Secret's Out

Time to find new spots.

Outdoor enthusiasts are secret-seekers: we strive to find our own covert fishing holes, powder lines, and alpine meadows far from the prying eyes of other humans. We've attempted to keep entire towns secret, and succeeded for a long time—coastal urbanites couldn’t flock here en masse before social media told them it was cool or airplanes and four-wheel-drive vehicles made the journey safe and easy. We pride ourselves on our secrets; the more numerous and varied they are, the more complete an outdoor life we’ve lived.

Ironically though, we are terrible secret-keepers. As soon as we find a great new campsite, we jones to share it with others. We blog, we post, we snap, distributing our secrets wholesale across any media platform that'll have us, all to the chagrin of our peers and the detriment of our experience. Having a personal creek, trail, or powder stash is a romantic notion, but our desire to share—or show off—often supersedes our desire to keep the place to ourselves.

A crowdless trail to a nameless meadow.

This summer, I’ve spent a lot of time alone in the mountains around Bozeman, ostensibly to escape the tourist invasion, but my colleagues will tell you the truth: I have no friends. Either way, traveling alone has allowed for introspection and in-depth contemplation: who should I take in the first round of my fantasy draft? Hopzone or Double Haul with my burger? And having said that, cheese or bacon? Moreover, my solo adventures have allowed me to follow a whim when I want and explore new places. I haven’t journeyed far off of Bozeman’s well-beaten paths, but just a step beyond a favorite local lake—say Emerald or Lava—reveals a world most neglect.

Pools of snowmelt, crystal clear and blue, wait beyond the next ridge or behind a stand of pine. Finding one, I take my shoes and shirt off. I dip my toes in and think of a name. Tucker’s Pond—nothing fancy. Just half a mile away, tents surround a bigger lake where fishermen try their hand at rising trout. They don’t know I’m here and I can’t see or hear them; I’m surrounded by towering rock walls. I hear crashing in the forest and the sound, muted by distance, reminds me of stones rubbing against each other in a gentle current. I scan the cliffs for clouds of dust but find none. I pull my toes out of the pond, slide back into my shoes and shirt, and head back, past the fishermen, the campers, and the dayhikers.

Tucker's Pond—location unknown.

We complain about these crowds and lament the fact that our secret’s out—thanks in no small part to this very magazine. The country, and indeed the world, knows Bozeman. They come here by the thousands now, directly from urban metropolises, and take our secrets with them. I say, “Challenge accepted.” Time to find new secrets. Time to push a little further, or more to the left, and find a new fishing hole. Time to bushwack to the top of that trail-less ridge. Many of us are in Bozeman because we kept pushing, kept moving, kept climbing, so why stop now? To think that we've done it all is lazy and unimaginative.

The lines on the map make up a tiny portion of what is out there to explore. There are secrets to seek, some to hold close and protect, and even some to share. This fall, break out the map and then reconsider the lines already etched across it. Go to where there aren’t trails, find the lakes that haven’t been named, and ski the lines without a number next to them. Tell your friends about some, but keep some to yourself. Go there alone when you need solitude to think about life's unanswerable questions. And when in doubt, always get bacon and cheese.