We had a good chunk of the day to kill Wednesday, press conference day for the NCAA Tournament site at Spokane, so we left Washington state for a quick adventure to Idaho.
Spokane sits about 20 miles west of the Idaho state line. And just across the line, maybe 10 miles, is Coeur d’Alene. Which is just as cool as it sounds.
Damon, Ryan and Sarah – my Opubco colleagues – never had been to Idaho. I had driven over to Coeur d’Alene when I was in Spokane 13 years ago, but I was glad to go again. Primarily because I had forgotten how gorgeous the place is.
The entire valley is full of spruce and pine trees, something out of an alpine village. The Spokane area is very nice. But Coeur d’Alene takes it up a notch. Coeur d’Alene sits on the edge of two beautiful lakes and hard by the Coeur d’Alene National Forest, in the foothills of the Rockies.
It’s a huge tourist town, with the elegant and massive Coeur d’Alene Golf & Spa Resort sitting right next to Lake Coeur d’Alene. And it’s booming.
The population is exploding. It’s up to 44,137, as of the 2010 census. Seems to be twice as big from what I remember 13 years ago.
Ellen Travolta (John’s sister) and Dennis Franz (Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue) reportedly live in Coeur d’Alene. John Elway and Wayne Gretzky have summer homes there.
A couple of ski resorts are nearby, even though the mountains aren’t huge and Coeur d’Alene sits just 2,180 feet above sea level.
We stopped for a couple of photos, and Damon shot some video by the lovely Fernan Lake, which wraps around the outskirts of the city for a few miles.
We grabbed a little lunch at a cool sandwich shop, Caruso’s, drove around the city and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We talked about driving on to Montana. Coeur d’Alene is in the Idaho Panhandle, so it’s not that far across. Seemed like maybe 120 miles or so to Montana, though it wasn’t a direct shot, and we didn’t really have the time.
Montana is one of the states I need to cross off my list. I haven’t been to Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, the Dakotas, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Eight states. I’d like to hit them all some day.
Instead of Montana, we went to Sonic. Post Falls is a town of 27,000 which sits right on the line. And it has a Sonic, so I had a cherry root beer for the drive back to Spokane.
I woke up early – the Dish’s Mazda is in the shop back home, and our mechanic called to ask exactly what was wrong with the car. He called at 8 a.m. His time. Six a.m. my time.
I never went back to sleep, so I got up, blogged and zipped downstairs to get in some exercise.
In the workout room, I rode a stationary bike next to Dennis Dodd of cbssports.com. I’ve known Dennis since 1992, my first year on the Big Eight basketball beat, when Dennis worked for the Omaha World-Herald.
I’ve covered a bunch of NCAA Tournaments with Dennis – we went to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo back in 2000, during OSU’s run to the regional final; the Anchor Bar is the original home of Buffalo wings – and really, at most NCAA regionals, you see people you’ve gotten to know over the years.
Dennis lives in Greater Kansas City, so he keeps up with the Big 12. I enjoyed our chat.
We had dinner with another familiar face, George Schroeder, who was our OU beat writer for many years before becoming the columnist at the Eugene Register-Guard in Oregon. George joined USA Today last year and moved back to Norman.
It’s crazy for two guys who live in north Norman to have to get together for dinner in the Pacific Northwest, but such is life.
The Opubco crew and Tulsa World writers John Hoover and Guerin Emig joined George at an old favorite of his, the Red Lion Bar & Grill.
In his years covering Oregon football, George became a regular in Spokane, for trips to Washington State.
We had a good discussion about spots in the Big 12 vs. spots in the Pac-12. The Pac-12, of course, is a vacationer’s paradise. Let’s see. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Tucson and two schools maybe an hour from the Oregon Coast.
Norman and Stillwater and Ames and Manhattan and Lubbock and Waco can’t really match that. But as much as I love those Pacific enclaves, Manhattan on the Friday night before a home football game is a great place to be, and Morgantown is a great atmosphere, and Norman and Stillwater are alive the night before a football game, and, well, you get the idea. If you want me to pick between San Francisco and Manhattan in July, that’s easy. But on an October Friday night, Manhattan hangs in there with the best of them.
Anyway, back to the Red Lion. It’s actually a barbeque joint, and three of us shared a barbeque platter that was excellent. George knows good spots.
SPOKANE SITE HERO
I don’t know what will transpire in the basketball games Thursday. But I know who is the hero of the Spokane portion of the tournament.
North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips.
Ryan Aber is blogging about Phillips, and I’ll blog about Phillips later Thursday myself.
But rest assured, Phillips was delightful to interview. He and his team seem to be enjoying the ride. It’s impossible not to like Lon Kruger and wish the Sooners well. But it’s also impossible not to pull for a guy like Saul Phillips.