Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Away Game Logistics

It was just another ordinary regular-season game between foes that see each other nearly every year on the gridiron, but there is nothing ordinary about the travel arrangements for the visiting team when it comes athletic contests between Rocky Mountain and Cokeville High Schools. In this case, Cokeville made the journey to Cowley for its fourth game of the season against Rocky—a rival in the same conference. When you think of teams within the same conference, you probably think of relative close proximity. Even in Wyoming, that distance can be easily over 100 miles. A two-three hour drive to any game is not unusual. But for Cokeville, almost every road game is an adventure.

It’s 230 miles as the raven flies from Cokeville to Cowley, but with major mountains serving as obstacles between the two small communities, it’s 378 miles—typically a six-hour drive (with no sight-seeing along the way). Go ahead, Google it or go to your distance calculator web site and see for yourself (on the map) how far it is.

The game at Cowley started at 6:00 on this particular Friday night, and by time the game was over and the bus was back on the road, it was nearly 10:00 p.m., and if you do the math, you know what time that puts the Panther football team back in Cokeville.

Yet, there is more than just determining that is was sometime after 4:00 in the morning when the Cokeville busses breached the home town limits.

Speaking with Lenn Johnson, one of the two bus drivers for the Cokeville cause, he recounted how the two busses departed Cokeville at 8:30 that Friday morning and arrived just after 4:00 in Cowley with short stops in Farson and Thermopolis along the way. However, the day before, two other bus drivers drove a car to the area as they were designated to work the return trip—trading their car for the bus with the Johnson and the other Friday-morning driver. Such extensive logistics and coordination are required now as school budgets continue to be cut year after year. There was a time when the team would overnight in a motel somewhere on the way home after playing a road game this far away.

The handful of Cokeville fans that attended told me of their travel follies as well. Although they didn’t leave from Cokeville as early as the team, all of them had overnight stay locations after the game. One party was staying in Cody, while another party was going to stay in Riverton.

Lastly, you might wonder, how does a 378-mile bus ride affect a football team’s performance? Well, in Cokeville’s case, it wasn’t detrimental, but any fan or player of the team will tell you they had a pretty sluggish start even if they notched a win to the tune of 26-6 and remained undefeated.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Over The Mountain

Despite the flooding in Houston, the North Korean acquisition of a thermo-nuclear device, and the ongoing and everyday FUBARs by our President, I made a beeline for Dayton, Wyoming following my class that ended at 2:50 on this first Friday of September. Although it wasn’t the first week of the football season, it was my first week of the season. The truck was packed and gassed up before class and I was looking forward to the drive over the scenic Big Horn Mountains via the ten-percent grades of the “Oh-My-God Highway” (i.e., U.S. Highway 14-A).

The 6:00 start time worried me regarding my ability to arrive on time even though my navigation app told me it was a two-hour drive. Whatever travel time such apps say, I’m pretty sure such estimates should be multiplied by 1.5 when I’m driving since I’m not a fast driver, and I stop often to photograph along the way.

I’d been looking forward to revisiting Tongue River for some time as I haven’t been there since they built the new school and repositioned the gridiron. Standing on the sidelines, I was stumped in this real life “Where’s Waldo” puzzle as I scrutinized the area to detect what had exactly changed when comparing the location of the old field vs. its new location. I would likely need some aerial photography that provided a before and after image of what surely must be subtle changes in the landscape.

Speaking of aerial photography, one of my main objectives in this outing was to capture a strong aerial image of the field with my “high-end” drone—with the Big Horn Mountains as a backdrop. Unfortunately, I was presented with a “firmware upgrade required,” so this drone never left the ground. However, the mission was somewhat salvaged in that I also brought along one of my toy-grade drones and managed to get the attached image included in this post. So, a big sarcastic “thanks” goes out to the DJI firmware upgrade crew for crippling this photo opportunity.

Along with revisiting one of the most scenic locations for a Wyoming high school football game, the Wright Panthers were in town as a worthy opponent for the Eagles, and I’d never seen a game featuring their yellow and black colors with the oversized “W” on their lids.

Wright gave the Eagles a good game, and appeared to have a size advantage, but couldn’t get the win. From my vantage, they seemed to lack the confident and the preparation that is so critical for a first-game of the season. If the two teams meet in the playoffs later this season, I won’t be surprised to hear of Wright winning the second contest.

Perhaps the biggest story of the day was smoke. Forest fires from distant locations to the north and west of Dayton made this quaint little community known for its clean mountain air feel like a typical large city with an inversion problem. I wondered how the air quality was affecting these young adults full of testosterone, playing their first game of the season, while bashing wildly into each other all night. Given such conditions, I concluded they probably didn’t even notice a little air pollution.

Following the game, I queried the staff at the Dayton Sinclair Quick Stop about overnight car camping and followed their advice on the Community Center parking lot. A drive back over the Big Horns in darkness these days is out of the question for a 57-year-old like myself. So, I processed images as I devoured a sandwich and a bag of chips in the dark parking lot before retiring around 10:30.

Early in the morning, I found refuge at the Branding Iron CafĂ© in the form of French Toast and coffee before heading over the Big Horns. As I climbed the 14-A mountain road, I concluded that small town high school football trips don’t get much better than this.

Postscript: You can purchase Maltesers (chocolate-covered malt balls that are ten times better than Whoppers) at the Dayton, Wyoming, Sinclair for 49 cents per 1.3 oz. bag. The same bag goes for over $2 at the World Market Store in Billings.