What defines someone as a runner? Or a Jogger? Is there a difference? And if so, does it even matter?
If you asked me, I’d say there is a difference, and it lies in purpose. A runner lives and dies by their running, embraces their identity as a spandex wearing, tailwind chugging, garmin watch aficionado. A jogger goes through the paces, if you will.
A jogger is someone who runs a few times a week, for fun. Or possibly not for fun. But definitely not for serious reasons. There are no BQ Training Plans, no Diets or Macro Tracking. The goal is to run, not to run X distance in X time or this many repeats. If a jogger gets out and pounds some pavement, it’s a win.
A jogger wears whatever semi-suitable apparel is in their closet- a pair of thrice worn sweatpants that needs at least a few more wears before hitting the old laundry bin, a t-shirt that’s sure to cause chafing. A pair of socks (cotton, of course) that are wearing thin in the heel but can’t be thrown away just yet. A haphazard ponytail which lists to the side and would perhaps look embarrassing, if the hobby jogger cared. But that’s not what it’s about. So what is it about?
Maybe a jogger wants to work off 3 Midas Crush IPAs quaffed during an after work outing, or justify the basket of curry fries waiting in the near future. Maybe it’s to feel like less of a couch sloth after a weekend of binge watching CSI Miami, or just to get some fresh air after a long week indoors.
A jogger runs to maintain a lifestyle, not make running their lifestyle.
I am a hobby jogger. And I am OK with it.
I (re)started running 2 summers ago, after taking a several year hiatus when my Division III sprinting career ended. Turns out a four year long rest week isn’t good for you- Coach was right after all!
Encouraged by the Bozeman Running Company sponsored Brewery 5K series, I laced up the old trainers and squeezed into a sports bra. I was sure I could run 3 miles if there was a beer waiting for me at the end! I may have been wrong in thinking that my like minded beer loving runners would also be slow, but there was a mutual enjoyment of beer afterwards regardless of finishing time. (Seriously though- to the guy finishing in 17 minutes- why?)
You know how the story goes. I started going for jogs even when there wasn’t beer involved. I got healthier, dropped some minutes off my mile time and some pounds from only god knows where. I Bought new shoes, ran more miles, and repeated. Thomas also took a liking to running, and between the two of us, we’ve logged some pretty considerable miles over the past few years.
Frosty Eyelashes from a -3 degree run
In contrast, a 90 degree day in Florida
This summer, I have signed up for 3 long trail races because I am sadistic and like to suffer. The first one is the Expedition 12K in the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. The “mellow” course only climbs 1200 feet over 7.5 miles of singletrack. The kicker? It’s in April. Judging by the 2+ feet of snow that just got delivered to Montanas doorstep this week, I better look into some new trail shoes- the grippy kind that sticks to ice.
The next race on the dockett is the Jim Bridger Trail Run, the one that started my trail running career. This time last year, Thomas and I were bored or drunk or something, and decided it would be in our best interests to sign up for what is advertised as a 10 mile 2000 ft climb through the Bridger Foothills. Based on our experience, it is actually an 11 mile 2500 ft climb mud wrestling event through the Bridger Foothills. Not only did we survive the thing, we decided that it was fun (after laying apathetically on the ground and feebly munching on our prize- burnt cheeseburgers and headstrong ale) and that we’d like to do it more. So we signed up again, and might even actually try and train for this one.
We’ve also signed up for the Crosscut. This race is in August and has two different length options- I Want to Suffer (15K) and I Really Am Just a Sick Bastard who Enjoys Self Inflicted Pain (25K). Both options take you up the slopes of Bridger bowl, around the Crosscut Nordic ski/ frolf area, and back down Bridger Bowl for a total elevation gain of somewhere between 1500 and 2000 ft. I opted for the 15K, but Thomas, who is running the Bozeman Marathon in September, went ahead and decided to sign up for the 25K. I’m not sure who is going to be carrying him down from Bridger Bowl after that ordeal, seeing as how I will be incapacitated from my own, shorter sufferfest.
At this point, you may be asking yourself why I sign up for these things, given my self proclaimed Hobby Jogger status and obvious contempt for the daunting specs. I’d like to say it’s because I find joy in running, that it’s my zen, that I feel more one with the universe after gracefully bounding 10 miles up a mountain, or other things that Non Hobby Joggers say.
The truth is, it’s nice to have a goal to work towards. Having a race to train for gives me a concrete reason to get out there that’s not “work off the beer we drank yesterday”, and more often than not, once I’m doing it I actually do find some inner peace, under the sweat and sunscreen that’s trickled into my eyes and beneath the dirt caked on my ankles. It’s not about how fast I get there, though I have to say finally being able to keep up with a running group or finishing in the first half of a brew run (which means i get beer faster, hello) does feel pretty nice. It’s more about getting out there and experiencing everything from the strange sensation of having actual jello legs after a long trail run to shrieking from the shock of splashing through icy Montana streams.
Hobby Jogger or not, running has given me something to work toward, something to be proud of, and most importantly, bragging rights in the presence of my more sedentary friends.
These past few weeks have been extremely busy. I spent a much needed long weekend in Columbus, OH visiting my best friend, and more recently traveled to Washington D.C. for a work conference that lasted a week. Now that I’ve finally had a weekend to settle in from all of that, I have some time to relax, unwind, bake, and catch up.
Columbus was an adventure- I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with my trip. Of course seeing friends is always cathartic no matter where you are, but I ended up enjoying my stay in Americas T Shirt Pocket much more than I thought I would. We (in standard fashion) had many exciting excursions including a Columbus Crew Soccer game (final score 0-0, but the stadium hot dogs were a serious SCORE), Lots of delicious food that I can’t get in Bozeman, and even a foray into the world of Mountain Biking in the Midwest. The biking left us only a little worse for wear, and ultimately the bruises and scrapes were a small price to pay for the amount of fun we had trying to bike around a 6 mile loop. The stories we have already retold with increasing exaggeration about the size of certain features on the trail? Priceless.
Since Julia has been following my baking journey, she wanted in. We spent some time thinking of an “M” dessert that we could make, with a few stipulations- it had to involve apples, since we went apple picking, and it couldn’t break the bank. We settled on a Maple Bourbon Apple Tart- half based on a recipe and half made on a whim- our long history of baking together has highlighted some of our differences in style, and this pleased us both.
We started with store bought pastry, laid down 4 thinly sliced apples in what I thought was a nice pattern, and made the maple bourbon sauce. the secret ingredient? Apple butter! The cinnamon mixed with the sweet maple and smoky bourbon was superb, and I could have committed to eating the sauce by itself. Instead, I poured it over the apples, let the tart bake for several minutes, and Viola! A delicious, fall inspired tart that served us well for both dessert and breakfast the following morning. Yes Mom, we had bourbon before 9:00 AM.
My return to Bozeman was short and sweet- I was back at the airport 3 days later en route to DC for AUSA- the Association of the United States Army. Several guns and tanks later and one wallet lighter, I was on my way back to Bozeman.
I spent some time thinking about what to make for N, but kept coming back to my original idea for M- Millionaire shortbread. So, I did what any reasonable baker would do and made the shortbread bars. It was around the time I made that decision that I also accepted that this project probably wouldn’t be complete by the end of this year. Artists can’t have deadlines, can they? And wasn’t the point of this whole thing to inspire creativity, learn new skills, and bake and blog more? If so, I would say its definitely working.
The bars came out perfect- I made the caramel with sweetened condensed milk- a cheat code in the eyes of more serious bakers. I’m okay with this. The shortbread could have gone another minute or two in the oven, but it’s still pretty top notch. Altogether, the consistency is, well, consistent! and the flavors all compliment each other. The best part? They look GREAT! score! It has been a while since something has been as pleasing to the eye as it is to the mouth.
I suppose there is no avoiding it- I’ll have to find something for N now. We shall see!
Fall has come to Bozeman in expected montana fashion- accompanied by serious wind! The air has a permanent chill to it and the leaves are vacating trees like they’ve got an eviction notice. This means it’s time for Baggy Sweaters. The Baggy Sweater phenomenon is one I look forward to every year. For a short time before temperatures drop too low and snow flies, Baggy Sweaters are permissible and even acceptable fall fashion. The shapelessness is accentuated by varying levels of chunky knit and quirky fall color palates, so each one is different. It’s important to have a few. I have several, including some in mustard yellow, cardinal red, and forest green.
Baggy Sweaters can be worn with leggings, jeans, or depending on sweater length and the wearers bravado, nothing at all. Some people do not like Baggy Sweaters. These naysayers are often firmly planted in the Flannel camp. Flannels, while not an unreasonable piece of fall attire, are just not the same. They have buttons, collars to maintain, sleeves to roll, and almost always require the wearing of a real bra. Baggy Sweaters would never demand so much.
Now- you might be thinking that there is time for this type of apparel in the spring. You would be wrong. By the time April rolls around these parts, everyone is so desperate to bare their skin to the sun and get some much needed vitamin D that they skip straight from thermal underwear to shorts. Baggy Sweaters have no place in the land of anticipated summer.
Baggy Sweater Season is short. Soon, the need for a real coat will become inevitable, and it’s hard to fit the Baggy Sweater underneath a more fashionable Patagonia puffer jacket. Back they go into their storage bin until the next year!
I like to consider myself “Middle of the Road Outdoorsy” in that I like to spend time outside and off the grid, but after about 4 days, I’d like a shower and something a little more filling to eat than charred hot dogs from a fire and beans straight from the can. Living in a place where outdoor recreation is paramount, I am not a rarity; one might actually be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t in some way, shape, or form, Get Outside on a regular basis.
Oftentimes conversations between coworkers at my workplace drift to our outdoorsy plans as the week tips past the midway point. Exchanges follow the sequence- Where will you be camping/hiking/hunting/biking this weekend? I heard that place is good/bad/crowded/fished out/burned. here are my recommendations/ sacred secret tips and tricks – just between us two outdoors-people. Let me know what you find! Can’t wait to hear about it! Then, come Monday, the reports and humble brags. I bagged an Elk cow- 250 lbs outside Helena. Bow hunting, can you believe it?! Do you prefer steak or ground meat? My hike up Mount Blackmore was gnarly- the wind was outrageous and it hailed for at least an hour. Oh, I didn’t do too much, just a quick 5 mile run through Sourdough Canyon followed by a hot spring soak.
It is undeniably fun to be surrounded by people with similar interests. There aren’t too many places where you can run into your boss while double fisting Cold Smokes after shredding 30 inches of fresh powder only to find that he’s knocked a few back himself. A few weeks ago, I ran into THREE separate coworkers while doing a grueling 16 mile hike (only one of them recognized me- Outdoor me and Office me are two completely different people). I was recently talking camping setups with one of my friends over beers like many Bozemanites are wont to do, and discovered that despite my alleged ruggedness, camping is an area where I may be more “cush” than most.
Ok, so I have a sleeping pad for my sleeping pad- memory foam makes everything better! And maybe once when backpacking with my dearest best friend in Colorado I insisted on bringing a full size pillow, otherwise I wouldn’t sleep. Fine! Of course coffee and marshmallows are non negotiable, no matter how inconvenient. Does my tent have to be on flat ground? Yes! But I am not so bad that I insist on glamping- I can smell like a campfire contentedly for days. I am happy to do my business in the great outdoors like a true mountain woman. I like waking up in the middle of nowhere with only Thomas and my car to keep me company. It’s a happy medium with which I am quite content.
After a long and exciting day traveling to Glacier National Park, Doris and I both passed out as soon as we zipped up our sleeping bags, and didn’t move until the dawn chorus of chirping birds and yelling children stirred us from our sleep. Waking up without an alarm is such a luxury! We rolled out of our cozy burritos, quickly got dressed, made our lunches, stashed our cooler in the bear box, and hopped in the adventure corolla. Our next agenda item was securing a parking spot at Logan Pass- an endeavor that can end poorly if you don’t plan it right. The pass has limited spots, and once they go, they’re gone. You can spend hours circling around waiting for someone to leave, or if you’re especially unlucky you can arrive when the rangers stop letting cars into the lot. We wanted to avoid a confrontation. The early 16 mile drive from our campsite was quietly beautiful- day trippers were not yet awake, and the curvaceous cliffside-hugging road was more or less empty. A few adventurous cyclists were pedaling up the pass in the cool morning shade. As we ascended out of the forest, the views got increasingly more stunning- The massive U shaped glacial valleys were covered in thick green vegetation that eventually gave way to dark rock and white snow. Glacial lakes shimmered their signature blue. We drove along the garden wall, 100 feet or so below the Highline trail, where we would soon be hiking.
Our arrival and subsequent parking at the pass was uneventful; our early morning paid off and we had the luxury of choosing a spot right on the edge of the lot for the best views. An hour later when we departed for the trail head, the lot was full. Now that we had a spot secured, we pulled out folding chairs, a coleman stove, and coffee- it was time for breakfast. We had oatmeal, bagels with peanut butter, Aeropress coffee, and a magnificent view. A herd of bighorn sheep graced us with their gawky presence; their massive horns casting long shadows across the snow as they meandered through the meadow past a pair of backcountry skiers setting off. The women in the car next to us offered us some sesame sweet bread from their local bakery- I’m not sure of the origin, but we graciously accepted and packed it away to enjoy during the hike. Thank you, random strangers!
After fending off several fellow tourists envious of our breakfast based ingenuity, we filled our packs with snacks, water, and layers, and headed toward the unassuming Highline trailhead to begin our 13 mile trek. The first mile is exciting; the trail is often no wider than 6 feet with a sheer cliff on one side and a rock wall on the other. I can’t imagine running into a vociferous mountain goat up there. The trail follows the cliffside high above the valley for several miles, and we appreciated both the incredible views and the cool air. Perhaps we would have moved a little faster had we known the temperatures would climb into the 90s that afternoon. The first ascent over haystack pass below Haystack Butte traversed a large snowfield and we came upon the remains of an avalanche- identified by the sight of many trees knocked over in a uniform direction. Oftentimes the Highline Trail is closed up until Independence day because of avalanche debris covering the path.
We soon discovered what would prove to be the biggest challenge of the day- going to the bathroom. As I noted before, the trail is carved into the side of the cliff. There is nowhere to go, no privacy. The only way to avoid giving fellow hikers a show was to hustle past the closest hikers in front of us at what we hoped was a discrete pace, unhook our packs and unbutton our pants on the go, and scope out a spot that would provide the most cover. On the count of three we would drop trou, each looking over the others shoulder for oncoming traffic, and pee as fast as we could. We never got caught, but we did have a serious case of the giggles each time. Later, Doris stumbled upon another group doing the same hustle and bustle that we so gracefully pulled off. We exchanged knowing looks and congenial shrugs- that’s hiking for you!
About 7 miles in, we reached the Grinnell Glacier overlook- a steep 0.9 mile climb that rises over 900 feet to the top of the garden wall. Since you only live once and “we were there” we decided (read: I dragged Doris) to hike up. It’s only a 2 mile detour, though the misleading sign suggests it’s 0.6 and does not indicate elevation. Our pace slowed quickly on the serious incline (about 100 ft of elevation per .1 mile), and it took the better part of an hour plus some serious motivational speaking on my part, to get to the overlook. It was absolutely beautiful up there, and we sat and enjoyed the cool wind as we ate our pungent buffalo chicken sandwiches, contemplated glaciers, and watched Marmots trundle carelessly across steep snowfields.
A word on marmots- sneaky little buggers- they are roughly beaver sized rodents with large claws and high pitched screams. They are not afraid of humans, and will jump out at you. Doris can personally attest to this nerve wracking experience.
After descending from the overlook, we still had about 6 miles to go, but our legs were getting tired and our feet a bit achey. A brief stop at the pit toilets at the Granite Park Chalet gave us a much needed break, then it was, quite literally, all downhill from there. At first we descended through meadows dotted with pine trees which provided cool shade, but soon we were in a burn zone, exposed to the hot afternoon sun. The quaking aspen and wide array of wildflowers provided some distraction, but mostly we were hot, tired, and ready to lay down. We saw very few people after the Chalet compared to the dozens we encountered on the first half of the hike.
What seemed like hours and thousands of steps later, we finally heard the rushing of cars- a welcome sound after any long hike. We exited the woods at The Loop- a shuttle stop that would bring us back up the 13 traversed miles and drop us off at Logan Pass. Perhaps the most agonizing part of the day was the wait for the shuttle- Thanks to an accident that closed down the Going to the Sun Road, we waited an additional 45 minutes in the blazing sun. A woman with a big mouth and a short temper kept reminding us just how hot it was and exactly how long we had been waiting for that shuttle. Some people. Remember that sweet bread? I had forgotten mine up until that point, and Doris and I shared my thick slice with the last of our water- A very welcome treat. Despite the heat and the sticky sunscreen dripping into our eyes and the disgruntled fellow hikers- we were in good spirits. The shuttle did come eventually, and even though people were still bitching about something or other, We chatted excitedly about our adventure. It’s astounding to me the things people find to complain about.
We returned to our car, tenderfooted and very sweaty. Immediately, we had people swarming us, asking if we were leaving. We told them as nicely as possible that it would be a while- we needed to hydrate, take our shoes off, change out of our sweaty clothes, and make a plan. The crowds were aggressive, even at 4:30 in the afternoon- amazing! We decided our best course of action was to drive to St. Mary for ice cream and firewood. The air conditioned car was luxurious, and the views on the other side of the park didn’t disappoint either. We ended up stopping at Johnsons of St. Marys and eschewing ice cream for bacon cheeseburgers- served with soup instead of french fries and an ungodly amount of coleslaw on a comically small plate.
Firewood obtained and stomachs satiated for the moment, we headed back into the park. Our pathetic bathroom paper towel wipedowns did little against the amount of post hike salt and stank buildup we were both experiencing, so objective number one was finding a path down to the water on the 9 mile long St. Mary Lake. We came across a particularly beautiful pull out, where the path to the lake was lined with what looked and smelled like beach plums, trembling aspens, and bear grass. Bathing suits and bearspray in hand, we scrabbled down to the water, ready this time for the shocking frigidity of the glacial runoff water.We both managed to dunk twice (I had to- the first dunk was so fast my ponytail didn’t even get wet!) and scrub off much of the grime accumulated throughout the day.
Refreshed and relaxed, we hopped back in the trusty adventure corolla- Doris took the wheel and gave me a chance to sit back and soak in the views. Not a quarter mile later, the vehicle in front of us stopped abruptly and a lady popped out of the sunroof, armed with a comically large camera. We followed her gaze and were rewarded with a rare sight- a young grizzly cub on the side of the road! Doris snapped a few quick pictures, watched the young cub toddle around for a few minutes, and we continued on our way.
I always find that I see the most active wildlife in the evening- the crowds have diminished, and the animals are around. We ran into a herd of mountain goats at Lunch Creek shortly after our bear encounter. They were scruffy as could be, in the process of shedding their winter coats in favor of shorter, more breathable fuzz. I had been hoping to see a goat before leaving the park, and this was more than I could have ever asked for! They provided the perfect ending to a bucolic and adventurous day.
Doris did an excellent job of navigating the treacherous road back down the pass, and by the time we got to our tent, the sun was set and we were ready for a nice campfire. Thankfully our second batch of wood was much more flammable than the first, and caught in minutes. The flames spat sparks that danced up into the night sky, and we both sat mesmerized and quiet, contemplating either the vast and beautiful world we live in or the scrumptious Texas Toast cheeseburgers we ate- awe inspiring in different ways.
Once again we both slept heavily, waking only to the sound of vehicles cruising the campground loops in search of sites opening up. Unabashed inquiries made prior to coffee were shot down with an evil glare and an adamant response. Eventually we could no longer hide the fact that we were packing up, and when a kind woman took the time to stop in and ask us nicely if she could put our site number on her ticket submission, we said fine. The experience was eye opening; first come first serve is not for the faint of heart, especially on a weekend.
So there you have it, Laurie and Doris survive (thrive) in Glacier National Park. I feel so lucky to live in close proximity to such an astoundingly beautiful landscape. The park will eventually lose the glaciers we see today, but will always have the giant valleys carved hundreds of years ago by ancient, giant sheets of ice. Seeing the current glaciers so small serves as an important reminder to take care of our land, because the existence of such beauty is always finite. Of course, Yellowstone could blow up tomorrow, and ruin everything. perspective is important too.
It has been a little while since my delicious devil dog foray, and I have been feeling the pressure to get on with the alphabet. Life has been moving pretty fast lately- job drama, life changes, season changes, so on and so forth. I’ve also been running a LOT- that is a different story, but its a good hobby to pursue in tangent with this baking spree. Make the carbs, consume the carbs, burn off a small portion of the carbs, repeat. Its something.
For E, I wanted to make something universal- something simple, that everyone can relate to. Something that- if I made it wrong, I would know for sure. English muffins are a breakfast staple for lots of people- I grew up eating Eggy Muffins A La Dad- egg, bacon, cheese, on a toasted English muffin. Cheeseburgers? English muffin. Chicken sandwich? Sliced in half hot dog? sausage patty? English muffin. So maybe our family was a little more inclined to eat this basic flat bread than most- either way, it was the first thing I thought of.
This recipe is a happy mix of all sorts of basic techniques- it involves a yeasty base, shaping dough, and grilling. The overall process was simple, if time consuming- it took about 2 hours and fairly constant labor. I wish i had known that before I was lazy and didn’t get out of bed until 9 am. Breakfast was lunch by the time we actually got to eat these little delights.
After the initial proof, the dough was beautiful, and easy to roll out for cutting. Lacking a round biscuit cutter, I made do with a pint glass- I think in retrospect a larger circle would have been better- add it to the long list of things to buy to make my kitchen ~The Dream Kitchen~. This list also includes a proper cheese grater, a mandolin with the finger protector, and I don’t know, A kitchenaid mixer? Some things are more attainable than others, but a lady can dream.
After cutting, we fired up the 8 inch cast iron pan I bought for $4 at a tag sale several years ago (score! Also, how I acquire most of my expensive kitchen equipment. Praise those who don’t cook but think they want to!) and promptly burned the first batch- the first rule of Cast Iron is to guess how hot you think you want the pan to be, then actually set it to half that. After letting the pan cool for a few minutes, our second batch turned out much better, and the golden crust was a close to perfect replica of what you might get in a package of Thomas brand english muffins.
verdict? I would make these again! They were delicious, fun, and not too demanding.
Expect more posts in the next couple of days- there is a LOT to write about, and I have been seriously strapped for downtime for a long time, but being on vacation gives me all the time I need.
For skiers in Montana, this weekend has been a gift. In fact, this winter has been the gift that keeps on giving. While the rest of the country struggled to ski around mud patches, we watched our base grow as we skied pow day after pow day on our humble hill just outside of Bozeman. Even though Bridger Bowl was supposed to close last weekend, a gratutious amount of stormy weather and cold temps convinced the operations people to keep the lifts turning for what was hyping up to be one of the best spring weekends of all. Thursday delivered, dumping over 20 inches of snow on the slopes. However, despite all that There was a certain air of somberness on the chairlifts today at Bridger bowl.
Sometime around 11 AM, right as I was hiking up for the lazy woman’s first chair, someone triggered an avalanche south of the boundaries, off of Slaschmans. I was unaware of it at the time, but around noon there was the ominous buzz of a helicopter. On a mountain, that can only mean one of two things- someone is hurt or someone is missing. I hoped it was the first. I ran into a friend on the Bridger lift, and he asked me if I had heard- that Slaschmans was closed, that there had been an avalanche triggered by someone skiing out of bounds (common practice at Bridger), that even he had seen some snow start to tumble as he hucked it off a cornice on his teleskis (I know some pretty serious badasses). I said I hadn’t, but the helicopter confirmed his story.
Thirty minutes later after a few creamy runs and a gas station frozen burrito, the Copter was still buzzing overhead- a bad sign. Every lift conversation drifted away from the normal- gear heads blabbing on about their touring setup, experienced skiers humble bragging about how many fresh lines they got, and instead turned to the situation at hand, who had heard what. More poignantly, every person I spoke with brought up the respect that one needs to have for the savage wilderness that can give, but can also take.
It’s so easy to forget that recreation in wild country does not come without inherent risk, and that each move you make can be your last if you haven’t got your wits about you, and sometimes even if you do. We have limits even when we feel invincible, as I imagine most people do when they hike up to the ridge and plan their lines. They are on top of the world (or at least on top of Bozeman) and maybe those risks typed in fine print on the back of their ski pass are overshadowed by the reward sitting in front of them.
Subdued by the events of the day, I headed home early, and my worries were confirmed- a story had been posted that one man had died in the avalanche. I was there, on the same mountain, skiing similar terrain. Granted, I don’t ski out of bounds yet, and I especially wouldn’t do it on a solo day, but still, the ‘it could have been me’ feeling lingered. I want to start skiing more technical terrain, and Thomas and I have both excitedly discussed the idea of getting backcountry setups and beacons and getting out there on our own, hiking the ridge, seeking fresh lines. This has been a wake up call. A beacon is not just a beacon- it’s an AVALANCHE beacon, for when you are in an avalanche and probably close to death. The gear you have is not for comparing on a chairlift or for street cred, but for keeping you alive.
I don’t want this to deter me from skiing, and I won’t let it. I have worked hard to improve, and I love a challenge- I see you, Bridger Ridge. I know that this day will linger in my memory however, and serve as a reminder that exploring the backcountry is not only a recreational activity, but also an actively dangerous situation that could turn against you at any moment. It’s exhilarating, and terrifying, and grounding. I am so grateful that I live in such a magnificent place, and I am humbled by the power it holds. We are only humans, designed to try and conquer everything- it seems to be in our nature. But nature always reminds us that she is ultimately in control.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken a hike. Hiking is one of my favorite and most frequent activities, but I have to admit I’m a bit of a fair weather participant. In the summertime, I find that I’m almost obligated to step outside and explore, taking on adventures in the comfort of 14 hours of sunlight. Mountain Meadows are much more inviting when they are filled with an abundance of colorful wildflowers instead of ice and cold. So when October rolls into November, and the winter weather settles in, I am usually ready to hang up my hiking boots in favor of a cozy day curled up in my favorite blanket, dreaming of getting back into the mountains.
I was in for a lovely surprise when Thomas and I decided to take a late November hike this past weekend, and despite the snow and cold it was just as beautiful as some of my favorite summer destinations, though decidedly more slippery. After a lazy morning involving some raspberry dark chocolate pancakes and bitter coffee to accompany, we reluctantly shook ourselves out of Sunday slow mode. The sun, gentle but persistent, shone right through my living room window, reminding us that we were wasting a gorgeous day. We dusted off our packs, pulled on several layers and wool socks, and set out for Lava Lake, a short but somewhat steep local favorite. 6 miles round trip, about 1600 Ft of elevation gain, and a gorgeous mountain lake nestled between several peaks down the Gallatin canyon awaited.
We arrived at the trailhead, and remembered only then that we had left our faux YakTrax (rubber soles with spikes you can strap to your shoes) in my apartment. With a few consensual shrugs and tentative tests of our boot treads on the slick trail, we set off. the first quarter mile had a fair amount of ice coating the narrow path, and navigating was slow going, though I was mostly (rightly) concerned with how difficult it would prove to be on the way down. The terrain turned to hard packed snow, and we were able to assume our usual hiking pace, about 2 miles an hour. Grueling.
Hiking is great in so many ways, but I think I enjoy it most for the companionable silences and wandering conversations that ebb and flow with the trail. There are no interruptions, just you and your partner and the wilderness. You keep company with the pines, listen to the chattering squirrels and the insistent chickadees, and stop short when you hear something larger crashing through the brush. You’re transported away from the fast and furious world of technology, the pull of social media, , and the pressure of time frames. Hiking is about moving slow and steady, soaking in the space around you, and appreciating your destination.
Though I’ve been to Lava Lake more than once before, I still revel in the astounding beauty as Thomas and I approach the thinning trees which give way to the glacial lake, completely frozen over and covered with a dusting of sparkling snow. The sun is warm, and even though the air is cold, melting snow drips off of the giant boulders that form the basin in which the lake sits. A single hiker sets off just as we arrive, and we are alone.
The silence is staggering. We both turn our heads as a monstrous black crow alights and we hear it’s wings rustle against the breeze, a strange and quiet noise. Some rock dwelling rodent, likely a timber tiger but perhaps a pika or marten scurries nearby, out of sight but within earshot. Then I sneeze, and it echoes marvelously off the mountains. we laugh and speculate about triggering an avalanche, then with the silence broken and the peaceful moment gone, we dig out our sandwiches from the pack. Thomas presents a thermos of hot coffee. It tastes like the best coffee on earth, warm against my cold cheeks and tongue. we finish our feast with some crumbled brownies, and they too are delicious and gone in a flash. Our meal over, we sit back and enjoy the sunshine, not relishing the idea of a slippery, shaded descent. But the sun, ever lower in the winter afternoon sky, reminds us that we best be on our way.
We strap on our jackets, snap a few pictures of the lake, and welcome a pair of snowshoers just approaching. Lava Lake will be theirs to enjoy as we start into the cool wood, towards the now beckoning warmth of the Jetta in the parking lot below. The descent goes quickly, and our conversation brings talk of Thanksgiving meal ideas, good, bad, and awful yankee swap gifts, and what we stir up for dinner later in the day. The way down is always livelier than the way up. The hard work is done, the best adventure over. All that remains is returning to the vehicle. The trail seems icier towards the bottom, and we have to delicately pick our way along some sections, but within the hour we arrive back at the car. Lava Lake? Check. Winter hiking? Definitely a must. There’s always something new to explore here, and I fully intend to keep doing so.
Well, it feels like it’s officially winter here in Bozeman, and the stoke levels are running high. Over the past week our little city has gotten over a foot of that fresh powder, and it’s almost comical to see the ripple of excitement everywhere I go. Whispers of “skinning up Bridger Bowl” to get some early season turns echo down the halls of my office and along bars up and down main street. Heads nod vigorously in approval when seasoned skiers compare their setups and just how much they did or didn’t spend acquiring the wide variety of skis, boards, poles, bindings, and what have you. People smile as they zip their jackets right up to their chin and say something like “it sure coming down out there!” before reaching for the door, in a hurry to get outside and feel the snow, just to make sure it really is that signature fluffy white stuff we have all been anticipating. There is something magical about the first real snow fall, and this year, like many in the past, it has come early.
In a time when there is so much turbulence on a national and local level, it’s nice to have something which unifies young transplants and locals that doesn’t involve some great tragedy or political battle. While the curmudgeon in the 1980’s US Ski team jacket may scowl at the park rats in their baggy Saga hoodies who in turn grumble about getting stuck behind a gaggle of 6 year old ski schoolers, limbs akimbo and skis hopelessly tangled, they all have something in common. They are here in Bozeman for a variety of reasons, but come winter, the mountains call to all skiers. The mountains are stoutly ignorant of our differences, and welcome all who are willing to brave the weather, the humility, and the overwhelming feelings of joy that come with riding down both their gentle and ferocious slopes. Would it be too much to refer to Bridger Bowl as The Great Equalizer? Yes. Of course we’re not all equal, even on the mountain. But it gives us Bozemanites some common ground in a time where there are serious disagreements about our cities’ growth. No one can be upset on a good Pow Day. And the excitement we feel now in the early season is a good reminder of that.
John Bozeman ate his first cheeseburger on July 4th, 1866. There is a plaque that says so right between the Western Cafe and The Garage, two dining establishments on the east end of Main St. It’s inconspicuously attached to a crumbly concrete pillar that’s partially obscured by bushes. In fact it’s so nondescript that I lived here for at least a year without noticing it. That’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that inspires. How long has it been there? Do any city officials know about it? Are there more plaques denoting other unimportant events hiding among the buildings and bushes of historical downtown Bozeman? I certainly hope so.
In a town where one of the continually hot topics is growth and change, It’s easy to forget the important things, the little things, that make Bozeman what it is. Whether the small city sprawls or fills in, I hope both NIMBY’s (‘ Not In My Back Yard’ folks) and affordable housing advocates alike remember what they are fighting for- a way to preserve the city we all know and love. Change is inevitable, but the course which change takes is up to us. In keeping the spirit of Bozeman alive, let’s remember John and his first gooey, delicious cheesy bite of Montana beef in patty form sandwiched on a fresh-baked brioche bun. It probably had avocados on it.