Thursday, December 27, 2012

Assault weapons.

It's winter in Missoula, and as usual there's simmering debate in the letters to the editor page about city plowing -- or lack thereof. Back in Salt Lake City there seemed to be an army of plows and an endless supply of salt to throw down; I can only remember one time where the roads stayed snowpacked for more than a few hours. Not so Missoula. When it storms the main half-dozen or so roads get plowed, and a dozen or so more get scraped the next day, and that about wraps things up. The street in front of our house gets plowed about once a year, and I have not seen evidence of a plow on the side street in three years. The result is that most residential streets stay snowpacked for a few months.

Since I'm still biking about 12 miles a day, and since almost all of that is on unplowed streets, I've been looking for a bit more traction. Bike stores here actually sell factory-made studded tires for commuter and mountain bikes, but as you can see, they ain't cheap.

I've made my own pair, and while I don't have a ton of mileage on them yet, they are working very well. And they cost $2.85. Total.


A great Missoula resource is Free Cycles. Free Cycles has a nice, clean, well-stocked shop and people who know what they are doing. They collected discarded, scavenged, and donated gear, spruce it up, and offer it and the workspace for free or by donation. Using the advice of Bob, the shop chief, I got four mountain bike tires, two which were about 2 inches wide and with good tread, and two which were about 1.5 inches wide and with well-worn tread. I then went to Ace and bought a box of 185 tiny sharp screws. I then sat on the kitchen floor for about two hours last weekend and screwed the screws into the good tires, then shoved the older thinner tires inside the good tires, then mounted the double-tire set onto the rim and inserted the tube. The outer tire has good tread about about 80 sharp-as-hell screws sticking out; the inner tire acts as a buffer to protect the screw heads from the tubes.


I can report so far that he upside is that I have very good traction. The downside is that I have bike tires that weigh about 10 pounds each and a LOT of rolling resistance.

We'll see how long this works.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fifty shades of white/Smelling snow.

Like all good employees I saved my personal days at work for the ski season, and so last weekend I made a run for the border. There are certain places where though even though I may have only been there for a few moments I will always assume that the weather present on that day was the weather that place always has. You will never convince me that the sun shines in Paris, that Santiago is ever anything other than the land of eternal spring, and that Flic-en-Flac ever budges off the thin autumnal line between too warm and too cool. I’ve driven, hiked, and skied across and around Kootenay Pass in British Columbia a handful of times and have experienced ice fog, sideways snow, and low clouds – but usually it’s just fat white flakes falling straight down.


(Contemplating a descent)

Kootenay Pass marks the high point of Canada’s transcontinental Highway 3, and is one of the snowiest places in North America. Simply putting a highway across the pass was audacious; keeping it open year-round for tourists, skiers, truckers, and commuters is an impressive feat. If you want to see big machinery pushing behemoth piles of snow around in a world of eternal twilight, this is the place to go.



These days are short up on Kootenay Pass; the sun sets before 3:40 p.m., but as I doubt the sun ever shines what you get is not so much a sunset as a two-hour-long subtle differentiation among degrees of white. The shades of white, and kinds of whiteness, and the transformation of every object on the mountain from its true color into that of white, is the definition of this place.


(Readying for another lap)


(Done for the day)

So the order of events was skiing. I made a headlamp lap on Lookout Pass, camped, skied the morning at Schweitzer on a $10 lift pass, then crossed the border and rallied up Kootenay Pass, where I made a lap in the last ounces of light and slept in the back of the truck. The next morning with a half-foot of new on the ground I pulled the old guy’s trick of waiting for excited locals to show up and break trail so I did not have to. I hiked up Lightning Ridge and found a group of Calgarians skiing into the Twin Lakes drainage. I followed them and we took turns breaking trail up and making 1,000-foot descents in loose glades, steep lines, and billowy faceshotting cold smoke. At the end of the day they handed me off to a local, who let me sleep in their garage at the base of the pass in Salmo, and on Sunday we were back at it, breaking trail and eating snow. New fallen snow has no color and no weight, but it does have a smell that you can only experience when you are under head in it: that of cold blue clean electricity, a rare and beautiful smell that I would gander few have experienced. Hopefully I will again – but I have to save up more personal days at work first.


(Headed home)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Lower 47.

I just finished reading Montana: Stories of the Land, a pretty good high-school level history textbook. I know a decent amount of the story of Montana history you get from reading roadside plaques, but less about the non-geographic happenings of the Treasure State. Montana has a history which is more interesting than some states’ and less interesting than others, but what sets it apart to me is that there is no clear distinction between what is and what was. Few states can boast the fascination and complexity of history that, say, Texas has, but the history of Texas is now safely cached in parks and museums, and the lives and landscapes of Texas today are far removed from those of 100 years ago. In Montana, on the other hand, it’s not always clear where the line between before and now occurs. You get a strong sense of a place set apart, and leaving or arriving entails crossing borders both real and imagined.

So anyway, we departed for The Lower 47 and visited Wyoming.


It just so happens that parts of The Lower 47 currently have better skiing than Montana, the scenery is just as good, and the hotels are much, much cheaper.




I guess you don’t ever quite get tired of looking at this, do you?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tools of the Adventure

The Great Falls


As Lewis and Clark made their way up the Missouri they met Indians who told them of a "great falls". When they finally found the falls they were happy -- it meant they'd followed the correct river. But the explorers had expected one waterfall, not a half-dozen falls spread over a dozen miles. The portage took nearly a month.

Lewis, in his journal, called the Great Falls of the Missouri one of the grandest sights he had witnessed. His description and a few early sketches are all that remains. About a century ago the falls were buried behind a reservoir. Today, the reservoirs power the city of Great Falls. You can see a portion of what remains of the falls, but the overlook is only open three months of the year and the rest of the time sits behind tall fences.

A lot has been done to correct the abuses of this planet, but a lot remains. The dams on the Missouri are a reminder that too often people will do wrong by the landscape.

Buffalo Jump


Logging Creek


We fell asleep at about 10 pm only to wake before 1 am to howling winds and rain. The wind overhead sounded like a freight train, and we could hear trunks snapping. What if a tree crashes on our tent? What if the road is blocked by fallen trees? What if the rain washes the road out, or turns it to deep mud? What if the rain changes to snow and we're stuck in here, 20 miles from the nearest pavement?


By dawn the winds are calm, the rain has stopped, and the ground is dry. It's a safe morning, albeit a chilly one.

Tower Rock


The explorers climbed Tower Rock to look back at the plains and forward to the mountains. Indians told them the buffalo could not be found in the mountains. The Missouri flows by below. Again, the Indians were right -- sort of. At this point, the party was headed south and would eventually turn west, then north, before arriving at Travelers Rest -- a journal of several more weeks. A shortcut, however, could have put them at Travelers Rest in just a few days.


Tools of the Adventure

In New Zealand, outfitting our bikes, we bought a pair of locally made panniers called Tools of the Adventure. I always liked that name. A lot of marketing suggests the adventure is the product, but actually the product just facilitates it. Skis are like that. I'm constantly amazed at how these simple, relatively cheap things can so easily take you to so many places. Last week I spent $60 on a set of cross-country skis -- including poles, bindings, and never-worn boots. More adventure.


Friday, November 2, 2012


A few years ago for my birthday Laura got me a rain gauge, a max/min thermometer, and a weather diary; once I made a snowstake and sunk it into the back yard I had myself a nice little weather station.

Most stations report data for the calendar year (Jan. 1-Dec. 31) or the water year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30). My data year is one of convenience starting when I got the instrumentation – Nov. 1 – and running to Oct. 31.

A detailed look at a year’s worth of weather in Missoula (3205 feet) shows a couple of interesting things. One is that, true to its nickname “Garden City”, the weather in Missoula actually is quite mild – at least when compared to the rest of Montana. Last year our high temperature was 100, and while I did not note the low, I believe it was 2. Just 100 air miles east of here that range would probably be closer to 105 to -20. Also interesting is the fact that while Missoula does not get a lot of precipitation, there is a lot of precipitating going on. I recorded at least .01 inches of precipitation on 100 days last weather year (I did some educated guessing on the days I was not here). That’s a lot, but in total we had just 11.27 inches of precipitation (rain and snow water equivalent) – which makes Missoula a desert by most counts. Because some days we have rain and snow in the same 24-hour period, and because I am lazy, the total precipitation counts below include both rain and snow – if I was dedicated to this I would tally rain and snow and rain/snow. In any case, you can see we get a lot of days of a skiff of snow or a few drops of rain, and very few days at all of long deluges.

Since I tally my data off-kilter it’s hard to compare it to the official weather station at the airport, but I do think I can generalize to say that our proximity adjacent to the mountains and nearish to Pattee Canyon’s mouth results in a tad more snow and a bit more precipitation.

So why is Missoula so “dry”? The answer I get is that the biggest storms to roll across Northwest Montana pound the mountaintops but leave north-south oriented valleys shadowed.

Anyway, here’s a rundown (larger amount categories include the smaller amounts, so 30 days of >.1" are included in the 100 days of >.01"):

Total precip: 11.27 inches

Total snow: 45.3 inches

Days of:

Precip >.01”: 100

Precip >.1”: 30

Precip >1”: 0

Snow trace: 71

Snow >1”: 10

Snow>6”: 2

Days with thunder: 3

Days with blizzard conditions: 1

Days with freezing rain: 3

Last frost: June 8

First frost: (actually I forgot to record this but I think it was) Sept. 22

Growing season: 107 days

Monday, October 22, 2012

More Life, double life, The Continuous Life, and ‘because I want more’.

Back when I was at the University of Utah I occasionally sat in on lectures by Mark Strand, who at the time (or just previous, I can’t remember), was the poet laureate of the United States and who, by the way, was just way too cool to teach undergrad classes. At the time I chanced across a short story of his published in the New Yorker called More Life, which I thought then was an interesting story about a man who comes to believe his father has been reincarnated as a horse doing the tourist circuit in Central Park. I see now it’s an awful story, but for some reason it’s always stuck with me.


(Biking to day care, Missoula, October, 2012)

When I was 18 I started keeping a diary. Now the spiral-bound notebooks occupy about three feet of shelf space in the attic office. I started reading them last summer, cover to cover, and had the strange sensation of living two lives, the one I’m in now and the one I inhabited back then, and they seem oddly parallel and eerily totally completely unalike. To remember those things in detail was to recapture a lot of life.


(Missoula, October 2012)

Last week we had a baby shower at work for one of my bosses, and like a lot of people are prone to say, someone said, Well, enjoy every minute of it because it sure goes by fast. And then turned to me and said, Right, Jeff? To which I could only reply the same thing I’ve been saying to everyone who says that to me, No, this was the longest freaking year of my life.


(Kalispell, October 2012)

So today Cooper is one, and before he was born I started keeping a second diary just of him, and this morning while waiting for him to wake up I read through most of it, and was struck again, in miniature, at two lives lived simultaneously. Yeah, a long year all right. Which is fine, because I’d rather stretch things out than condense them.


(The firetruck came to daycare, Missoula, October 2012)

And then this. While searching for More Life because I was too lazy to pull my copy out of the bin in the garage which holds all my old clippings, I found this, which is actually a quite good poem by Strand, and called, more appropriately, The Continuous Life:

What of the neighborhood homes awash

In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,

Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,

Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving

From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,

Have run their course? O parents, confess

To your little ones the night is a long way off

And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them

Your worship of household chores has barely begun;

Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;

Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,

That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;

Explain that you live between two great darks, the first

With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest

Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur

Of hours and days, months and years, and believe

It has meaning, despite the occasional fear

You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing

To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,

That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,

A family album that fell from its own small matter

Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,

You don't really know. Say that each of you tries

To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear

The careless breathing of earth and feel its available

Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending

Small tremors of love through your brief,

Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.


(Sidney, British Columbia, August 2012)

And finally: it’s called My Body, but the refrain is “Because I want more”.

My body

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Even after getting after it almost every week for the past three years there is still a lot to see around here -- case in point is Glen Peak, a good-loooking 8,600-foot peak partway down the Bitterroot exactly one hour from the house (drive time includes 25 minutes on a dirt road). Glen is unique in that it has a road going half way up it. I skied part of it two winters ago but was far from the summit, and had not been back. Maybe the road scared me away.


I went up with Eric, who despite using the Bitterroot as his playground for several years had not been up it either. Much of the way up we talked about Tahiti -- namely, do you fly there and backpack, camp, eat baguettes, and get around on the cargo ferry, or do you sign up for the Costco package, fly there, and find the chauffeur standing outside immigration with your name scrawled on a placard? Anyway, it was fun to remember good times there.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boy gets a Chariot.

You don’t have to be a biking parent to get a pretty heavy case of gear envy over the Chariot – that much is plain to see from the number of aging hipsters who tool around Missoula using Chariots to cart their pets to the park and the number of young hipsters who use them to pick up their CSA veggie allotments. We have a Chariot Cougar 1 and it’s probably the slickest piece of gear I own – and one of the most expensive.

(On the Great Northern rails to trails ride in the Flathead Valley)


In fact, of all the gear we have, this has probably done more than any other to transform ‘family life’. We got ours in April and since then have put well over 1,000 miles on it. It was used for a nine days of bike touring in the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island, and has been on bike tours in Idaho and Montana, not to mention used daily for bumps around town. Now that Cooper is in daycare, I’m averaging 18 miles a day with it as I carry him through cross-town traffic back and forth to Origins, home, and work.

While there are a handful of child-specific bike trailers on the market, Chariot is by far the techiest of the bunch. Unlike many others, with the Chariot you don’t buy the unit; instead, you get the frame and then build-as-you-go, choosing from back wheels, stroller wheels, jogger wheels, strobe lights, ski attachment, ski harness, infant seat, stroller bar, disc brakes, cup holder … well, you get the picture. An arm with a rubber mount at the end attaches to a bike, and that is the main way we use ours. Exterior styling is nice, and the Chariot is the best looking on the road. The inside, meanwhile (and I realize I sound like a BMW commercial) is well appointed. Cooper sits in a Recaro-style seat with a five-point harness and a beefy wrap-around head rest. There are two pockets and two vents. The front has a fold-away sun shade, and a mesh door that has a roll-down clear plastic screen. While most families won’t need another stroller, the stroller the Chariot makes is about the most bad-ass thing there is; you have to use one to see what I mean.

(In Sidney, British Columbia)


The multi-use platform is one of the Chariot’s main features. We store our stroller wheels on the unit full-time (there is a special place for them), and that means we can, for example, bike downtown, then unhook the unit from the bike, turn the wheels around, and walk to the park, through the market, or into a store. Since the whole things folds pretty well, it can go in the Avalon trunk without too much difficulty. On the road it tracks well, and since there is a cool strut-and-shock suspension, Cooper gets along without a lot of bouncing. While I wouldn’t traverse the summit of Sheep Mountain pulling one, it’s pretty durable, and I can run off curbs and bump down forest roads with ease. Besides the storage on the inside, there is a huge mesh pocket on the back and a large weather-proof pannier off the rear.

After a lot of riding, I do have a few qualms. The bike attachment has a backup strap that runs around the bike frame and back to the arm; it attaches to the arm using a very cheap clip that I suspect will be a real pain once we get ice and snow. Meanwhile, the arm has a backup pin that gets inserted through the arm and into the frame; due to the bulge of the cockpit it’s a real pain to get in there. (Incidentally, Chariot issued a recall of this arm late in the spring; I requested a replacement part months ago but have yet to receive it.)

(Orcas Island, Washington)


While Chariot packs a lot of features into the 26-pound bike unit, 26 pounds is still a lot to tug around. Plus, I keep a patch kit, pump, two tubes, sunblock, and water in it at all times, and when I’m taking Cooper to day care there are also diapers, bottles, cereal, spare clothes, and more. There are usually a few toys in there for him to play with, and lately there’s been a blanket and spare jacket, too. Plus the kid himself. In other words, you will never not know you are pulling it. Biking with a loaded Chariot is akin to pedaling up a neverending hill, or riding with your brakes on. A daily ride of 18 miles with a Chariot is probably more like 24 without.

(Start of the Route of the Hiawatha, Idaho-Montana border)


Luckily, a very nice friend of Laura’s gave her his barely-used two-year-old model. Kitted out, what we have would ring in at nearly $1,000 (and we don’t have the skis and harness – that’s nearly $300 more). While this is a lot of high-end gear for $1,000, $1,000 is about what I paid for my mountain bike some 20 years ago. I still have the bike, but at best the Chariot will get used for another four or five years, making the per-year cost fairly extraordinary.

Anyway, this one’s being put to good use.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

End times.

Friday night, some low clouds, some smoke in the west, and an easy drive to Butte and just beyond.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The road to the Haystack Mountain trailhead is just bare earth.


Another hike, another hike foiled by bears. Turnaround point on the way up Crowe Peak in the Elkhorn Mountains.


I move a ridge over and there are no bears -- or at least they aren't hogging the hiking trail.


Sunday morning, time for two more hikes: a quick runaround in the Helena National Forest, and this beauty up to the wind-slashed tundra summit of Edith Mountain in the Little Belts.


Good hiking conditions expired at 5 a.m. this morning when snow fell from Kootenay Pass to Homestake Pass, and even in Missoula. This fat season of easy living has come to an end. Photobucket

Thursday, September 27, 2012


For the past month or so we've lived under a heavy blanket of smoke thanks to a complex of fires far away in Idaho that has burned more than 330,000 acres. Some days it manages to clear up, and some days the visibility drops to less than a mile. It sucks. Just about everyone has tried to escape the smoke, a task made difficult by the wide net it's cast across Northern Rockies. Last weekend Laura, Cooper, me, Drew, Carlye, Jude, Autumn, Eric, and Katrina took three cars and two boats up to Bowman in the remote northwest corner of Glacier. It was nice, but it was still smoky.

I started the day off early with a 6:40 interview on Montana this Morning. You can tell this was a special occasion as Laura pulled the TV out of the closet to watch it.


We slept in the luxurious Chalet du Nissan. Photobucket

Since we were camping, I decided to grow a beard. Photobucket

I went kayaking.


Laura went kayaking. Photobucket

Cooper did not go kayaking. Photobucket

Still the smoke remains, but we're promised things will soon be lifting.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Probability level.

In the past 20 or so years I’ve lived in or near four urban areas, and each one of them at one time or another has appeared on a “best places to live” list. I’m not sure if this is due to chance or how well I pick cities. It might, of course, be due to how stupid these “best places to live” lists really are.


(Ross Creek)

Criteria for making these lists are so broad that any one city in America probably could brag to be “best” at something, whether that be powder days, single track, libraries, coffee shops, job prospects, health care, or fusion tacos. Some cities actually score high in all of those categories but also feature other aspects which render them practically unlivable.

Usually when I see a “best cities” listing, half of the entries make perfect sense and the other half seem perfectly senseless. The authors of these lists seem to know because some of the entry descriptions include telling phrases like “best-kept secret” and “surprise” and other qualifiers.

This month Outside named Missoula in its top list of “River Cities”. Sitting at the junction of the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot, and the Clark Fork, this came as no surprise and so you think smugly how great Missoula really is. Then you see the winner – Richmond, Va. – and note that Nashville ranked higher than Jackson (as in Hole). You also read the fine print, which says entries were picked based on a reader write-in campaign, and note that greater Richmond, which got 46% of the vote, has 1.2 million people; Missoula, with 6%, has 65,000. Don’t even get me started on Nashville.

Anyway, in the write-up, someone was quoted saying Missoula is the place people choose to live “when they can live anywhere they want”. When we moved to Missoula we thought we were in the same frame of mind: being homeless and jobless, we literally could move anywhere we want – as long as it was snowy, close to skiing, close to wilderness, close to an airport, had a walkable downtown, had jobs, had affordable homes... - well, you get the picture.

So, yeah, anywhere, but no, not exactly anywhere. If you have to do a survey based on volume of reader responses, I'd like to see one where readers can't vote for the town the live in. Who ever says, I've lived here my whole life, and it blows!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Border patrol.

I like these long empty roads that run to the border. After the last lights of the last town fall away, the road opens and traffic disappears. Remote gas stations advertise fuel at astronomical prices which you’ll soon pine for. Habitation appears as the occasional bar with a lit neon sign and a handful of idling trucks out front. Signs announce border hours and crossing formalities.


(The view from the Stahl Peak lookout)

I recently got a large-format atlas for Montana, but instead of showing where to go it seems to highlight the places I haven’t been to. Often, the lure of the border means that which deserves attention goes unnoticed.


(Summit of Green Mountain, looking north, moments before a close-proximity grizzly encounter)

The Whitefish Mountains. Well-known for a four-season resort at their southern terminus, this range stretches into Canada and overall receives little attention. It’s remote and one valley over from Glacier National Park.


(Ten Lakes Scenic Area, Kootenai National Forest)

A 10-mile out-and-back turned into a 12-mile loop thanks to a damn close encounter with three grizzlies and the desire not to cross their path again on the way back. A few extra hours in the afternoon, so a 4-miler around Big Therriault Lake. A night of moving the truck three times to get away from mice trying to break in. In the morning, a power-stride up Stahl to the lookout. 4.7 miles and 2,400 vertical in 1 hour 50 min. I meant to dally on the descent and stopped for a few minutes to gorge on superripe blueberries. Proceeding, not 10 yards later I stepped into a massive, very fresh bear turd.


(Stahl Peak blueberry patch -- fun for everyone!)

Another weekend down, a bit more of the map filled in, and of course, more to see is revealed.

Friday, September 14, 2012


A few weeks ago, while bivouacked at the Coast hotel in Wenatchee, we entertained ourselves by watching some HGTV. Cable is quite the treat as at home we get two channels. HGTV is so puerile it's hardly worth the effort, but still beats most everything else that's on (except for that reality show shot in maximum security prisons -- now that's good television). Anyway, turns out a lot of the HGTV shows are filmed in Canada. Usually you don't realize it until the message at the end saying the filming was funded in part by the government there, but occasionally you'll pick up on a bit of wording that gives the Canadians away -- like 'reno'. I'd never heard this word before, but a couple was buying a home and the agent told them to figure a complete 'reno' of the kitchen into the budget -- a full renovation.


(Kitchen? What kitchen?)

Well, we had our own reno here in Missoula, though unfortunately we did not have government liaisons to help us out. A kitchen renovation is a big deal. We ought to have done one back in Waynesville but lied ourselves into believing that what was there had 'character'. We repeated the same line in Missoula, only now 'character' meant a gaping expanse between the 18-inch dishwasher and the nearest cabinet, and some drawers that would not close, and some drawers that would not open. Then the idea was we could do the minimum and be happy, then that I could do it myself, then that some magical assistant could help me do it, and then that we ought to just call the professionals.


(Finished -- about two weeks start to finish, not including the six weeks or logistics beforehand)

We kept costs down by reusing the fridge, stove, and faucet, and keeping the floor tiles (which I don't like, however). We stacked the existing washer/dryer in the utility room and added a large custom cabinet, then had all new custom cabinets placed in the kitchen and topped it with LG Hausys Hi-Macs counters. We got a 14-inch deep stainless sink and a very nice stainless Bosch dishwasher. We moved the stove across the room and added a stainless hood, too. We also saved some money by doing the painting ourselves. Outside, while the electrician was here, we added three outlets (there were none) and relocated the dryer exhaust vent. We also cajoled the telephone, satellite, and cable companies to remove a few decades' worth of utility boxes that had been hanging off the back of the house (and now we really won't ever be getting HGTV at home, I guess); that work really cleaned up the look of the back of the house.


As kitchens in Missoula go this was fairly affordable, though I'm not ready to say it was worth trading the chance to go on five Austrian ski trips to do it. Custom cabinets, it turns out, were no more expensive than cabinets from some place like Lowe's (plus we did not have to deal with the sheer idiocy of those big box stores), and they are a nice fit and finish. I'm much less impressed, so far, with the LG counter, which seems to scratch easily. Will have to update on that in the future.