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FATHER KNOWS QUEST When a dad wants to bike over mountains– towing kids–the family gets fat-tired


SLACK LIFE An extreme sport puts athletes on the line


Cover photo by Aaron Teasdale


Grub 38


What’s for munch?


8 Head Trip 40

Head Lines 12 Remembering Vernon Garner Vann’s plugs into the outdoors Google’s fresh tracks in Big Sky

The last good mykiss

Head Out 48 Your summer recreation calendar

Head Gear 50

Head Light 24 Saturate before using

Montana’s alpha packs

The Crux 58

Head Shots 26 Our readers’ best

Drinking and fishing, we thee wed

Wild Things 36 Frequency flyers



Amy Linn Lynne Foland Chad Harder Carolyn Bartlett Joe Weston Adrian Vatoussis Chris Melton

Jack Ballard, Skylar Browning, Jason Cohen, Chris Dombrowski, Chad Harder, Matt Holloway, Caroline Kurtz, Ari LeVaux, Alex Sakariassen, Ira Sather-Olson, Aaron Teasdale



David Merrill Kou Moua Jenn Stewart, Jonathan Marquis Tami Johnson, Teal Kenny, Steven Kirst, Alecia Goff, Sasha Perrin, Rhonda Urbanski Lorie Rustvold Matt Gibson

317 S. Orange St.• Missoula, MT 59801 406-543-6609 • Fax 406-543-4367

Please recycle this magazine

Montana Headwall (ISSN 2151-1799) is a registered trademark of Independent Publishing, Inc. Copyright 2011 by Independent Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or in part is forbidden except by permission of Independent Publishing, Inc. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. And yeah, we’re having fun. Chad Harder

How cool is inline skating in Idaho? Um…


e took a couple of chances with the summer issue of Headwall this year. Not to be confused with anything like a free solo (we’re not that brave). More like car camping with a group of college kids: Could be fun. Could be troublesome. It started when avid inline skater Jason Cohen, who wrote the spring issue’s outstanding cover story about Missoulabased endurance mountain biker Bill Martin, pitched his plan to roll the Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes with a tour company out of Red Lodge. Jason’s a terrific writer, and we loved the humorous potential of the trip, but the frightening combination of potential wisecracks, tour guides and Idaho caused considerable uneasiness at the home office. What, we wondered, would our rugged constituency in Bozeman think? And then there’s Jared Alden’s breathtaking photo essay capturing the hypnotic grace of slacklining. Following pro Michael Payton and others through Montana and beyond, Alden’s stunning pictures cried out for prominent exposure in our pages. But slacklining? Without a narrative? Compared to our normal meat and potatoes, it seemed like sipping sarsaparilla through a silly straw. The camo-clad raconteurs in hunting camp would surely look askance. But here at Headwall, we’re nothing if not bold adventurers, and when the unknown calls, sometimes we just have to go. And we’re glad we did. Alden’s images come together in perhaps the most interesting layout we’ve put together in our


10 issues. The emphasis on natural surroundings and unwavering body control make for an elementally pure pursuit, worthy of any outdoorsman’s attention. In Cohen’s case, we got what we hoped for: a paean to the passions of inline devotees. But surprisingly, his companions turned out to be familiar to us—folks who like to get outside, work up a proud sweat, and go a little faster. We’re down with that. Of course, our summer issue pours generously for the shot-and-a-beer crowd, too. Headwall regular Jack Ballard serves up backcountry fishing for golden trout in the Crazy Mountains, though he seems more adept at repeatedly luring friends to a painfully remote destination than landing a lunker. And Aaron Teasdale delivers a family-friendly account of his audacious scheme to press his wife and their young sons into an epic mountain biking trip from Missoula to Banff. Suffice it to say, we get the impression he married well. Headwall newcomer Chris Dombrowski closes with an inspired disquisition on the thirst for potent drink. Whether any particular adventure goes fairly or aught, a ration of spirits holds promise to soothe the mind and warm the soul. As a matter of fact, now that this issue has been put to bed, maybe I should give Chris a call.

Matt Gibson Editor-in-Chief

Chad Harder


A n a w a rd - w i n n i n g f re e l a n c e writer and photographer from Red Lodge, Ballard is a regular contributor to Wyoming Wildlife, Northwest Fly Fishing, Camping Life, and other outdoor magazines. The Montana native is also the author of three books, Elk: A Falcon Field Guide, Elk Hunting Montana, and Creating a Traditional Elk Camp. Although he travels extensively on assignments, Ballard is always happy to cast a line for Montana trout, often in some of the state’s most remote backcountry. You’ll find his writings and photos at

Born in Michigan, Dombrowski arrived in Montana in 1995 and has since worked as a poet-in-theschools, creative writing instructor, river guide, and freelance writer, with essays and articles appearing in Orion, Outside magazine, The Sun, and Gray’s Sporting Journal, among other publications. The author of a book of poems, By Cold Water, Dombrowski lives with his family in Missoula.

Chris Dombrowski

Jack Ballard

After spending most of his adult life vagabonding the wilder corners of the Americas in search of wilderness and adventure, Teasdale admits that he’s succumbing to pseudo-adulthood. Not without a fight, though, as evidenced by the wild escapade he dragged his wife and children on last summer. A former editor and photo editor for Adventure Cyclist magazine, he lives in Missoula and writes for Sierra, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines. See more at

A freelance writer based in Missoula, Browning is a former editor of the Missoula Independent, an NEA fellow, and has written for Discovery Channel, AOL and The Associated Press. When he’s not chasing down stories, Skylar spends his time exploring Montana with his wife and chasing after their three young children.

A a r o n Te a s d a l e

Skylar Browning

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A gathering of mortality

Perhaps you had a question about how to climb a mountain in Glacier National Park, or wanted to see a peak in spectacular photos, or admired the wit and passion of a certain “Saintgrizzly” at, one of the most recognized mountaineering websites. Perhaps,

Vernon Garner, Sept. 1, 1946–March 1, 2011 on another topic, you had questions about the complexities of a Mahler symphony, the lighting in a Bergman film or the setting of Goethe’s Faust, Part 2. If you swung by Barnes and Noble in Missoula and found Vernon Garner, you found your answer. Always cheerful and inquisitive, Garner—a bookstore employee for 12 years—inspired friends, family and all comers with his deep knowledge of Montana’s mountains, his unmatched blogs on Summitpost, and his many other talents. Sadly, Garner passed away on March 1, 2011, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Garner’s online writings and photographs under the pen name Saintgrizzly consistently rise to an artful standard, striding always beyond mere route description and into the profound and engaging conversation of man’s relationship with wild country. Garner made it all the better with a capacious vocabulary and a heck of an eye with a camera. He was born September 1, 1946, in Twin Falls, Idaho, but was raised in Whitefish and Victor, Montana. After high school, Garner earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. Always snapping pictures in his beloved mountains, he started climbing in Colorado and eventually pushed north to Montana, tackling peaks from the Mission Mountains and the Bitterrroots to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier Park—the latter of which Garner described as “unforgettable, perhaps unmatchable.”

After his diagnosis, Saintgrizzly also posted two painfully honest but beautiful narratives regarding his battle with cancer, which he edited in his perfectionist manner until weakness prevented him from making any more changes. “And so it is that at the end of things the dismal beast within gathers fingers of steel closing,” wrote Garner in his next-to-last article, “A Gathering of Mortality.” “But I want sunshine and cliffs and flowers, and will have (I insist on this!) the joy of climbing, will have THE VIEW. And thus it is my heart beats steadily, strongly. For now, anyway. And on into the dances-on-theshoulders-of-mountains of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Yet (I cannot dispute this) the cup is cold against my hands, the brew within long since grown bitter, and still...harvest of a sleepless night, thoughts move through the silence. “It is only a short way now.” Matt Holloway

Montana Headwall

Page 11 Summer 2011



Electronics store gets adventurous Missoula’s mega electronics retailer Vann’s Inc. plugged into the great outdoors this spring with the launch of a website that sells not appliances, but adventure gear. “The possibilities are endless,” as, Vann’s new portal, puts it. An employee-owned, 50-year-old

names (REI, Cabela’s) and established Montana retailers (Bob Ward, Trail Head, Northern Lights Trading Co., Sportman’s Ski Haus, The Base Camp, and more). For example, REI’s website features 175 sleeping bags, Bob Ward’s has 170 and Northern Lights shows 45. Bigskycountry this spring offered 11.

Outdoor retailers are branching out, led by Patagonia, which sells music (proceeds go to enviro groups) and will soon sell sustainable seafood. powerhouse, Vann’s is the largest independent retailer in Montana, selling the computers, fridges and flat screen televisions that tend to keep people inside. Now it wants us outside, too. “We’re a team of active outdoor enthusiasts in love with Montana,” says a promotional video for the new venture at “We know our gear, we use it every day.” To date, the site’s gear department is a little thin compared to big national

Montana Headwall

The site primarily sells clothing and footwear, and does not feature hardware like skis, climbing gear, or tents. But the expansion is in its early phase, and Vann’s has lots of plans. George Manlove, Vann’s president and CEO, says the website will offer name-brand equipment from Marmot, Columbia and other

Page 12 Summer 2011

companies, and will also feature sustainable products (Marmot’s UpCycle line of clothing, for example, relies on fabrics


Embarked on adventure derived from recycled plastic, organic cotton, hemp and soy). Though the site hasn’t done so yet, also hopes to spotlight Montana companies such as Whitefish-based Hammer Nutrition and Bozeman-based Seneca Boards, according to Kurt Whitmire, the hard goods merchant for the business. Drawing from Vann’s experience selling home electronics on the Internet, Whitmire envisions a robust arsenal of online marketing tools, leaning on blogs, video, and social networks. “Each sub-category—climbing, skiing—could be a separate culture created where people can chat and recommend products,” Whitmire says. The goal is “to make it a place not only for purchasing products, but where people feel it resonates with their passion.” Alex Sakariassen

Competitors head down the Blackfoot River for the paddling leg of the 4th Annual GrizzlyMan Adventure Race, a 12-hour run/bike/paddle on April 23 at Lubrecht Experimental Forest and Paws Up Ranch. There’s no course to complete—just more than 55,000 acres dotted with 60 checkpoints to tick off in any sequence. The co-ed team of Abby Broughton and Jason Popilsky reached 26 checkpoints for the win.

Montana Headwall

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Google does a 360 for Big Sky Resort The best view of Big Sky Resort may soon be in front of a computer screen. Google’s Street View team visited Big Sky in early April to photograph nearly all 3,812 acres of terrain and 150 runs. Using the same technology that provides 360-degree street-level imagery of locations throughout the world—including everything from your front yard to the Champs-Elysées—Google hopes to give skiers and snowboarders a new perspective on their favorite

“Basically, anything you can ride with a snowmobile, they shot,” says Chad Jones, public relations manager at Big Sky. “And if they couldn’t ride the snowmobile on some of the expert runs, we provided them with our own footage, like helmet cams, that they may be able to use. It’s my understanding that almost the whole mountain will be covered.” Some critics believe Street View is an invasion of privacy, but Yick says certain measures have been taken to avoid problems. For instance, any skiers or snowboarders caught on camera during the Big Sky shoot will be blurred out. Yick adds that Big Sky worked in full cooperation with Google through the Street View Partner Program, which allows cameras into specialty private properties like theme parks and universities. “After Whistler, it got a lot of interest from the skiing community,” Yick says

slopes. Big Sky is among the first resorts in the United States to be filmed. “It’s the same idea as Street View, but in the case of a ski resort, the roads are the slopes,” says Deanna Yick, a Google spokesperson. “This way Cars, snowmobiles and trikes rigged with 15 camera a skier or snowboarder can prelenses capture 360-degree Google Street View images. view the runs that they may want to try later, or relive what they just of the program. “I know Big Sky is did as if they were on the mountain.” among the first in the United States, and Google Street View first launched its we’re actually doing a number of resorts mountain view project before the 2010 in Europe right now.” Winter Olympics with footage of downYick says Google is currently assessing hill courses at Whistler Blackcomb Ski and processing the Big Sky images. It will Resort. To tackle the steep, snowy tertake “a few months, at least,” she says, rain, Senior Mechanical Engineer Dan Ratner used “some 2x4s, some duct tape, before web surfers can virtually carve turns from the comfort of their desk. and a lot of extra hard drives” to mount Skylar Browning the large 360-degree camera to a snowmobile. The same setup—picture a snowmobile carrying a refrigerator— traversed Big Sky’s slopes.

CORRECTION An article in the winter issue of Headwall about the culinary potential for stinging nettles included two images, an illustration and a photograph. As our astute readers quickly pointed out, the illustration was accurate, but the photograph showed another plant. For reference, we’ve included an accurate picture of a nettle here.

The Tracker No bull

3,000 Estimated 2009 native bull trout population in Flathead Lake, roughly one-tenth of the non-native lake trout population.

20,000 Estimated bull trout population in Flathead Lake in the 1950s.

299 Bull trout caught on Swan Lake in 2010 during an ongoing gillnetting project to control alien lake trout.

9 The number of Glacier National Park lakes where bull trout are functionally extinct due to alien trout, which have invaded three other lakes as well.

42.69 Weight, in pounds, of the record-setting mackinaw lake trout landed by Ruth Barber on Flathead Lake in June 2004.

Montana Headwall

Page 15 Summer 2011

igh in a remote corner of the Swan Valley we roll around a bend in the trail—11-year-old Silas, 7-year-old Jonah, and me on one colossal mountain bike we call the Teasdale Train—when suddenly it’s there, not more than 30 feet away: a grizzly bear on its hind legs. I grab the brake levers of our rolling 200-pound behemoth and, in a motion practiced countless times, whip bear spray out of my pack’s side pocket the instant my feet hit the ground. As the boys would later revel in telling friends and family members, “Then dad said the ‘S’ word!”


The bear, it turns out, is tiny—which is even scarier than being huge. As the kids stare wide-eyed at the bruin, I twist my neck from side to side and scan the greenery for sound or movement. There is only one electric thought in my mind: Where’s mom? A few moments later my wife, Jacqueline—not the mama I’m worried about—rolls up on a single bike behind us. I whisper-yell back to her, “Get your bear spray out!” and point at the cub as it scampers into the forest. Then we wait in silent anticipation of a wrathful grizzly sow lunging at us from the foliage. This isn’t the first time I’ve doubted the sanity of this trip, my grand scheme to immerse the family—or sink it—in a summer-long bicycle odyssey through the Rocky Mountain wilds. It’s either going to be the biggest adventure of our lives, or my biggest failure as a father. Now that a bear attack seems imminent I’m afraid I know the answer. As Jacqueline put it a few days earlier, “What the hell have you gotten us into?” It all started last winter in Missoula, when I took stock of our lives and concluded I worked too much and none of us got outside enough. We’d moved here a dozen years ago to live in Big Sky country, not Big Computer Monitor country. It sounds obvious, but it hit me like a charging bear: This, right now, is our one shot at life. If we didn’t break out of the suffocatingly civilized comfort zone, I knew it would haunt me forever. So I quit my stable job as a deskhugging magazine editor, became a freelance outdoor writer-photographer, and began plotting how to break us out.

The problem was, while I longed to be Jeremiah Johnson, I’m from the wilds of inner city Minneapolis. I know hip-hop, not hunting. But there’s something else I know: bicycle travel. For the past decade I’d been melding backpacking and mountain biking into backcountry “bikepacking.” The family had also recently acquired a hand-me-down tandem mountain bike, which we rigged with a trailer-bike to create a threeperson, 12-foot-long mega-cycle—the Teasdale Train. The solution to my malaise was clear: take the family bikepacking for the summer. Or at least it seemed clear to an adventure-loving, 38-year-old father in the throes of an early-onset midlife crisis. So I charted a six-week ride from Glacier National Park to Banff, Alberta, along the northernmost section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), a 2,700mile track created by the Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association. Just to make sure this was actually, you know, physically possible, I decided we should all take a five-day test ride along a rugged stretch of the route from Seeley Lake to Holland Lake in the Swan Valley. The GDMBR, which climbs mountain passes through some of the most remote country in Montana and British Columbia, is typically ridden by young bucks on mountain bikes. Suffice it to say, no one had ever tried it with two kids on a bike like the Teasdale Train.

e’re off!” I cry triumphantly on the first day of July as our tires launch across the gravel of the Morrell Clearwater Road into the Swan Valley. Everything our family needs to survive for five days is stuffed in a small trailer rolling behind Jacqueline’s bike. “Woohoo!” Silas says from the seat behind me. “Finally,” Jonah says from the seat behind Silas. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for days.” Which, of course, he has. Our success hinges on being well fed and prepared for any peril, but with the lightest and least amount of gear possible. For days, our lives have been a frenzy of packing, shopping, researching gear, adjusting bicycle brakes, tabulating caloric needs, and putting chain lube, liquid soap, and electrolyte fluid into tiny dropper bottles. I’m now convinced the complexities of preparing for an extended wilderness bike trip with kids are rivaled only by quantum string theory and nation-building in the Middle East. We’ve ridden four miles when things start falling apart. “I’m tired,” Jonah whines. When a hill forces us to push the bikes, he sits down rebelliously in the dirt. This is where I would start pulling my hair out if I wasn’t wearing a helmet. There are three more miles of dirt road and three miles of trail between us and where I’ve planned to camp. Fortunately, I’m prepared for this very predicament with a secret weapon: a yummy orange electrolyte drink. With caffeine.


“Now guys,” I say, handing it over, “this is a special energy drink.” Suddenly, Jonah, all seven years and 50 pounds of him, tilts the bottle back and chugs it like he’s just been rescued from the Sahara. “Mmmm, this is good!” he blurts. “I could drink this whole bottle!” Half the drink is gone before I manage to wrestle it back from him. Meanwhile, Silas is off banging rocks together trying to make arrowheads. “Silas, let’s go, you can do that at camp,” Jacqueline says. After being told

it’s time to go approximately 3,000 more times, Silas puts the rock in his handlebar bag. “Nooo,” I say. “I did not just spend weeks trimming our gear weight so you could carry rocks.” “But Mom said we could do it at camp!” Silas cries desperately. I look at the pleading in his eyes and sigh. I really want the trip to be fun for the boys. “I snapped the handles off our toothbrushes to save a few ounces, and

now you want to carry rocks,” I tell him as I give in. Jumping back on the bikes, we crank our way to the Morrell Lake trailhead, aided greatly by the fact that Jonah has been transformed into a pint-sized, pedal-pumping lightning bolt on the third seat. I’d expected to walk much of the root- and rock-infested trail, but to my amazement we power up most of it. Jacqueline, who is not a mountain biker, struggles with her loaded trailer and Silas frequently runs back to help her push up the steep sections. There are high fives all around when we reach Morrell Lake, where the roar of nearby Morrell Falls carries from the forest. The boys skip rocks into the water and gather firewood while Jacqueline and I set up camp. Our legs may be tired and our pace may have been glacial, but our first day was a success. As we eat dinner around the campfire—sandpipers whistling, beavers swimming, late-day sunlight gilding the cliff bands above the lake—I smile victoriously and think, “Welcome to the next six weeks.”

e wake to rain the next morning. My legs feel like they weigh 100 pounds each. A screw and lens fall out of Silas’s eyeglasses on the walk to Morrell Falls. Suddenly the thought of civilization doesn’t seem that suffocating. After spending an hour MacGyvering Silas’s glasses back together with baling wire and super glue, we ride back on


the same root-lined trail (to the amazement of a few hikers) and turn north up Morrell Clearwater Road toward the little-traveled head of the valley. At an old, grass-covered logging road, we turn off and make camp in a small clearing. “This is nice, isn’t it,” I say to Jacqueline. “Just being out in the woods right now instead of at home.” My wife pauses to look around at the trees for a moment, and smiles. “Yeah, this is better,” she says. The ride in and out of Morrell Lake has proven something important—the Teasdale Train can go off-road. We’ve


van at Holland Lake. When we see fleeting patches of blue sky at midday, we say to heck with it, we’re rolling. But pretty soon we’re trudging. There’s just no way I can pedal the leviathan up these steep hills, or even the not-so-steep hills, without rupturing every muscle in my legs. Jacqueline, who’s pulling the trailer with growing finesse, slogs with us up the dirt road. The tree-carpeted valley slowly drops away and the serrated ridge of the Swan Front carves the sky to our east. “See waaaay up there guys? That’s our road!” I say. “And see even farther and higher? That’s where we’re going!”

snapped the handles off our toothbrushes to save a few ounces, and now you want to carry rocks.” passed the first test. The next one starts tomorrow: a 2,000-foot, 8-mile climb to a saddle beneath the Swan Crest, the magnificent mountain wall that forms the high spine of the Swan Range. If we can muscle up it and safely navigate down the other side, I figure we have a fighting chance of reaching Banff. If we can’t, then I’ve just quit my job and spent the last two months planning a fool’s quest. More rain drums our tent the next morning. We consider taking a camp day and waiting out the weather, but we only have food for two more nights. Staying here would leave us with a herculean push over the saddle and down to our

“Whoa,” the boys say in unison, clearly awed by the scale of the landscape. Even Jacqueline’s eyes widen. It occurs to me that pointing out how dauntingly far we have to climb might not be the best motivational strategy, but fortunately it’s soon forgotten as the boys become enthralled by the sight of Morrell Falls, a white slash below. We may be moving slowly, but seeing the falls beneath us shows we’re really getting somewhere. Even if that somewhere is deeper into nowhere. To my surprise and delight, the kids issue no complaints. They’ve realized that we’re on our own out here: There

are no warmer-dryer-more-comfortable places to go. We’ll be moving across this mountain until we reach water and a spot to pitch the tent. Silas says the sharp summits of the Swan look like giant’s teeth. We all sing made-up songs about, what else, pushing bikes up mountains. And after a couple of hours, the road narrows into a trail. Almost immediately there is a spectacularly large pile of wolf scat. I crouch down to show it to the boys. “From here on things get wilder,” I say with relish. A mile or so later we come to a brook amid old-growth larch trees. There’s just enough of a clearing for a tent and campfire. “What do you think?” I ask. “Great!” the boys say in unison, and they start running around gathering

wood before I can even lay the bike down. The next morning, Silas and I step out of the tent to find another pile of wolf scat. “We’re way up in the mountains now!” he says, looking at the peaks beyond camp. I proudly announce that the top of our climb is only three miles away. Determined to make it there before another deluge, we push and sometimes ride up the narrow trail, hoisting the bikes over massive fallen trees, the mountain falling steeply away below us. By early afternoon we reach a saddle at the toes of the Swan Crest, with mountains upon mountains stacked to the horizon. “Is this the top?” Silas asks. Yes, I tell him, happily flopping

down in the bear grass. “Yay! Jonah, Mom,” Silas yells, hopping up and down, “this is the top, this is the top!” Our jubilance is short-lived, however, as black clouds surge towards us. We’d planned to make the long descent to Clearwater Lake and set up camp that afternoon, but now the only question is do we pitch the tent right here, or see how far we can get before the storm hits? “This doesn’t look good,” Jacqueline says. “We’re going to get walloped, aren’t we Dad?” Silas says. “We’re getting ourselves to lower ground is what we’re doing,” I say, while grabbing our rain gear from a pannier. “What’s getting walloped mean?” Jonah says. Minutes after we ride off, the trail falls off the mountainside. Only about two feet of tread hangs onto the slope. Beyond that is a 100-foot drop. “There’s no way I’m riding that!” Silas exclaims. We’ll be fine, I promise. “We haven’t fallen yet and we’re not going to start here.” I squat down, put my hands on his shoulders, and say, “Silas, when you’re riding a bike in the mountains you can’t focus on what you don’t want to happen. You have to look ahead at where you want to go, and if you focus your whole mind on it, you’ll go there.” I smile. He grimaces. But he gets on the bike, along with Jonah, and we ride the trail, no problem, while Jacqueline— who walks it—nervously snaps pictures.

“That wasn’t so bad, right?” I say when we stop for a rest. I’m hoping I’ve instantaneously become more cool and more trustworthy in Silas’s eyes. And that’s when we run into the bear.

e stare into the eyes of the grizzly cub. I drop the S-bomb, the bear runs into the forest, and after an adrenalized pause the four of us start calling out “No bear, no bear!” in a full-throated wilderness chorus. “We come in peace!” Jacqueline adds, reassuringly. When no maternally deranged griz appears, we slowly try walking forward. The kids, strategically placed between our bicycles, sing, “Bears, bears, go away, come on back another day.” Unfortunately, their song has no effect on the rain, which begins pelting us when we start riding through the woods. When I see an old logging track leading to a clearing 15 minutes later, we call it a day.


With the boys’ help, I miraculously manage to set the tent up without it blowing away like a kite. A few minutes later, while Jacqueline and I cook in the meager shelter of stunted, 5-foot fir trees, exhausted from the day’s effort, she says Jonah told her the trip was harder than he thought it would be.

“I think he expected more downhills,” she says. “There are three big climbs like this one between us and Banff,” I tell her. “And I needed to see if this whole plan was completely insane or not.” “Well, what’s the verdict?” We’re cooking in a storm; the tent, with our children inside, is clinging to a mountainside; and we’ve just seen a grizzly bear. Before I can answer, Jacqueline turns back to the camp stove. “We’re insane,” she says. The wind and rain blast our tent that night, and I get nervous at the sound of thunder. We’re not exactly sheltered and we’re all lying around a 6-foot metal pole. I step out of the tent to check the sky—pocket showers, but no lightning. To the northwest, between the midnightblue mountains and gray-blue clouds, there’s a glimpse of a distant sunset where a jagged blaze of orange cracks the sky. “Whoa, guys, you have to come out and see this,” I call out. Continued on page 54

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Montana Headwall

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HEAD LIGHT by Chad Harder

Saturate before using Colors pop with a special op f you’re the type of person who finds yourself atop 9,000-foot peaks with a camera—on bluebird days, with colorful friends cresting a nearby glacier and, say, a wildfire billowing behind them—you’ve probably tried to capture the vividness on camera. As you should. Anyone who’s slogged into a calendar-grade location deserves to return with calendar-grade images: photos with rich, saturated, but still realistic colors. So before you find yourself balancing atop some exposed ridge, consider a few of these techniques to draw the deepest colors from a scene. First, note the position of your light source—outdoors, that’d be the sun. You’ll get the highest color saturation by composing shots with the sun to your back or side. Shooting into the sun can wash out colors and cause your


camera to over-compensate, dulling the entire palette, and especially the blue sky. Further boost your colors by adjusting levels in the camera. Most cameras today offer customization options that include saturation, so scroll through your menu and boost saturation by +1, +2 or +3, depending on your preference. Remember, saturation is like sugar— more is only better to a point. Experiment to find the sweet spot. Your options are more limited if you don’t notice your image’s blandness until you’re seated at the computer back home. Still, futzing with the color profile post-production can be very effective, and even the most basic photo management programs offer intuitive options that easily increase saturation or

We know you’re out there, having epics and snapping photos. Instead of cursing them with an anonymous death in hard drive purgatory, go for the glory and send your best

correct a color balance (often called “auto levels” or “auto correct"). These digital tweaks will help bring back the colors in a washed-out image, even in the hands of a novice. Bummed that your pics still aren’t rich? Then throw down for a polarizing filter before you set out on your adventure. Polarizing filters eliminate the stray light that de-saturates images, although they’re not without shortcomings—for example, they don’t work well in low light. There’s no one formula to make every color pop, and challenging mountain environments can make even simple techniques nearly impossible (just try screwing on a polarizer in the middle of a horizontal rainstorm). But keep these options in mind and you’ll come home with photos as vibrant as your memories.

Chad Harder

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Emilee Martin, Ella Goeltz, Maddy Martin, and Aspen Goeltz enjoy lunch on the bench at Blodgett Canyon Overlook July 2010.


Mitch Casey

Skiers and snowboarders work for summer lines off the Beartooth Highway.

HEAD SHOTS Paddlers find a glassy route across Noxon Reservoir outside of Trout Creek. Matt Rogers

Montana Headwall

Page 29 Summer 2011 Dave Bell

Sara Richey finds the high route up Electric Peak in the Gallatin Mountains near Gardiner.

ichael Payton is among a rare and young breed of sponsored athletes who call slacklining their profession. Easily mistaken as tight-rope walking—which involves walking a rigid and taut line—slacklining emerged out of Yosemite National Park in the 1970s when rock climbers began walking on stretchy, bouncy, swaying nylon webbing to pass the time and build balance and strength.


Michael Payton walks a highline.

The sport has since evolved and diverged into sub-genres, including tricklining (on one- or two-inchwide slacklines low to the ground), longlining (a test of distance) and highlining (high up, usually with a leash and safety harness). You’ll find all three varieties in Montana, on college campuses and beyond. Payton, now living in Moab, Utah, perfected his front flip and Buddha pose during a 2009 hitchhiking trip that brought him to Missoula. He’s since won tricklining competitions around the United States and Europe, including the 2010 tricklining world title. In Montana, slacklining is getting a bounce with the help of athletes like David Hobbs, a University of Montana senior from Whitefish. Hobbs first encountered the sport in 2007 when he was a high school senior on a visit to UM and met a group of slackliners who (amazingly, he thought) could turn, lie down and do 360s. Four years later and now doing 360s himself, Hobbs says on-campus slacklining hasn’t changed much. But the truth is, Hobbs is the guy who took it to the next level. In the spring of 2008, Hobbs rigged and walked the longest slackline in UM history: a 160-foot line between two trees on campus, six feet off the ground. In 2009, Payton and Hobbs teamed up and smashed that record, making it 240 feet. “It’s meditative in nature and requires so much focus,” Hobbs explains. “It helps me relax after taking a test and allows me to find peace,” he adds. “Slacklining can clear the mind when there’s something to mull over.”

Payton goes the distance on a 190-foot longline.

International slackline competitor Emily Sukiennik sits...carefully.

Payton holds a pose.

Payton holds a one-armed handstand at the University of Montana after landing 10 front flips in a row.

Payton performs at the Lost Horse Canyon Climbing Festival near Hamilton.

In Bozeman, slackline riders include a group of Montana State University students and 33-year-old carpenter Josh Simpfenderfer, who has a permanent 70-foot line in his backyard. About every week in good weather, Simpfenderfer rigs and walks a 285foot longline in Lindley Park, while MSU students walk 30- and 60-foot slacklines nearby. Simpfenderfer is willing to give a turn to anyone who wants to try. “Most of them are uninterested,” he says. The Montana slackliner community is still small; people know each other or share a connection. The same mentor, for example, taught Simpfenderfer and Payton how to rig highlines—a crucial skill, since failed rigging could be deadly. Simpfenderfer, a pioneer, rigged and walked the first highlines in Montana. By using a special type of webbing called Vectran—stronger and more durable than standard tubular nylon webbing—he also set a state longline record, walking 395 feet between trees near Gallatin Canyon. “Highlining enables you to go to a special place inside your head,” Simpfenderfer says. He’d recently returned from Moab, the “highline mecca,” where he walked his longest highline ever: 177 feet, above a desert canyon floor 250 feet below. “The reward is far greater than the risk,” he says. “You get completely engrossed in the moment.” Josh Simpfenderfer tiptoes above the Gallatin Canyon. Trevor Olson

David Hobbs takes on a bouncy two-inch slackline used by a new breed of trickliners.

WILD THINGS by Caroline Kurtz

Sitting quietly on the front stoop as a lingering summer evening fades to night I suddenly see a few dark shapes dart out of nowhere and flit crazily, noiselessly overhead. The hour of the bat has arrived. I know that these creatures of fairy tale and horror story will not get tangled in my hair or suck my blood, but I still admit to a few involuntary flinches— until my curiosity, that age-old courage pill, takes over. These night-time hunters could be the little brown myotis (myotis meaning “mouse-eared”) that sometimes hide out in attics or under eaves during the day, then emerge at dusk to feed on swarms of aquatic insects like midges and mosquitoes. With three-inch bodies and 10-inch wings, these little guys are super-maneuverable, zigging and zagging in pursuit of erratic prey in bursts of up to 20 miles per hour. Whatever kind they are, the bats are master hunters, thanks to their wonderfully adapted bodies and wings. The wings of bats—the only mammals capable of true flight—are marvels of invention. Although not as efficient as bird wings for sustained flight, they are far more elastic. Imagine tiny forearms sprouting from your shoulders and ending in fingers as long as your body. These bony digits are like the ribs of an umbrella that allow the wing to open and collapse instantly for tricky twists and turns. Instead of feathers, a skin-like membrane stretches between a bat’s fingers and tail, creating a mean catcher’s mitt that can scoop up prey on the wing, contain it and flip it into an open mouth. I get dizzy

watching them above me, executing dives, rolls, loops and about-faces without pause. Montana has a bunch of different bat species. The largest is the hoary bat, so named for its grizzled coat; the smallest is the palm-sized western small-footed myotis. Some, like the unimaginatively named big brown bat, are relatively abundant and widespread; others, like the spotted bat, are among the rarest species in the state. Spotted bats are not only rare, but also flashy-looking. A spotted bat’s ears are huge, about half the length of its body, and its fur is dark with large white spots on rump and shoulders, a triad like the pawnbrokers’ symbol. The animals mostly live in the southern portion of Montana, where they roost in caves and crevasses of cliffs and forage over rough, dry ground. You have a much better chance of seeing a spotted bat this summer if you’re camping, say, in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, where they have been, er, spotted. In fact, you might even hear one. Spotted bats are unusual in that the metallic clicking sounds they make to target prey are in the range that humans can hear. Most bats have perfectly good eyesight, but it’s sound and echo they use to navigate in unbelievably precise ways. According to University of Montana ecology professor Erick Greene, when some bats are hunting they produce constant frequency clicks and frequency modulated, or FM, clicks. When constant frequency clicks bounce off an object, a

bat can tell roughly where the object is in the air and whether it’s coming closer or moving away. Once a bat is “locked on” to a target, Greene says, it speeds up the number of clicks and switches over to FM “sweeps” that go up or down in pitch depending on the species. From these return echoes, bats can determine the size, shape, even texture of an object. Just so you don’t feel too sorry for the pursued moth or beetle, Greene says many insects can hear bat sonar. Sometimes they detect the bat before it homes in, and fly out of its way. But if a bat is approaching fast, bugs have their own repertoire of evasive maneuvers. Some can even produce their own ultrasounds that either are extremely loud to a bat and deafen its sensitive ears, or that sound to bats like many different objects moving in different directions. Greene calls it “sonic shrapnel.” My evening entertainers’ flight might look chaotic, but it’s actually highly directed, and not at all noiseless—I just can’t hear it. As professor Greene says, I’m tuned to the wrong channel. Bruce D. Taubert

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GRUB by Ari LeVaux

hen it comes to endurance food, there’s nothing more legendary than pemmican, the powerpaste designed by Native Americans to sustain them during days of strenuous exertion. A dense mix of fat, sugar, and protein, it can keep you going on a long journey with nothing to eat but what’s in your pack. I’ve got a friend who makes pemmican from huckleberries gathered in summer, fat rendered from local cattle, dried meat from last year’s deer, and honey from his bees. It tastes kind of like sweetened cat food. Not for everyone, in other words; or, more specifically, not for every context. I once read about a polar explorer whose favorite food in the field was a stick of butter rolled in sugar. Pemmican could be a similar artery-clogger if you chowed it down in front of the tube. But on a tough trip in remote wilderness, your body needs what pemmican has to offer. And it’ll taste good. Traditional Indian pemmican was a mixture of animal fat, berries, and dried meat, depending on what was available. Some recipes called for honey, wild nuts, seeds, and thighbone marrow. The ingredients were pounded into a paste and sewn into airtight skin bags or other containers for safe storage. I also use what’s available to make a pemmican-like food—minus the grease and all the pounding. I call it mixmican, and I invented it for hunting trips. But it’s also perfect for hiking, trekking, biking, climbing, sneaking across international borders—or basically any activity that requires a no-nonsense, all-day supply of carbohydrates and protein. Mixmican is based on dried fruit and venison jerky, two ingredients I can personally contribute, thanks to fall hunting


expeditions and the apricot, peach, plum, apple, cherry, and other fruits I pick from neighborhood trees (with permission). I dry the fruits with a dehydrator. Since I also use a dehydrator for the meat (and not a smoker), I often add smoked nuts, usually almonds, to the mix. That way I get the crunch and nutrients and also the traditional pemmican flavor. If you don’t have deer in the freezer, just substitute highquality store-bought meat, such as organic, local beef. Cut it into thin pieces, and add whatever marinade you want, or none. (My favorite flavor for mixmican jerky is just salt and pepper.) Run the marinated meat in a dehydrator until it’s jerky-like. For the finishing touch, I add the meat and fruit to a large helping of wild rice sesame stick crackers from my local bulk bin. The crackers, the main mix ingredient in terms of weight, come in many flavors, but wild rice is my favorite. It’s both sweet and savory, and the taste complements the other ingredients. For added punch, I like using “chunks of energy,” also from the bulk bins. The tasty cubes are cut from a tray of brownie-like batter, full of seeds and nuts and, in the ones I use, chocolate chips, too. In the morning on an expedition, mixmican will be your best friend. While everyone else is fiddling with their sandwiches and pulling together lunch and snacks, you can laze a little longer in the sleeping bag, knowing there’s no need for food prep. No little packets of this or that, no wastefully wrapped energy bars, just a no-muss, no-fuss power food. It’s all in the bag.

Chad Harder



Montana Headwall

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The last good mykiss

by Jack Ballard


Golden trout in the Crazies, a love story July 2002 As the sun peeks over the eastern horizon to tease the towering green ash and black walnut trees shading my garage in Billings, I ease out the clutch to back my tired Nissan pickup from the driveway. It’s 5:36 a.m. On the seat beside me, Gabe, a canine companion of uncertain breeding, has already begun to pant. His breath stinks. I momentarily consider shoving him into the rear with my backpack. But he’s too smart for that. Sensing his master’s indecision, he catches his breath and my gaze with his intelligent, irresistible brown eyes. I crank down the window instead. The breeze it affords is refreshing, but noticeably warm for this time of the day. It’s going to be hot. But not where I’m headed. Cave Lake, an alpine tarn in the Crazy Mountains, is perched in a lofty cirque at 8,638 feet above sea level. I’ll be well into the mountains by noon, hiking through cool stands of Douglas fir and across pastures of springy alpine grasses at timberline. As Montana’s largest city fades in the rearview mirror, I conclude with certainty that I’m among its dozen most sapient citizens. Eight hours later, it seems a more reasonable assumption that the village has lost its idiot. The trek from the trailhead to Cave Lake spans roughly eight miles. I say “roughly,” because unless you record your first route on a GPS and religiously follow it the second time around, you���ll never tramp twice on exactly the same trail. It’s about four miles to the confluence of Milly

Photos by Jack Ballard and Lisa Densmore

Creek, the goodly freshet that drains Cave Lake, and Sweet Grass Creek, the namesake watercourse for the maintained trail winding up its lush valley. It’s around another four miles to the lake, this segment sans trail and significantly steeper. Mid-afternoon finds the pooch and I on the north side of Milly Creek, on a vertiginous slope sporting more shifting scree than shady evergreens or spongy alpine vegetation. The canted, south-facing slope feels more like an oven than heaven. “Hellish” is a most appropriate term, not only for my parched, cracking lips and the sweat soaking my bandana and oozing freely from the underside of my backpack, but also for the blisters building on the soles of my feet encased in overheated rubber. The dog suffers as well. He tiptoes gingerly across the heated rocks, his salivating pink tongue hanging nearly to the upper joints of his forelegs. As we grind up the drainage, he learns to pick his way from patch to patch of soil and vegetation, waiting for his owner to scramble across the scree. Dusk finds us at the lake at last.

Unknown to me, Billings has set an alltime record temperature of 108 degrees. In the high country, the hottest days of summer often spawn its wildest storms. Up here, the pent-up energy of the infer-

no manifests itself in dark, boiling thunderheads and savage bolts of lightning. Just as I secure the fly to the tiny, one-person tent, the heavens deride a huddling human and prostrate dog with a deluge of immense raindrops driven by wind gusts that also whip misty sheets of water from the lake. An exceptionally potent bolt of lightning stabs into the flinty shoulder of the peak above the lake, dis-

lodging a rockslide whose smashing course reverberates stridently around the cirque. We’re a half-mile from the slide and safe. But what on earth are we doing here? The answer to that question lies in the watery depths of Cave Lake and the pockets and pools along Milly Creek for a quarter-mile below the lake’s outlet. Within them lives a trout whose Latin name rolls from your tongue in a drunken slur though you’re cold sober. Golden trout, oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita, are some of the most rare and resplendent salmonids in all of North America. For Montanans, they’re one of the few California transplants welcomed to the state. Endemic to the Kern River drainage, a watershed sequestered in the bowels of the Sierra Nevada mountains, golden trout were first presumed by biologists to be kissing kin of the Colorado River cutthroat. Vividly hued like goldens during the spawning season, in colors of crimson rather than gold, Colorado River cutthroats are exceedingly beautiful fish as well, sharing many similarities with gold-

ens in physiology and appearance. However, more recent genetic analysis has shown that golden trout are more closely related to rainbows, a species with which they interbreed freely. Lovers of cold, clear water with a quirky spawning style and life cycle, golden trout are found only in high mountain lakes and streams. While lacustrian (lake-dwelling) trout typically spawn in inlet streams, goldens prefer the outlets, to the effect that the fry emerging from eggs are flushed haplessly downstream. The best golden trout habitat is thus an alpine lake with another tarn below it, connected by a stream navigable to fish. After the eggs hatch, the fry are flushed into the lower lake, where they mature, then migrate back upstream to their parents’ abode. Goldens don’t compete effectively with brook trout, and their genetic purity is quickly lost in habitats where they consort with their rainbow cousins. Hence, these aquatic nuggets of the Treasure State thrive in just a few high, specialized drainages that match their spawning requirements and isolate them from other trout. I’ve come to Cave Lake to catch one. Why here? Because in the summer of 2000 this Crazy Mountain puddle happened to produce the state record for the species. Two days later, Gabe and I mince back down the Milly

Creek drainage on tender feet. I’ve learned some things about golden trout. The ones inhabiting the lake seem to enjoy sulking in its depths, tough to reach with fishing tackle, nearly impossible to incite to bite. The fish in the creek’s pools below the lake are somewhat easier to catch. I find modest success fooling them with standard spinning tackle: Mepps and Panther Martin spinners, small gold and silver spoons.

July 2004 Two summers after the first trek, I again ascend to Cave Lake, this time in the company of a friend who also hap-

Map by Joe Weston; image courtesy of USDA

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pens to be an accomplished trout guide on the Bighorn River. We have no dog. Gabe hid under a bunk bed when he spotted the Crazy Mountain topo map amidst my gear. Instead of spinning tackle, there’s a fly rod lashed to my backpack. If anyone can catch those finicky goldens on a fly rod, I reckon Carl can do it. Just in case, I also have a Styrofoam container of nightcrawlers wrapped in a rain jacket in the bottom of my pack, though I don’t divulge their presence to Carl. We leave Billings at an ungodly hour of the morning, hitting the trailhead not long after dawn. I’m hoping to beat the heat. My second ascent to the lake is arduous, though markedly easier than the first. It’s nice to be in the company of a being who communicates verbally rather than in licks and barks. I’ve found a better path for much of the off-trail segment of the route, including an old trail on the east side of Milly Creek that winds from Sweet Grass Creek to a narrow gap in the mountains some 650 feet higher, which marks a natural divide between the two drainages. Nonetheless, Carl’s enthusiasm for the trek seems as vaporous as the wispy tendrils of white in the blue above us by the time we reach the series of cascades on Milly Creek marking the final, short ascent to the lake. The next morning finds him in much finer spirits. From one large pool in the creek, we coax a dozen trout to our flies. Some fall for standard dry flies: Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and small Joe’s Hoppers. Others gobble nymph patterns drifted into the current. After enticing an extraordinarily beautiful specimen with buttery sides splotched in olive and a bold band of crimson running from gill-plates to tail, I’ve had enough trout fishing for the day. “Think I’ll take my camera and go for a hike,” I inform Carl. Intent on changing flies, he grunts in acknowledgement. There are larger fish in the Cave Lake waterscape than any we’ve caught and the trout guide is determined to find them. By

nightfall, he’s landed two very impressive goldens, though by questionable means to any fly angling purist. Remember those nightcrawlers in my backpack? As we motor south on Highway 191 toward Big Timber the following evening, cool air rushes through the pickup from the open windows. The eastern flank of the Crazies lies in shadow, the peaks aflame with a glowing halo, a lingering farewell from the sun. Black cattle graze placidly in the pastures of the foothills. Stalks of barley are ripening to yellow in the fields. I’m tired, but feeling strong and very much alive. “Do you think we should try it a little earlier next year, or wait until September?” I query my passenger. “Uh, look Jack. That was incredible. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. But I don’t think I want to go back.”

July 2010 Six years pass. In the company of my girlfriend, an accomplished hiker and backpacker, an author of several hiking guidebooks and numerous articles for Backpacker magazine, I’m once again grinding my way across the seemingly ceaseless fields of scree on the north side of Milly Creek. Cave Lake lies a mile up the drainage. Along the way, we’ve browsed a couple of handfuls of plump, almostripe huckleberries from low-lying bushes in the timber and dropped our packs to glean deliciously juicy wild raspberries from bushes poking from the rockslides. We spied a shaggy

mountain goat across the creek at lunch and paused to mark a raven’s arcing passage down the drainage, a creature appearing as an Olympian sledding recklessly down a luge-run of thin air. But as fatigue contracts the capabilities of the body, perception suffers as well. No longer are we wide-eyed naturelovers on a peripatetic trek through an alpine Eden. We’re just two pairs of eyes staring at the ground ahead, limbs moving, impatiently awaiting a place to pitch the packs. Several legends exist regarding the naming of the Crazy Mountains. Though not dubbed so formally by native peoples, this range was apparently known as the “Mad Mountains” for its wicked slopes, imposing crags and the wild and chaotic storms that rage in the highlands in all seasons. The Crow Indians revered these mountains. It was here on a peak that chief Plenty Coups, the venerated leader of the Crows who shepherded them through the tumultuous transition from nomadic to reservation life, received a vision that would later guide his actions. Like other warriors who crested the peaks in the quest of a vision, Plenty Coups doubtlessly endured the flesh-numbing winds, bitterly cold rain and terrifying bouts of thunder and lightening. Though we’re just here to enjoy the scenery and catch some fish, the mountains seem doubly motivated to defend their good name. We eat dinner in the tent while a gale threatens to tear the fly from its guy-lines. Cold rain flails

the nylon, lightning torques over defiant granite, and the thunderclaps are fearsome. We awaken at dawn to a damp, silent world, save for the music of a singing robin. The lake is calm, a glassy reflection of a scaly peak and snowbank, faintly lit by the bashful sun, perfectly mirrored on its surface. Out away from the shoreline, concentric ripples expand from faint disturbances on the water. Golden trout have also awakened to the new day. Just one fish takes a fly before breakfast. By the time we down our oatmeal and coffee, a legion of ominous clouds are building on the eastern horizon. Travel delays had reduced our planned twonight itinerary at the lake to an overnighter. A noon departure would still allow several hours’ fishing. But the thought of descending the shifting screefields in a downpour finds us stowing our fly rods and breaking camp in record time. Packs loaded, my companion takes one long, last look around. “Beautiful,” she murmurs. But evidently not quite beautiful enough. We slog the last two miles to the trailhead in a torrent on a path of muck. Warm and dry, motoring toward a welldeserved dinner in Red Lodge, I broach the subject of a return trip in 2011, perhaps a three-nighter with ample time to explore the cirque around the lake and climb nearby Conical Peak. “I don’t think I want to go in there again,” I hear back. But I do. Even if it takes six years to find another unsuspecting partner.

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HEAD TRIP by Jason Cohen

Do you know what the hardest thing about a five-day, 100-mile rollerblading trip is? It’s when a friend asks, “Do you know what the hardest thing about rollerblading is?” Punch line: “Telling your parents that you’re gay.” Yes, this actually did happen to me, and, no, my friend’s not a character from The 40-Year-Old Virgin—he’s an open-minded and Bohemian journalist and indie-rock musician. It’s just that my favorite form of spring and summer exercise is so completely reviled and uncool, people don’t think twice about going there. The joke my friend told is even listed in the Urban Dictionary under “rollerblading.” In truth, the hardest thing about the sport of inline skating (Rollerblade, like Xerox, FedEx and Zamboni, is a trademark that became a verb) isn’t people

mocking you. Nor is it weirdly patterned blisters, learning to stay upright, or nasty macadam strawberries. It’s finding skate-friendly terrain. Where most outdoor athletes understandably seek out remote, unspoiled locations, skating basically demands development—at minimum, an empty twolane highway, but ideally a dedicated, gravel-free and not overly fissured path. I am probably the only person in Missoula who was thrilled to see more of the city’s Riverfront Trail get paved. Certainly I’ve never seen another soul on skates while living in Montana. When I wanted to consign an old pair of K2s at the local Play It Again Sports (worth at least a token 20 bucks in other cities), they wouldn’t even take ’em.

You may think inline skaters are ’80s disco relics—even the hipster rise of roller derby hasn’t helped, since those tough ladies use classic “quads”—but in our own way we’re as determined as surfers searching for the perfect ride and have the same sort of cultish, forlorn pride as American soccer freaks, or fans of that one band none of your friends are into (granted, said band may be the Kelly Family rather than the Flaming Lips). Ben Tobin

Ben Tobin

Which is how I found myself in Post Falls, Idaho, helmet and wrist guards on, taking a blind corner with an unwieldy pack of 27 other skaters on a section of the Centennial Trail that crosses north to south under Interstate 90. “You guys are crazy!” a pedestrian exclaims. Earlier, an idling gang of road construction workers took good-natured advantage of the “Hi, My Name Is” stickers that the trip’s outfitter, Zephyr Adventures, had given us to slap atop our helmets. “Take it easy, Susan!” they yelled at Susan Syria, one of several hockey moms from Marquette, Michigan, who took the summertime trip as a girlfriend getaway and birthday present for a member of their group. “C’mon, hustle Becky!” they shouted to Becky Taee, who joked that she hoped to run into them again on our return lap. “As you get older that kind of attention is welcome,” said the 42year-old mother of two—borderline false modesty from a lithe New Englander-turned-Londoner who resembles the actress Olivia Williams. While a five-day trip that takes you from the Red Lion Templin’s Hotel in Post Falls to the Wallace Inn isn’t nearly as exotic as some of Zephyr’s other offerings (among them Martha’s Vineyard, the German Mosel River Valley, and Quebec), what the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes has over those locales is pure,

uninterrupted, perfect trail (albeit on a former EPA Superfund cleanup site, thanks to silver mines. We’re told that if you accidentally drop an apple on the trail, it’s best to throw it out). “It’s the best skating we do in the country,” says Zephyr guide Gary Passon, a ropy-calfed 50-something Minnesotan on fluorescent-greenwheeled brakeless speed skates. “The best trail in Idaho, the country, the world, the universe.” The bike path runs from Plummer, a few nautical miles (but a 40-minute drive) east of the Coeur D’Alene Resort, to just shy of the Montana border in Mullan, thanks to a rail-to-trail conversion on a section of the old Milwaukee Road line. Zephyr Adventures itself is headquartered in Red Lodge, Montana, with a sole full-time employee, Kris Thomas, who watches over things for owner Allan Wright, a recent transplant to Boulder, Colorado. The business was once called Zephyr Skate Tours, but as the ’90s wore on, the inline skating industry went from trendy to stable to declining, and Zephyr branched out. The company launched bike and multisport vacations (including winter in Yellowstone), then wine country tours (in Sonoma, Oregon and South America), then Machu Picchu treks and, most recently, a series of wine, beer and food blogger conferences. Its latest

Left, Chuck Smerdon, drafted by his wife; above, the best ride of the trip.

brainstorm, a Yellowstone National Park trip that combines hiking and biking with craft beer, comes in addition to five 2011 bike tours in places like Florida, Alaska and the Netherlands. Zephyr rotates its skating locales and lets some go dormant for several years since, at this point, most people in the customer base who want to spend $1,600 to $2,400 for fully supported inline skating vacations have already been on every trip the company offers. When I went on Zephyr’s roll through the Montreal and Quebec mountains three years ago, nearly half the group had taken the Coeur d’Alene trip (and raved). Several of my current cohorts are skating Idaho for the second time, including a few people Zephyr fondly calls “lifers.” Out of 28 skaters, 23 of us are repeat customers. One telling stat reveals all you need to know about the state of inline skating: The average age is 53. (I’m 42 at the time of the Idaho trip; the youngest person is 32). You’d have to say extreme culture and vert culture did the same thing to rollerblading that snowboarding did to skiing. Also of note, and perhaps the sport’s best-kept secret: The female-tomale ratio is about 3-to-1, exactly the opposite of what you’ll find on most outdoor trips. The Idaho skaters include 21 women and six men.

“Comin’ up on your left,” one of the Marquette ladies, Adrienne Vermeulen, shouts at me in an ironic, sunny tone during the long downhill between Mullan and Wallace. “It just means I weigh more. Isn’t that great?” she explains as she shoots by. Actually, she’s a strong enough skater to pass me on the uphills, too. Colleen Clark, a girlish and Sarah Palinesque 53 (everybody comments on this), dresses for skating the way Venus and Serena dress for tennis: short skirt, sexy tank top. A member of the Mad Knockers Roller Derby team and a Senior Director of People (a real title) at Eastern Mountain Sports in New Hampshire, Clark has been on seven Zephyr trips and owns 15 pairs of skates, including classic San Fran “Haight Skates,” i.e., hiking boots on wheels. Unlike most of us, she started off on wheels and only recently tried ice skating and skate skiing. “If I won the lottery, I’d use the money to spark a rebirth of the skating craze by giving everyone free skates and free lessons,” she says. “Skating keeps you healthy, fit, young and happy. I hope I roll into my grave.” Laura Jelinek, 32, is on her first trip. A determined athlete and former figure skater, she ends each day on the path with a pirouette or curtsey.

(Immediately upon returning home to Grand Forks, N.D., she begins planning a local inline skating marathon that’s slated to unfold this August). Colorado resident Janet Starkey is just two months removed from a broken tailbone. It’s her third Idaho tour, but the first time she’s conquered its great jewel: the lengthy, tiered-ramp Chatcolet Bridge that straddles the St. Joe River, pretty much the highlight of the trip. It’s visually stunning and an irresistible bit of terrain—slippery smooth, with such a long run from a sufficiently gradual but zippy downhill that (sorry, Janet), you can do it without braking. I climb back up it twice for repeats. The isolation and the beauty of the trail are incredible. Paved path aside, there’s near-total wilderness between Plummer and the lakefront town of Harrison, tucked way back in the forest. And there’s a still-isolated run along a mostly uninhabited side of the lake: nothing but you and the rocks and trees and water. For a skater especially, that’s precious, since paved paths usually mean lots of other people, or wars with cyclists and pedestrians in places like New York City’s Central Park. The Idaho trip features daily options—a short, medium or long route—with support vans to pick people up at bailout points, drive them to spots

along the trail, or take them to the hotel. The skaters have lots of different skill levels, not surprisingly, but some of them also have lots of stuff, whether or not they need it. Our group includes two extremely well outfitted men from opposite ends of the spectrum. Chuck Smerdon and his wife, Kathy Wagle, are longtime competitive speed skaters who always move in tandem, drafting on each other the whole trip. (Someone jokes that they even draft each other walking down the hotel hallway). Chuck is also probably the only guy who rotates his wheels. Conversely, Vik from Chicago has all the trappings of a hotshot: Spandex jerseys, inline skate-specific socks, and prodigiously padded shorts, making him come off as the Sandy Pittman of the gang. At the end of day one, I overhear stories about his 50-mph speeds and epic wipeouts, but it turns out the guy is actually still learning and has no business being on the same kind of brakeless skates our guide uses. That aside, the nice thing about the group is that there’s not much ego. Somebody’s always going to kick your ass, which is a good thing. But there are also people who make you feel like you’re a better skater than you thought you were, and some of them are even under 60. A few skaters are happy to do

Ben Tobin

seven miles a day. Personally I wouldn’t go on a trip like this just to skate for an hour or so, but for other people the goal is relaxation, sightseeing and camaraderie. And there’s always that one impressive guy who’s ready to go 70 miles in a single day, as someone did on my Quebec trip. (We gave him a round of applause.) The longest stretch in the Idaho jaunt is 38 miles, which means I can’t beat my own personal best, a little over 40 miles. It’s probably just as well. The day I roll 38 miles—including a section from the decidedly un-scenic Smelterville Wal-Mart to Osburn to Wallace, after a giant chicken-fried steak lunch at the Snakepit in Enaville—is unbearable. Months after the trip, I’m still minus several toenails, despite my carefully jerry-rigged combination of a sock liner with the top cut off and blister-preventive ankle socks. “That’s skating,” Colleen says on the second-to-last day, looking at my taped up, Band-Aided toes, which of course she snaps a picture of. By the time I get home, I’m exhausted. But that’s the beauty of skating. Yes, people make fun of it, but it’s not an easy sport. You can get hurt, you can go fast, there’s arcane equipment. It’s a good workout for building the same muscles you care about for skiing, hiking and climbing. It’s a weight-bearing exercise, unlike biking (research shows that cycling alone doesn’t do enough to boost bone density). And it won’t make you sterile. Plus, the people are impressive: tough, but nice. Even outsiders who rib us about being dorky are quick to say that. Anyway, the skating community can’t really be bothered to take offense at the jokes. Our love of the sport is such a genuine thing, such a strong thing. Skaters don’t care what other people think of them. We really don’t. Obviously we don’t. In this world of constant searching for the new thing, the different thing, the more unusual thing, if not the more extreme thing, why not skating? Oh, all right: It’s the knee pads, isn’t it?

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JUNE June 4 Shoot to thrill at the Powder River Buffalo Shoot near Broadus, when participants aim single-shot or leveraction rifles at metal targets up to 1,000 yards away. Fire questions at 436-2270 or email June 5 Sweat like a pioneer during Bozeman’s Lewis and Clark Marathon, featuring a marathonrelay, half-marathon and kids’ run in the scenic Gallatin Valley. Sprint to June 9 Go for gold in your golden years at the three-day Montana Senior Olympics Summer Games in Great Falls, complete with archery, basketball, golf, cycling, and even horseshoe contests. Get your game on at montanasenior

June 11 Double dipping is dandy at Run Wild Missoula’s Pengelly Double & Single Dip, a race starting at the University of Montana’s Riverbowl Fields. Runners can try a half-marathon with 2,700 feet of elevation gain or choose the 10K. Hoof it to for info. Help kids stay healthy and cavity-free during Helena’s 38th annual Governor’s Cup Race, featuring 10K, 5K, and fun runs that don’t feel like drills. The fundraiser for the Caring Foundation of Montana helps children get dental and medical care; race fees are matched by federal grants. Benefits start at June 18 Make a pass during the Wulfman’s Continental Divide 14K, a race between scenic Homestake and Pipestone passes that raises money

to build and improve southwest Montana trails. Take the high road to June 19 Spin through spectacular scenery during Adventure Cycling’s Cycle Montana Road Bicycle Tour, a 360-mile, week-long trip that starts and ends in Bozeman, with stops in Ennis, Dillon and more. Get in the loop at or call 721-1776. June 19 Hail the goddess of summer at the First National Bank of Montana Summit Solstice TriathlonDuathlon, a half-mile swim, 12.7-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run at Foy’s Lake near Kalispell. The contest fills up fast, so rush to (enter “summit solstice” in the search box) or call 751-4133. June 25 Make like Frosty and get comfortable rolling in the snow by

Chad Harder

July 24 Get an altitude adjustment during the Madison Marathon, reportedly the highest road marathon in the country, held on gravel roads in the Gravelly Range near Ennis. The elevation starts at

participating in the Rocky Mountaineers’ Snow Travel Clinic in Glacier National Park. Kick steps to for details. Raise money for CampMak-A-Dream (and make a muscle scream) during the Ride Around The Pioneers In One Day (RATPOD), an epic oneday, 130-mile cycle-thon from Dillon through three mountain ranges around the Big Hole Valley. Move your mouse to or call 549-5987. June 29-30 Watch folks with amazing strokes at the U.S. Freestyle Kayak Association’s Pro Freestyle Kayak Tour Stop/ Montana Whitewater Championships, which hits Brennan’s Wave in downtown Missoula for sweet whitewater action by top paddlers. Go rapidly to 721-2437 or events.

JULY July 4 Set off some fitness fireworks at the 4th of July Team Challenge in Eureka, a timed competition where individuals or teams of three bike 3 miles, kayak 3 miles on Lake Koocanusa, and run 2 miles on a trail. Let freedom ring at 8893777 or go to July 7 Put on your explorer cap during the Yellowstone Boat Float, an event that retraces the Lewis and Clark expedition route from Livingston to Laurel, with two overnight stops inbetween. Load up the flotilla by calling 222-4414. July 9 Enjoy a cold one during The Glacier Challenge, a six-leg, 50mile relay race in Whitefish that features canoeing, road biking, mountain biking, kayaking, and a 4K and 10.5K run. Be cool at July 10 Hit your stride for 26.2 miles or just go halfway during the fourth annual Missoula Marathon, named “Best Overall Marathon” by readers of

Tri the XTERRA Wild Horse Creek triathlon in the Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman, featuring a 1,200-yard swim, 16-mile mountain bike ride and 6-mile run (with a shorter course, too). The multitasking begins at July 29 Put your spine into it during the Swan Crest 100, a 100-mile trail run from Swan Lake to Columbia Falls along the backbone of the Swan Range. Ultra motivation is at Chad Harder

Runner’s World. Bust a move to July 16 Land a lunker during the Broadwater Rod & Gun Club’s Walleye Derby, a catch-and-release contest at Goose Bay Marina on Canyon Ferry Lake, with a $1,000 cash prize for winners. Cast off by calling 266-5279. July 17 Bike the ’root to help the Bitterroot Land Trust during the 2011 Tour of the Bitterroot, an event with a 46-mile, non-competitive ride, family challenge and kids’ derby. Roll to for the dirt. July 23 Go ahead and plummet during the Skydive Lost Prairie 44th Annual Jump Meet, a gathering of up to 500 jumpers—one of the largest of its kind—where the public can take a flying leap with an instructor. Air your views at Catch some of the hottest stars on wheels at The Missoula XC, a USA Cycling Pro XCT Finals race for mountain biking pros (and some amateurs). The event features a hardcore 6K course on single track, double track and dirt road at Marshall Mountain. Pump it up at

July 30 Do it standing during The River Pig, a whitewater stand-up paddleboard race at the Alberton Gorge with elite and open divisions. Surf to events or dial 721-2437.

AUGUST August 5 Aim your sights on hunting season during the annual Missoula Gun and Antique Show, featuring 800 tables of firearms and other items— Montana’s best gun show of its kind, folks say. Lock and load at 549-4817. August 6 Hurl yourself to victory when the Helena Ultra Runners League holds the HURL Elkhorn Endurance Runs in the mountains near Montana City, including 50K and 50-mile gambols. Sprint to August 27 Reel one in during the Salmon/ Lake Trout Tournament at Fort Peck Reservoir. They’ll hook you if you call 526-3442. August 28 Dig it at the River City Roots Run/Walk 4-Mile, part of Missoula’s multi-day River City Roots Festival. Hit the ground running at

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HEAD GEAR by Skylar Browning Joe Goertzen at work in his basement shop.

e pay a lot of attention to the things we carry, and place less on what we actually carry those things in. It’s a silly arrangement, really, when you consider that the life-saving gear we meticulously pack— avalanche probe, ice ax, extra pint of bourbon—is often limited to what we can actually fit into our sack. Three western Montana backpack manufacturers at least have their priorities straight. Through years of personal R&D, one-of-a-kind designs and handmade alterations, they’ve created bags for all sorts of terrain and tastes. For them, the pack is the primary piece of equipment for any backcountry adventure.


Chad Harder

Classic carryover Goertzen Adventure Equipment

In all the rush to build the most durable adventure equipment, style often falls by the wayside. Not so for Joe Goertzen, who makes old-school canvas and leather equipment that is as burly as it is beautiful. “The whole idea is to build something that’s vintage looking, but with modern conveniences,” says Goertzen, who creates everything from day packs to fly-fishing lanyards in his basement workshop. “You can walk into REI and see hundreds of new backpacks all lined up, but you’re not going to see anything like what I make.” The difference is in the details. Goertzen is a classically trained artist who specializes in oil painting, so composition, look and feel are important to him. He hand cuts every strip of leather and canvas, and constructs each bag to look like something from another era. On his original Ruck Sack ($175), Goertzen eschews plastic buckles for brass. Two full-strength, weight-bearing carabiners help secure the leather straps. A climbing-spec utility cord fastens the main compartment. The final touch on each order is a hand-stamped brass nameplate. “I try to keep the designs simple and versatile,” he says. “That way it carries what I need and, when I discover I need something new, it can change. The nice thing about doing this myself is I can change the whole design in a single day.” He points to a few recent modifications. The inside

pocket of the Ruck Sack is now the perfect size to hold an iPad. The outside pouch of the Ruck Sack’s smaller, lighter counterpart, The Summit ($100), was lengthened at the request of a friend who noted that it wasn’t quite long enough to secure a tallboy. “I started making these for myself, and then my friends, so they tell me what they need and how to make it better,” Goertzen says. “I hear all the time about some great idea they’re using it for that I never imagined.” Goertzen’s day packs are gaining in popularity, but he says his most popular items remain the fly-fishing lanyards (starting at $49.99) and creel-style bags ($350) he started with three years ago. Perhaps it’s because he’s based where a river runs through it, or because fly fishermen tend to prefer a more traditional look. Whatever the reason, Goertzen’s happy making something that stands out in an industry increasingly filled with mass-produced items. “I like the idea of people having a bag that not everybody else is wearing on campus, or on the trail, or on the river,” he says. “These are made for people who appreciate things that are one of a kind.”

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Chad Harder

Action packed Nargear

Pride and joy

Boulder Creek Packs m

Nancy Joy has a problem, although it’s sort of a good problem to have when you’re in the business of making backcountry gear: Her stuff lasts. As in, for decades. And when stuff lasts that long, customers tend to not call very often with repeat orders. For instance, Joy has a brown tarp folded in one corner of her modest Boulder Creek Packs workshop. The thing looks good as new, with nary a frayed edge, ripped seam or worn stretch of fabric. You’d have no idea the tarp had been regularly used by backcountry horsemen to quickly fasten over their saddlebags ever since Joy first made it in 1990. In March, the horsemen figured they needed an upgrade and asked if she could make them a new one. “By making things of such great quality, I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot,” Joy says. “I have people that literally wait 20 years to call me for more.” The good news, of course, is that they call. And it’s with great pride that Joy explains the strong connection she makes with each of her customers. They deal with her from the moment they place their order, through the design of their custom-made pack, through the testing of each prototype, all the way to the completion of the order. “They’re working with me, and only me, every step of the way,” she says. “Everything is handmade, the way they want it, and it’s well made. It’s a requirement for me to stay in business. It’s what makes me different.” Joy got her start making packs by deploying the same determination and dedication she holds onto today. She worked seasonally at the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska as part of the Youth Conservation Corps in the late ’70s. She noticed late one summer that a seamstress had quit, leaving a hundred unfinished firefighting backpacks. Joy expressed an interest in helping out and, as she tells it, “they spent five minutes explaining to me what to do, then said ‘go nuts.’ I just figured it out.” The rest, of course, is history. After officially getting the seamstress position, she spent four years at BLM working on and modifying firefighting gear. In 1985, she moved to Hamilton, Mont., and started Boulder Creek Packs. Firefighting equipment remains a big part of her business, but Joy branched out to recreational packs (starting at $55), hunting gear (deluxe game panniers go for $255) and custom orders—like saddlebags and tarps for backcountry horsemen—as her reputation grew. She just recently finished designing a lightweight ski pack that she’ll begin to market next winter. Her product line might be expanding, but one thing won’t change: It’s just her, working away on two sewing machines, building things that last. “It’s 30 years of just me,” she says. “It doesn’t mean much if what I’m doing falls apart.” Chad Harder

After a week of trying to connect for an interview, George Randall Crone—better known as simply “Ran”—says he’s in the perfect position to talk. He’s between helipads in the Chugach mountain range outside of Valdez, Alaska, waiting for a helicopter to take him on another “steep and deep” snowboarding run through some of the most rugged terrain in the world. “This is what it’s all about,” says Ran, who’s in Valdez to watch the World Extreme Skiing Championships and King of the Hill snowboarding tournament, as well as take a few runs of his own. “I used to compete in this stuff. Now my main focus is on marketing rather than dropping a sick line. My goal is to help keep the dream alive for the young bros taking this sport to another level.” Ran plays his part by providing the young bros with exceptional adventure equipment through his Missoula-based company, Nargear. A Missoula resident, he personally designs, tests and manufactures backpacks for a range of extreme activities, including skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering and kayaking. And while he certainly embodies his company’s hardcore approach to sports, he also relishes the finer points of his craft.

“I’m a sewing nerd,” he says. “We’re talking full-on sewing, dude. There aren’t a lot of people who can draw up a design in 2-D and sew it into something that’s 3-D. I’m one of those weirdos.” Ran started Nargear in 2004, and the company originally focused on making packs for fire and rescue squads. A smokejumper himself, Ran found government-issued fire suppression gear insufficient for the harsh conditions of his job. He developed versatile and rugged packs for wildland firefighters, wilderness EMTs, search and rescue operations, and hotshot crews. The firefighting product line is still “the meat and potatoes” of the company, but Ran saw a natural crossover to “civilians” and the sports world. “Really, Nargear was something I thought of when I was in Hawaii and Alaska, surfing and snowboarding, doing all of these adventure sports and not having equipment that really fit the lifestyle,” he says. “Basically, all along I thought, dude, I can do it better than this. It has to be better.” A good example is Nargear’s “Sledhead” ($150), which Ran refers to as his “dream backpack.” The mid-sized adventure pack is made of durable 1000 Denier fabric and double stitched with military-spec parachute harness thread. It features a system to strap on a snowboard either horizontally or vertically, as well as a removable fiberglass frame. A vinyl pocket keeps gear dry, and dual tool holsters can hold ice axes or oversized shovel handles. The whole thing is less than 22 inches long. “Everything I’ve tweaked and fixed over the years went into this one bag,” says Ran. “It’s the way I want an all-around, ultimate, everyday sports pack to be.” Ran donated the Sledhead and other gear for competitors to test during the events in Valdez. But the most important testing is still his own. As he waits on the helipad in between runs, he talks about how the Sledhead—and all his packs—will continue to develop. “I beat these up year-round, and if it’s not me then I have athletes around the world beating them up and telling me what they need,” he says. “I’m always thinking about how to make it better—shoulder strap placement, depth of pockets, all of it. This sport is constantly pushing the limits, and Nargear has to be able to keep up.”


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Father Knows Quest CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22 Moments later, while the boys and I stand side by side by side, peeing over the avalanche chutes and marveling at the sweep of our perch, I notice something flashing far below. That wasn’t thunder I was hearing. “Fireworks!” I shout. Jonah jumps up and down, and Silas says, “It’s like our own fireworks show!” I’d almost forgotten it was the Fourth of July.

ur brakes shriek as I steer the plummeting Teasdale Train down the switch-backing ribbon of dirt toward Holland Lake the next morning. Everything is splattered with mud; wet grit coats our wheels and I’m afraid the brake pads are disintegrating by the second. A long, steep descent down a muddy road is something I’d worried about—our rig puts tremendous weight and force on decade-old brakes. I don’t want to think about what would happen if they fail. But they don’t fail, and as the kids excitedly point to snow patches and waterfalls in the avalanche chutes, I realize I’ve worried about too many things on this trip—our brakes, the lightning, the kids’ enthusiasm, my tired legs, mak-


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ing it over the pass—but here we are, in terrible conditions, pulling it off. I look over at Jacqueline, whose burgeoning bike confidence and all-weather cooking skills have transformed her into a superhero mom, and she smiles the kind of smile I married her for. Silas sings nonsensical songs. Jonah, finally getting his downhill, laughs maniacally. What I told Silas about riding bicycles in the mountains has greater truth than I’d recognized—focus on your goals, not your fears. Put all of your effort into where you want to go, and you’ll get there. I have mud on my teeth, my forearms strain to steer our mammoth bike, and we’re still miles from our van, but a

feeling of well-being washes over me. We’re actually going to do this. As we descend into the belly of the Swan Valley, I look back for a moment and say, “Goodbye mountains!” “Goodbye mountains. Goodbye!” the kids cry together. Then they wave at the peaks rising higher and higher as gravity pulls us onward into the adventure of our lives.

Epilogue The Teasdale Train rolled into Banff seven weeks after the ride in the Swan Valley. Silas wanted to keep riding to Alaska. Jonah was ready to go home. Jacqueline vowed to never eat a freeze-dried meal again. Aaron is convinced it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.

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The Crux CONTINUED FROM PAGE 58 post-lunch “chardonnay hour,” however, I am usually ready for—dare I say deserving of—a belt, as my grandmother called her martinis. I recall one abominable Smith River overnight trip several Junes ago during which the river tripled in volume due to rain, the rain turned to geardemolishing snow, and both clients and guides began to booze with the fervor of sailors on a sinking ship. Three days and $2,300 worth of consumed gin and vodka might sound like a fish story, but there was plenty of puke in the tents as proof. We fish and drink to withdraw from the burdensome everyday, to exempt ourselves momentarily from what legendary fisherman and imbiber Jim Harrison called “the gray egg” of reality. But if fishing is an addiction, it’s doubtless easier on

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the body than drinking, not to mention more memorable. Almost 17 years ago, during my first summer in Montana—gluttonous for trout, cold water, and the evening rise—I fished at least part of 52

ied mind, which so often resembles a silted-in riverbed in need of a flushing runoff. What is the brain that it requires the occasional cleansing? It is apparent that we don’t really know.

marriage proves that not all relationships of convenience are destined for failure. The fishing-drinking

straight days, and I’m certain that I recall more of this flyflicking binge (a large brook trout I caught one night in the Crazies, for instance, whose back was the color of the storm-charged sky) than I do of even my most recent bender. Fishing rewards attention to bugs, to weather, to creatures other than us—to the present moment, not the bus-

Page 56 Summer 2011

I’m not much on hypotheticals, but the other evening after a day of floating between snow squalls and spring sunlight on the Bitterroot, my friend began to ask the kinds of questions one conjures up only after a long soul-bolstering day on the water. If you could only do one or the other, fish or hunt, which would you quit? If you

could only fish one river in Montana for the rest of your life, which would it be? Etcetera. He’d been drinking river beer for most of the afternoon, Hamm’s, which I reminded him didn’t count. “Oh, I’ve got a good one,” he said. “If you had to give up one or the other, fishing or drinking, which would you choose?” I poured some chilled vodka into a chilled doublewalled glass and pondered his question for a while. I was loathe to consider it but the answer was quite clear. If I had to pledge allegiance to one or the other obsession, I’d choose fishing: wading through moving water with a fly rod in hand, thoroughly emulsified by the current tightening like a belt around my waist, by the sound of water coursing over cobbles. I’d take the river: straight, no chaser.

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Page 57 Summer 2011

by Chris Dombrowski


Vodka on the rocks Drinking and fishing with a twist


caught a 20-inch cutthroat and I’m on my eleventh P-ber!” spouts the celebratory Midwestern transplant sidled up to the bar with a Pabst Blue Ribbon, further evidence that the millenniums-old marriage between fishing and drinking (and bragging) is flourishing in the Treasure State. The only flaw in the kid’s braggadocio is that in Montana—or so Norman Maclean said—drinking beer doesn’t count as drinking. I want to tell him, “Knock back another tall boy, Bro-Bra, it’s kind of like catching a whitefish,” but I sip my vodka and bite my tongue, aware that there’s no social sin more unforgivable than opining on someone’s drinking

Chad Harder

preferences. Judge not, lest ye be judged, right? Besides, I know a fellow ne’er-dowell when I see one, another enemy of progress who knows that, like fishing, drinking offers the chance to be truly alone and exultant, two rarities in this over-documented world. The fishingdrinking marriage proves that not all relationships of convenience are destined for failure. One of my longtime fishing clients, who is fond of polishing off at least one bottle of expensive wine at shorelunch, asserts that the union is a fluid one due to a kind of functional dysfunctionality, or dysfunctional functionality, whichever you prefer. That is: If the fishing’s great, let’s hoist a glass in celebration, but if the fishing’s poor,

we’d better knock off early and put an end to our piscatorial misery with a stiff one. To clarify: Drinking and rowing don’t mix. There’s too much that can go wrong while soberly navigating rivers, which don’t intend to kill us but have the utter power to do so at any moment. Along with most oarsmen I know, I don’t row buzzed. And I don’t often pair drinking and fishing. To drink, obviously, is to seek intoxication, and watching a large brown trout emerge from a deadfall to inhale a stonefly with an audible sucking sound gives me plenty. After a day of untangling tippets and dodging flailed flies during the Continued on page 56

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