Adding style to a summer road-trip.
The last sliver of sun drops below the distant horizon as I slide a cheese-and-bacon quesadilla off the grill and onto my plate. Melted cheddar drips down the sides and bacon grease pools at the tortillas’ edges. I take a bite, closing my eyes and nodding toward the retreating light and warmth.
From our ridgetop campsite, we can see for miles. Miles of burn, miles of mountains, miles of trail. Behind us, a day of riding that rivaled any I’ve ever had; ahead of us, the warmth of a campfire and a bottle of wine. A friend and I are halfway through a week-long road-trip, racing summer and the coming fall along the lesser-pedaled mountain-bike rides of southwest Montana.
In the state’s far-southwest corner, singletrack bobs and weaves up, down, and around towering conifers, truck-sized granite boulders, and crystal-clear mountain springs. It’s day three of five and we haven’t seen a soul, a trend that would continue for the entirety of our trip.
We’re here to explore, not expedition-style, but rather in comfort. Adventures at this time of year are enhanced by luxury. Case in point, the fare. It isn’t often that we drown our meals with anything other than light beer, but a couple weeks from the autumnal equinox, and red wine warms the belly in a way beer never could. Exhibit B, the lodging. While late July calls for little more than a sleeping bag and a soft spot on the ground, by early September the night has a cold bite that is best kept at bay by way of insulation, such as zero-degree bags, long underwear, and sleeping quarters removed from the elements.
That’s how we come to find ourselves the occupants of a Jeep-top tent—luxury, indeed. It’s a rental from local outfitter Hatch Adventures, and it’s gotten us up this old logging road to the remote trailhead where we’re currently camped. Stocked with a stove, table, kitchen kit, chairs, and a cooler, our basic needs are met, leaving us to focus on trip-planning and epic singletrack.
Which there’s a lot of. From Bozeman to Salmon, we’ve covered dozens of miles of dirt. From wind-scoured mountain passes near West Yellowstone to the ghost-like burns of Chief Joseph Pass, these rides represent the wildest trails available to regional mountain bikers, and they haven’t disappointed. More than once, we’ve followed bear paw-prints up steep climbs, and our only companions are the occasional elk and mountain goat. Sun-bleached bones litter the trail in places, leaving us to ponder the animal’s means and manner of death.
We ride hard when we feel like it, but mostly revel in the time outside. The sun’s rays are powerful enough to warm us through, and while the days are shorter, they aren’t so brief as to ruin our fun. Evenings are spent high atop ridgelines, knowing we’ll have plenty of time to descend back to our basecamp before dark.
Summers are fleeting in Montana, so we must take advantage of our good fortune and make the most of it. We’ll rough it through subzero powder days in January—for now, pass the wine and I’ll take another quesadilla.
It’s easy to be envious of Bozeman’s gear bounty. From tricked-out Sprinter vans to bikes that cost more than a down payment on a house, high-end equipment abound—and the average Joe or Jane would go broke trying to keep up. Luckily, you can have the best of both worlds by renting. For our trip through southwest Montana, we rolled out in a Jeep from Hatch Adventures, but they offer way more than just off-road vehicles. You can add a driftboat, trailer, Go Fast Camper, and all the accessories. And they aren’t the only game in town. Several other operations rent everything from top-tier mountain bikes to basic backpacking equipment. This is also a great way to test gear before committing to a major purchase—remember, while living in a van looks cool, it ain’t all riverside beers and warm sunsets, and you might find that there are advantages to having a fixed address.