Why So Serious?

Bringing folly back to outdoor recreation. 

These days, seriousness abounds. Recreation has taken on a regimentation that confounds us, driven by increased social-media exposure and competitive apps like Strava and Map My Ride. What ever happened to being silly? What happened to drunkenly devising a plan in the wee hours of the morn with a group of friends and then executing after a few hours’ sleep and a half-pot of coffee? What ever happened to throwing on a wig, strapping on some skates, and heading to the frozen channels of the Missouri River Headwaters for some friendly competition?

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you creek-skating. Last winter, during a particularly frigid cold snap, a few fun-loving (read: impetuous, irresponsible, and immature) O/B staffers and friends had an idea: construct a skater-cross course along the frozen Madison River. We’d don costumes and then race, hopping over ice-encrusted logs, banking turns on heaves of frozen water, and generally risking life and limb in the name of a good time. Just like in the good ol’ days, before dawn patrol, PRs, and Insta-kings of the proverbial hill.

Photo by Simon Peterson

With some scouting, we found the perfect venue: the braids and oxbows of the Madison, where it joins the Jefferson and then the Gallatin to form the mighty Missouri River. The location agreed upon, we set about designing the course. Shovels cleared a few inches of windswept snow easily, and the week of sub-zero temps meant thick, solid ice capable of supporting our weight. The river there is shallow, anyway, for another layer of safety. Each competitor carried a weapon of choice, and we agreed that the only rule was no rules at all—as long as one completes the appropriate number of laps within the geographic confines of the course, anything goes. A Chinese Downstream, if you will, a la Hot Dog: the Movie.

Awe Real Estate

Suffice it to say that the weapons got used and treachery abounded, though no blood was drawn and thus no fouls called. And like the good-hearted hero of Hot Dog, the winner—and recipient of a dusty pawn-shop bowling trophy—was not he who tripped, blocked, and checked the most (that was our editor), but who skated clean and well, and used his weapon only in self-defense. The high road, it seems, is still the best.

Photo by Simon Peterson

And we found another way to enjoy the river on skates. A marathon, if you will, rather than a sprint. Find a straight stretch and go for a cross-country tour on an ice-shelf jutting out from the riverbank. Post-race, we reassembled at Gallatin Forks and ambled along the river’s edge at our leisure, watching for wildlife and narrowly avoiding disasters involving patches of thin, uneven ice.

Photo by Simon Peterson

All of this is to say, go do something reckless. Just for the hell of it. You’ll see something familiar in a new light, from a new angle, and you’ll have a good time doing it. Plus, any activity is worthwhile if the post-outing happy hour is at Sir Scott’s. Who knows, you might even hatch another harebrained scheme over a round of 22-oz. beers and steak fingers.

Editors’ note: It should go without saying, but if you choose to follow suit and ice skate on frozen rivers, be smart. Stay close to shore, have safety mechanisms in place, and confirm slab thickness and water depth before running amok across the ice.