Yesterday night at around 9:30pm, our charter plane landed on Montana soil and I walked off the plane and strolled right over to my car in the parking lot and drove back to my place, happy to be back in Missoula. Not to say that I did not enjoy the past few days in Grand Forks, North Dakota, because I genuinely did, I just knew that living there probably would not be my first choice.
Jimmy (co-worker and travel partner) and I arrived in North Dakota on Wednesday night. After flying to Minneapolis first, we boarded a plane that took us 300 miles northwest to Grand Forks. After gathering our luggage, we walked outside into the cold, rainy night, a preview of the weather to come over the next few days.
Well, I guess I should say that the cold and rain we experienced on Wednesday prepared us mostly for the weather to come. I say mostly because come Thursday, Friday, and even a little on Saturday we got well acquainted with the unforgiving North Dakota winds. Because the state, and especially Grand Forks, lacks mountain ranges and big structures in general, wind has free reign over the landscape. Thursday was particularly brutal as winds gusted to 50 miles per hour. Jimmy and I had a tough time walking straight as we struggled moving back and forth between our rental car and the various places we were meeting people in. During one humorous part of the day, Jimmy and I had to focus complete concentration and a 100% effort into placing bags onto a luggage cart because the gusts attempted to snatch the plastic sacks out of our hands and into the cold air. With persistence and stellar grips, we managed to transport all bags safely inside the hotel.
Besides the weather, it was cool to visit North Dakota and see another part of the country. I would be lying if I said Grand Forks was glamorous but who cares? It was nice to drive around in a place with very little traffic. Before we left on the trip, the oddball news about the dude who sold his McDonald’s jug of Michael Jordan BBQ sauce went national. In the story it talked about how the guy has since sold his McDonald’s restaurants and now owns a mini franchise with six restaurants all called Space Aliens Grill. It just so happens that one of those resides in Grand Forks and we drove by it probably ten times during our time there.
Of course we were in North Dakota on business and the athletic facilities we got to enter because of the purpose of the trip probably equated for one of the highlights of our time in the “Peace Garden” state. First we got to look around the Alerus Center, the arena where the University of North Dakota plays its home football games. As the arena is literally connected to the hotel we stayed in, it was a two minute walk from our hotel lobby to the turf of the field. With a capacity of 12,000 and with seating on just two sides, it was a very unique facility. The concourses were gorgeous, the suites nice, the locker rooms respectable, and the playing surface in beautiful condition. Although coming up short on Saturday put a bad taste in my mouth about the facility in general, I must say that building is more than adequate. However, the real shining gem in Grand Forks is the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the home of the North Dakota hockey team. We visited “The Ralph” on Friday to pick up our allotment of tickets and were thoroughly impressed. The floors and walls of the facility are made out of granite. The hall of fame section puts an exclamation point on all what the storied program has accomplished. Sculptures and other memorials line the whole place. Although we didn’t even get to see the ice, I knew we were in a special place.
Midday on Friday we had completed all work that needed to get done before the team arrived so Jimmy and I had a quick lunch at a pizza place called Rhombus Guys. In an old three-story building in downtown Grand Forks, we were treated to some of the tastiest pizza I have ever consumed. Although the menu contained numerous unique and exotic different types of pizza, we went with the T-Rex pie, a pizza covered in every meat you can think of. The size of the pizza itself was huge and yes, each slice was cut in the shape of a rhombus.
Our football team arrived in Grand Forks at around 6pm on Friday evening. The hotel we stayed in was called the Canad Inn, a very nice place to spend your time in Grand Forks. Containing a giant waterpark and three different restaurants, anyone traveling for pleasure would have more than enough to do without even leaving the facility. The hotel staff and other people staying there treated us great and I can report that I slept great every night I was there.
On Saturday, the game atmosphere inside the Alerus Center was a little different than anything I have experienced before. Not to say it was bad by any means, it is just different playing football indoors, especially the way that the arena is set up. Prior to kickoff they turned the lights off in the facility and had the band perform (it was a “Blackout” theme). Again, I had never seen anything quite like it but it was pretty cool. As usual, we brought along a very large Montana cheering contingent that cheered loudly and proudly throughout the whole game. In the end, North Dakota scored in the final minute to defeat the Griz, 40-34.
Thankfully I was able to take the team charter back home to Missoula, enabling me to have a nice relaxing Sunday in town. This upcoming Saturday our team is at home again as we take on Idaho State on Military Appreciation Day. Going on these trips makes me so very thankful and proud of the gameday experience we offer in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. I can’t wait for this Saturday to come and for the Griz to get back into the win column. Thanks Grand Forks for the hospitality, it was nice to visit your town. Don’t Blink.