The Zoo - Page 2
The Hellgate cross-country team training in and around downtown Missoula is a common sight.
WESTERN EXCEPTIONALISM AND WESTERN RESERVE
When I moved to Missoula from Durham, North Carolina, on a Friday in August 2004, I thought I was pretty fit. Two days laterI showed up at Dean’s house, having been given his name and number by a guy I met while pac- ing at the Western States 100 the month before. Turns out, I was not so fit. At least, not by com- parison to the group who did the Sunday morning run each week. I could run with them, sure, but then they went off and biked a zillion miles and then swam for hours. I had, through web searching, network- ing and good fortune, found Team Stampede, a local triathlon club. Now, I don’t do triathlons. I mean, I would, except for the biking and swimming parts. But I did meet a whole bunch of great people, mostly guys, who were exceptional athletes but weren’t “runners.” Not the kind of trail runners or marathoners I expected to find.
Missoula was not a running town when I first moved there. People ran, plenty of them, by themselves and in small groups. There was no discernable running society. Missou- lians had organized themselves into pods: the river people, the climbers, the skiers, the cyclists, the triathletes, the gardeners, the birders, the bird hunters, the getters of game. It’s not easy to break into these groups or to bring them together. I moved to town believing running would, as it had done in other places, give me instant access to a community, one beyond the graduate students whose ranks I would be joining and with whom I did not expect, necessarily, to want to spend all my free time. Graduate programs in writing are great places for intellectual and creative stim, but they tend to be filled with vigorous drinkers with pale skin and nicotine- stained teeth. I like that, but I also like to be with the people who can drink a lot and still run far the next morning.
But I discovered, once I’d settled into the place locals call Zootown or The Zoo, that there was no running community. I managed to pry my way into a number of little groups—the triathletes, a knot of lawyers who did ultras, the few grad students who liked to play outside—but I couldn’t find the tight group of runners, fast and slow, hardcore and recreational, I was used to seeing in other places. Per- haps Western exceptionalism explained the lack: the West, I learned, differs from other parts of the country.
When I got to Missoula, you could still drive with an open container and there were no national chain stores or restaurants on Higgins Avenue, the main commercial strip. People kept to themselves. I speculated that Western reserve might be as much a thing as Southern hospitality. Then I remembered how much I’d learned about the complexity of the flavors of geniality in the South. “Never be rude unintentionally,” a friend told me his mama had taught him.
We are tempted to think in clichés because they are easy. And regional difference might account for some of what goes on in other small Western towns, but Missoula has a good mix of long-time Montanans and a dose of transplants from all over. Without, some of the more newly arrived locals might be tempted to add, the Califor- nication that has taken hold of places like Bozeman and Whitefish.
The fact is, plenty of people were out enjoying the trails and I have never run to one of the peaks In thIs area of fIve valleys and not stopped to thank whatever It Is you belIeve In for thIs place.
the roads but there was nothing to bring all the runners together until a young local guy named Anders Brooker dropped out of the University of Montana and decided to open Runner’s Edge.