Monday, 8/6, morning, US 26, heading northwest from Ogalalla, NE:
There's no rush to get anywhere by 1:00pm today, so the McChump Tour is dawdling along the old Oregon Trail route paralleling the North Platte river. It's a quiet country of rolling hills, with the river meandering in a tree-lined bed on the valley floor. Granville Stuart described this area as a place of misery in the part of his history detailing his own trip west, with the trail lined by innumerable graves of emigrants who had succumbed to disease. Today it is just quiet. The rest of today's travellers have continued west on the Interstate.
Stops along the way today include Chimney Rock, NE, an interesting landmark that told the emigrants they were 1/3 of the way through their journey, as well as old Fort Laramie (much bigger than I would have imagined), Register Cliff south of Guernsey, WY, where emigrants carved their names into the living rock, and also the wagon ruts worn into the rocks above the river at Guernsey. Hard to believe they dragged wagons over all this.
Good bookstores at both the Chimney Rock visitor center and Ft. Laramie.
Monday, 8/6, afternoon, I-25, heading north through Wyoming:
Back in the traffic, and the Harleys are thick heading north, for their date with ... Sturgis. At the gas station in Buffalo, WY, apparently they are tired of answering the question, as there are two prominent signs tacked up over the counter: "Sturgis, 176 miles".
The ChumpMobile is being a bit troublesome today. It is hotter than hell outside, and I have to turn off the a/c every time we're crawling up a long hill, or the temperature needle climbs higher than I'd like to see. Sure hope this isn't an indication of a problem that will bring this Tour to a premature end.
Tuesday, 8/7, morning, a certain front yard, Billings, MT:
Aha! There's the problem. The radiator is covered with a solid mass of insect bodies, all manner of flying critters from Minnesota, and 47 varieties of grasshopper from Nebraska. The hose and spray nozzle soon make short work of that.
Wednesday, 8/8, morning, I-90 between Billings and Butte, MT:
I am beginning to positively dread the sight of the orange sign on the horizon. Damn these people and their construction zones! Don't they know there's $2.00 for UPF riding on me making it to Missoula by first post?
Meanwhile the Harleys whiz past in the other direction.
Wednesday, 8/8, somewhat after noon, I-90 about 20 miles outside Missoula:
Arrrrgh! Nooooooo! A giant chip sealing job, that stops traffic dead, until the pilot car can get around to us and lead us through at 15 mph. Shoot.
Wednesday, 8/8, about 1:05pm, Western Montana Fairgrounds, Missoula, MT:
Well, there you have it: Risked life and limb at ~80 mph in pursuit of the $2.00, and still stymied. The gettin' lost incident in Missoula didn't help any, nor the fact that I started about 45 minutes late in the first place, but I blame the construction.
Parking in the preferred lot for the fair is $2, fair admission itself is $5.50, and a racing program is $3. As I get near the racing grandstand, the announcer is giving the prices for the first race.
What we have here is a short race meet that runs six straight days in conjunction with the county fair, though as Missoula isa pretty big city by Montana standards, it's a pretty big county fair. The racetrack is located on the south end of the property, with the entire fair out back of the grandstand. That makes it quite handy to run out between races and sample the fine fair cuisine.
The grandstand is a small-medium open air affair, of ancient wood construction covered over by corrugated metal. The roof covering is an interesting straight angle, supported by big steel pipes. Small announcer's booth perched on top. No concourse below, but betting windows located at the back of the stands. Seating is backless benches, with fading fiberglass covering the ancient wood. There's also some bleachers to the left, of the same wood and fiberglass construction, but portions of this wood had been recently replaced. There's also a small covered patio area to the left of that, with betting windows, and the small paddock leftest of all. This is an attractive little paddock area, all grass, with hedges and plants in the middle, and covered stalls. The sun cover of the patio area extended to the edge of the paddock, where were found low bleachers for people to use while waiting for or inspecting the horses. Very nice.
The track is a 4f bullring with a quarterhorse chute, and looked to be fairly deep. It was also very well maintained, with hardly any rocks, and regular attention between the races from water trucks and grooming tractors. Steel pipe inner rail, and chain link outer fence. The infield featured a rodeo setup, and was otherwise au naturel. The rodeo setup had some nice PA speakers, from which groovy music issued throughout the afternoon while races weren't running. Barns in the background behing the track, and then a big tree-topped mountain with new homes running up its slope. A pretty setting.
The beers, concessions, and restrooms situation was kind of unique. Behind the stands was a small beer garden where all beers had to be consumed, but it was shaded, and friendly, with tables and benches, and a couple of betting windows associated with it. Cans of most standard brands of beer, including Rainier, on sale for two tickets, or $2. For food you simply wandered out into the fair and grabbed whatever you wanted. I went with a taco from the FFA stand, $1.50, somewhat less than an artistic success. Also later a dessert pasty, which was okay, and I think that was about $2. And maybe a sausage. Okay, but not great. Interesting items to be found on this fair midway included lefse, that Swedish classic, fried cheddar cheese curds(!), huckleberry shakes and sundaes ($4, reflecting the outrageous price of huckleberries these days), and of course the pasties, which also included various meat varieties. For restroom facilities you simply wandered around the fair until you found some. And of course there were all the good rides, for instance The Zipper, and the big flying boat. It was quite a hoppin' fair.
But back to the racing.
The card on the day consisted of 10 races, all but one with 8 entrants per race before scratches, evenly split between throughbred events and QH/mixed sprints. QH maidens ran for a purse of $3300, tbred maidens $2500, 3200 tbred claimers $2800, and a mixed breed handicap $4200, the big race of the day. One of the more interesting conditions I've seen in awhile accompanied one of these races, "owned and/or trained by Native Americans preferred". All in all quite a bettable card, but of course the winning part was a different matter altogether.
Almost all the regular circuit jocks were in attandance for this meet: Wendy Dean, Joe Coversup, Gilbert Rivera, Rita Ekins, Shannon Wippert, Mike Phillips, Scott Bergsrud, etc. I still miss Roger Buening and Kym Espy, though. Wonder what they were up to? And interesting addition to the Montana circuit this year is Mark Boag, who managed to get himself in some sort of trouble out in Oregon, but who has been licensed to ride in Montana.
There was a huge, friendly crowd in attendance on this warm, sunny day, and they appeared to be having quite a blast, except for the one wife/girlfriend seated behind me in the bleachers who went on and on about being bored. The husband/boyfriend finally told her to just disappear into the fair. Which she did. Thankfully.
On the betting front, I was once again not The King. $63 hard earned dollars through the windows, and a couple losses here and there, and all of a sudden the spare change bankroll was down $4.80 on the day. On the UPF bet I really screwed up. In the 5th, the mixed breed hcp at 575 yards, there was a horse named Making Ends Meet who towered over his competition at distance sprints, but I could bring myself to bet because the odds were so low. Of course the odds in the small pool went up to a respectable level right before the race, and then the horse won with ease. Idiot! So I was stuck with looking for another horse later in the card, finally selecting Gimmewhatigot in the 9th, a 1-1/16 mi event around 4 turns. I figured jock Scott Bergsrud would be a plus in a riding test like this, but I was wrong. Dead last. Oh well. Learned my lesson about passing up sure things.
I also learned on this day that maybe one SHOULD take some sort of track bias into account for QH SPI numbers. For instance, all of the contestatnts who had run at the Marias Fair had high SPI's for those races, much higher than their normal, but that didn't necessarily translate into good performances today. And you know, I was at that Marias Fair, and it was dry and hard as a rock. Something to keep in the back of one's mind, as well as the fact that on today's card, track records were either being set or matched at a suspicious rate.
All in all an excellent day of racing at a fun fair, which gets an enthusiastic thumbs up. There may have been Indian relay races scheduled for later, but I couldn't stay past the 9th. Time to head out for Butte for the night.
Total miles traveled to get to this track: 1211
Thursday, 8/9, about noon, Butte, MT:
Aaaah. Delicious rest. There's been no need to get up early today. But now it's time to head for the airport, and the next leg of the Tour.
The turnoffs to the Big Hole Battlefield and old territorial capital Bannack come and go, but there's no sightseeing today. I wonder if I am the only one in 100 square miles listening to Judy Mowatt at that moment. North of Idaho Falls along the Interstate, there's a sign that says "high winds, next 20 miles". Glad they told me. The wind has been howling and buffeting the poor ChumpMobile for the last 15.
Oh yeah - the airport is in Salt Lake City.