Why I Give: Erika Flowers Finishes the Year Strong

December 21, 2020

I sat down to write this on the morning of Saturday, November 7, a few minutes past 11:00 a.m. Earlier that morning, the Associated Press called the 2020 election. Images of celebration alongside protest filled my social feeds.

I spent the morning out on the trails near Mt. Ellis. As a skier on the eve of race season, I took advantage of what I hoped was the last warm morning of the fall to ski bound up the mountain with poles, sometimes called ‘moose-hoofing.’ Ski bounding engages both arms and legs to train the same muscles recruited when cross-country skiing. Popping from foot to foot as my poles propelled me up the mountain, I skipped by two young women, toting guns and donning orange vests on their way back from an early morning harvest. I ran by a couple in masks, making their way to the outlook, and a woman running solo with a brown and white pup and a can of bear spray. I crossed paths with an older man, moving slower than the young women I saw at the trailhead, but dressed in a similar combination of neon orange and camo. He carried a heavy pack and rifle at his back. I saw a few teenage boys hiking, a family out for a stroll and a handful of other eager skiers with poles in hand springing up the mountain.

I don’t know how any of those people voted in the election. I don’t know if they cheered when they heard the morning’s news or cursed in disappointment. I don’t know if they’ve lived in Bozeman their whole lives or if they’ve just moved to the Valley. I don’t know if they’ve had COVID-19, or if they’ve lost their jobs, or a family member in the last eight months. I don’t know if they’ve had to pivot careers, if they’ve earned a promotion, if they’ve had to refinance their house or if they just bought a new one. What I do know, is that every single person out there that morning, turned to the trails. Some undoubtedly headed to the trails purely for joy, some for exercise or health reasons, some for social hour or perhaps a few moments of quiet respite. Some were out there with hopes of a lucky shot at a deer and some simply for fresh air. No matter the reason, the trail found a way of bringing people together, even as COVID-19 forces us to remain physically apart.

I was in Quebec City on the eve of my first World Cup race of the year when the country shut down in March. A few days later I found myself not out on the racecourse, but on my couch in Bozeman, diving headfirst into a bowl of Lucky Charms. I was disappointed, like many, but incredibly lucky. I was healthy, I had a job, and I had the trails.

Since that day in March, I’ve spent nearly every day out on the trails. At first they provided a welcome distraction, a place to go and spend time away from other people and more importantly, away from my Zoom screen. As winter turned to spring, the trails morphed into my summer training grounds. A place to transform my ski legs into speedy running machines. I’d hop onto the trails at Sunset Hills for early morning intervals or try to catch the sunrise from the M. The trails also became my social ‘watering’ hole, a place to meet friends old and new. In June I joined a few pals on a three-day mission to bike or run every GVLT trail in Bozeman, discovering hidden gems on the West side of town and loving the flowy single track from main street to the mountains. With all races on hold, the trails became a place to simply adventure. I ran from Hyalite to Mammoth, a 90-mile point to point and new kind of physical and mental challenge. I learned to actually enjoy mountain biking, practicing my tight switchbacks on the Painted Hills Connector to Triple Tree and my downhill skills at Leverich. I ran for Ahmaud on Pete’s Hill and I hiked with my best friend at Triple Tree after she tied the knot in her backyard. I ran up Story Mill while brainstorming election activation with a friend running for office and I ran up Drinking Horse for the pure joy of being able to get outside in a place I love. With travel all but eliminated, I spent more time here in Bozeman over the last eight months than I have since middle school and I have never been more grateful for the amazing network of trails and access to public lands GVLT has helped create and maintain in the valley.

This year has challenged us all to find new ways of being in the world. We’ve had to change how we interact, how we grocery shop, how we work and how we live. And yet the trails have remained steady, a place we can all call our own for whatever purpose we need them to serve at that moment. Thank you to GVLT for continuing to invest in access for all.

Erika Flowers is a Montana native, a runner for The North Face, a cross-country ski racer for Salomon, and a director at Profitable Ideas Exchange, a business development consultancy in Bozeman.