Amtrak left late in the afternoon on March 16th from Portland. We then crawled along the Columbia Gorge en route to Spokane where we spookily waited for 1 hour in near pitch black silence as our cars were forked into separate directions...mine was headed to Whitefish, MT. So, indeed, we cruised through the night through the hearty land of northern Montana: Whitefish, Glacier Park, Cut Bank, Shelby, Havre, Malta, Glasgow and finally Wolf Point...on St. Patrick's Day they were stumbling in the streets of Wolf Point having a few pints, would've been nice to join them! After the Big Sky State we kept on truckin' through North Dakota: Williston, Stanley, Minot, Rugby, Grand Forks and finally down into Fargo...where it was 2 a.m. local time. So I slept in the Amtrak station in light of it was a shite side cold out and waited for the sun to come up...it did...I proceeded to the NDSU campus and checked things out while the Bison were gone on Spring Break...it was March 18th...and my Jefferson Lines bus was leaving for Brookings, SD in a few hours so I started hoofing it to West Fargo down on 45th Street to catch that groundbird. Easy travels into Brookings, and I found a cheap, warm, lovely Super 8, where I crashed for 10 hours...foregoing the 12 hours of drinking I heard about out at the Days Inn by the Indoor Pool (novel concept for West Coast lad like me).
After getting my bearings, I checked out the SDSU campus, which, was actually quite nice, they have a huge Ag Engineering program, which was nice to see, the football facilities were a little bit Spartan, but no doubt, a home field advantage on extremely chilly days (like that day!). After SDSU I eventually caught up with Andrew Wrucke of the NDSU squad out at the Days Inn just after the Midwest Regional Banquet (snore, snore). The keynote speaker tried, but apparently was tooting his own horn a little too loudly...good miss for me. So, as the Captain's meeting got underway, the Wruckester, Big Eqypt, Edwin and me had A beer down by the pool...the Mankato boys and gals had several, and several more after we left...it was the eve of the competition of course.
A Slooooooooooooooooooooooow Start, even slower than usual at a regional, took near 2 hours to get through Minnesota Mankato, and they only worked a beam!!! After that first one, however, the crews started to get rolling...it was like a judge walkthrough or something, but if you ask me, it was a crawlthrough...KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE DOING BEFORE YOU COME OUT TO JUDGE 9 MONTHS OF HARD ANALYSIS AND LABOR.
Ugh, okay, so...the drama of the day...we got a glimpse into the future when Minnesota-Mankato had 9, yes, 9 pieces that didn't fit into the "box" at the competition. What about using another one? Nope, the box was THE BOX...and apparently the 50/50 slide in rule didn't apply either...so with that, the Bison managed to jam 7 of their pieces into that box only about 3/4 ways (that's what she said). It was a bummer and a crummer and you could see it on the Crew's face. Definitely the talk of the day as the Bison went into their run down 175 libres of pain. Pain was short lived however, as the Bison smoked home a 1st in Speed and Economy despite about 1 minute of penalties, maybe it was less who knows. Loading went well, yet the NDSU boys and gals were biting their nails a little bit thinking about Iowa State, Minnesota TC or North Dakota sneaking into second place. First Place, on the other hand, was not an issue after the Bison Box Incident of 2010. Lakehead, though initially worried about their pieces getting jammed in the "box" managed to avoid any penalty going into their run...and run they did. Sporting tools of obviously available materials (namely hockey sticks) they put forward a solid time, and as far as I could tell, had the only female assembler on their squad (I'm probably wrong on that), well done to you Canadians! Loading was superb for the Thunderwolves...1st Place in Stiffness and Efficiency...this I feel may or may not have been due to penalties to NDSU, probably would've been close.
So the big two out of the way leaving the possible spoilers to come and try to take their place in the circle...ahhhhhhnnnnt! denied, nobody could touch these two, just too much time on assembly to get close. Iowa State finished 3rd Place Overall.
Iowa, Minnesota Mankato, Platteville, Minnesota Twin Cities, and South Dakota State (who did a very good job hosting AND securing the Swiftel Center) all gave noble efforts, but as it was, Iowa and UWP both failed leaving UMM the only beam team to pass loading, well done on that build Mavericks!
When all was said and done, it was an impressive start for the Midwest, especially for mid/late March, where other teams will have to be more polished going in April...especially a certain team just West of Sacramento. Once again, I'd like to comment on the quality of bridge fabrication out of this conference, 2 maybe 3 of the non-qualifiers could've very well qualified in a few other conferences, however, they're stuck in a conference with the Bison and the Thunderwolves, and that leaves only one option: RAISE YOUR GAME (or pray for a load failure).
Random things I'll say about the trip & funny things that went down:
Best Quote: "It's hard to judge a school's Bridge when you hate their hockey team." Midwest Regional Judge during Display judging...I'm guessing he was from the Twin Cities.
About still sounds like "Aboot" out there.
Hey Stacy: "THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!"
The NDSU SBT is fighting for lab space just like the rest of us!
There are many a Finn in Thunder Bay.
Red River, scarier than the Sacramento River...and colder.
Simple, well balanced, well prepared bridges continue to dominate.
Bison Burgers are tasty...even while watching the Sioux win the Broadmoor.
20 degrees and 30 mph gusts are cold.
Some conferences have great faculty support, some don't, the Midwest is one of the Conferences that does, especially at the top of it. UC Davis professors take note...it ain't all about research and dollars, try to teach occasionally.
Daktronics: Built the Aggie Stadium scoreboard (not as nice as the one SDSU has but close)
Madison, WI >> Milwaukee, WI
Those qualified are equally as excited as I am of the notion of the NSSBC being held in Indiana. (my thumb is up with a Terminator smile, lawdeefriggin'dah!)
Thanks to Wrucke, Garrett, Gundy, Jordan, Stacy, Edwin, Big Egypt and all the folks at NDSU for letting me hang out and not being a bunch of "we're better than you" punks.
Love you guys.