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.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Window of opportunity.

In the same way that the onset of summer spurs a frenzy of activity, so too does the end of summer -- but for different reasons.


(Old Baldy, Sept. 2, 2012)

In June motivation is high because opportunities seem unlimited. In September they are high because the window of opportunity for getting things done seems to be constricting visibly.


(Cabinet Mountains, Sept. 3, 2012)

We drove down the Bull River Valley on Monday and leaves were changing. In town it's in the 30s at night. Darkness increases at the rate of nearly 4 minutes a day, meaning each week has almost a half-hour less of light than the week before.


(Logan State Park, Sept. 2, 2012)

June's to-do list sits mostly unchecked, the weeks since then filled with tasks of opportunity and convenience. What happened to those plans to climb the Pintlars, bike the Flathead, and do 1,000 pushups in an hour?


(Old Baldy, Sept. 2, 2012)

So Labor Day marks not the end of summer but the realization that there is five, maybe seven weeks of decent weather and light. Go!


(Elk Meadows, Sept. 1, 2012)

Long weekends require a long bath:


Parting shot: Ross Creek Cedar Forest: