Training on Local Trails

Discovering new trails and enjoying old favorites. 

Growing up in the Midwest meant that every summer my family packed up the dogs and coolers full of food, threw us kids in the back of the old Saab, and made the long, flat road trip out to Montana. We slowly left the sweet, humid smell of the plains and climbed up into the crisp mountain air, full of the scent of pine trees, weathered creeks, and wild flowers. As a family, we would roll down the car windows and collectively take a ritualistic breath of mountain air.

Years later, after having lived in southwest Montana for some time, I find it interesting how quickly the nose and mind adapt to a constant smell. I rarely catch the scent I remember so well from my childhood, but when I do, I close my eyes, think back to those cherished moments when my family traveled out West, and say the same words I said for years: "Ahhh, smells like the mountains."

My brother and me as kids visiting Montana

Fortunately, running takes me back into those mountains and onto the beautiful trails we are so lucky to have in southwest Montana. Training for the Bridger Ridge Run has given me the opportunity to try new trails on new terrain: through forests, over creeks, up mountains, and into wilderness. With a collection of short jogs under my belt, I felt it was time to sacrifice some skiing and start building up my miles, so I’ve spent the last two Saturdays exploring Sourdough Trail and South Cottonwood with my dog Moose. I was on the verge of catching the dreaded January head cold but I let the scenery distract me. I stepped onto the trail with a jaunt, letting Moose lead my senses into the woods. My thoughts were replaced by the crunch, crunch, crunch of each footstep up the gentle incline. I followed the sound of the creek over frozen rocks peeking in and out of blankets of snow, the swish and scrape of cross-country skiers going by with a friendly, "Good morning!" I caught glimpses of melting snow shining like diamonds on branches, moss hanging like blankets off low-hanging sticks.

 Moose and me running at Sourdough

I made my way back into town after the six-mile journey, and as I looked out over the Bridger Range, it reminded me how lucky we are to have so many great trails close to town. Almost anyone can jump over to Peets Hill for a 10- or 20-minute hike or run. A short drive brings you up and down the M trail or Drinking Horse in under an hour; in the same amount of time, you can get to other great trails like Kirk’s Hill, Bear Trap, and Triple Tree—all hikes that can be done on a time crunch. These trails provide us with recreation, access to world-renowned wilderness, and a place to meditate and relax. But according to recent research, nature also gives us proven health benefits: lower blood pressure, stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, and more vigor, comfort, and that feeling of refreshment. But of course, here in Montana, we already knew that.

I have to admit that sometimes I get caught in the daily grind and forget to look around at my environment. But it’s in those moments of stress and frenzy when I seem to suddenly see the mountains for the first time. A few weeks ago, when the sun finally stayed up long enough for me to catch a run after work, I threw on my shoes and raced over to Peets Hill. The sun was beginning to set over the Tobacco Roots in shades of orange and yellow and the Bridgers were ablaze with pink and purple. I turned off my stopwatch and took a break with everyone else on the trail to remember all the reasons why we live where we do. Suddenly I was the same child in the backseat of the old Saab, catching my first glimpse of the snowy peaks, taking in the familiar smell of pine trees, weathered creeks, and wildflowers. "Ahhh," I said aloud. "Smells like the mountains."

This is part three of a series about training for, and (hopefully) running the Bridger Ridge Run (on August 10), by Jenny Sheets. See part one and part two.

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