March 29, 2009

Freezout flocks


We're fresh back from the Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area, near Fairfield and Choteau on the Rocky Mountain Front, where hundreds of thousands of snow geese and other waterfowl species stop each spring on their migration north.

At the time of our visit, there were about 100,000 snow geese and 1,400 tundra swans, most concentrated on Pond 5, according to a hot line run by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Call (406) 467-2646 for updates.

As we were driving from Fairfield the first thing we noticed was the V-shaped formations flying high above us, the geese on their way back from feeding in nearby fields that morning.

Once we arrived, the sights and sounds were truly incredible. What I thought was the frozen pond surface from a distance was, in fact, thousands of white birds crowded together. And there was a constant cacophony of squawks and buzz of wings.

Our first day there, we lucked out on the weather, the sky clearing almost upon our arrival after a night of early spring snow and wind. The next morning, however, the weather turned foul again. We stuck around long enough to catch the geese coming back in from the fields, then moved on to visit friends in Helena.

Check out the pictures here.

Distance: Several roads run through the wildlife management area, from which you can walk among the ponds.

Trailhead: From Fairfield, drive 4 miles north on U.S. Highway 89 to the main entrance and information kiosk.

March 25, 2009

Marathon plan

I met with my trainer-friend last week and have my Missoula Marathon workout schedule in hand.

Basically, there are a several short runs and one long run each week. The long run is surrounded by days of rest and increases by a mile or two each week until a couple of weeks before the race, then tapers off. Here's how the long runs work out:
  • March 24: 9 miles
  • March 31: 10 miles
  • April 7: 11 miles
  • April 14: 12 miles
  • April 21: 12 miles
  • April 28: 13 miles
  • May 5: 14 miles
  • May 12: 16 miles
  • May 19: 16 miles
  • May 26: 18 miles
  • June 2: 16 miles
  • June 9: 20 miles
  • June 16: 18 miles
  • June 23: 16 miles
  • June 30: 6 miles
  • July 7: Rest
  • July 12: 26.2 miles

So far, so good - but it'll be interesting when I get up to that 16- to 20-mile zone, and then the race.

March 22, 2009

Buttercups at Blue


Buttercups are coming up at the Blue Mountain National Recreation Area on the southwest side of Missoula.

The snow is melted, the mud is drying out and green leaves are sprouting from the brown ground - spring is officially here.

I first saw these flowers only a day after it snowed last week. And there are more on the way: Prairie smoke leaves and either yellow bell or shooting star shoots are poking through.

March 8, 2009

Marathon man

About 3 1/2 years ago, I had a bad slip on a trail in the Swan Range and managed to tear my quadriceps just above my right knee - my first serious injury since breaking my arms as a youth.

At the time, it didn't seem to hurt and I made it out of the woods without trouble. It wasn't until a couple of days later when the pain set in - when I went to the doctor I couldn't bend my leg, couldn't bear weight on it and couldn't go up or down stairs.

The prescription for my recovery was two months of physical and ultrasound therapy. It started with a lot of stretching and resistance band work. Later, I moved onto a stationary bike, then an elliptical machine. Eventually, I started jogging on a treadmill and got back into running regularly for the first time since high school, when I competed on the track and cross-country teams.

In the past few years, I've kept it up, running on the treadmill in the basement at work after my shift or in the morning on the riverfront trails or at the Pattee Canyon National Recreation Area. I've dropped 20 pounds, run in a few races and am hiking stronger than ever.

For a few weeks now, I've been mulling over the idea of entering the Missoula Marathon. This weekend, after consulting with a trainer friend, I decided to go ahead and try it - just to say I did it.

We're going to set up a training program so I can do this as safely as possible and fit it in around my work schedule, dog walking and weekend hiking with Jen.

As with all of our adventures, I'll be posting updates on my progress here. And if all goes to plan, I'll be crossing the finish line at Front Street and Higgins Avenue on Sunday, July 12.

March 6, 2009

Hiking at home?


I came across a link to word cloud generator Wordle on another site recently and thought I'd try it with this blog. What you see above is the result.

What's a word cloud? It's a visual representation of text on a Web site that is weighted by the frequency with which each word appears.

It makes kind of a nice image, but a co-worker pointed out that one of the most prominent words is "home" - kind of odd for a blog about being outdoors.

March 1, 2009

Thinking of spring

With the snow melting and the weather warming, I've been thinking of spring a lot lately. I even went on my first "official" buttercup hunt of the year at the Blue Mountain National Recreation Area today (unsuccessful).

Since we stuck pretty close to home this weekend, I spent some time putting together a slideshow of pictures from my Wildflower Walks column in the newspaper last year.