Monday, July 21, 2008


I love Missoula! Similar to other mountain towns, Missoula is located in a valley, by a river. i am learning that absolutely everything in Montana is located by a river, which is nice because I like the movement. The Clark Fork splits the downtown area (thriving and very cool) from the university and more residential sections of town. To the southwest is a long, newer stretch of chain stores and new subdivisions. It was in the mid-nineties when I arrived and I found myself getting oriented, and then wanting dinner and a beer. I found refuge at the Iron Horse Brewery, which had several local breweries on offer (Kettlehouse, Big Sky, Bayern). I enjoyed a Big Sky IPA, but I would have liked it if it had a little more hops and a slightly heavier body. Still, it was a nice outing.

As a result of the sun setting so late (late July, and we still have broad daylight until 9:30 or so), I find I end up doing things later at night. I slept the next morning until 8:30 (late for me), and then wrote a while. Before it got too hot, I went off for a bike ride. I had scouted some spots to ride by the river the day before and parked at the Missoula Recreation Center. I biked the riverfront on a great gravel trail, then continued it north out of town and into the mountains along the Kim Williams Trail. It was a nice ride, quiet, along and then above the river.

I spent the afternoon touring the Smokejumper Center in Missoula. Missoula is the training base for smokejumpers, and one of nine bases located mostly in the Pacific Northwest (Missoula is pretty far east for the smokejumpers). We had a great tour guide, Ryan, who was a 2nd year smokejumper and one of the younger ones at 25. I found the tour fascinating. Rather than show us the training process, which was what I had expected, they showed us around the base, explaining what they did each day and how it went when they got a call.

We saw the sewing room (they all sew their own gear-- everything except the parachutes, so that it can be better retro-fitted for their own needs). So, part of their rookie training is learning to sew. Ryan showed us the Ready Room.

Then, we saw the Loft, where they check their chutes; after that, the rigging room.

We were shown what they carry when they jump, how the rest of the cargo is rigged, and what they eat when working a fire (lots of spam, apparently). We saw a plane they use. It was just seriously cool. Our guide had just come back from several weeks in California. These men and women are truly the elite of the elite. It takes a lot of training and courage, and they hurl themselves out from low-flying planes to land in a very small area (typically on an incline) very near fire. And then they are left there, sometimes for days or weeks, to control the fire. It's crazy, but I am so happy we have them.

For more information:
Missoula Smokejumpers

I love Missoula. I could have happily just lounged about and hiked and ridden my bike there for several more days. It's only about two hours from whitefish, so I might be back this summer.

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