-- Late morning, Saturday, Aug. 18, West Yellowstone, MT:
It is painfully obvious that my host's estimate of the time to be saved by taking the "shortcut" from Billings to Idaho Falls through West Yellowstone was somewhat optimistic. No way am I going to make first post at Burley today. But I shall soldier on.
Thankfully, just ahead is the pass which will mark the final time I have to cross the continental divide for awhile, having been over it 11 times in the past two weeks.
-- a bit later, Snake River valley and plain
Again we're paralleling the Oregon Trail, but no time for sightseeing today, even though there's Fort Hall, and American Falls, and Massacre Rocks, and yet another cliff into which the emigrants carved their names. But ... must ... get ... to ... Burley.
-- ~2:20 pm, Saturday, Aug. 18, Burley, ID:
The Cassia County fairgrounds wasn't all that difficult to find, just north of US 30, kind of on the east side of town, but parking was another thing. "Oh, just find a spot anywhere on the streets around here", explains the woman womaning the main gate. "This parking here is only for exhibitors and such." So I do, a prime spot next to a park, just two blocks away. Free.
Fair admission is also free, I think. At least that's what I paid. Horse racing admission was not free, however. $2.50 to pass through the chain link portals separating the grandstand from the rest of the fair, and then another $2.50 for the program. This chain link fence, btw, stuck out into a prime walkway and made getting around that part of the fair quite a hassle.
I ran out front to see where we were on the card. Things seemed to be running a bit late. The third had just ended, it was 2:30, and 2:30 was when the 4th was supposed to have gone off. They'd waited just for me. How nice.
Tragically I discovered that I'd left my writing utensil in the car in my haste, and I was now going to be in deep trouble. The fast acting McChump mind knows, however, that at every fair there's always someone in the Mercantile barn giving away free pens. So off I went, and there, just inside the door of the Mercantile barn, was a young woman womaning a telecommunications services booth of some sort, with a jar of free pens. I smiled at her real nice, explained that I was from out of town and that my dog had just run away with my truck AND my wife, and she turned one over. Score!
Long as there was time before the 4th, I decided to scout and see what food might be for sale, as I was feeling just a bit peckish. Hamburgers and cheeseburgers are real popular at the Cassia County Fair, it would seem. Every service organization, church, and youth group in town had a food booth set up, and nearly all were offering hamburgers and cheeseburgers. I counted nine different stands all selling exactly the same thing, including all the stands directly behind the grandstand, and I really didn't look too hard. Other food offerings on the food midway included a giant Dutch oven plate o' chow, incl. ribs, potatos, and veggies (a bit much), breaded rainbow trout fillets ($2.50, a bit weird), and a couple of stands run by local Hispanic churches which were offering burritos and tacos. I went with a carne asada taco and a carnitas taco, $1.75 ea, and these were quite tasty.
However, nowhere did I see beer for sale. Oh well, that can wait.
Back to the grandstand for the 4th, a maiden special for 2yo QH at 250 yards, 8 horses, and a purse of $600 ($25 to enter). My horse did not win, or even come 2nd. Or 3rd, or 4th. $6 down the drain.
More fair scouting in search of the elusive beer. There was none.
This is kind of a weird little fair setup. The rides midway is separated from the fair proper by the grandstand and track, and is just visible over the backstretch. Gravitron and The Zipper were visible in the distance, but whether or not Tilt-A-Whirl was on the grounds shall remain a mystery. All the display and livestock barns and such are in the area out behind the grandstand and food midway (and hot tub display), and this part of the fair was rather poorly attended on this day. Most of the people on this side of the track (the non-midway side) seemed to have come for the horse racing, and that part was real crowded. Never separate your rides midway from your food midway, is my motto.
On a small stage in the food midway, a woman was yodeling. I could not help but think that the definition of "lady" might be much like the definition of "gentleman" I'd learned at the Tillamook fair.
Back to the races.
Down on the apron to the left of the stands there were a few gentlemen with cans of beer. Where were they getting them? I had a sneaking suspicion, especially when I noted several small coolers in the stands. That suspicion got even more sneaking when I overheard one gentleman say to another that his girlfriend was going out to buy more beer. Rats! A dry fair. Negatory points for that.
Negatory points, too, for the basic racing setup here. The rodeo is apparently the thing, and the setup favors that. There's the basic grandstand, a small affair of ancient wood and an ancient wood roof held up by two rows of wooden supports to block the view, with the white paint peeling only a little, and very narrow, crowded walkways everywhere. You didn't even want to try the central walkway under the stands. Then there are large bleachers on either side of the grandstand, with small gravel aprons, which are angled in toward the rodeo circle, and the left one totally blocks the view of the top of the stretch from the grandstand. The only way you can see a QH race in its entirety is to stand at the top of the farthest left of the left bleachers.
The viewing for thoroughbred races was even more unfriendly, as there were also large bleachers in the infield, arranged in a semi-circle around the rodeo area. Add to them a collection of small buildings, trucks, trailers, bales of hay, and assorted foofrah in the infield, and you couldn't really see a damn thing all day, except the stretch run. From what I could see, I guessed that this was 4f bullring with a QH chute. And a narrow, rocky track it was. Small uncovered paddock down past the left set of bleachers and the restroom building. You could see pretty good there.
As an added bonus, all day long, little kids kept popping those stupid cap things all over the place, including throwing them off the top of the grandstand at passersby below. Snap!! Snap!! Snap!! alllllll daaaaaaaayyyyy looooooonnnng. Poor parenting in Burley.
No beer; bad viewing; bratty kids. You can guess where this review is headed.
The only saving graces were that all the employees and concessionaires were very friendly, and the prices were cheap.
The race card on the day consisted of 10 races, 9 for the QH, appy, and paint type sprinters, and one 5f tbred race. Four to eight horses per race, with most in the 5-6 range. The big race of the day, the Quarter Horse Futurity, offered a purse of $2200, the QH Derby $1750, Paint and Appy Derby $1200, Paint and Appy Futurity $1300, but all the other purses were $1000 or less. Jocks and trainers were pretty much the same set I'd seen the week before at Malad City, with of course the absence of Justin Vanderwoude. Cody Foster seemd to be running away with the jock's honors at this meet. Horses were from everywhere in the region, including some with impressive SI's from the Western Montana Fair, which I blatently ignored, as I knew that track had been rock hard and fast, and this did not hurt me at all.
I didn't do all that terrible betting the six races I bet, but nothing special, in fact a loss of $2.40 on the afternoon. I did manage to pick a UPF winner, River's Run Deep, the winner of the 5f tbred race. He was an 11yo gelding, by Wild Injun out of Nylem (KY), picking up his 32nd career win from 108 starts on this day (and lifetime winnings of $42,574 before the winner's share of the $750 purse in this one). He was something of a local favorite, and paid a whopping $4.60 to win.
We did get one inquiry and a takedown on the card, the first of this Tour. My horse in the 6th, the #5 Hesa Hard Luck Buck, had a nice lead in the 660 yd sprint but suffered yet another of his hard luck events, going inexplicably 53 wide coming out of the turn after an apparent bump from the #4 which was just inside (well maybe it really was the 5's fault for squeezing down but you never admit that when it is your horse that comes out on the bad end) and finishing 3rd. Third is where he stayed, too, as the stewards determined to reverse the order of the first two finishers for some other bumping I did not see. At least that damn 4 came down to 2nd. Oh well, money earned for UPF on that DQ, thanks to Gary Witkin's pledge.
The last race of the day was what looked to be a very competitive QH allowance, with four of the fastest QH in Idaho running for $1000, and the announcer implored us to stay to see an excellent race. However, since time was passing (nominal 4:30pm post for this had LONG since passed) and I knew I wouldn't really be able to see much of it anyhow, I declined his invitation and headed back to the Interstate.
Cassia County horse racing gets only a shoulder shrug. The people were friendly, but the setup is not horse racing friendly at all. It's a "if you happen to be in town" type of track.
Total miles traveled to get to this track: 524
Unfortunately, there's still some driving to do tonight. No one in their right mind would try to get from Burley, ID, to Seattle, WA, by 1st post at Emerald the next day, so it's time to go part way.
As dusk descends, the valley at Ontario, OR, is filled with smoke, probably from the fire further west at Monument. This is quickly dispersed, however, by a howling west wind which buffets the poor ChumpMobile as we drive through the dark over the twisty, turny section of Interstate 84 that leads up over the mountains and down through the Snake River canyon. Again a part of the Oregon Trail, and if my experience means anything, a bad part. The lights from the trucks coming and going along the serpentine route lends a feeling of unreality to the driving experience, just as if I was back immersed in the killer Nintendo motorcycle racing game. And the wind tries to blow me off the road at every cut in the hills.
At the little town of Huntington, or somewhere thereabouts, I decided I need a break from that, and that the ChumpMobile could use a bit more gas for the last sprint to Baker City. I pulled into a gas station, kind of dazed and unsteady on my feet after all that buffeting and got out to start pumping the gas. You know, like we all do, all the time. Auto-pilot.
A young woman came flying out of the station. "You are SOOOOO busted!", exclaims she, yanking the nozzle from my hands.
"Where are you from?", examining the plates.
Illinois. Or so it says on the plates.
"Imagine! Trying to pump your own gas! You are SOOOOO busted!"
Why? Is there a law against it?
"Yes. Oregon law. And there's a $4,000 fine!!!!"
Okay. Give me $5 worth to make it worth your effort and concern. I'm feeling real generous.
She does, and I fork over the fin.
"Imagine! Trying to pump your own gas! Hmmmph!", she huffs back into the station.
Pulling out, I reflect that I have learned quite a bit about those old Oregon Trail pioneers from this trip. They liked to carve their names in rocks, and their descendants are apparently too stupid to pump their own gas.