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Field Guide to


Curious Creatures


of Southwestern Montana

Photos by Leslie Hittmeier

Summer in Montana is brief and manic

It burns hot and bright for 3 short months, the sun rising and falling at those hours only the coyote, owl, and a few dedicated humans see. Even as I write this mid August, the mornings feel so different to the bright, full July when we took our first collection out for a weekend in Montana’s Madison Range.

On a mid July morning the sun was raging and well on its way by 7am as we met up at the trailhead.  Driving through the deep canyon walls of the Gallatin we kept our eyes out for wildlife, sleepy lumbering black bears, momma muley’s and their spotted fawns.

The girls arrived first, beaming and enthusiastic. Hannah and Hilary got dressed quickly, checked their bikes and were ready in an instant, while Pasha and Chima, one of Pasha’s oldest buddies visiting from DC took their time pacing about, sipping their coffee and idly kicking tires.

The morning’s trail started with knee-high grasses and brush, with a small creek meandering alongside us for the first couple miles of pedaling along the rutted and slightly horse-fucked trail. Quickly we began the climb.

Switchbacks shimmered in the sun

The temps rose as we left behind the cool influence of moving water below us. Switchbacks shimmered in the sun as the climb became rockier and more technical, much to Chima’s chagrin.

More hike-a-bike than anyone really wants, but the sporty sections kept our minds pointed to the task at hand, no time or space to wander to future musings.

Spirits were high as we reached the top of the trail and the Taylor Hilgard range folded out before us like a quilt. Later, a friend would tell me her story of being charged by a mother grizzly bear right on this ridge.

It’s possible for the trail to continue, tracing the ridge of the Skyline trail and continuing on to the Cabin Creek. We couldn’t help but play this out in our heads, before deciding to enjoy the cornucopia of wildflowers and fast backcountry descending waiting for us below.

We arrived back at camp, thrilled and exhausted. Hannah hugging her pup Pitoue, Chima hugging his battered and bloody shins.

After a quick wash in the creek, Rachel arrived from the Tetons to meet us mid day, that weird hour where it’s almost too hot to move but you know you have to do something; a proper swim, a beer, a nap. The choices are opposites of each other, all seeming equally impossible but somehow necessary. 

Anything to get us out of our valley camp spot and the unbearable onslaught of bugs driving people into their truck campers and tents. Our beautiful flat valley seemed unluckily to be the confluence of everyone’s favorite friends: mosquitoes, biting horse flies  and fat black flies as big as small birds, in our eyes, nose and mouths. 

We swam in the nearby Madison River, euphoric and reset in the perfect refreshing water.  The temperature just cold enough to shock our blood, leaving us feeling awake, but also tepid enough for a long and lazy swim. 

Laying like lizards on the sun heated stones

Pasha freestyle stroked to the opposite shore, fighting the stronger than expected current of the river as the rest of the crew lay drying their bodies like lizards on the sun heated stones.

We had a few exultant moments of bliss when we thought we could move our bug infested camp to the paradise of this river bed, before we saw the “no overnight camping” signs. Reluctantly, we returned to our insect haven, fingers crossed that the sun would lower and the winds pick up.

Camp Taco Recipe

Farm Pork (shout out Daniel’s Gourmet Meats) sizzled in an iron skillet.

We added soft caramelized onions, 1/2 cup of real Vermont maple syrup, 1 tablespoon habanero chipotle sauce and an eyeballed around 4 tablespoons of the following spices- salt, pepper, chili powder, dried oregano & ground cumin.

Fresh lime slices are a must with a drizzly crema that’s as simple as lime juice, sour cream, water and salt and pepper.

The next morning we rose early, after a fitful night of Chima’s truly amazing snoring, and trips to the outhouse fueled by grizzly bear nightmares. After coffee and a quick, cold breakfast, the girls made their way to Big Sky, the land of purpose built trails, jumps and berms.

It was a joy to witness Hilary and Rachel push themselves on some more technical steep rocky sections back in jagged Beehive Basin; Rachel encouraging Hilary to try things she wouldn’t normally do or giving subtle but pointed pointers.

A bit more toad's tail, take your line straight through that boulder not around it, boil under a full moon

It’s an energy that is very specific to riding with other supportive female rippers. We are all just witches, sharing our own secret recipe for how to exist in this weird world, how to thrive. A bit more toad's tail, take your line straight through that boulder not around it, boil under the full moon.

We laughed and talked about bikes, drivetrains, and suspensions; but also our cats, our good bois and the challenges of renting in mountain towns like Bozeman, Jackson and Driggs.

We briefly touched on the subject of kids; when and if the girls would ever want their courageous lives and adventure-based careers to change and what that kind of life could look like. We talked about if we wanted more fries.

We capped off the weekend with a Big Sky classic. The vanilla-chocolate swirl of the area, a trail with the perfect ratio of giggles-to-adrenaline for the last ride on a full weekend.

That summer sun took its sweet time setting

That summer sun took its sweet time setting as we sewed our way up and down the patchwork of berms, table tops and switchbacks. The pavement took us back to our cars as the purple light bounced off the valley walls.

It was late, the weekend was over, our bellies hungry again for food but also for the freedom of those two summer days stretched out before you with nothing to do.

Just some buds, some bikes, some berms, and a really amazing amount of bugs.

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