The Year of Missoula


Happy holidays and blessings of the new year, dear reader. As we flow forward in the river of time into 2011, I’ve been reflecting on some of the adventures that 2010 brought me.

The years of 2009 and 2010 will be forever in my memory as the years I discovered Missoula. Coming from quiet Helena, the exciting college atmosphere of Zoo Town was a welcome change. It took a while to get used to the great music scene, the bustling farmer’s markets on Saturdays, the art exhibitions (and free alcohol) at First Friday’s, the free lectures and concerts, the ridiculous number of festivals held for every conceivable occasion down at Caras park, the night life that extends beyond 9 pm (this one was a real shocker for me), and the refreshing amount of outdoor enthusiasts, however after about ten minutes of starry eyed wonder I felt right at home.

My summer of 2010 was full of adventures.  For nearly all of last summer I worked at Helena’s version of Missoula’s popular Big Dipper Ice Cream cranking out Spaceship Bananas, Espresso Quakeshakes, and the infamous 9-scooper Supernova. Although my scooping arm gained fantastic definition, the rest of me softened around the edges. All you can eat delicious ice cream will do that to you. I personally think the Big Dip’s ice cream is only rivaled in quality by Ben and Jerry’s. Hop downtown to Higgin’s Avenue in Missoula or to the walking mall in Helena and try a scoop of huckleberry in a waffle cone dipped in chocolate and rolled in mixed nuts. Mmm-mm.

In July I ran off to Atlanta to see my girlfriend for a couple of weeks. As a boy from the cold, harsh desert called Montana, I felt like I was drowning in the Georgian humidity. Here in Montana I love to go on long day hikes, backpacking trips, and runs. In Atlanta, I was ready for a nap after a 15 minute walk in the midday sun.

Jill and I drove up through Charlotte, North Carolina and caught a Jon Mayer concert – never again, I swear to all things that are holy – on our way up to Shenandoah National Parkway. I’ve got to hand it to the guy, he can rip it up on the blues when he wants to, but he’s capitalized his career on the lovey-dovey fluff tunes that can only be classified as the chick flicks of the music world. Hidden somewhere within his set of love songs, muffled by the screams of so many middle and high school girls, I heard two amazing guitar solos that almost made his show worth it. Why can’t you just stick to the blues, Jon, why??

After a night sleeping in the back of the Highlander, we made our way to Shenandoah National Park and explored the scenic Skyline Drive, a highway that runs 105 miles over the beautiful Appalachians. Somewhere along the way we  stopped at a gas station called “Smiley’s” and picked up the best damn pulled pork sandwich I’ve ever had. Let me repeat: at a gas station. Why can’t MT have BBQ that good?

After driving the length of Shenandoah Jill and I explored our nation’s capital, taking in all the sights of Washington D.C. that we could fit into a couple of days. My first visit to the city was an occasion I’ll never forget. The Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress was by far my favorite building, although we explored the U.S. Capitol building and the National Archives as well. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum was out of this world… I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.

In the few days I had left  after our 13 hour drive back from D.C. to Atlanta, I saw some more of what Hotlanta had to offer. I went to a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, explored a bit of down town and the beautiful Fox Theater, went to an AWESOME aquarium, ate Indian food for the first time in my life, and experienced multiple helpings of sweet southern hospitality. The rumors about wonderful southern cooking are all true.

Shortly after my trip to Atlanta, I set out for Banff National Park in Canada with three good friends. Over the course of six days we trekked 80 clicks (kilometers) on a beautiful loop that took us over two mountain passes. Backpacker of the year award should go to my friend Dana, who put up with three smelly, noisy, and crude boys for six days and somehow managed to keep her sanity. The Canadian Rockies took my breath away and left me with an addiction to mountains I doubt I’ll ever be able to shake. It also left me with plenty of mosquito bites.

Luckily, before too long I got to reinforce this addiction with a 10 day trip on the Rocky Mountain Front and in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with a group of fantastic people that I’m proud to call friends. We saw plenty of grizzly tracks on our trail and near our campsites, some old and some fresh. Being there in the presence of such untamed power and the majesty of those towering peaks was humbling in the kind of way that only mother nature can produce. Next stop, the Peruvian Andes (hopefully).

It’s worth mentioning that I spend plenty of time playing in the mountains near Missoula. St. Mary’s Peak is a fun hike with beautiful views just down the Bitterroot Valley, while Blue Mountain or Mount Sentinel  – aka the ever so popular “M” – are also great day hikes. Its also easy to forget that just north of Missoula is the Rattlesnake special management and wilderness area, with extremely easy access to great hiking and backpacking.

Among the daily coursework of the University of Montana in Missoula and the grindstone of  my other responsibilities, I live for the time I get to spend outside, making music, running, reading, cooking, exploring what Missoula has to offer, or in the company of friends and family. Because I’m a chronic procrastinator, an unspecified skill that comes with a college degree, I spend most of my time doing those things, and lots of pre-deadline times pulling my hair out and drinking coffee. Perhaps a new years resolution is in order to stop procrastinating. Then again, I could always start next year.

I wish you all the best for 2011! Please stay tuned for more regular weekly postings.

Thanks for reading. Be good to each other.  –Clay


A little about me: I escape the city as often as possible to go on random outdoor excursions. I enjoy standing in the middle of bridges for extended periods of time. I love reading. I love dogs. I also love making music, dancing, potlucks, pretending to be a zombie on Halloween, gardening, running on trails, cooking with garlic, copious amount of hot sauce, falling leaves in autumn, and drinking black coffee. I also love writing, and feel fortunate to offer my weekly perspective as a college student to the Make it Missoula collective.