The Crazy Days of Summer

"The things we did last summer, I’ll remember all winter long." –Sammy Cahn

It was almost a decade ago when I first snorkeled the Gallatin River. While borrowing some fishing gear, my friend Kent spotted the Hawaiian sling I’d bought for a diving trip; he came back later with mask, fins, and an old frog spear, grinning like a schoolboy. We spent the afternoon chasing suckers through the deep channel above Axtell Bridge, shooting rapids and diving to the river bottom until our muscles ached and our lungs seemed ready to burst. By day’s end we’d hit maybe two fish and were numb from head to toe—and completely hooked on our newfound “sport.”

Our enthusiasm for early-season aquaneering eventually waned (note to prospective cold-water snorkelers: when it comes to skin color, blue is bad), but our eagerness to embrace the spirit of summer, in any and every way possible, endured. After enough Montana winters, summer becomes less about a specific date on the calendar and more about one’s state of mind. And more often than not, that state is just a little off-kilter.

Which is as it should be. When the clouds part and the sustained sunshine finally sets in, there’s sort of a reverse cabin-fever effect. With the sky suddenly opened wide before our squinting eyes, we’re overwhelmed by an incontrovertible feeling: there’s so much to do and so little time to do it! Our exuberance is too abrupt and intense to maintain focus; we find ourselves indulging every whim, exploring every possibility, following every sun-drenched trail that appears before us. Oftentimes, this means engaging in activities generally considered odd by national standards. From rattlesnake-hunting on the Madison to stashing a fly rod in your golf bag for a “Drift and Drive” excursion to Bridger Creek, there’s no shortage of off-beat activities for the sky-blind citizens of BozAngeles. And don’t be afraid to discuss your record-setting gopher-shoot with the Mini-Mart cashier—odds are, she’s nailed more than you.

In honor of these wacked-out ways of summer, this issue highlights a few of southwest Montana’s less conventional forms of outdoor recreation. Pat Hill explores the mysterious mentality of local skydiving and BASE-jumping pioneer Jeff Schlabs, while Becky Edwards relates her unassailable impulse to run 30 miles across the Beartooths. From open-boat paddling through Yellowstone Lake’s five-foot waves to tooling around town on cruiser bikes reminiscent of nuns and nerdy schoolboys, there’s no shortage of unusual activities for the free-spirited summer buccaneer. Even our contest entries reflect the spicy stylings of the summer season—check out “How Far Will You Go” contest winner “Bugaboobies” on the next page and you’ll see that our zany neighbors to the north are just as afflicted by short-summer syndrome as we are.

So wherever your outdoor impulses steer you—whether it’s a 15-tube Water World reenactment on the lower Madison, cliff-jumping into 50-degree alpine lakes, or bowfishing for carp at Canyon Ferry—don’t be afraid to get a little crazy with your activities this summer. At the very least, you’ll remember them all winter long.