Making Lemonade: Bangtail to Bridger Attempt
It's been a minute or two since I word vomited my thoughts onto this website. Between the grad course I just wrapped up, wedding planning, and my full-time job, I've been feeling slightly more than scrambly lately. With only 9 working days left in my contract (**sad face**), I will have more time to write coming up, so get ready for an inbox explosion!
Anywho, the race I spent 5 months in PT for and about 3 months cram-training for was canceled on the Sunday night before we were set to toe the line in Bozeman, MT. "Too much snow" was the reason. I had a minor meltdown at 10:30pm, swallowed a hefty dose of CBD oil, and slept fitfully that night. Should we just proceed with the plan and fly out to Bozeman anyway? Should we bail and eat our non-refundable flights? We would save beaucoup bucks not boarding Cinder and would eliminate my having to take UNpaid time off of work (#contractlife, am I right?). With a relatively minimal amount of back-and-forthing with our friend Ty (who lives in Bozeman), we decided to fly out anyway and attempt to link-up two big ridges: The Bangtail Divide Trail and Bridger Ridge. It would be about 50 miles with 11,000' of climbing. We were stoked to try it! Some super awesome friends (holler atcha, Kyle + Haley!!!), offered to drop our car at the end of the Bangtail so we could refuel and resupply before heading up toward Bridger Ridge.
After spending a couple of days exploring Bozeman (which is rad, BTW), including a stop at an ENTIRELY Gluten-Free brewery just minutes from MSU, we set our alarms for really, really early on Saturday morning, hoping that the forecast would chill the eff out... the typical afternoon thunderstorm was supposed to roll in a few hours early and it *might* cramp our plans to finish the run on Bridger Ridge... I've experienced a few midwest thunderstorms in my life but the storms in Montana are nutso. Crazy, torrential rain for like 15 minutes with INSANE lighting and booming thunder followed by blissful, beautiful sunshine the rest of the day- Gaea, you wiley minx, who was even in charge of creating the weather here? Suffice to say, I was pretty nervey about getting caught in a storm out in the middle of nowhere...
Anywho, bumbling up the Bangtail Divide we were greeted by some pretty ridiculous morning light and so many freaking wildflowers I could have died happy. We also quickly realized that the tacky running surface we'd hoped for was actually just a mess of slippery mud (both Ty and Andy fell at one point lol) and deceptively deep puddles. The running was probably going to be slower than we'd planned for... aside from the surface, the trail was just miles of insane singletrack and I was having a runningasm for most of the time we were out there.
I did accidentally commit a murder though. I was running along in blissful unawareness and suddenly behind me, I hear Andy and Ty stop running and say something (can't remember what they said). When I turned around, they were standing over a tiny, writhing creature on the trail. Apparently I had smashed a little adorable chipmunk with my foot and hadn't even noticed. I spent the next 4 or 5 miles staring at the ground with a very intense amount of focus, worried I would step on another one. My focus didn't go without a benefit though, because I nearly stomped on another critter not long after the first murder. Shortly after this weird interaction with nature, Ty came face to face with a COUGAR! By "face to face" I mean that he saw one cross the trail about 100 yards in front of him but still, it's basically the same when the kitty is that big.
Anywho, we ran down to the car (Ty about 10 minutes ahead of us because he's so GD fast on the way down), soaked our feet in a frigid stream, posed with a can of White Claw (which Andy somehow managed to drink), and, feeling like a bunch of rockstars, started bushwacking our way toward Bridger Ridge.
Literally, we were bushwacking. We followed a series of old fire roads and goat paths in the full sun until I thought I was going to melt into a puddle. My rockstar vibe slowly fizzled until I couldn't decide if I wanted to vomit or take a nap. I couldn't eat so I subsisted on liquid calories, kept my mouth shut, and simply drug myself up the trail behind Ty and Andy. It was painful.
When we reached the campground below Sacajawea Peak (the entry point for our Bridger Ridge run), the clouds were pouring in and a low, distant rumble was beginning to make its way in our direction. We set out searching for water and found NONE. The freaking campground had turned the water off. All 3 of us were completely out of- or close to out of- water so we started begging random people for water. Fortunately, Montana folks are nice AF and we were quickly able to refill our bladders. The rumble grew louder as we started our climb... and then it got darker... and then it started to rain... and to hail... and to crack and grumble above our heads. In sight of Sacajawea Saddle, we huddled under a copse of trees (me, trying and almost failing to stay cucumber cool) and came up with a game plan: we would wait for a break in the storm, hit the saddle, and either continue running the ridge or descend to Corbly Gulch and hope to get a ride back to town.
I still wasn't feeling super, duper stellar at this point but was motivated to hit the saddle so we hiked up the gully, passing a few desperate TAY folks who were taking turns lapping the shortest, skiable section of snow I've ever seen. We were passed by some ridiculously fast dude (sans vest or bottle) making his way up to the peak which felt slightly demoralizing but whatever. We hit the saddle and found ourselves standing in the full sunshine. It was glorious. We eyed Sac Peak and checked the forecast. The storm looming over Bozeman was heading in our direction. The best decision was to bail now... so we power-hiked to the summit of Sac Peak, took a selfie, and started smashing our way down to the trailhead.
We quickly got in touch with our awesome friends (again, serious props to Kyle & Haley!), who agreed to move our car to Corbly Gulch. Ty opened up his legs and smoked us on the way down. The trail was overrun with micro-streams and rocks and it made for some challenging running. My right hip was pretty effed by this point and I spent about 50% of the descent holding onto it with my hand in an effort to keep the pain down. It didn't help that much but the psychological benefit was enough for me.
Ty beat us to the car, drove it up the road, and picked us up right as the storm rolled in. We drove to Bridger Brewing for celebratory GF (for me) pizza and beer and I tried not to vomit for most of dinner, escaping to the bathroom twice when I felt that nasty, mouth watering sensation creep up. The beer settled my stomach and, by the time we got home, I was ready to finish devouring my amazing pizza. And some Coconut Milk ice cream... and whatever else I could get my hands on.
We spent the evening watching silly cartoons and laying on the couches. It was glorious.