The long, strange journey of Colorado football’s equipment truck

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CHRIS LEHMANN DISCOVERED he had grow to be an not going object of interest when he discovered media retailers had been speculating on his whereabouts, as though he was once some type of fugitive with an 18-wheeler loaded with soccer equipment. He came upon he was once a minor superstar when he discovered he was once about 400 miles from the place they concept he was once.

Earlier that day, on Dec. 16, Lehmann had rolled clear of the University of Colorado campus, wearing virtually the whole thing the Buffaloes would want to play within the Pac-12 championship game in Los Angeles two nights later.

But when he drove off, the Buffaloes were not in the championship sport. There was once simply a possibility they would be by the point he were given about midway between Boulder and L.A. The complete tale is a multitude of logical guesses, bureaucratic indecision and aimless wandering, which is what makes Lehmann the easiest logo of an illogical, indecisive and frequently aimless 12 months in each school soccer — two meetings that canceled after which un-canceled, greater than 150 video games misplaced to COVID-19, a convention champion within the College Football Playoff who performed simply six video games — and all of the global.

Colorado’s access into the absurd started when Washington needed to again out of the identify sport as a result of of an epidemic of COVID-19. That increased North Division runner-up Oregon to play South champion USC, which in flip pressured the cancellation of Colorado’s sport that weekend with Oregon. But — and here is the place the saga will get so bizarre it ultimately concerned a 48-year-old truck driving force from Wellington, Colorado — the leaders accountable for scheduling video games and cashing tv assessments discovered the convention wanted a backup in case USC produced its personal run of sure exams. Since Colorado was once the second-place crew within the South, and because the prospect of having no sport in any respect despatched a chilly and sour wind during the convention place of job, the Buffaloes had been informed to be in a position to play a sport in case USC could not.

“We’re in code-red mode,” Buffaloes trainer Karl Dorrell mentioned on native radio Tuesday as he awaited phrase on his crew’s vacation spot. “We’re making ready as though we are taking part in, however we are ready to listen to. The approach the convention has arrange and secure this championship, they are conserving us at the hook to verify at a definite level and time within the week that the whole thing’s OK, then take us off the hook.”

There is so much of making plans that is going right into a soccer sport, but in addition there may be only a lot of stuff — the sort of stuff that needs to be there however no person in reality thinks about, which may be the similar sort of stuff that may’t are compatible on an plane if that plane may be getting used to move human beings. And what Lehmann does is force the truck that will get the Buffaloes’ stuff from one position to any other.

He carries cartons of tape and pallets of prewrap and scissors and tape-cutters and bandages. He carries instances and instances of Gatorade, and containers of meals that he presumes are protein bars however hasn’t ever totally investigated. (“I’ve by no means appeared in there,” he says, “but when I destroy down and I’m hungry, that tale may alternate.”) He carries helmets and substitute helmet portions and shoulder pads, cleats and communications equipment and popup scientific tents. “Everything you notice at the sideline however the benches,” says Christopher Dountas, Colorado’s director of soccer equipment.

The Buffaloes won phrase of their prospective involvement within the identify sport on Tuesday, more or less 72 hours ahead of kickoff. The force from Boulder to Los Angeles is a coloration over 15 hours without a stops and excellent climate, abiding through Department of Transportation laws stipulating {that a} driving force will have to leisure 8 hours for each 11 he drives. So, a two-day force. The equipment being hauled in Lehmann’s truck had to be in Los Angeles on Thursday, ideally through midday, to have the sideline and locker room arrange the night time ahead of the sport.

You can see the place that is headed.

All that stuff had to be loaded and the truck pushed west ahead of Colorado had any thought whether or not it might, if truth be told, be taking part in in Los Angeles. Lehmann deliberate to move out Tuesday afternoon, however he was once informed to attend. Then he deliberate to go away on Tuesday night, however he was once informed to attend.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, Lehmann rumbled clear of campus assuming none of this may ever make any sense in any respect. He had made up our minds previously that he would head south, towards Albuquerque, New Mexico, to steer clear of a possible iciness hurricane on I-70 over the Rockies. “Weather was once blowing in,” Lehmann says. “Winds had been choosing up.”

Plus, there was once communicate of avalanche keep an eye on close to the Eisenhower Tunnel in Dillon, Colorado, and — simply to complicate the already-overcomplicated — there have been faint rumblings that, if USC’s exams had been excellent and everybody may mobilize speedy sufficient, Colorado may time table a substitute sport in opposition to UTSA in Dallas. Lehmann says, “If I am getting a choice that asks, ‘How speedy are you able to get to Dallas?’ my solution is, ‘So much sooner if I’m in Albuquerque than if I’m out on I-70.'”

So Lehmann would force the truck south and look ahead to phrase. He and Dountas mapped out a direction that might take Lehmann more or less six hours towards Albuquerque, at which level he would both head west towards California or — if USC remained COVID-compliant — flip round and head again to Boulder, or — practice alongside right here — east to Dallas. The complete factor began to really feel like a scene out of an outdated Western, the place the traces on a map display the trail of the wagon educate ahead of a fit seems and burns the entire thing up.

“There’s not anything to do however hang directly to the steerage wheel and be there with your personal ideas,” Lehmann says. “And I’m pondering, Should I be using this speedy? Because if I’m going this speedy, it is going to be that a lot farther to force if I’ve to show round and head again. That’s what I’ll take into account about this travel.”

Somewhere alongside the way in which, Dountas informed him, “People are searching for you, so stay a watch out,” which Lehmann discovered humorous since even he wasn’t positive the place he was once headed or whether or not he would understand it when he were given there. But the Los Angeles Times and a couple of different retailers referred to as Dountas after the Colorado soccer Twitter account despatched out a photograph of Lehmann leaving Boulder (a publish they later deleted). “My telephone began blowing up,” Dountas says. “I had no remark.”

Lehmann had grow to be this oddity, one of the ones quirky “And, in spite of everything …” sendoffs delivered with a chummy smile on the finish of the native information. They reported that Lehmann had pushed midway from Boulder to Los Angeles and was once squirreled away in a resort in St. George, Utah, looking forward to phrase on which course to show subsequent. A pair of problems with that tale: St. George was once by no means at the itinerary, as a result of St. George is off I-70 and subsequently section of the elements/avalanche/potential-game-in-Dallas problems, and a resort was once by no means at the itinerary as a result of Lehmann deliberate to leisure within the semi’s sleeper cab. “Hey, they threw out St. George,” Dountas says, “so we simply went in conjunction with it.”

“We had been giggling about that,” Lehmann says. “Never were given to St. George. But when you Google it, that is generally the quickest strategy to get to L.A., and it’s about midway. People had been seeking to determine all of it out, and I assume in case you are a having a bet guy and you might be now not taking climate under consideration, I may see the place you may assume St. George is smart.”

(In different phrases: amateurs.)

So. Albuquerque. He were given to Albuquerque and nonetheless no phrase. He became west. Still no phrase. Dountas referred to as: Where are you? “Middle of nowhere,” Lehmann replied. They made up our minds that Flagstaff, Arizona, will be the logical leisure prevent, however as Lehmann was once rolling into Gallup round 10 p.m. Wednesday, he were given a message from Boulder: Stop. We’re nonetheless chatting with the Pac 12, however we haven’t any thought what to do. Hole up there and we are hoping to have a solution within the morning.

“So I had simply sufficient time to get the truck washed,” Lehmann says, “and I used to be near to to put my head down for the night time after I were given phrase: Young guy, time to move house.”

USC was once cleared to play within the identify sport, the place the Trojans lost 31-24 to the Ducks. Lehmann was once again in Boulder ahead of kickoff.

Tuesday night time, Colorado performs Texas within the Valero Alamo Bowl (nine ET, ESPN and ESPN App), a call for participation the crew authorised even supposing 5 different bowl-eligible Pac-12 groups made up our minds to not play within the postseason. “I feel our avid gamers felt like they had been in a position to play any other sport,” Dorrell mentioned all over a information convention to announce the bowl. “We simply sought after to complete the season with the culmination of our hard work being rewarded. They labored laborious in this kind of quick length of time, and they have earned this.”

And the place Colorado is going, Lehmann is going, too. He is chatting with me on Saturday afternoon from a room on the Hyatt on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. He drove the Buffaloes’ equipment right here even supposing it intended breaking a pact to by no means force an 18-wheeler during the Riverwalk once more. He’s speaking as he seems down on the true Alamo, and he says his room is so great and the view so excellent he half-expects to be kicked out when the coaches arrive later within the night.

Lehmann is reasonably the nature. He grew up within the shifting trade and says, “My dad taught me to force a truck quicker than it was once criminal.” When I attempt to compute the mileage and the hours he drove from Boulder to someplace close to Gallup, Lehmann says, “I simply wish to get it at the document that I’ve a quick truck and I abide through all DOT rules — and sure, my arms are crossed presently.”

And in some ways, Lehmann was once the easiest guy for this process, extra acquainted than maximum with moving instances. He drives the truck part-time, hauling equipment for Colorado and Colorado State, however his primary gig is as a chaplain within the Wyoming Air National Guard. He enlisted at 38 years outdated, and when he confirmed up for Air Force fundamental coaching, the drill instructors, all about 10 or 15 years more youthful than he was once, did not know what to make of him.

“They’re taking a look at me questioning, ‘Is this court-ordered?’ ‘Life out of choices, outdated guy?'” he says. “Not to get all bizarre on you, however every now and then you’re feeling referred to as through God to do one thing. And then you end up with a host of children round your mattress at night time crying as a result of they have by no means been clear of house and you are the closest factor they have were given to a guardian, and you understand, ‘OK, Lord, I’m proper the place I’m intended to be.'”

Still, he by no means anticipated to be held up as the easiest image of the 2020 school soccer season: a man using a truck complete of equipment on a street to nowhere, ready to listen to whether or not one crew’s COVID-19 checking out effects would push him on towards his vacation spot or pressure him to show round and move house.

“This complete factor is almost certainly one of the goofiest issues ever,” Lehmann says. “For me, the emotional facet wasn’t there find it irresistible can be for the avid gamers or coaches. I simply had to know whether or not to head east or west. Given all that is took place on the earth this 12 months, for me to force 12 hours after which have to show round in reality is not that massive of a deal.”

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