Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Just Shy of 49

Sunburst Vista
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
It was 966 miles and two new small town football venues in one road trip. Although I hadn't been on the road every weekend this year, this particular outing to Rudyard and Sunburst made up for the idle weekends earlier in the season. It's a life... sometimes hard.

Few people beyond my immediate family have ever joined me in the past on these football excursions, but my friend Ken (a.k.a. Slim Hardtack) tagged along for a trip that found us only eight miles shy of the 49th Parallel (the Canadian border for those folk who are geographically challenged on North America). I felt a bit cheated having come so close to Canada and not actually crossing into the land of the frozen tundra. Nevertheless, a couple years ago I did just that when attending a game in Eureka, but that's another story for another time.

At 65-years-old, Slim doesn't move quite as fast as... oh, let's say a spry 47-year-old youth like myself, so I knew if timing became an issue, I couldn't hold him too accountable. As it turned out, I had my own issues as I forgot to pack my tent and sleeping pad and after about six miles beyond Powell's city limits, we turned around to retrieve my gear.

Camping somewhere near Fort Benton was the plan drawn up a few days before our departure, but by the time we pulled into Harlowton, the day's light was waning quickly. We pitched camp at the community fairgrounds and sat down at our picnic table with a big bowl of navy bean soup including side orders of wheat thins, tinned oysters and sour cream. The cold drew down on the meal, but the soup stayed hot and later on, clouds formed overhead to seal in what was left of any remaining warmth from the day, resulting in a morning that was quite bearable for mid-October.

• • •

After morning coffee, it was onward to Eddie's Corner with a small time-out at the Judith Gap wind farm. We stepped out of our rig to hear the hush of the egantic machines. (I'm introducing the word "egantic" today as an alternative to the world "ginormous" which was recently added to Webster's Dictionary). We contemplated how some have come to resent such a hopeful looking operation where cost-effective, cows, power, barb wire, symmetry, clean, and wheat farmers all come together. Past the wind farm, the tiny town of Judith Gap and Eddie's Corner, we stopped for petrol in Stanford and then by-passing Geraldine, Fort Benton and finally arriving in Chester on the famous Hi-Line.

Chester Coyote Art
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
I wanted to see if the coyote sculpture was still sitting on top of the high school at Chester. I was pleased to see it still poised in its howling position despite the name change of the school a couple of years ago which included a new mascot—the Hi-Line Hawks. Less than a half hour later we were driving into Rudyard with plenty of time to spare before the game—taking in the modest community attractions that include a movie house and automobile museum.

In past years I'd seen North Star (once known as Blue Sky-KG... yet another school with a former identity) when they were on the road at Hays and West Yellowstone, but this was the first time I'd been to Rudyard. It's probably one of the few gridirons over 300 miles away that I didn't attempt to acquire some kind of description before attending. Something always seemed magical about the place when I looked at it on the the map—so far and way up north. Perhaps the play of their impressive 1999 state championship six-man team lingered in my mind as well.

I wasn't disappointed in finding the North Star football field and it's simplistic, on-the-edge-of-town setting. However, over the years I've learned to be careful to classify any given football field as a desirable location until it is actually occupied with fans and other components of a football contest. And sure enough, as things were shaping up at North Star, the ambulance rolled in and parked itself on the northeast corner of the field blocking a considerable portion of my "clean" shot in that direction. So distraught by this violation of gridiron feng shui, I actually queried the two medics of the vehicle to see if there was an alternate location for the big blue and white box on wheels. I hope they didn't see me as some self-loving shooter from a big town making some ridiculous demand. Regardless, my request was denied.

Sam Berge Field Entrance
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Like so many small town high school football games, everyone from the community seemed to be in attendance. Despite the unfavorable outcome for the Knights of North Star in their last home game of the regular season, I never heard anyone diss the team or coach except one player who second guessed a play near the game's end.

Kick-off for the North Star/Augusta game was 1:00 p.m. and ended just after 2:30 p.m. The condensed time frame was the combination of six-man play's 10-minute quarters and a running clock in the second half due to a lopsided score. This gave us plenty of time to make our way to Sunburst, but not before a layover in Shelby, Montana.

• • •

I normally don't plug anyone's business in this blog, but I'm happy to shamelessly endorse the Sherlock Motel and its owner Mark Wilson. This guy knows Montana. I wish we could have stayed longer in Shelby if only to visit with Mark.

• • •

Sunburst Water Tank
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Like a crown sitting on royalty's head, that's where you'll find the football field in Sunburst. The only thing held higher (literally) in the community of 415 is its water tank. And so, what a great place to watch a football game... with the town below and the Sweetgrass Hills off in the distance. It's places like Sunburst and its surrounding scenery where floodlights should be prohibited! I'd like to propose a football schedule to the Sunburst town council or school board that has the last two home football games playing out on Saturday afternoon instead of Friday night.

Speaking of rescheduling games, it was homecoming weekend in Sunburst and that meant the main event was Saturday night instead of Friday night. Had I not called the school a week earlier to confirm the game time, I would have been standing around in Sunburst on a Friday night feeling really stupid when someone told me the game was the following night instead. My advice is simple: when driving over 200 miles for a small town high school football game, always call ahead to confirm the event's location, date and time.

Earlier when we stopped at Eddie's corner, I had purchased a Great Falls Tribune newspaper and read the scores in disbelief... from night before, Twin Bridges over Drummond and Absarokee defeats Park City. Earlier in the season Ekalaka had finally downed Wibaux. The stars of Class C eight-man football in Montana had realigned it seemed. I wondered if the same gods would be spinning their magic this close to Canada resulting in another change of the guard for the northern conference. As part of the homecoming festivities, the middle school football teams of Sunburst and Centerville were playing a late afternoon game and in the remaining hour of sunlight, Sunburst came away the victor. Surely many others in attendance like myself considered this an omen of what was to come in the main event.

Well, some would say that three out of four ain't bad.

What's a good football team to do? Simply put, the defending state champs from Centerville were totally immune to the upset magic—thus spoiling the Sunburst homecoming bash. In hindsight, I wonder if it was my fault. I've seen Centerville play four times over the years and they've never lost—starting with the Miners eight-man title victory against Denton in 1999.

With the floodlit gridiron surrounded by darkness and the scenic vista beyond the end zone invisible, the Sunburst-Centerville football game transformed into an ordinary Friday night football game that could be found in Texas, Nebraska or Pennsylvania. My energy to work my camera dissipated with the day's light. Surly if the game had been a dogfight, Slim and I would have stayed and adopted the role of spectators.

As we walked out to our vehicle during halftime, Sunburst's coach Matt Clark stopped me and asked if I was the one who wrote the football blog. I came clean about it although I was embarrassed that I'd been busted leaving the game early—by the home team's football coach no less! Despite the impending loss that was breathing down on his team, Coach Clark thanked me for coming up. Impressed we were.

• • •

Slim was making the complimentary motel coffee at 4:45 a.m. the next day. By 5:45 a.m. we had secured a booth in the only cafe that was open in Shelby, Montana on a Sunday morning. On the way home, we mused about the owners of Cadillac pickup trucks and wondered if they drove their rigs with cow manure on their boots. Slim suspected there must be a nicely crafted boot box located somewhere in the bed of the truck (lined of course) while leather house slippers are worn in the cab. Hmmm, if you're a Cadillac pickup owner, we'd be curious to know the answer to this query of ours.

Power Field Morning
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Desperate for a stronger cup of coffee than that provided by the Sherlock Motel, Slim and I detoured at Dutton and Power as we made our way down the interstate. It was Sunday and way too early so, as expected, we came away from the two communities empty-handed. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist photographing Power's gridiron in the early morning light with the delicate coating of frost on the turf.

Finally in Great Falls we stumbled into a Starbucks. I don't know, is it me or are Starbucks and its clones filling up with pretentious customers— just shy of those who show up for an exhibit opening at a big city art gallery featuring damaged lamp shade sculptures?

After our foo-foo (but strong) coffee and nearing Belt, we continued in our musing as we considered the everyday operations of a fictitious Department of Homeland Insecurity and the qualifications required to work for that branch of the government.

And then something about Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize, his oversized home, what if global warming really was a hoax, and what would be so wrong with reducing our waste just for the hell of it?

It's all starting to blur now... Did I tell you it was 996 miles?