Diamonds in the Dirt: Bozeman, Montana

Lydia Tanner’s Ramblings From the Road

Lydia Tanner is a dirt connoisseur who lives in her car. She spent her fall drinking gallons of coffee and riding lesser-known trails all over the Northwest. These are her stories.

Huge slick berms rose out of the fog, and pretty soon there was no room for anything in my heart but dirty, cheating joy.
Huge slick berms rose out of the fog, and pretty soon there was no room for anything in my heart but dirty, cheating joy.

When I think of Montana’s trails, I think of faint single track, direct routes up shady scree-filled gullies, and ripping, fall-line turns. It’s not a forgiving place to ride, but every effort is proportionally rewarding. I may live down south now, but Montana has my heart, and as we drove North from Pocatello I couldn’t wait to get back on some of my favorite dirt.

Sadly it was not to be; we arrived in Bozeman on the heels of the world’s slowest thunderstorm, and my dreams of sketchy alpine adventures dissolved in the mud. We spent the better part of a day attempting to do normal people stuff, like laundry. Not surprisingly, the second day’s downpour saw us loading up a truck with bikes and friends, rain and clean shorts be damned.

And the muddy gumbies would laugh and rejoice in their shuttle victories.
And the muddy gumbies would laugh and rejoice in their shuttle victories.

My most recent experience at Big Sky was also my first experience at Enduro racing. In the first minutes of the first stage I crashed directly onto my face and got lost, then spent the rest of the day anaerobically chasing the tail-end of the rowdy Montana bike scene. Impressions: Enduro is hard and Big Sky is gnarly– they’ve got the vertical and they know how to use it.

One of my favorite stages–and our destination for the day–was a flow trail called Otterslide, which was built earlier this summer by Pete and Linda Costain, AKA Terraflow. Known for their work on the Kashmir trail in Whitefish, Montana, the Costains were hired by the Big Sky folks in 2013 to add some variety to the local goods.

Before they got their hands in the dirt, Pete says Big Sky was “pretty much old school across the board–either existing old USFS singletrack or fall-line DH gnar.” Otterslide and its XC counterpart, Otterway, were intended to give a wider range of riders an enjoyable experience. I, for one, remembered enjoying my experience to the point of whooping. A lot. During a race. As we wound our way up the canyon, blasting tunes and fogging the windows, I felt simultaneously thrilled and terrified to see Otterslide underwater.

In this moment, it's always worth it.
In this moment, it’s always worth it.

The deluge showed no signs of letting up as we arrived at the top, and there was a scramble to assemble rain gear before emerging from the cozy cab of the truck. I hate cheating and almost never do shuttles, so it felt surreal to the point of guilt to just start pedaling down. This was compounded by my fear of the laughably horrible conditions, but there was nothing for it–we laughed at the horrible conditions and got pedaling. The trail started bucking as muddy raindrops blurred my glasses. Huge slick berms rose out of the fog, and pretty soon there was no room for anything in my heart but dirty, cheating joy.

We laughed and high-fived like muddy gumbies as we accrued lap after lap of grime, and I decided the best trails aren’t always the most deserted or challenging or remote; sometimes they’re just the ones you can get to with your friends on a rainy afternoon.

You can follow Bikemag.com road warrior Lydia Tanner on Instagram @lydlovesmud or Twitter @lydlovesmud7.