Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Staying Sane in the Rain


Halftime Rain
Originally uploaded by mdt1960.
It never fails—there's always one really wet football game every season that seems to find me. For everyone except the players on the field, it can be downright miserable—especially if your team loses the contest.

Last year—and most memorable of them all—was up on the Hi-Line in Chester when the newly formed Chester-Joplin-Inverness Hawks hosted the down-from-Class-B Chinook Sugarbeeters in a Friday night match. Although my "weather-proof" digital camera held up under the rainy conditions, I didn't fair as well.

I had intended to camp somewhere after the game that night, but the last thing I wanted to do was camp in a wet tent and soggy sleeping bag. Fortunately it was the first game of the season, and although the early September air wasn't exactly frigid, one might say I was chilled to the bone. Following the game—and feeling completely exhausted—I considered rewarding myself a motel upgrade in nearby Havre over a primitive campsite or even a local motel in Chester.

Blissfully into the night I drove past the tiny towns of Joplin, Inverness, Rudyard, Hingham, Gildford and Kremlin in my old Mazda with the heater blowing hard and hot. By 10:00 I was in Havre and anticipating a warm and dry motel room somewhere in its pared down metropolitan sprawl. My lack of planning for this little, serendipitous excursion proved foolish as there were no motel rooms to be found in Havre thanks to a weekend celebration called "Havre Festival Days."

Once I succumbed to the idea of a no-vacancy-Havre, I settled for the confines of my Mazda 626 and the local K-Mart parking lot—and all of its bright lights. It was a rough night of car-camping resulting in little rest as my wet clothes dried while I tossed and turned inside the compact car.

The next morning everything was dry except my socks and camera. I bought a couple pairs of socks shortly after K-Mart opened their doors, but my camera refused to power up until the following week.

. . . . . . . . . .

When I awoke last Friday morning, I was surprised to find that the rain from the previous night was still coming down. It continued throughout the morning and when I left the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in nearby Cody at 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, the rain was falling there as well.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered if this would be a typical short-lived wet period or if it was big enough to yield a good soaking throughout the region. However, I never stopped to think about the rain relative to my trip to Belt, Montana the next morning. Perhaps I didn't want to dampen (no pun intended) my enthusiasm for the upcoming journey if I had known there was going to be inclement weather waiting for me. Ah yes, ignorance is bliss.

When I climbed out of bed early Saturday morning for my venture to Belt, I was even more surprised to find the same wet weather lingering. In my mind though, Belt was too far away to have the same conditions, and as I drove out of town, I started wagering with myself regarding where the weather would finally begin breaking up—surely around the Wyoming-Montana border, or maybe somewhere near Bridger or Laurel, or perhaps as far away as Columbus. Undoubtedly there would be big, puffy clouds and plenty of sunshine by the time I hit my turn-off at Big Timber.

Scott Simon hosting the Weekend Morning Edition entertained as my truck pushed toward the border through the headwind and driving rain that mimicked a car wash while the windshield wipers bounced ineffectively across the glass due to the excessive turbulence.

The headlines of the morning told me about the E. coli that was turning up in packaged spinach all over the country and as always, something about President Bush. But today I couldn't be bothered to hear another story of buffoonery from "the Decider."

The truck's gas needle was moving fast—too fast considering I had just paid $2.67 per gallon. I mused over whether the same head wind would become a tail wind on the return trip home later in the day.

Entering the badlands between Warren and Bridger, Montana, the National Public Radio broadcast faded to noisy static. I reached for a CD called Faithless Street by Whiskeytown to find the somewhat depressing lyrics of one particular song blending perfectly with the weather conditions of the day. As a result of this harmony in misery, I found my spirits lifting over the dreary day—I chalked it up to the old math postulate of two negatives equal a positive.

Well excuse me if I break my own heart,
It was mine from the finish... I guess, it was mine from the start
This situation don't seem so god damn smart,
This situation is tearing me apart.
So you'll have to excuse me if I break my own heart

Well excuse me if I break my own heart tonight,
Afterall it was mine... it was mine...


Not far from Columbus, the wipers were idle for the first time, but it was short lived as hurricane-like rain awaited along the climb out of Columbus.

There is only one place to purchase gasoline in Wilsall, Montana. For the most part, it's practically the exact opposite of a full-service gas station. Nevertheless, if you have a credit card, you can fill your tank regardless of the hour at the little, two-pump, self-service island. Fortunately for me, there was someone around for assistance when I became stumped by the idiot-proof, automated operation. Standing in the cold wind and spitting rain as the man from a building next door solved my problem, I suddenly realized that it had gone from mid-September to late-November in less than 100 miles.

As the truck climbed out of the Shields Valley, the rain turned to snow and once I reached the endless road that traverses the Little Belt Mountains from White Sulphur Springs to State Route 200, the snow was everywhere and starting to build up on the wet pavement. Dropping down the other side of the mountain, the first snow plow of the season was making his way up the incline.

I couldn't believe it; September 16.

My arrival time to Belt was 1:30—a half hour after the game between Belt and Sunburst commenced. I had planned on a five hour drive that would find me arriving an hour before kickoff. Instead, it was a six and a half hour drive. And to top it all off, the rain was coming down as hard as it was when I departed Powell.

Had the gods forgotten about the game at Cody three weeks earlier when it rained on me there too?

So, it was Belt vs Sunburst in the rain—practically a repeat of Chester the year before; only this time I was driving straight home following the afternoon game with the truck's heater blowing hard until I was dry in Harlowton.

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