|My guys at the Rattlesnake Trailhead|
When I first heard of REI's plan, of course I was all for it. But that year, my bargain-hunting family wanted to hit the malls. I grudgingly gave in and followed my loved ones through the crowded stores on their quest for doorbuster deals. And totally regretted every minute.
The Opt Outside campaign was so successful, REI planned an encore for Black Friday 2016. With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, I put my foot down. No shopping this year - my family was going on a hike!
This Thanksgiving, my hubby and I journeyed to Missoula, Montana to spend the holiday weekend with our son Cody. I had a lovely time - and even got a break from cooking as my son prepared the entire meal. However, I made it made it clear that the next day we were going to get outside and work off our turkey dinner.
|Unique white berries|
Missoula is a huge outdoor town. Boasting miles of trails inside the city limits, and several nearby recreation areas, our only question wasn't if we were opting outside, but where.
|Lots of trail choices|
|Vibrant green lichen|
Cody chose a flat trail that followed Rattlesnake Creek. We planned to hike in about three miles, turn around, and retrace our steps. A nice mellow ramble, I decided not to bring my big backpack and just carry my camera. Thinking we'd only be out for a couple of hours, I didn't even bring so much as a water bottle. (Big mistake!)
|Intricate patterns in a frozen puddle|
Although it was late morning, temperatures still hovered near the freezing mark when my hubby, son and I began our hike. The trailhead had a large parking area and bathroom facility, was well signed, and the kiosk was even fully stocked with paper trail maps. Luckily, Cody thought to grab one!
|Skiff of snow on this fallen tree|
After making the men pose for a couple of photos by the trailhead sign, my hubby and son rocketed away, leaving me in the dust. Both are fast walkers, and knowing there was no chance of keeping up, I lingered in the rear, stopping to snap photos of anything interesting that caught my eye.
|Consulting the map|
Luckily, the guys did stop occasionally and wait (I think they wanted to make sure I was ok). But I wasn't worried about getting lost. The trail followed a wide roadbed through the forest. Nearly flat, it was an easy ramble. Side trails and junctions were well-marked.
So many interesting photo subjects! Lichen-draped Ponderosa pines, frozen puddles displaying interesting patterns, and fallen logs dusted with tiny snow pellets. And every once and awhile, the forest would clear to produce a teaser glimpse of the creek far below.
|Cute little 'shroom|
Since this road was shared with mountain bikers, an occasional bike would pass by. The riders were all very courteous, calling out warnings before they overtook hikers. I noticed a couple of bikers with rifles strapped to their backs. I'm not sure if they'd been out target shooting or merely carried them for protection (Cody mentioned that bears and mountain lions lived in the hills just outside of Missoula and sometimes wandered into town).
|Surrounded by green|
At the 3-mile mark, we passed a restroom. Totally impressed me to see one so far down the trail! (Of course, I took the opportunity to use it.)
|Pause at the riverbank|
Although the scenery was lovely, and the trail flat and gentle, I was a bit disappointed it didn't follow the creek at water level. Instead, the path remained high above or just far enough away that we only got glimpses through the trees, and teasing sounds of rushing water.
|River bottom patterns|
Just beyond the restroom we came upon a trail junction. Consulting the map, Cody pointed to a side trail that would lead us to the creek. To follow or not to follow? It was a quick decision which way to go.
|Trails were well-marked|
A short path through a meadow led my family and I directly to Rattlesnake Creek. The stream was quite picturesque, lined with large pine trees, it's bed a collage of colorful rock.
|Enjoying the river views|
The men hung out on the banks and looked for fish in the water. I, on the other hand, put my camera to good use!
We'd reached our 3-mile turn around point. But the day was still young, and my guys weren't ready to head back quite yet.
|More lovely mushrooms|
Consulting the map, Cody noticed a trail that would connect with a parallel trail, enabling use to travel in a loop, rather than an out-and-back hike. The connector trail was only supposed to be 2 miles in length. Adding 2 miles to our planned 6-mile journey didn't seem like a big deal.
But then I glanced at the map and noticed the connector trail was drawn with several tight zig-zagged lines. Pointing this out to Cody, I told him it looked like we were in for some climbing.
|Climbing up and over the ridge|
Oh, and was I right! Leaving the main trail our path dived upwards almost immediately. Huffing and puffing up this steep grade quickly warmed my body.
|My view looking back|
But looking back, scenery like this rewarded us for our efforts.
A trail sign at the main junction had stated this connector trail was 2 miles in length. After climbing for the better part of 1.5 miles, I began to look for our next junction. The map noted we'd cross a creek before reaching the next trail. But we kept climbing....two miles came and went with nary a creek in sight. As a matter of fact, we were on the top of a long ridge. To reach the creek, we'd have to climb back down the other side.
|Cutting through the bushes|
I was getting tired, hot and thirsty. Cursing myself for not bringing my backpack (which would've contained food and water) I begged Cody for a sip from his water bottle. My gps watch was noting we'd covered 2.5 miles since the last junction. I kept asking Cody if we were on the right path, and he insisted it was.
After three miles, I was beginning to worry. I didn't really want to retrace our steps back up that ridge, but I was starting to think we were lost. Then a passing mountain biker told us the creek was right around the bend. And sure enough it was - and just beyond was the trail junction. Hallelujah!
|Late afternoon light on the guys|
The final leg of our now much longer hike took us past a lovely little creeklet, lined with tall bushes of red and white berries. By far the most scenic of the day's three paths, I struggled to capture a few photographs and keep up with the men, who by now were nursing a bad case of "horse in the barn" syndrome.
|Stately Ponderosa pines|
Our trail passed through a zone of stately Ponderosa pines, and a lovely meadow boasting killer views of nearby snow-dusted peaks before finally connecting back to the main trail/road where we'd begun the day's trek.
By the time we finally reached Cody's car, my gps noted we'd logged 10.5 miles and estimated at least 1500 feet of climbing. So much for a flat, mellow hike! Now late afternoon, the sun was beginning to sink below the mountaintops, and my tummy was ready for some turkey dinner leftovers!
|Best way to spend Black Friday!|
So that's the story from my first #OptOutside Black Friday adventure. Despite the unexpected additional distance, I enjoyed hiking in a totally new area and spending time with my favorite guys.
(And....my family doesn't know it yet, but I think opting outside will become a new holiday tradition.)