It was about two hours prior to kick-off against Mizzou when my neighbors and I began tailgating in Summit View Parking Lot, a slab of non-clumsy-friendly gravel loaded with monstrous camper trailers, inebriated tailgaters passing around pre-game bottles of liquor and tons of portable grills deliciously smoking away.
Coming off last year’s so-so, 6-6 record, with a lopsided 13-40 beat down by the Tigers third game into the season, the Pokes seemed starved for revenge. With head coach Craig Bohl frantically trying to escape from under the shadow of Josh Allen, former Poke and current starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, an upset was certainly in store for the 18-point underdog.
Plus, ESPN was in town, so it’s no shocker the size of about a twentieth of the entire state of Wyoming congregated on Saturday to the football mecca that is War Memorial Stadium. Twenty-six thousand, thirty-seven people were later confirmed in attendance.
For many people in Rawlins and surrounding communities, they too made the religious, pigskin retreat to Laramie. Interspersed among this accentuated ambrosia of burger meat and cheap beer, I spotted Cowboy State license plates starting with the number six, which donates Carbon County residency.
What a beautiful thing, readers.
Like myself, many of these folks temporarily divorced themselves from their perhaps high-risk jobs at the refinery or their honorable but somewhat melancholy work in the local court offices just so they can make the 100-mile burn down Interstate 80 and sedate themselves in the raucous atmosphere that is college football.
All day Saturday in Gem City of the Plains is like a good dream that only lasts until the Pokes hop on the next flight, so why not?
And once APG Media of the Rockies, Rawlins Times’ parent company, presented me four free tickets near the 30-yard line, I immediately could taste the Nathan’s hotdogs.
That day, of course, the University of Wyoming got their vengeance. Pokes red-shirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers and Xazavian Valladay, the Pokes sophomore running back, combined for a whopping 238 yards on the ground to steamroll Wyoming’s way to a stunning 37-31 upset.
I, meanwhile, ended the game with a modest few cold beers deep, one Nathan’s hotdog topped with every single condiment I could find and a steaming hot Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. Hercules himself doesn’t eat this good, I thought to myself as I obnoxiously wiped my greasy fingers onto the whitest spot on my shirt.
But, believe it or not, Saturday’s triumphant win didn’t mark the end of my Labor Day Weekend.
Once the student section rushed the field and we subsequently went back home to Rawlins, the very next morning would be spent gathering enough supplies to last one night deep in woods of Medicine Bow National Forest, another mind-numbing sanctuary just a hop, skip and a jump away from Rawlins, Wyoming.
The first noticeable aspect of this trip involves Highway 71, otherwise known as “South Road.”
For so many years locals had to gently hug the dangerously curvaceous turns on this particular thoroughfare, which was formerly comprised entirely of dirt. Although a stretch of gravel still exists today, much of Highway 71 now sports a shiny coat of asphalt, gifting drivers an ultimate, Rocky Mountain experience.
Last year, in fact, the government spent upwards of $14 million to pave an additional 33 miles of this scenic roadway, while they reconditioned another 16 miles of gravel, which eventually runs under the towering canopies of Aspen Alley, a surreal-like grove of heavenly trees that looks like it insidiously belongs in the woods of Finland.
Anyway, we took that route all the way to a heavily wooded campsite, with tall, alpine aspens protecting us from the attritions of everyday life. Nearby, a stream, inhabited by sweet, little brook trout that some of our fellow campers caught earlier and fried up.
Upon arrival, I, of course, a punk kid from the city, needed help assembling a single-person tent an old firefighter buddy of mine left me before moving to Arizona.
Once everything was good to go, however, the work was all worth it, as all of us would soon listen to the gentle breezes splash through the aspens as if it were the uproarious tide of the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, archery elk season was close, so every so often a group of sportsmen would clunk by in their off-road vehicles as we sipped beers covered in dust while we cooked ground beef over an open flame.
As the sun later settled below the horizon, we all looked up and got lost in the never-ending star constellations twinkling in the deep, dark sky like crystal diamonds.
Indeed, it’s a different world out in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Few places come close.
To add a cherry on top of the whole weekend, when we all woke up the next morning, we filled our stomachs with eggs and bacon, freshly cooked in an old skillet, before we loaded all our supplies in the back of the vehicle.
And as we took the windy South Road home, we talked and laughed about how much fun we had at the Pokes game.
Thanks, Wyoming. You never fail.