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Aberdeen IronBirds
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Helena Brewers 36

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Posted 2011 July 8

Helena has the distinction of being one of the few places west of the Mississippi that I've visted. In fact, the entire list of places west of the Mississippi I've visted it as follows:

  • West Memphis, Arkansas (i.e., I was in Memphis and drove across the River)
  • Salt Lake City, Utah (I never left the airport)
  • Helena, Montana
  • Bozeman, Montana
  • Logan, Montana
  • Elkhorn, Montana
  • Deer Lodge, Montana
You will notice a certain pattern here. I'm sure you've figured this out already, but with the exception of West Memphis (which lasted all of fiften minutes) the only time I've been west of the Mississippi was when I took a vacation in Montana. As you can imagine, I have lots of memories from my one vacation out west. Helena is where my wife and I were staying, where we took a boat ride down the Missouri River, and where we had dinner on the night of our fifteenth anniversary. Bozeman is where we we visited the Museum of the Rockies, which had more dinosaur fossils than I've seen anywhere other than (maybe even including) the Smithsonian. Logan was really just a small clump of houses with no more than four or five blocks to its name, but it had a steakhouse that could easily have been where I ate the best steak I ever had in my life, and where I learned of the concept of getting your steak "blood rare". Elkhorn was the only ghost town (if a town that still has about a dozen or two people in it can be called a ghost town) I'd ever been to, and also the highest elevation I've ever been (right at 2 km above sea level). And Deer Lodge is where my GPS tried to kill my wife and me.

I got this GPS (a Garmin Nüvi 600 which my wife and I have nicknamed "Carmen", in part because my wife strongly feels that anything that talks to you should have a name) one year prior, before a vacation in Kentucky. Personally, I find Carmen to be very useful, particularly when you're on vacation or otherwise somewhere you're not familiar with. My wife is considerably less enamored of Carmen. She says that Carmen sounds smug when giving directions, and doesn't come up with very good routes. I will readily grant that when I've tried to get directions to places in Raleigh, Carmen rarely comes up with anything better than I do and often does worse. But she will get you there, so if you're in an unfamiliar area and time is not of the essence, she's a useful tool. As for being smug, I don't see it myself, although she does sound pretty exasperated when she says "Recalculating" because I've either missed or ignored her directions.

But smugness, my wife says, she can deal with. Attempted murder is another matter.

We were on our way back from Deer Lodge to Helena (a trip in a northeastern direction) when I asked her to give us directions back to the B&B we're staying at. We were just about to reach the on-ramp to get on I-90. I figured that she'd send us up I-90 (generally traveling northwest; a bit of backtracking is required) then east on US-12. This was, after all, all interstate and US Highway, not to mention the reverse of the route she had sent us on from Helena to Deer Lodge in the first place. To my surprise, she told us to continue on the road we were on.

I wasn't certain why she did this, but what the heck, right? I mean, it's not like we're in a hurry to get anywhere. And it looked like a decent road. So off I went. And the road was a good road for the first mile or so. Then the pavement ended. But it still seemed like a decent dirt road, so why not? Heck, thanks to a screw-up at the car rental, we were driving an SUV (I had reserved a Chevy Impala), so it's not like a dirt road should present even a slight problem.

Then Carmen had us take a turn. Another dirt road, but why not? I'll tell you why not: because after half a mile or so, the decent dirt road slowly transformed into nothing more than than two ruts in the middle of a field. Mind you, this was not a wrong turn on my part: Carmen did not say "Recalculating" at any point in all of this. The "road" clearly showed on her screen. She also showed that the distance to the next turn was about 12 kilometers. So this was a little strange, but hey, an SUV should be able to handle this, right? Sure...until we reached the point where the road had a pool of muddy water in it. It was about the width of the track, and we had no idea how deep it was (it didn't look shallow). To the left was a drop off that was too close to the edge of the road for us to be able to go around that way. To the right was a hill that was kind of steep but hopefully gradual enough that we might, if we were lucky, be able to get around that way...if we were willing to risk the tires getting punctured by the rocks on the hill. A three-point turn wasn't really an option because of how narrow the road was.

Any sane driver would have reversed far enough for a three-point turn to be possible, then would have made said three-point turn and gone back the way they had come. Or perhaps they would have looked for a way to test the depth of the water. But this vehicle didn't have a sane driver, it had me. After deliberating for about five minutes while my wife said she would trust my decision, I tried going around to the right and found that a) the hill was steeper than I had thought (the SUV didn't flip but it sure felt like it was thinking about it), b) the rocks were, fortunately, not sharp enough to puncture the tires, c) getting back onto the track from the hill was an adventure in and of itself, and d) when my wife said she would trust my decision she was not being completely truthful.

But we made it through, and finally got to turn on an actual, paved road. So we did...and it went back to a dirt road half a mile later. Fortunately, this one stayed an actual dirt road instead of becoming another track. Also, it did in fact get us to US-12, and just may have been quicker in spite of everything since it took us northeast to the eastbound road instead of taking us northwest to the eastbound road like I-90 did. Nevertheless, my wife is convinced that the only reason Carmen suggested any of this was that she wanted to lure us to our doom as punishment for all the times we've ignored her (which, in Raleigh, is quite common). My wife has also informed me that I am not to be trusted with an SUV and that I am never allowed to have one. Of course, I currently drive a Honda Civic Hybrid, so I'm clearly not the sort of person who considers not being allowed to have an SUV to be a serious punishment.

One thing we did not see in Helena is a brewery. (This trip was in fact unusual among our vacations in that the area was not renowned for anything alcoholic. Previous trips have included repeated trips to wine country in the Finger Lakes and a visit to bourbon country in Kentucky.) There is a brewery or two in Helena, but the area is hardly renowned for its beer. But the baseball team in town is affiliated with Milwaukee, and its owner apparently couldn't be arsed to come up with a name that has anything to do with the town the team is actually in. (It is the only team in the Pioneer League to use its affiliate's name, so it's not like they're following standard league practice.) I'm not sure why the owner doesn't come up with an appropriate local name. There's plenty of local stuff to name the team after, and I seriously doubt most baseball fans in Montana cheer for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The logo is also effectively stolen from the parent team. It's an "H" instead of an "M", but they had to change that. There is at least a tiny bit of creativity here, since the barley sprig forms the crossbar of the "H" rather than just underlining it the way it underlines the "M" for the Milwaukee Brewers. I think it actually works better this way. But they still should come up with their own team name. There are so many things in Montana they could name a team after. The mountains. The Missouri River. The wildlife. Or even murderous GPS units.

Final Score: 36 points.
Penalties: Offspring, 12 pts; Letter, 24 pts;
Bonuses: None.

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