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Column: I am not going to miss this game

When Melissa and I started the Three Forks Voice in October 2018, one of the first road trips we made was to cover the Wolves football team playoff game at Missoula Loyola High School.

While Three Forks could not pick up the victory on that unseasonably warm day, it was fun to get out and experience the playoff atmosphere. I was excited about their next playoff opportunity, and when the team locked up a spot in the opening round, I made plans to go, no matter how far of a journey it was.

We used to own the paper in Whitehall, which at the time had a great football program, and we once traveled the grueling three consecutive playoff game road odyssey of Cut Bank, Poplar, and Eureka.

When I figured out this year’s Wolves team would be playing in Malta, I was not thrilled with the length of the trip. Still, I was more than happy that this hard-working group of players and coaches would have the opportunity to not only experience playoff football but knew they also had an opportunity to leave northern Montana with a win.

A few days before the trip, a storm hit and did not let up for a few days, making me nervous. Examining the route to Malta, I was a bit scared of what some of these two-lane roads would bring in icy conditions. I had a rough enough time getting to Manhattan to cover the District Volleyball Tournament, so I couldn’t imagine what a six-hour trip would be like in the snow. We were also in the middle of moving, but I would not let that stop me from the trip.

I asked a few people the best way to go, and some told me to go to Great Falls and then to Havre. Others told me to take I-90 to start and eventually hit US 191 into Malta. The night before, I decided to take the I-90, but in the morning, I decided to examine the road conditions and the two different routes. To my surprise, Google Maps decided to throw out another route that was supposed to be quicker. It was 6 a.m., and I didn’t want to drink too much coffee, so I made a rash decision and decided to take the new route.

This was a stupid idea.

U.S. 287 was a mess, and when it sent me over a pass on the way to White Sulphur Springs, I knew I had made an awful decision and wished I was on the Interstate. Once I got through the pass, I was in the middle of nowhere, and the temperature quickly dropped. At one point, it was -12, and I was in the middle of nowhere with no service. If I were to get stuck or slide off the road, I would be in real trouble.

I hate driving on bad roads, so I went nice and slow and finally reached Harlowton and U.S. 191. It was a grueling stretch of road, and despite how cold it was outside, I was sweating because I was so nervous.

I was about 50 miles outside of Malta and started to get happy because I was getting closer to watching the Wolves play, and I was on pace to be able to stop and grab a quick bite to eat.

This is when things change in a heartbeat.

The roads had cleared up for a few miles, but I was still not going anywhere near the speed limit. When I came over the top of the hill, I hit a slick spot, sending me spinning into the opposite lane. I started to freak out but held my composure so I wouldn’t try and overcorrect and end up rolling. I finally ended up sliding off the road, and at this point, things started to go in slow motion as I skidded out of control into a ditch. At one point, I thought I was going to roll, but thankfully, I ended up stopping just in time.

To say I was shaken up would be an understatement. I was stuck in so much snow there was no way I could drive out of it. My shoulder was sore, and my wrist hurt as I exited the car and inspected for damage. There was slight damage, but I was just happy that, other than a few bumps and bruises, I was okay. I must have hit my head on the window because I didn’t feel right getting out of the car. I was also super upset I had driven all this way and would miss the game because who knows how long before a tow truck would show up.

After a few minutes of standing outside the car, a truck pulled up, and a man walked down to talk to me to make sure I was okay. It turns out he would be my saving grace on this cold day.

The man said he didn’t have a chain but would take me to where there was better service or even into Malta. He also mentioned there was a little junction about a mile away where there was a little ranch store. He was heading to the game but was more concerned about helping me.

We decided to head up to the junction, and at this point, things started to feel like I was in some movie or fever dream.

As we walked into the store, there seemed to be about 20 kittens and a few dogs running around, and as I was watching them, I walked right into a bunch of antlers and gave myself a nice little puncture. After talking to the person working at the store, she told us to go over a couple of buildings and that there might be someone who could help us out.

So, we ventured over to the building, and there were three or four people sitting around and talking. I wasn’t sure what we were walking into, and everyone looked shocked to see two strangers enter the building. None of them seemed thrilled about the proposition of helping out, but that did not stop one of them from getting in his truck with a couple of chains and helping out.

That is one amazing thing about Montana: people are always willing to help those in need, even if it is a pain in the rump on a cold and snowy day.

After we returned to my vehicle, the guy who came to help us got stuck. I could not believe this was happening. A few minutes later, which felt like hours, he got his truck closer to mine. I tried to attach the chain to my car but was having a rough time face-first in about three feet of snow. After switching to a different chain, the man who had initially stopped could connect the chain to my car.

Now came the fun part. To say I was stuck was an understatement, and after a few minutes, I was ever so close to the highway, but to get me the rest of the way out, the guy with the chains would have to block part of the highway. I really wanted to get back on the highway, but I was so scared what would happen to this poor guy if I semi came through and was not paying attention.

Finally, I got back on the road, and after I was unhooked, there were a few pleasantries, and everybody was on their way.

I probably drove about 10 miles an hour the rest of the way. I did not want to be back on the rough and tumble roads, but at this point, nothing would stop me from covering the game.

After finally getting to Malta, I followed Google Maps to the high school. It turns out the stadium is not at the high school, and I let out a loud shriek. I thought about punching the steering wheel, but with my luck, I probably would have set off the airbag to give me even more of a concussion.

I stopped at an auto parts store for directions to the stadium and, being in a hurry, ignored a spot of ice, and just like my car a few minutes earlier, I went flying and ended up on my backside. It hurt and I just wanted to give up, but I was not going to miss watching this amazing group play.

I ended up at the stadium and, to my surprise, had only missed a quarter, which just happened to be scoreless. It was a fantastic game to cover, and no matter how bad the trip up was, I was happy to be there.

I was waiting to interview Coach Sullivan, the man who had initially helped me, came over and checked in on me. What a great guy. I asked if I could get his address to send him a gift card, and he said no thanks -- this is what people do in Montana.

I went through Havre and Great Falls on the way home, and the roads were much better.

I finally arrived home at 10 p.m. and started checking how the weather was looking for the next playoff game in Red Lodge.

 
 
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