Shooting the Breeze

The Big Sky Wind Drinkers, running on 50 years.

There are two types of people who run the Ed Anacker Bridger Ridge Run: those who witness keg stands on Baldy before rallying to the finish line, and those who pass Baldy before the aid-station party even begins. I’m in the former group, picking my way through the talus beyond Saddle Peak, dreaming of aid-station snacks. Running in August at 8,000 feet, with sparse tree cover and 0% humidity, is a bit like running inside a toaster oven.

This annual sufferfest follows a nearly 20-mile stretch of the Bridger Mountains’ ridgeline, and has been produced by the nonprofit running club, Big Sky Wind Drinkers, for 39 years now. The first iteration included its namesake, Ed Anacker. Back then, trail running was something one resorted to only when being chased, and the sport had not yet reached the popularity it holds today.

Since then, the race has drawn runners from all over the world. It’s limited, however, by a methodical entry process that controls the number of runners on the singletrack, and prioritizes a very powerful element: community.

From children in strollers and power-walkers, to record-shattering elite athletes, the Wind Drinkers welcome all.

“I tell people that it is my goal that everyone standing at the start line will have had something to do with putting this run together,” says Darryl Baker. Baker has volunteered with the Wind Drinkers for decades, most notably leading the effort to haul 2,400 pounds of water across the Bridgers. “The bottom line is that we wouldn’t be able to have this run if it weren’t for the dedicated community of not only runners,” he says, “but also those that love the spirit of the Bridger Ridge Run.”

This spirit has carried the club since its founding at a Red Lodge diner in 1973, when local runners Andy Blank and Frank Newman drew up a charter on a napkin with the aim of bringing together people who loved running—regardless of age, pace, or ability.

From children in strollers and power-walkers, to record-shattering elite athletes, the Wind Drinkers welcome all. Since that day in 1973, the club has grown with the community, donating thousands back to partner nonprofits, and awarding $4,000 to local student athletes in the form of scholarships.

“Twenty years ago, the Wind Drinkers welcomed me and my family as novice runners,” says Frank Dougher, sitting co-president of the Wind Drinkers. “It provided us with a community of encouragement and camaraderie in pursuing our fitness goals, and passing those goals onto the younger generation.”

'Everywhere we went, we found that the way we got to know people was through running clubs.'

It has also built lifelong friendships, and served as a welcoming space for newcomers—something Kathy Brown and her late husband Bob Wade understood deeply. While traveling, the two found that no matter where they lived, the running community was always there for them. After landing in Bozeman, they spent nearly 25 years volunteering with the Wind Drinkers and directing the Frank Newman Marathon, an early-season favorite, famous for being the country’s cheapest marathon at just $5.

“Everywhere we went, we found that the way we got to know people was through running clubs,” says Brown. “They always offered us a group of people we had something in common with, even if the language wasn’t the same.”

When her husband passed away last November, it was fitting that a fun run preceded his memorial, hosted by the club that had welcomed them so many years ago.

But regardless of the race, there’s something magical about the finish line. At the Ridge Run’s conclusion, there’s the smell of grilling burgers, and sighs of relief as finishers dunk their sore, dirt-covered feet into a vat of ice water. A cacophony of cowbells and cheers fills the air as runners cross the finish line, greeted by friends, family, and strangers alike, all soaking up the feeling of accomplishment. But at the end of the day, no one here cares if you came in first or last—they’re just happy you’re here.

Mira Brody is a local writer, runner, and volunteer on the Big Sky Wind Drinkers board.