Rattlesnake Trail, Missoula
I've always wanted to visit Missoula ever since I first been here years back when I drove across the country to move to Oregon. Something is charming about this town and its history.
Missoula is known as the "hub of five valleys" because it is surrounded by five mountain ranges towering over the town that sits on the floor of an ancient glacial lake called Lake Missoula.
As a geological nerd, this place hits the spot. I've heard, read, and even taken geology classes about the infamous Missoula Floods that shaped the Colombia River and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The remnants of the ancient lake can be traced all along the route I took throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and of course, Montana. Missoula's lake-bottom past can also be seen in the form of ancient horizontal wave-cut shorelines visible on nearby Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo.
The most interesting fact is that the geological event is called Missoula Floods, a reoccurring event that happened every 55 years or so over the course of 2000 years, according to geological studies. The cyclical nature of these floods shaped my backyard and enriched the Willamette Valley with sediments that made it the fertile valley it is today.
Lake Missoula was capped by an ice dam on the Clark Fork River that would rupture under the immense pressure of the standing water. With every rupture, water would travel at a speed of 80 mph (130kph), flooding most Western Washington, Colombia River, and the Willamette Valley draining into the Pacific Ocean.
Topics like these helped me find people with a similar view of their surroundings and appreciate where they live. I remember having conversations about the Missoula Floods with Dustin Henderson & Ron Lewis on many of our rides together, especially whenever we rode in the Colombia Gorge. I could see in my mind's eye Henderson pondering on the topography of the Gorge and imagining the floods rushing through, shaping the area over and over.
What made me fall in love with Portland & cycling even more than I already had, was meeting people who are connected to the land they stand on. Those kinds of people are my kind of people. They understand the significance of their home, and that of itself ends up becoming the driver of their adventures.
The OMTM folks have taught me so much, and I will share that experience with y'all soon enough.
Speaking of OMTM, I reached out to Ron about any possible routes he might have in Missoula since I've seen him visit the area before. Ron's sea of information was indispensable during most of my growth as a rider. So I asked him for a few routes starting from Black Coffee Roasting Company, one of the go-to coffee beans that I ordered on the regular.
And he hath delivered.
Ron told me that what I sought lay up the mountain yonder.
Sawmill Gulch & Rattlesnake Trailhead is home to steep single-track and tight twisty descents in mountain lion territory, bordering the wilderness of Montana.
The route was simple, but what made it spicy was the wildfire smoke that’s been following me for weeks. The air was heavy, and the heat was taxing, but I knew the post-ride river swim would be amaze balls, as I got used to that during the trip.
I climbed up Sawmill Gulch road to the basin above, where the local source of clean, cutty and flowy singletrack is at. The short-lived descent after the hump was worth it, but it was all uphill from there. Thankfully I was running a 1:1 ratio of 34x34, which made it somewhat possible to snail my way up the loose dirt.
It was just me, a ghost of a lumberjack and mountain lions.
Per locals' advice, "ring your bell" every once in a while so that you don't startle the big cat on the mountain that was recently sighted.
Action ye says?!
I'm all about that.
However, I'm used to a different kind of rush back in Portland, a protected secret of mine and others that I swore to keep hidden within.
A wildlife-driven rush is a new kind that I got acquainted with on this trip. I encountered bears, bison, wild horses, and big cats. But the cherry on the top goes to the moose that walked right through camp as I was sitting there.
More on that at a later time, maybe...
The highest point on the route passes by an old mining cabin belonging to Jacub Curry. This local rancher owned a piece of the Rattlesnake area over 100 years ago. Curry's ranch was mostly destroyed by the 1919 fire that burnt most of that area. During the fire, Curry stayed put to defend what was left of his ranch and cabin while almost everyone else was evacuated.
The cabin is cool as it is spooky. It is said that mountain lions lurk around the cabin and use it as shelter from one time to another. Perhaps it was my wild imagination, but I am sure that I felt some eyes gazing at me from the depth of the surrounding trees.
I mean, why wouldn't lions want to live there? It's premium real estate at the gateway of Montana's wilderness.
Unattacked, I continued up the mountain to higher grounds, anticipating the long way down back to my truck. For those who haven't been to Montana, let alone the United States, it can and does get hot up there, like really hot. Luckily, I was biking under the canopy of Western Redcedar, Ponderosa Pine, Paper Birch, and Douglas Fir.
This was a relatively short ride yet packed with history, wilderness, and an element of suspense. Regardless of the miles, ft, and all that jazz, this ride hits the spot. Perhaps you might be asking yourself, why take an adventure bike to an Mtb trail system? Well, why do anything? The short answer is, that's the school of thought I fell in love with. The tool you bring makes the experience you seek.
That day of the trip was a relaxing stop in a town that I've always wanted to visit more frequently but only managed to do that after 7 years of planning. Nonetheless, I managed to do that and fall in love with it even more.
I got used to post-ride river dunks on this trip due to the sweltering heat of 2021, and Missoula was no exception. So what better way to wash your kit, rinse off, and have a relaxing time in cold mountain water?
Not much else.
I certainly appreciated those slow days on the trip, as it's an excellent way to balance out the highs of an adventure.
Missoula, Thank you for the great time and memories. I hope to see you soon.