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We pick up where Matty’s story left off.
The Spirit of Aaron Bell is parked on the side of I-85 for the second time in as many hours. The small pool of liquid that has already amassed underneath the engine bay since we stopped indicates that the damage to the engine exceeds simply a lost belt and a busted radiator hose.
We spend a half-hour attempting to identify the source of the leak—coolant not oil—which may or may not be coming from two plastic gaskets that we don’t know the names of and can’t tell for sure and it’s too late to get useful assistance.
There’s a gas station half a mile up the road, so we fire up the engine and cross our fingers that we’ll be fine. The engine temperature spikes as we approach the gas station and we kick it into neutral, turn the engine off and pull hard on the no longer power-steering wheel and coast into the parking lot.
“The bus is done,” declares director Kevin Minderhout.
It’s a low moment and hyperbole gets the best of him. Either way the bus is done for the night and we’re overnighting at Liberty Gas. We’d been hauling around tents since we left Seattle, but, exhausted and frustrated, we simply toss our sleeping bags on a small patch of grass out back and let ourselves drift away into the muggy, buggy night as Phil Murray searches his soul and phone for flights home.
A middle-aged man sits on an old chair outside Eller Diesel Truck & Trailer. He’s got silver hair, a strong jaw and sharp blue eyes that watch us as we approach. He’s wearing the striped uniform of a mechanic with a white embroidered patch that looked official.
“Can you help us with our bus?” we ask.
“I just drive ‘em.” he replies.
We’d gotten a recommendation that these guys could help us and had taken to the road early in the morning. With the coolant system topped off with water we anxiously drove the 20 miles back toward Charlotte and away from our intended destination—Raleigh. We were officially going backwards.
The office was a refrigerator. If it was breaking a hundred outside, it was pushing thirty-two inside. Wood paneling, a linoleum counter, pin-ups of scantily clad women and an antiqued tube television airing reruns of Dr. Phil rounded out the bizarre circa-1970s motif.
“How’s it going?” Jackson Kelsay chirped to an old man as we entered the office. He held a mangy, white rat of a dog on his lap, stared at Jackson for a moment and returned to watching Dr. Phil counsel a mother and her delinquent son. Jackson passed on a look of confusion and amusement and said no more.
Another man emerged from a backroom somewhere and we were sure this was our guy. He was wearing a monkey suit and judging by the name on his outfit this was the owner, Terry Eller. He stopped at the counter for a moment, wrote some things down, looked up at us and walked out of the office into the garage. We followed.
“Uh… we called about the bus,” said Kevin.
He pulls something out of a box.
He walks back into the office.
He comes out.
“Pull it around,” he says without looking at us.
This pretty much finishes the communication process between us and Eller Diesel. Terry adds another belt, an additive to slow the leaking, tells us to take the bus to Carolina Cat in Greensborough and gives us our bill for $100.
We’d been smart enough to take advantage of our long, silent periods of waiting to make some phone calls and tracked down a 15-passenger rental van that could reliably transport the team to Raleigh in time for our game that evening.
Enterprise was kind enough to come and pick us up and we squeeze 15 players and one staff member into the van, send them packing and are left praying that the bus can make the 60-mile drive to Carolina Cat.
We’ve been following a heat-wave around the US and the bus is hotter than ever now. We’re running the heater full-blast as an auxiliary radiator and the combination of the sweltering Southern summer and dissipating engine heat leave us sitting in pools of our own sweat.
Everything is running well when we hear a loud popping sound near the rear. We glance back and clouds of white smoke are billowing from engine bay. We pull over again and make the familiar, sad walk to the back of the bus.
It’s getting difficult to keep up hope and when we see a fuel injector rod lying on the road and a hole in the engine’s valve cover we don’t even bother to communicate our frustration. We just stand there, thinking about how close we were to Carolina Cat.
The bus was the last to arrive Wednesday, finally bringing together the fifteen young college stars who make up the NexGen roster. The meeting place was a University of Washington intermural field that we were poaching for a whirlwind training camp with Ultimate guru and instructor extraordinaire Ben Wiggins.
We had approximately 28 hours to become a team and we were squeezing in three two-hour sessions that were meant to cover pretty much every basic principal we’d be operating under for the next month.
Wiggins showed great restraint when he rolled up at six sharp on his shiny blue Raleigh bicycle, ignored the equally shiny, big, white bus and put the guys to work. The message for the camp was clear. Simplicity. There were no complex offensive sets or strict defenses—Wiggins at one point pulled out a whiteboard and wrote “plays don’t work.”
Everything emphasized fast, quick movement as a team. An early exercise involved all 15 guys playing offense at once and a giant vertical stack that stayed in constant motion. And although they’d only met less than an hour prior, the team showed signs of their willingness to work together and the maturity to make plays for their teammates rather than themselves.
The flashes of potential showed most fully during our final session of ten-pull mini scrimmages against Seattle’s Voodoo and the initial response is one of simple enjoyment. When these guys move the disc, they move it fast and with demonstrable skill. It’s nothing short of impressive.
See some clips from the action and hear Ben Wiggins recap the camp below.
There’s always a moment on Extreme Home Makeover where the affable Ty Pennington stands in front of some miraculously fast-built house with a couple hundred people from the neighborhood and, while they all wait excitedly for the lucky homeowners to return from some fabulous vacation, the director is cutting to scenes of workers frantically screwing in TV mounts and desperately trying to make some custom cabinet fit where it obviously doesn’t belong.
The NexGen tour bus still has some rather hard-looking plywood seats, missing seats, a couch with no cushions, no stereo system, a TV in a box and a non-locking storage space. Oh. And the batteries may or may not be dead on account of some button fiddling in an attempt to make the stop sign work.
With all these things lingering on the to-do list we took a cue from the executives at ABC and did the only responsible we could do in a situation like this—painted the outside so everyone can see how together we are.
We’ve made this nifty little time-lapse of the three-day job that we hope you’ll enjoy.
Hopefully, our clientele aren’t going to be as judgmental about their free house as Extreme’s families in waiting surely are. They signed up to have their homes demolished on the condition that something awesome would be put up their stead.
The NexGen guys signed up to sit on a bus with 14 other dudes and drive more than 6,000 miles across the US and Canada. What could they possibly have expected?