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Too little time and too much to see? Go faster.
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Too little time and too much to see? Go faster.
Play List Trail Running

The author sneaks in some extra miles on the Doudy Draw Trail in Boulder, Colorado.

The wind came at me like a fist. I was a thousand feet higher than I intended, and the weather was letting me know it. I looked at my watch as the gusts regrouped for another punch. Almost dinner time. Hikers shouldn’t be on ridgelines in Montana’s high country this late.

But I wasn’t hiking. And, before the menacing weather chased me away, I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather be than this very spot, 5 miles deep in the wilderness without another soul in sight.

Earlier in the day, the sun had emerged after a week of rain—and I had a few free hours. It was the kind of fate a visitor to Bozeman, Montana, doesn’t think twice about.

I wandered northeast of town and joined the horde on the short loop to the white “M” plastered to the side of Baldy Mountain. Foot traffic congested the trail as I approached the turnoff to the “M,” but over my shoulder, I spied an empty ribbon of singletrack. It stretched onward and upward, curling through shattered limestone and conifer forest like a siren song.

I didn’t know where the path led, and with just two hours until a planned dinner with a friend, I also knew I didn’t have time to find out. At least not at a hiker’s pace.

When I was a student at the University of North Carolina, I had plenty of time for long hikes. But now, like most of the gainfully employed, I have to squeeze backpacking trips into weekends or precious vacation days. So I started running. Suddenly I had time for after-work “hikes”—6 miles before dinner? No problem. My runs grew to the size of weekend epics. I saw the backcountry even when the clock said I shouldn’t.

So when all other circumstances suggested I had no time for a 10-mile hike that early-fall day in Bozeman, I tightened my laces.

The Bridger Foothills Trail leapt gullies and ducked into valleys. I hop-scotched rocky downhills, hurdled logs, glided flats. Four miles in, I was tired, but I didn’t want to stop; there was more ahead to explore, and with the adrenaline pumping, the miles flew by. To a would-be dayhiker, they felt stolen, and that made them even sweeter.

It took a little over an hour to gain the ridge, a fracture of limestone in the foothills’ shoulders. I hadn’t found the end of the trail, but it was enough. As I gazed out, a gale ripped over the hogback and nearly bowled me over. It was time to turn around. I stood my ground for one last glance down the valley. The trail unspooled beneath me, the Bridgers cresting the horizon and rolling away to the north and east. I soaked it in. Stolen miles, stolen view.

On the descent, I skipped beneath the pine boughs and yellow aspens. The sun glowed copper through the grass by the time I could see windshields glinting in the parking lot. The day was ending, but I’d covered twice as many miles as I’d set out to see.

And I would only be a little late for dinner.

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