Millican Weekends are a series of stories that celebrate the people making big adventures out of small pockets of time.
Follow designer Seth Neilson and his friends along their daily search for freedom. Realising the best time for all of them to meet up was first thing in the morning, they decided to embrace the benefits of being up at this hour and make it a regular adventure. This weekend they took on trail-running in the Gallatin National Forest, Montana.
Words and Photography by: Seth Neilson | @sethsquatch
We started out calling it “dawn patrol”—but it didn’t quite have the right sensibility. It (getting up before dawn and work and real life and getting into the mountains) needed a name that echoed the same kind of huh? factor as the act itself.
We just sometimes run out of options. We’re husbands, fathers, employees, entrepreneurs, students, whatever—and each title comes with its own set of responsibilities. Somewhere on the list though lies a word that describes who we are when we get up 'stupid early'. Climber, runner, skier—whatever we answer to, sometimes you just have to go.
Montana makes it easy. Bozeman is a growing town of nearly 50,000 residents in a wide valley surrounded by opportunity. Rivers, mountain ranges, open spaces and trails that connect it all. The stuff really close to town we’ve all done, either by ourselves or with the kids or summer visitors, so we decided to get a little farther out this time and snag a classic that none of us, surprisingly, had even attempted.
There were stars in the sky when we left town, but by the time we reached the canyon and lost phone service, the clouds had pulled in and there was a hint of snow. The road to the trailhead was gated—we’d have to add in a bit of time to adjust for the extra miles—but lit only by headlamps, it went fast.
None of us are in particularly stellar shape. Like I said—we’ve all got other things going. But whether it’s ice climbing at 4:30 in the morning or just some trail running, we try to get out and make the most of the opportunity. It’s a chance to shake out cobwebs, both mental and physical, and talk plans for future weekends and destinations. We talk about the kids and work and past trips and future trips. Sometimes, we don’t say anything at all.
We probably take our access to wilderness for granted. It’s just that close—but getting out so early is less about the destination (it’s dark!), and more about just feeling small and getting some clarity before having to return to reality. The darkness initiates conversations—the kind that happen in other early settings between older folks, maybe at a coffee shop or breakfast place. But it also allows for long spaces of quiet contemplation and focus—the kind that brings perspective and inspiration in a world where sometimes that’s really hard to find.
We arrive at the summit in the blue pre-dawn light. A natural arch provides a viewport out into the wide valley below, and we scramble up on top to take it all in and snap a few photos. There’s no time to linger—breakfast is waiting—so we hustle back down. The weather held, and the wide path is perfect for running quickly back down to the car.
The thing about these early morning outings is that to most people, it’s crazy. It’s not worth the hassle or the effort. But the benefits of stepping out into the darkness with friends far outweighs any physical discomfort. The chance to explore your own backyard with friends and still make it back into town and to the waiting real world, on time (almost) —is absolutely worth it.