The trip begins
Conor surveys the skyline of the 49th largest metro area in the United States, and attempts to let it settle over him and create a memory. He will be leaving this place, the home of his wife and child, for hopefully more than eight months of grueling competition and trials. As he often has before embarking upon great trials in his life, Conor visits the original Pizza Hut building, to remind himself that all beginnings are humble.
Conor's Chevy Malibu has merged onto the interstate. As he leaves the city's borders and the speed limit kicks up to 75 mph, he begins to get passed by cars adjusting to the new standard. "Plenty of time for that," Conor thinks.
Conor's breakfast stop at a local diner is derailed when the waitress takes his plate while he's in the bathroom, depriving him of the last fifth of his oatmeal, and costing him the seven minutes he spent staring at his booth in despair and calculating how to shave 1.3% off the tip.
Some complain that this many rows of corn in a row is monotonous to a fault, but Conor notes the consistency and strives to take a lesson from it.
Conor's mind begins to wander as his drive stretches on, so he switches on the news. However, a story about the approval of bonds to fund bridge improvement proves to be too distracting and Conor finds that he's drifted two miles over the speed limit.
A switch to a CD that is Will Patton narrating safe driving techniques provides listening satisfaction.
Fatigue sets in. Fatigue-related terror soon follows.
After drowsiness leads him to hallucinate sliders drifting onto the road and across his back hip, he hastily pulls into the nearest gas station, which is still another 17 miles away and next to a Lion's Den. Not wanting to stretch this "I put on 20 pounds and it's all muscle" story any farther than it already is, Conor bypassed sugary energy drinks for 5-hour Energy and related knockoffs at the counter, but loses five minutes on his trip time to uncontrollable blushing when the clerk thought he was gesturing for the Kisstixx Lip Balm.
Conor spends a very long time smacking his lips disapprovingly.
Newly energized, Conor order three grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches while stopping for lunch, but with such excitement that he only leaves money for two before walking to his car. No one notices, and he could just drive off. Instead, Conor goes back and makes a correction, but his heart is pounding.
Still buzzing, Conor resolves to send a text to Moises Sierra.
"Que pasa, mi amigo?" he settles on after dismissing nine other finalists. Worried about an overexuberant response, Conor turns off his phone.
After stopping to floss, Conor calls his wife and feigns ignorance on why and how Moises Sierra left messages on their home number.
Balancing the hours in his head, Conor determines that he should refuel with another 5-hour Energy before the previous one wears off.
Lost in a human jet fuel-soaked insanity fugue state, Conor fights off waking nightmares of Gordon Beckham piloting a dunebuggy, careening across the road and wiping him off the interstate. Needing more soothing, Conor turns to a CD that details some of the more advanced functions of his juicer.
This hour is a bit better.
Conor passes Juan Pierre jogging in the desert with a Beast Mode t-shirt wrapped over his head. He doesn't slow down, assuming it's an element of his famous training dedication that's known even to him, who was never his teammate, but grows less sure as the minutes pass.
As Conor gets within a 100 miles, he feels the excitement flutter in his heart. This is stymied by an eight-ounce bottle of cool spring water.
The cover of night hangs over, but Conor can recognize clearly the outline of the White Sox Spring facility. As he idles his car in front of the entrances and stares at it, his lips begin to curl upward, sending shockwaves of pain across his face as atrophied muscles struggle and tear under these new and foreign demands. Conor relaxes his faces and the pain subsides. "When it's worth it," he mutters.
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