Wow! What a season opener! I've seen more rain and wind (Elk Grove IL, 2009), but this was quite an experience!
This was to be a Saturday/Sunday contest, but the organizers were willing to allow setup on Friday afternoon/evening, and we always like to do that when we can so that the first of the two days of competition is a bit less stressful.
We rolled in to Ty Warner Park in Westmont about 7PM Friday evening. I'd forgotten my jacket, so rather than run back home I just picked up a sweatshirt at the Jewel/Osco store a block from the comp, along with a few last minute groceries. Oddly enough, we ran into the folks that sold us our pop-up camper, while loading the groceries into the truck. They asked us how it was working out, and we answered that it had been great! A huge improvement from the tent we had been using. Later, I would wonder if that didn't prove to be some kind of jinx.....
We were directed to our site, and quickly began settling in. We had arranged to be set up next to our friends Nick and Beth of Moose’s BBQ, and saw that they'd dropped off their trailer before we got there. But they weren't, and we assumed they were spending the night at Beths' dads place, which was nearby. Got the pop-up in place, anchored and leveled, and inside cleared out and made livable. Raised the outside canopy, set up the tables, and lighting, and were all set up.
Then....poof, no lights. ???
After about a half hour of trying to figure out what the issue was, we finally determined that the power distribution box in the camper had failed. I'm hoping it will turn out to be just a transformer, but I had no meter with me to check it out, so will have to wait a while to figure it out. We were able to MacGyver a fix, by running a 4 gang ext. cord out through the canvas of the bed we don't use to the generator. Then we ran another inside so we had power at both ends, and one more to the outside to run the hot water heater and lighting. Not ideal, but functional. Problem solved right? Then the rain started.....
We'd been visiting with our friend Joe from Bearcat Smokers, who was working with us trying to figure out our power issue. Having solved that, we were sitting outside when the rain began, and he figured he'd better skedaddle back to his site. Diane took Ember into the camper, while I tried to move our big boat cooler out of the truck and inside the canopy. I took a misstep and slipped a bit, causing me to catch my left knuckles on the very edge of the tailgate. Ouch...but all ok I think. Got it inside the canopy and was topping it off with ice when I noticed the blood. On the table, the top of the cooler, me....Crap! I'm bleeding!
Grabbed a paper towel to wrap around it and headed inside to wash it off and assess the damage.
Once I got the blood cleaned off, I could see that the damage was cuts to 3 of the 4 fingers on my left hand. The pinkie was superficial, the middle two a bit deeper. The "one-finger salute" finger was the worst, having been sliced into enough that it probably could have used 3 or 4 stitches. But no time for that. I just bandaged it up well, and moved on. At this point, the site was pretty much set up so, given that the rain was now coming down pretty hard, so we went inside to settle in for the night. Since the AC control didn't work, we had lights, but no heater. And the outside temp was dropping. But we did have an electric blanket.
While we were awake, we used a burner on the stove to warm up the inside a bit, but turned it off before turning in, as we didn't want to wake up to a fire.
Saturday morning dawned wet and chilly, but at least for a while, the rain had stopped. I set about hanging our canopy walls, our banners, and the other trappings, got all our meats inspected, and began trimming and prepping them. I try to get all the trimming done in advance, but for a number of reasons wasn't able to this time, so had to break down 2 pork butts, a brisket, 3 slabs of ribs, and our chicken entry. Once finished, all of it went back in the Coolers for later finish prep (injections, rubs, etc.). Once the initial prep is out of the way, we had some relaxation time to go visit with our neighbors, many of whom we haven't seen since last year.
As Saturday evening arrived, so did the rain again, on and off for what would prove to be the rest of that and the following day. They still pulled off the peoples choice chili comp, but the rain scared away most of the public, so not a big turnout. I feel bad for the village as they do a great job holding a nice festival with a carnival, live bands, and great vendors. The weather just ruined it for them.
I have to say a quick thanks to Mike from Mike Rib, for lending us a portable heater to keep warm Saturday night. Thanks Mike!
After getting all the meats fully prepped, and getting the pork butts in the cooker and started, we headed out for the "shot fairy" rounds and visited with all the other teams, returning to our site about 1:30 AM Sunday. Unfortunately, a team across from us, who had a large corporate sponsor (we won't mention names, but let’s just say they make food products and cigarettes) decided that quiet time (supposed to be quiet between 11 PM and 6 AM) were only a suggestion, rather than a rule. Yahoos partied all night long, which pretty much made sure that nobody nearby would be getting any sleep that night. Jerks!
Sunday dawned with more of the same, on and off drizzle, and the ground was getting progressively spongier.
Got the ribs and brisket in the cookers, checked on the pork, and brined the chicken, everything was going pretty much according to schedule, until just before chicken turn in. And then it all changed...
The organizers were spreading out to let everyone (61 teams in all) know that there was a warning of a severe storm, scheduled to hit us within 10 minutes. Chicken turn in was to be delayed indefinitely, with the initial estimate being 15 minutes or so. Everyone was instructed to batten down the hatches, and get into some sort of safe shelter. Fortunately, nobody used the T word, just strong winds and rain, but nonetheless, visions of Tuscaloosa and Joplin still came to mind. We lowered our canopy as far as we could and made sure it was weighed down as best as we were able, put our chicken in the Carlisle cooler, shut down the vents in the cookers, and hunkered down to see what would happen. It was eerie, to say the least, to see a flag atop one of the carnival rides was sticking straight out in one direction, but the high clouds were moving rapidly in the opposite direction. As it turned out, the storm actually was moving in something of a circular pattern. The wind blew, and the rain poured, but when it was all over, no one was hurt, and only a few folks lost their canopies. So now everyone was frantically trying to salvage their meats, which had been intended to be cooked to their best two hours before. Now it was likely that much would be overdone, and little would be of the texture desired. But all things considered, it seemed most folks did a decint job salvaging thier entries.
Turned out that the area inside the judges tent was half under water, but at 2:15, chicken turn in began, and from there, everything else followed on an every 30 minutes schedule, without further interruptions, just a little over 2 hours later than anticipated.
Our chicken was ok, a little on the overdone side. Ribs were also ok, just not where we’d have liked them. Pork, well, I think because of the rain mostly, we had some areas that were cooked beautifully, and others that were still underdone and chewy. And brisket was a little underdone as well. We needed that extra hour of cooking time, and I’d let the temps drop too low to complete the cook. We even got a card from one of the judges pointing out it was underdone.
So it was over, nothing to do now but pack up the camper and get ready for awards. Originally scheduled for 5 PM, they informed us they were now shooting for 6 instead. So we got everything we could packed up and ready to go, save for what we estimated to be about 30-45 minutes more to jam the last few things in and lower the camper. Unfortunately, they didn’t really start until almost an hour later, an hour we’d really regret wasting sitting and waiting for awards to begin.
In the end, there would be no calls for us. But many friends did well, and we did manage to get all nines on our pork from at least one judge. and it was good enough to place 15th of 61 entries. Congrats to Cancer Sucks Chicago for thier first Grand Champion at this, his hometown event, and also to Mike and Beth from Quau for their Reserve Grand. BIG congrats to Bearcat Joe for winning the Ranchers Reserve beef contest (We’d planned to turn in top sirloin Wellington, but I just didn’t have time to Rolland bake the puff pastry. I think we could have won that one) . Congrats also to Duce’s Wild, and all others who managed to pull through the mess and come out with calls! All in all, we were happy to have just completed all 4 entries.
Our teardown after the awards was further delayed by a well meaning, but rather annoying mentally challenged man who just would not leave us alone. But we finally made it home, unpacking only what was absolutely necessary, and in time for a couple cold ones before bed.
Next morning, I had to meet my VFW post to march as leaders of our villages Memorial Day parade. Let me tell you, a brisk mile walk carrying a vintage M1 Garand rifle at shoulder arms position isn’t an easy task after the weekend we had! But it was a beautiful (hot) sunny day, and that had to count for something.
So now the weekend is over, time to get back to work, and begin planning next weekends’ event in Willowbrook!
I’ll try to update this with photos soon, but camera is still in the camper.
Thanks for reading