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Mountain High



Missoula sits closer to the North Pole than to the Equator, and as summer rolls around our northern hemisphere faces a full assault of solar radiation, lengthening the days and warming Montana to the core. This seasonal shift is currently at its most dramatic, as every day we’re gaining about three minutes of solar radiation. Multiply that over the course of a 30-day month and our current 15-hour-and-20-minute days are a full 90 minutes longer than they were just one month ago.

The longer days affect our pituitary glands, rousing us out of bed earlier and pushing potlucks late into the evening. It is a glorious time to be in Missoula.

Last week I broke up a weekend road trip with an evening jog in the Ross Creek Giant Cedars Scenic Area near Troy. Expecting a short jaunt, we went light—shorts, T-shirt and tennies. No fanny-pack or water bottle to weigh down an endorphin-filled runner’s high—just good company, imposing 500-year-old-trees and a 30-minute break from the highway. After a brief warm-up, we hit the trail. Immediately I felt something was wrong. Although I carried not one excess item, I could feel a jiggling, a weight, a more-than-spare tire circling my girth and tossing about like a bastard alien baby lodged somewhere between me and my skin: fat!

Of course we all have fat in our bodies—it’s an insulator, it’s padding, it’s a reserve we can call on when we have a hand trapped under a boulder, or when sitting in a Turkish prison. Some have more and some less, but it is a wholly traditional pattern to pile on the girth in preparation for a Montana winter.

Mice do it, and so do bears. Female polar bears gain more than 400 pounds to support their hibernating pregnancies, losing it (and more) while delivering and nursing the cubs inside their den. When the three-month-old twins emerge in spring they weight about 30 pounds each, far less than the 1,400-pound weight that crowns them the largest terrestrial carnivores on the planet.

But I have no plans of giving birth to polar bear cubs, and I don’t need to make it through another Arctic winter. My blubbery midriff is the result of a specific series of events that occurred over the past two months, beginning with a snowboarding accident that dislocated my knee and effectively killed my recreation schedule. A well-meaning friend gave me a television just as the Iraqi war began, and I soon found myself wasting my days with a close following of the continued descent of corporate journalism into the bowels of patriotic hell.

The following month of sedation quickly combined with too many meals prepared by the condiment-dependent Chef Boy Ari (whose daily mantra is “Oh mayo on me tongue”) and voila! I joined the ranks of the 65 percent of American adults the American Obesity Association (AOA) says are overweight. Montanans rank 43rd in the AOA’s ranking of obesity, although we’ve doubled the number of Big Sky fatties in just the last decade.

On a recent 70-degree day, some slim ‘n’ slender vegetarian friends (both sporting perfectly sound knees, I might add) felt comfortable enough to comment on the plump, shirtless paunch resting on my belt, stoking concerns I haven’t harbored since adolescence about being a chunker. And sure enough, my innie belly button was drooping into some low-lying, stoned-out third eye of a not-so-enlightened couch potato.

But backhanded comment aside, it is unlikely that I’ll be faced with the impaired mobility or social stigma that challenge the chronically obese. Instead, the seasonal clocks that govern the movements of all things celestial or cellulite will likely be reflected in my earthly body, and this bastard of a newborn belly will beat its way out of my den faster than a polar bear pup in springtime.

Couch potatoes and athletes alike can get off on the hot international action that is The Ecology Center Classic, a multi-day cycling stage race that will likely draw 400 racers from around the world. There’s a brutal, 92-mile road race around the Pintlers on May 23; a shorter but stunningly scenic loop along Highway 200 on the 24th; an 8-mile sprint at Blue Mountain on the morning of the 25th followed by a 63-mile Frenchtown circuit race that afternoon; and a wipeout-prone-but-spectator-friendly figure-eight at Bonner Park on Memorial Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Ranked as one of the country’s top 20 races by USA Cycling, the Classic draws some of the world’s premiere racers, fully bedecked in spandex, road rash, and the coolest sunglasses ever. Check or call Jeff Crouch at 544-9614 for more details.

The New Rocky Mountaineers (Milana Marsenich, 887-2111) are heading into the Mission Mountains’ Mission Falls on Saturday, May 24. Plan on an all-day adventure, with possible snow/bushwhacking en route to the roaring falls.

Or hook up with the Rocky Mountaineers for a wildflower extravaganza along Rock Creek’s Babcock Mountain Trail on May 25. Backcountry guru Fred Schwanemann (542-7372) will be leading the way.

Send your group-oriented, fat-burning schedule to:

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