CHIPPEWA FALLS — When it comes to throwing horseshoes, Sarah Chaffee has ice water in her veins.
“She has a competitive drive,” said her dad, Dean Chaffee. “She wants to be the one to shoot the free throw at the end of the game.”
After watching her dad throw horseshoes for several years, Sarah took up the sport four years ago.
“I loved watching him (play), and I just picked it up,” she said.
Now, 12-year-old Sarah can boast she is the best juniors player in the country. She was crowned the Junior Girl World Champion in a tournament earlier this year in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“I like pressure, and being able to succeed in pressure,” Sarah said. “I have the mechanics down.”
A regulation horseshoe is two pounds, eight ounces. A horseshoe court, for a junior or a woman, is 30 feet long, stake to stake. (Men play on a 40-foot-long court.) Players typically throw 40 horseshoes in a game, two at a time. To be a ringer, the horseshoe must land so the stake is inside the U-shape; touching the stake isn’t good enough. Wind definitely could be a factor, but the national tournament was actually held indoors.
Sarah has achieved a consistent score of hitting a horseshoe ringer on 75 percent of her tosses, getting perhaps 30-33 ringers each game.
Fred Lane, Wisconsin State Horseshoe Pitchers Association publicity director, said it is impressive to watch Sarah successfully hit one ringer after another.
“She is the number one girl in the nation,” Lane said. “She finished (the Wichita Falls tournament) with over 80 percent ringers. That is actually a world record. She’s just very natural and very gifted; she’s a natural athlete.”
Sarah, who will start seventh grade on Tuesday at Chippewa Falls Middle School, said she practices a couple times a week for one or two hours to stay sharp. Her scores are kept in a national database, showing she consistently scores 70 percent or higher in tournaments.
The Chaffees travel as a family to tournaments, usually in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but also went to one in Utah, along with the national tournament in Texas.
Dean Chaffee said most teens hit 10 percent or so of ringers, so it is common for Sarah to be classified with the adult women in tournaments.
The Texas tournament was unique because there were about 100 kids in the 12-18 age group, giving Sarah competition from her own age group. Sarah said that made the tournament extra special for her.
The Wisconsin Horseshoe Pitchers Association is holding the Wisconsin State Horseshoe Tournament today and Sunday at Carson Park.
“The last time we had the event was 2012,” Dean Chaffee said. “We have some of the best horseshoe courts in the state.”
There are 18 clay courts, and 133 participants have signed up, including 23 in the juniors division, giving Sarah more local competition. Participants will range in age from 8 to 80.
Dean Chaffee, 49, said he used to throw horseshoes on his farm, but “I didn’t get serious until I was in my mid-30s.” He isn’t surprised that Sarah has picked up the sport so well.
“It’s really a generational sport,” Chaffee said. “If your dad plays, you might play.”
Sarah’s athleticism carries over to other sports, as she also plays basketball and softball.
The first rule of road trips is to never embark upon a road trip. At least not one like ours: 10 days and 2,500 miles of tent camping in the near triple digit heat.
Of course, our westward adventure had seemed a novel idea the previous December, when I curled up by the living room fire, hot cocoa in hand, and painstakingly plotted our route: South Dakota’s Badlands and Mount Rushmore, followed by a night in Douglas, Wyoming, a few more in Fort Collins, and a final night outside of Omaha.
Surely, it would be a trip for the ages.
The Dark Ages, more accurately.
But this observation would only become clear to me six months later, on the fourth night of our road trip, as lightning tore through the sky near our campsite in Hill City, S.D. Cloistered in our darkened tent, my wife (who, in addition to enduring the usual indignities of camping, was forced to endure them while five months pregnant) said nothing. But after a decade of marriage, her silence couldn’t have been clearer — this is all your fault.
“Don’t worry,” I whispered as the kids snoozed between us. “Nothing but a little rain.”
For once, I was right. The rain mostly held, ensuring that my nightmare of our muddy tent slaloming through the pine trees would remain unfounded.
“See?” I whispered to her in the pre-dawn light. “What’d I tell you?”
Because Mother Nature has a sense of humor, she repaid the relief she offered us from the rain with relentless heat a few hours later.
“Who’s ready to see Mount Rushmore?” I asked as the sun beat down.
That depends, my red-cheeked children pondered. Does it have a water slide?
After entering the national monument, we managed the half mile hike to the presidents’ heads without much trouble. By which I mean my children’s caterwauling wasn’t so offensive that security felt compelled to escort us out. Still, more than a few battles ensued along the way, my seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter — perhaps channeling the hot-headedness of their inner Teddy Roosevelts — took to blaming each other for the blistering heat, the lack of shade, and the distance to those heads.
“Can’t we just keep the peace for like five minutes?” I called between their shouting.
But nothing short of a United Nations resolution could have managed such a feat, and likely, they wouldn’t have recognized that body’s authority anyway.
Sweaty and sleep-deprived myself, I was hardly an exemplar of optimism and patriotic fervor. Though I’d planned to pepper the park rangers with dozens of questions (“Is it true there’s a secret archive behind Lincoln’s ear?”), we cut our visit short to retreat to the air-conditioned minivan.
But not before we worked in one last embarrassment.
There, in the shadow of some of America’s greatest presidents, my daughter, completely unprompted, turned to the people nearest her and began to share a few candid thoughts on our current president.
“Okay, time to go!” I called, hustling her through the Avenue of Flags before she could start in on her critique of the administration’s environmental policies. “Everybody, in the van, pronto.”
Our circumstances only got hotter and harder from there. By day 7, the miles had begun to wear away at our better selves. Our irritability grew, our fuses shortened. Eventually, even the sun-cooked peanut butter sandwiches — a staple of our trip — began to lose their culinary luster.
While driving outside of Chugwater, Wyoming (home to some delectable chili, if the billboards are to be believed), I began reflecting on our trip’s success — or lack thereof. The problem, though, was that I struggled on how best to measure it. Do we measure our road trips by way of bathroom breaks, or rest areas, or pronghorn sightings, or s’mores? Do we count sunburns, and insect bites, and the number of tourist traps into which we’d been ensnared? How do we calculate the mini-golf holes, and the bouncy houses, and the paddle boats? And where do we put the more memorable moments: the heart-fluttering joy of hiking to the top of Saddle Pass Trail, or the pleasure of dousing ourselves in the icy waters of Horsetooth Falls?
Our trip, it seemed, defied analysis.
During one of the more trying moments in our journey (who can remember which one?), my wife, in her infinite wisdom, reminded us of a simple fact: “Years from now, we’ll only remember the good parts anyway.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Part of the pleasure of roads trips — and camping trips too — is the knowledge that they’ll end. Within a week or so, we all get to return to our previous lives. We stuff the maps in the glove compartment, hurl the sleeping bags in the basement and bask in the many luxuries (showers! refrigeration!) that are hard to come by in a car or a tent. We put ourselves into these only occasionally pleasurable predicaments, it seems, so that we might more fully enjoy all the days that come after.
Of course, there’s no reason to get too carried away with such self-imposed hardships.
Moments after my daughter nearly incited a riot with her political remarks at Mount Rushmore, my son and I — anticipating the need to ease our future suffering — masterminded our secret trip-saving plan. Rather than spend our last night in our tent, why not upgrade to an air-conditioned cabin? I called the campground near Omaha and made the request — which they were glad to accommodate for twice the price.
Best money I ever spent.
On that final night — after seven hours on the open road — we pulled into the last campground, at which point my son offered his grand reveal: “Our tent’s a cabin!”
None of us wept openly, but almost.
That night — because at last we had an inside to go into — we spent most of the evening outdoors. And for the first time in 2,000 miles, we spotted fireflies. Instinctually, we cupped our hands and gave chase. My daughter marveled at their wonder (“How does his butt light up?”), while I gave a masterclass (which no one attended) on how to catch them by anticipating the blink.
For a half an hour or so, we gathered those bugs by the fistful, and were so mesmerized by their glows that we hardly notice the lightning in the distance.
Let it rain, I thought as the kids ran barefoot through the Nebraska dark. They’ll never remember that part anyway.
Next Saturday: Everything must go when Patti See’s family cleans out her father’s home.
One woman died and a girl was critically injured Thursday after a single-vehicle rollover crash on U.S. 53 between the Clairemont Avenue and River Prairie Drive exits.
Altoona police responded to the crash at about 2:11 p.m. Thursday, the department said in a news release Friday.
A white Chevy Trailblazer lost control while traveling southbound, entered the median and rolled over multiple times, landing on its roof in the southbound lane, the department said.
Two females, both of Chippewa Falls, were ejected from the vehicle.
One woman, 34, died of her injuries at a hospital after the crash. The other female, 15, was in critical condition Friday afternoon, the department said.
The department did not release the females’ names Friday afternoon.
It was the first of two Thursday afternoon crashes on U.S. 53 in the Eau Claire area.
Highway on-ramps were closed starting at Golf Avenue and going north through Eau Claire for a couple of hours. The northbound lanes were reopened at 4:45 p.m., according to traffic bulletins from the Eau Claire Police Department and Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
However, a subsequent crash closed southbound lanes in the same vicinity at about 4:30 p.m. Those lanes were then reopened at 5:10 p.m.
The Wisconsin State Patrol, Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office and Eau Claire Police Department also responded to the first crash.
Authorities are still investigating the incident.