown area. And I was able to take it easy and go where the crowd took me without feeling hugely anxious and worried about getting lost or uncomfortable!

I look forward to more chances over the next eight months to do more test runs and get myself ready for Tokyo 2020!

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????

...No. But it will be in less than nine months!

I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! Look back on previous posts to hear about my trips to the US Curling National Championships, the US Figure Skating Championships, and my very successful quest to acquire tickets for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics!

I was 


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