I couldn’t help but notice it – the mountains. Driving from the airport to my hotel, I struggle to keep my eyes on the road as I look at Pikes Peak. I utter the words “Wow” out loud realizing that no one can hear me but hoping the beautiful back drop of the Colorado Rockies appreciate the sentiment. What a way to start my weekend at the Air Force Academy!
My favorite time of year is Fall and there may not be a better place to be than Colorado Springs for Autumn. I love the colors of the Autumn leaves where sunsets behind the mountains produce audible exclamations that can only be appreciated by nature.
Cooler temperatures bring chill bumps. However, chill bumps would give way to goose bumps after spending a few days in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy.
Soaring to new heights at the Air Force Academy
Those audible exclamations of wonder didn’t end with my arrival and first views of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. On my first full day, I headed to the Air Force Academy for a tour and more goose bumps.
After entering the gate, I caught a glimpse of the Air Force Academy at the base of the mountains and uttered another “wow”. While cadets may come here with aspirations of soaring to new heights as pilots, the awe-inspiring mountains were a beautiful reminder to keep your feet on the ground as you dream of soaring through the clouds.
I met Sgt Raymond Hoy as he greeted me outside of Harmon Hall. On the campus of one of the most prestigious campuses in the country, I felt at ease as I spent the next 5 hours checking out the campus and enjoying conversations about Air Force Academy life and personal stories.
As we stood in front of the Cadet Chapel, I got goose bumps as I listened to the history of this place. (After my visit to the Naval Academy last year, goose bumps seem to be a common occurrence with these military academies.) Throughout the day, we talked about campus life, traditions, football, travel, and life.
I watched a helicopter land a few feet in front of me, blown away by the experience and nearly blown over by the propellers.
I watched doolies run the marble lines carrying their backpacks and squadrons line up in formation dressed in blue. Honor, knowledge, and respect are as much a part of the Air Force Academy experience as aircraft and aeronautics.
Nearly 60 years of Air Force Academy tradition were being played out as my tour was part movie and part living military museum.
Spending the day with Sgt Raymond Hoy, I felt like I was meeting an old friend for the first time. Making those connections when you travel is what makes travel so memorable. Those goose bump moments aren’t bad either.
And this was only my first day.
Tailgate and Touchdowns
On Saturday morning, I arrived early to find my parking spot and check out the tailgating scene outside of Falcon Stadium. Would this be another day for goose bumps?
Just outside the stadium, I saw the RV and the tables beyond the big white tent. I knew it was the tailgate that others had described but I didn’t know what to expect.
As I slowly walked over to the smell of good food and Air Force fans dressed in blue, I was greeted warmly by Rick who welcomed me to Thudgate, introduced me to others, and offered me a drink. I met Mike who started Thudgate years ago. He was pouring and mixing the drinks. Chip was busy on the BBQ grilling savory meats and enough food to feed…well, the Air Force.
Strangers quickly became friends as I talked with one interesting person after another. Cadet Ty Jones shared his experiences at the Air Force Academy talking about his first year as a doolie, wrestling, and life on campus. He showed me around the cadets tailgate as each of the squadrons enjoyed their own pre-game festivities outside of Falcon stadium.
After mingling with the cadets, I headed into the stadium. On the field, I watched the Air Force football team warm up. I stood by the tunnel as the Air Force Academy drum and bugle corps played and cadets lined up to march.
Colorado State and Air Force players left the field and the cadets marched onto the field. The cadets were paraded onto the field as they were reminded that one day they may off into the wild blue yonder. Yet the air show would begin shortly.
In typical Air Force Academy style, fighter jets fly over the stadium and the Wings of Blue parachute team glided onto the field. Even the Air Force Academy mascot, The Bird, chose to parachute rather than fly on this beautiful blue sky morning.
As the game began, watching a sea of cadets in the stands cheer on their team reminded me why college football and military academies matter. They serve and train leaders to protect and serve our country. Yet on Saturdays like this, we all enjoy a spirit of camaraderie and competition welcoming friend and foe onto the football field.
As I enjoyed this college football game at the Air Force Academy, I chuckled at the irony that these Air Force Academy cadets lead the nation in rushing. Yet Air Force football and the words of radio DJ Casey Kasem provide us with a valuable life lesson:
“Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars.”
At the Air Force Academy, fans, new friends, and football are where goose bumps and gridiron collide.
Check out my photos and fan experiences from the College Football Travel Tour at Ohio State and and the Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin Ireland. Join me on the road all season to get stories and travel tips from the College Football Travel Tour. Check out my travel guides for each city on the Expedia College Football page.