The Ex­pe­ri­ence: Trail Run­ning

Too much to see and too lit­tle time? Go faster.

Backpacker - - CONTENTS -

­THE WIND CAME AT ME LIKE A FIST. I was a thou­sand feet higher than I in­tended, and the weather was let­ting me know it. I looked at my watch as the gusts re­grouped for an­other punch. Al­most din­ner time. Hik­ers shouldn’t be on ridge­lines in Mon­tana’s high coun­try this late.

But I wasn’t hik­ing. And, be­fore the men­ac­ing weather chased me away, I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather be than this very spot, 5 miles deep in the wilder­ness with­out an­other soul in sight.

Ear­lier in the day, the sun had emerged af­ter a week of rain—and I had a few free hours. It was the kind of fate a vis­i­tor to Boze­man, Mon­tana, doesn’t think twice about.

I wan­dered north­east of town and joined the horde on the short loop to the white “M” plas­tered to the side of Baldy Moun­tain. Foot traf­fic con­gested the trail as I ap­proached the turnoff to the “M,” but over my shoul­der, I spied an empty rib­bon of sin­gle­track. It stretched on­ward and up­ward, curl­ing through shat­tered lime­stone and conifer for­est like a siren song.

I didn’t know where the path led, and with just two hours un­til a planned din­ner with a friend, I also knew I didn’t have time to find out. At least not at a hiker’s pace.

When I was a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of North Carolina, I had plenty of time for long hikes. But now, like most of the gain­fully em­ployed, I have to squeeze back­pack­ing trips into week­ends or precious va­ca­tion days. So I started run­ning. Sud­denly I had time for af­ter-work “hikes”—6 miles be­fore din­ner? No prob­lem. My runs grew to the size of week­end epics. I saw the back­coun­try even when the clock said I shouldn’t.

So when all other cir­cum­stances sug­gested I had no time for a 10-mile hike that early-fall day in Boze­man, I tight­ened my laces.

The Bridger Foothills Trail leapt gul­lies and ducked into val­leys. I hop-scotched rocky down­hills, hur­dled logs, glided flats. Four miles in, I was tired, but I didn’t want to stop; there was more ahead to ex­plore, and with the adren­a­line pump­ing, the miles flew by. To a would-be day­hiker, they felt stolen, and that made them even sweeter.

It took a lit­tle over an hour to gain the ridge, a frac­ture of lime­stone in the foothills’ shoulders. I hadn’t found the end of the trail, but it was enough. As I gazed out, a gale ripped over the hog­back and nearly bowled me over. It was time to turn around. I stood my ground for one last glance down the val­ley. The trail un­spooled be­neath me, the Bridgers crest­ing the hori­zon and rolling away to the north and east. I soaked it in. Stolen miles, stolen view.

On the des­cent, I skipped be­neath the pine boughs and yel­low as­pens. The sun glowed cop­per through the grass by the time I could see wind­shields glint­ing in the park­ing lot. The day was end­ing, but I’d cov­ered twice as many miles as I’d set out to see.

And I would only be a lit­tle late for din­ner.

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