A Walk in the Park

Man with dog on mountain at sunset

Finding connection in the Bozone.

A handful of winters back, I worked for a cattle rancher in Drummond whose two daughters were attending MSU. A loving father, he was naturally concerned about their sojourn in Bozeman. “They can come back liberal,” he’d tell me. “They can come back lesbian,” he’d continue, “but they’d better not come back vegetarian!”

Shortly after, I moved to Bozeman, seeking bigger mountains, higher summits, and rural-Montana women turned liberal. The first two proved readily abundant. The latter, not so much. Spend much time single in Bozeman, and you’ll quickly discover that most young folks don’t live in this town to find love. They’re after other, bigger objectives: powder lines, mountain summits, Nordic medals, climbing routes, or trophy mule deer—all of which can be found in abundance.

But love? Nah, that can wait until after grad school, or until I move somewhere else, they think—Bozeman being an ephemeral play zone; a campsite on a river trip; a good place to crack a few beers, play some games, then load up and keep going the next morning.

Meet someone interesting, and the usual script goes as follows:

Me: “Hey, want to do something this week?”

Her: “I would love to, but Monday I’m biking the Bangtail Divide, Tuesday I’m climbing in a comp at Spire, Wednesday I’m doing a long run, Thursday I have a dinner party, and Friday I’m meeting some college friends for the weekend in Jackson. I could meet you for a beer between 3:42 and 3:59pm the following Monday!”

Me: “Sorry, I was planning to cure Alzheimer’s and solve world hunger around that time. Any chance you’re available in December?”

Sarcasm aside—though it probably doesn’t help my cause—the script has rerun over, and over, and over. To the point of comedy. While out for a beer after work, I decided to switch it up and create an online dating profile. There have got to be other people out there, I thought. It took a couple minutes to pull together a decent romantic resume, and I queried my co-workers for feedback.

“Move the third picture to the top,” Jack told me. “It shows that you’re both outdoorsy and artsy.”

“I like your prompts,” said Jamie. “And that you don’t have any pictures of your truck or dead things.”

“How about you take my fiancée’s dog to the park instead?” Corey offered.

“What the fuck is Hinge?” Mike asked. It’s basically a more in-depth dating platform, we told him. “Okay, so it’s a hookup app,” he clarified, looking satisfied with his diagnosis.

And while I place good faith in my co-workers, I figured it was still worth querying other experts for advice. Sitting down, I carefully typed a prompt into the AI bot, ChatGPT: “How do I find outdoorsy dates in Bozeman?” The computer monster returned a comically ironic list:

Talk About Outdoor Experiences: Share stories of hikes, camping trips, or outdoor explorations in conversation to reinforce the perception of an outdoorsy lifestyle.

Social Media Presence: Post pictures and updates about your outdoor activities on social media platforms.

Wear Utility Pants: Opt for utility pants or outdoor pants with reinforced knees and multiple pockets. These pants are both functional and stylish for outdoor dates.

Finally, it admonished me with unsolicited advice: “Remember, authenticity is key.”

Feeling more demoralized than ever, I struck out for Corey’s house, flopping on the floor in front of the fire with his dog, Oso. A little walk was exactly what I needed to clear my mind. Packing his frisbee, Oso and I hit the sidewalk to Cooper Park. Should I pack up camp and hit the river? Go to Portland or Seattle, or some other soul-sucking town? Bozeman has a heck of a lot going on—what with a lifetime’s worth of mountains just a stone’s throw from town—but it can feel a bit surreal at times. Or maybe it would be better to just go with the flow, embrace the ephemeral nature of it and—

“Hey, nice utility pants,” a female voice interjected from behind. I turned to see Oso irresistibly trotting up, frisbee in mouth, beautiful blonde woman in tow, her hair flowing gently in the breeze, trail-runner abs glistening in the spring sunshine. Maybe I’ll stick around town a little longer...