It’s not always easy to tell when summer begins.
In my experience, there are two ways to accept summer: adopt early or cling to spring.
Early adopters are fueled by anticipation; they’re tubing the Madison on the first 65-degree day in May, hypothermia be damned. They simply will summer into full bloom. By contrast, spring clingers are still trying to ski in the middle of July, lurking in the cold, north-facing couloirs like adrenaline-fueled golems. It is somewhere in the middle ground, I reckon, that produces an optimal experience—a smooth transition into what most will agree is the best season in Montana.
Finding that balance can be elusive, however. Tempering goals and familiarity with anticipation and novelty is a delicate balancing act. And there are certainly unpleasant consequences for outliers on either end of the adopter/clinger spectrum. I’ve experimented with both, and can speak with some authority on the costs and benefits of each.
Diving into summer early is wonderful and exciting. It’s a badge of honor to go biking at Pipestone even as the Bangtail Divide languishes under drifts of snow, and who doesn’t envy a well-timed day of casting on the upper stretches of the Bear Trap even as angry runoff spills down the Gallatin. But the long view of summer reveals a truth that transcends recreation: you can have too much a good thing. After a few too many months of heat and sweat and dust, autumn can’t come soon enough, and the cycle of the early adopter continues.
For clingers, on the other hand, summer may not begin in earnest until after the snow is cupped and runneled in even the Great One and the Blaze. By this time, more reasonable people have been fishing and floating and biking and climbing for months and have built their summer skill and fitness base. By July, there’s no chance to catch up, and friends and partners can be alienated simply by disparate strength, endurance, and experience. It’s like running a marathon without training—you probably aren’t going to finish with the leaders.
The answer for both is simple: do whatever’s next. There’s no rule for when summer begins or ends, or what’s most important. Like everything in Montana, summer is dictated by the weather—so do what feels right. If the trails are dry, go running or biking. If the river’s running clear, go fishing. If summer’s cancelled and it snows in August, by all means go skiing. The fact that we have the choice at all is astonishing and wonderful. It’s what it means to be a Bozemanite.
The only certainty is that summer is the golden season. These are the salad days. This is the time to go for broke, tick off all of the trails and routes and river stretches you dreamed about during the colder months. Don’t be fooled into thinking anything else. This is your summer—get out and live it. Whatever comes next.