Since late last fall, weather forecasters at every level have been clammoring about the return of La Nina, about how warmer temps in the South Pacific would bring "above average precipitation and below average temperatures" to Western Montana and the Northern Rockies.
What a dud. Apparently, all this "Little Girl" can muster has been a couple John Wayne Bobbitts—four inches on the ground in the morning. That's left schuss junkies like myself to leave the boards stashed, not-so-patiently waiting for the much touted winter to finally arrive. Fortunately, I've found that this oddly dry mid-winter window of warmth has provided a chance to get in a bonus round of shoulder-season sports like disc golf and mountain biking.
On Jan 7, I was again pleasantly reminded of one of Missoula's greatest open space resources, our bike-ped trail system. This network can a cyclist across town efficiently and nearly as fast as a car. If you're not familiar with the routes, no worries, you'll find it mapped out beautifully and comprehensively in high-resolution by Missoula Parks and Rec. They sell it at Currents Aquatic Center in McCormick Park for $4. Or just download a free PDF here:
For me, the greatest single asset to this network is the bike-friendly link-up connecting the Clark Fork River Trail to the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. This allows me, with only a few short diversions, to ride from my workplace near the Osprey Stadium on fun, non-motorized singletrack and parkway all the way to the Rattlesnake's main trailhead. The route goes through no less than five parks, and is as of early January nearly clear of snow. For the most part, the route follows the creek, and with the freeze-thaw cycles we've been experiencing, the flowing water is creating some mighty interesting ice formations. So I brought my camera, and photographed ice art all along the creek.
My bike is a decent ride, but its not set up for full-on winter riding. So I turned around once I arrived at the incredibly icy parking lot at the trailhead. Here I found a party heading up the classic Sawmill-Curry loop, riding bikes better suited for slick winter single track. They'd been riding the popular route regularly, and said it was snowpacked but not icy. The route back to town is even more fun, being nearly all downhill, and before we new it we were at the Kettlehouse for beers.
The next day we got back on the bikes and cycled up the front side of Mt. Sentinel, taking the nearly snow-free Mo-Z Trail that climbs above the valley floor from adjacent the University Golf Course. The dirt singletrack alternated between frozen and melted, but it all offered excellent traction and we had no trouble dodging pockets of both ice and mud. We were thankful to have such excellent trail conditions in January, but I sure would rather be skiing.