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Photos by Leslie Hittmeier

You are really rolling the dice planning a mountain bike weekend in May in Montana. The days oscillate between bluebird and 72 degrees, to 2 feet of snow overnight, covering up all your tulips and weekend plans. Being the idiots that we are, we did it anyways. With weddings and travel plans criss-crossing our calendars, we settled on the only weekend that worked for all creatures involved and kept our fingers crossed.

The first afternoon, we met in the parking lot to occasional but increasing fat raindrops as well as casual 25 mile an hour winds. Looking at the forecast confirmed our luck that the winds would only increase as time went on.

So after careful deliberation we made the surely wrong choice and got on our bikes to pedal up the far off ridge to the “more protected” zone.

Copper City, in Three Forks Montana, is an old abandoned mining outpost. The area has seen use dating back to 1300 BC when the Blackfeet Tribes mined nearby Pelican Lake for chert. In the 1800's Lewis, Clark & Sacajawea famously arrived at the confluence of these three mighty rivers: the Madison, the Gallatin and the Jefferson. There, the colonizers discovered high grade ore, gold and copper quartz.

The small town boomed and folks even believed it would become the capital of Montana but the financial crash of 1893 hit, leaving Copper City on the decline as mining companies shuttered their operations.

Now, Copper City is an example of great collaboration between Southwest Mountain Bike Association and the Bureau of Land Management as they have developed over 17 miles of purpose built bike trails.

We crested the ridge, straight into a giant wind funnel

So much for the “protected area”. With wind literally blowing us off our bikes with each gust, we sat down in the dirt talking about our options.

"Is it too late to bail?" asked Chad.
"It's never too late to quit" someone answered.

With that, we spun on our heels and picked our way down to camp.

Thankfully camp was in a protected nook in the landscape, meaning milder winds. It also meant this off the beaten path area was littered with bullets and broken glass. Leslie stepped on a rusty nail that pierced through her entire shoe sole stopping centimeters from her skin. Hardcore. We took shelter in an old cabin in the ravine near our camp. Every inch of the rugged exterior was shot-through.

At camp we set to making a fire, while also remaining considerate of the still whipping winds and its dangers.

Pasha dug a hole into the side of the hill and the bank littered with bullets, clay pigeons, and broken glass actually provided a perfect shelter for our side hill campfire.

Jimmy and Ben gathered large boulders to create a raised bed to cook on — more luxurious and artisan than any 5 star restaurant.

Leslie brought out some Morel mushrooms foraged from Red Lodge, Pasha slow-cooked beef burgers over a clay pigeon-enhanced wood fire and we realized this shoddy camp site, now restaurant, was more "handcrafted and artisanal" than anything a big city could provide.

Jimmy named it Burgenomics and we decided it has a few Michelin stars but not too many to let it get to our heads.

The next morning we woke to a clear, calm morning. We didn’t speak about or mention the wind, as if we did it would only have given her power.

Jimmy, Lila and Chad took turns throwing down impressive jumps, whips, and tricks. These three are so comfortable on a bike, everything looks easy, playful, and relaxed. Lila will fly by you on berm with the most easy-going grin on her face and Chad will do a no-hander into a can can when no one is even looking to see. Like a true psycho.

I could go to court in these

The sun rose high in the sky, powerful enough for us to wear shorts.

"I could go to court in these" remarked Jimmy proudly as he pulled-on a pair of Ramble Scramble Longs.

Jimmy fabricates his own heavy duty, super high quality bike racks.  Jambo racks are hand built right here in Montana and they are amazing — take a look for yourself at his site.

Once he told us he would rather dig a hole with a spoon in his yard than work on his website but we still think it turned out pretty dang nice. Lila's art and creative eye permeates through. The racks themselves, though? In-person, they're a true work of art.

A highlight of the day was watching these three riders encourage and coach Ben who had never been to Copper City before and spends more time on skis and above 12 thousand feet than on a bike. From not clearing table tops on the first lap, to by the end of the day flying skillfully through them no problem, with just the right amount of looseness to make it exciting (for us to watch).

Perhaps the most impressive was watching Leslie shoot this entire lookbook 8 months pregnant. Running up and down like the little mountain photo fairy that she is with boundless energy, unwavering focus, and that curious eye.

We ended with a party shred back to our cars where voicemails from work and messages about house gas leaks brought us bleary-eyed and startled back to modern life and responsibilities. 

We put Copper City in our rear view mirror, thinking maybe we wouldn’t come back for a while, as other local trail options start to dry out and with that the promise of summer.  But for now we appreciated that for a short period of time we were just weird lizards in this little dusty corner of Montana, sleeping in cold cars, making a fire in a hole in the hill.

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