Getting to Bellingham is relatively easy for most in the state of Washington - simply point the car north on Interstate 5 and stop before hitting Canada.
John Allen's path was slightly more complicated, but upon arrival he certainly made the most of it.
A senior guard for Western Washington University's men's basketball team, Allen will look to lead the Vikings to a title at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament, which begins Thursday, March 7, at Saint Martin's University's Marcus Pavilion.
On Friday, March 8, Western Washington, the GNAC's top seed with a 26-1 record, will play the winner of Thursday's game between Montana State Billings and Alaska Fairbanks.
A GNAC tournament title is one of the few items not present on Allen's impressive resume, which already includes a national championship. The Vikings lost to Montana State Billings in the semifinals a year ago, 82-78.
The Vikings capped last year's remarkable season by defeating Montevallo, 72-65, for the NCAA Division II crown with Allen scoring a team-high 14 points.
It was the prize at the end of a long journey for Allen, who leads WWU in scoring at 17.5 points a game.
Allen didn't play his senior year at Mountlake Terrace High School - forced to sit out the season after transferring from Shorewood.
After graduating, he opted to walk on at Washington State University, where he redshirted his freshman year before appearing briefly in 13 games during the 2009-10 season.
"That was tough," Allen said about the lack of actual game experience he had during that three-year span. "I was always practicing and playing basketball, but it was as if I didn't play in a real game for three years."
Allen thought about transferring after his first year in Pullman, primarily due to the departure of coach Tony Bennett, who left WSU to take the head coaching job at Virginia. But he decided to give the school and new coach Ken Bone one more season.
Ultimately, Allen's original assessment was proved correct.
"It just wasn't a right fit," Allen said about WSU. "So I looked elsewhere."
Elsewhere turned out to be Western Washington. It would eventually become the perfect location for Allen, but that's not to say some adjusting wasn't needed.
"Basically my main purpose (at WSU) was to make everyone better at practice by pushing them. That was my role for two years," Allen said. "When I got to Western, everything was completely different. I was asked to help lead a team as a sophomore. It was a big transition."
Big? Absolutely, but Allen still excelled.
Allen, the first player in GNAC history to earn conference player of the week honors in back-to-back weeks, averaged 14.3 points a game during his first year at WWU in 2011, setting the foundation for Western's championship season the next year.
"Right before last year we started talking about a national championship," said Allen. "It seemed like we had all the pieces. But there's a difference from believing you have everything in place and the talent to make a run and actually going out there and doing it."
With Allen leading the charge, the Vikings went out there and did it.
Allen scored double-figure points in 30 of the 36 games he played in last year, averaging 14.6 points a game. He was named Most Ooutstanding Player at the West Regional, while earning second-team all-GNAC honors for a second consecutive year.
The cherry on top, of course, was claiming the national championship.
"It took a bit to get (to Western Washington)," Allen said, "but winning it all just made everything I went through worth it."
It would have been a perfect ending, but Allen still had a year remaining.
How do you follow up the greatest season in school history?
Allen and his teammates found a way.
The Vikings opened the year with 24 consecutive wins, extending their winning streak to a school-record 30 games, before losing at Alaska Fairbanks, 77-73, on Feb. 21.
"You never want to lose, but it's better to lose now than later when your season is on the line," said Allen, whose play during a preseason exhibition game against Duke drew praise from Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We're going to get everyone's best game. That comes from winning a title. This team just takes it game by game and grinds it out. That's why we've been successful."
It's a level of success Allen plans to carry through the GNAC tournament and possibly another national title.
Site: Saint Martin's University, Lacey
Thursday, March 7
? Alaska Anchorage vs. Central Washington, 5:15 p.m.
? Alaska Fairbanks vs. Montana State Billings, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 8
? Seattle Pacific vs. Alaska Anchorage/Central Washington winner, 5:15 p.m.
? Western Washington vs. Alaska Fairbanks/Montana State Billings winner, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 9
? Semifinal winners, 7:30 p.m.
FIRST ROUND SCORES
Wednesday, March 6
? Montana State Billings vs. Seattle Pacific, 5:15 p.m.
? Alaska Anchorage vs. Northwest Nazarene, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 8
? Simon Fraser vs. Montana State Billings/Seattle Pacific winner, noon
? Western Washington vs. Alaska Anchorage/Northwest Nazarene winner, 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, March 9
? Semifinal winners, 5:15 p.m.