We’re interested in the search for empty roads that take you everywhere and nowhere; the spirit of adventure still alive in the frontier. Inspired by rugged terrain and fueled by an appetite for adventure, we set out for big sky country on a mission to showcase ENVE’s new apparel line at home on the range. We’re proud to present the Last West: Montana – the first in a series of untold stories from the American West, as experienced by our friends at Coyote.
— Neil Shirley, ENVE
A LONG, LOW SONG
BY CONNOR KOCH
I. NOT FROM AROUND HERE
I moved to Montana in the winter of 2022, having never been and knowing little more than lore. I’d heard the sky was bigger here, and that most Montanans hated my ilk: Californian, ambitious, ushering in a wave of change. I didn’t want to change anything, merely wanted to understand the state and my place in the endless clouds so close you could reach out and touch them. Montana hides itself; I don’t understand it yet, and maybe never will, but the famous Missoulian Norman Maclean was clear, “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.” When I awoke after my first night in the state, I walked out with fresh coffee and watched storm clouds pull free from the Bridger range, the high peaks resplendent with fresh snow. I knew this was love.
We’ve been riding ENVE components for years, so when they asked us to test their new soft goods line in a rugged setting, Montana was an easy choice. I was eager to show my favorite spots to my friends, and we didn’t have much trouble convincing ENVE athlete and supermom Lindsey Stevenson to come up from Utah for a few days of riding and scenery. Add in ENVE’s Art Director Jonny Hintze, local cyclist Sofie Carlson, the rest of the Coyotes, and as many cool characters as we could find along the way, and our Trans-Montana week was shaping up to be a perfect proving ground for the new lifestyle line from the best wheel manufacturer in the business.
Montana’s history is inseparable from ranching (just don’t bring up the over-the-top portrayals in Yellowstone), and the state is still packed full of real working land. The spirit of the West is also alive and well in the cowboy-cool coffee shop Roly Poly, a local roaster and cafe overflowing with western curios, one-of-a-kind art, old, tattered magazines, and vintage motorcycles. Owned and operated by Taylor Wallace, a Texas transplant who also hauled up his brother and business partner Gavin, Roly Poly is a gathering ground for folks into bikes, overlanding, coffee, and classic style. Rocking his signature beard and vintage getup, Taylor pulled us some shots while Gavin pressed his daily batch of jalapeño cheddar kolaches in the back kitchen.
When the rush calmed down, Taylor moved to roasting duty, cranking out handpicked beans for the people of Bozeman and beyond. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to be a regular.
With caffeine onboard, we pedaled back to my house and loaded up the trucks. It was time to head to Dillon, a small town in the southwest corner of the state, located well away from “Boze Angeles.” According to locals, Dillon was “real Montana,” and while I knew we’d stand out with our tattoos, Birkenstocks, and most of all bikes, I also knew it would bring me one step closer to understanding my chosen home.
Upon arrival at our modern cabin, we hopped aboard the bikes for a quick town exploration, ending at the Beaverhead River flowing just yards from our back porch. A quick dip in the cool, mountain-fed river washed away the day, and we prepped our bikes for an early morning before sneaking off to bed while the sun still lit up the peaks to the west.
For day three, Hintze put together a ride that appeared somewhat benign — 60 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing. What we didn’t quite grasp is that Dillon is not exactly a cycling destination, and we would be faced with barely-there doubletrack, chunky mining roads, and no chance of resupply. We transitioned from smooth pavement to broken, from broken to smooth dirt, and from dirt to grass-covered tracks climbing high into the Beaverhead range, through old mining settlements and into fields bursting with butterflies and purple flowers. I started to fall off the back, my breathing labored as I watched Hintze push the pace and pull away on the long climb to the pass below Goat Mountain. I didn’t mind a bit; I was melting into Montana, a place I spent 28 years missing before I replaced the roughly square missing piece of my heart.
At the pass, and to our great relief, Colin and Christian were waiting for us with a vast selection of snacks, cold drinks, and a hovering drone. We quickly refueled and began the long descent into the dry valley below. Our bikes crackling and squealing over the rough roads hanging in the sky. Hintze flatted twice, and our group split, my best friend Jonny pulling ahead with Lindsey latched on his wheel, while Hintze and I repaired flats and finally let our guards down enough to get to know each other. I was still struggling, and to top it off had gotten a bee sting on my lip, but Hintze was gracious enough to let me sit in while he pulled us home through the hot headwind.
That night, I sat with Lindsey for an interview. We pulled up two chairs outside the barn and spent an hour sharing it all, mostly focusing on the important stuff: how we wound up here, hopes and dreams for the future, and how becoming a mother has changed her life in the best and most profound of ways. She talked about viewing her life as a mother and athlete not as a balancing act, but as an extreme juggling performance, always trying to keep the important balls in the air. Following her wilder early twenties, bikes have become the constant thread in her story, and I asked her what bikes bring to her life that nothing else can. She said, “I love the friendships that I’ve made. It feels like I can become friends with someone like a little kid. You know how little kids walk up to someone at a playground They’re like, ‘do you wanna play with me? You wanna be my best friend?’ And they can play for hours. Bikes drop the inhibitions and the walls between people. Because we can be totally different: different ages, different occupations, different marital statuses, different literally everything. But we’re here on bikes. We have a mutual love for this peculiar, lovely sport.”
Montana means “Mountainous” in Latin, but the name alone does little justice to the true scope of isolated alpine terrain across the state. with over 100 unique ranges and more than 3,000 named peaks, Montana is simply covered with mountains, more than a lifetime’s worth.
When I lived in Colorado, I climbed all 50 of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks, a task which took me to every corner of the Southern Rockies. I thought I knew what it meant to move through rugged and remote terrain. There are no 14ers in Montana, and very few peaks over 12k, but the valleys are lower and the ranges more wild, full of grizzlies, moose, elk, and wolves; the weather is unpredictable and harsh year-round. There’s less information on the summits here, and fewer people willing or able to point the way. Montana means mountains, but it could also mean solitude, difficulty, unknown.
What an exciting opportunity, this new frontier. I’d wanted to be a Montanan for many years, but life kept happening and I found myself lost in other, sunnier ranges. My life finally came to a screeching halt in the summer of 2021, when I tore my hip up skiing and moved to San Diego for reconstructive surgery. I had five months to think about where I wanted to be, and who I wanted to be when I got there. When my surgeon signed off on return to activity, I loaded up my truck and pointed it north.
It was time for Lindsey and Hintze to head home, whittling our crew down to four. After a quick goodbye at the airport, we met up with Sofie, bike mechanic at Owenhouse Cycles in Bozeman. With our buddy Charlie along for some extra horsepower, we spun up local favorite Kelly Canyon, stopped at Wild Crumb for the best pastries in the west, and then continued to Hyalite Reservoir, a sapphire-blue lake framed by alpine peaks on every side. With afternoon clouds building on the horizon,, we jumped into the vast, shimmering water, swimming and sunning until looming storm clouds signaled that it was time to point the bikes home.
With the trip half over, we headed to the northwest corner of the state. Over the Continental Divide lies Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, fed by the Swan and Flathead rivers and forming the economic and recreational hub of Northwest Montana. The region is lower, lusher, and overflowing with lakes. It’s also laced with an endless number of gravel backroads through the many remote ranges, and features a healthy grizzly population. Biking with bear spray is mandatory if you’re leaving the beaten path.
After a spin around Whitefish Lake and a quick swim to rinse off, we met up with our friend Corey Seemann, who leads a Hollywood-worthy life. Wielding dual titles of professional big mountain skier and multi-engine pilot, Corey built his own home overlooking the Whitefish Airport, a small grass strip on the eastern edge of town. We were scheduled for a sunset flight with Corey, and we killed a few hours exploring his custom hangar, which housed two planes, hydroplane boats, dirt bikes, Montucky-cold-snack-wrapped snowmobiles, and a lifetime’s worth of plane memorabilia and history. When the light was finally right, Corey wheeled the plane out of the hangar and motored across the backyard to the airstrip.
The sun hangs low in the smoky sky and it’s time for flight. I let the sound of the engines overwhelm me as the prop accelerates and prepares to lift us, Corey flicking unmarked switches and testing the wing flaps. Over the radio, he confirms that I’m ready, and we begin to slowly taxi, rolling through the taller grass on approach and then onto the manicured lawn of the Whitefish Airport runway.
As we reach our ceiling, the summer sun hangs lower still in the sky, clinging to life longer than seems possible. Corey accelerates and noses the plane over, then abruptly brings us skyward, using the momentum to invert the plane as we roll over into the wind and the ground becomes sky. The light refracts off the bright red paint of the wing and breaks through the large side windows, casting deeply into the verdant valley below. There’s so much light, so much to see, so many large things made small by this engine and these wings, this metal and glass impossibility. We turn again to the west, toward that low, black sun, and the light comes through me, illuminates me, shines through the fragments of my broken childhood dream: I wanted to be a pilot, just like my grandfather. My vision was too poor to fly, but I eventually found mountains and bikes and running and words. Slowly, painfully, I found my wings.
Corey brings the plane screaming into a bank turn, drops to the grass again, and lands like he’s done it a million times. Maybe he has; his mother was a famous pilot, too, and he flies above his home each day. He has great vision. Late that night, I lay awake in my truck bed, straining my ears but hearing nothing at all in this quiet corner of the world. I can still see my new home from above, still see those tall, glacial mountains standing proud and free. I want to be like them, to stand tall and proud, too, straight-backed knowing that I’m right where I’m supposed to be, that through my blurry vision I’ll be able to keep my heart open and fly.
In Missoula, the Clark Fork River runs directly through town, spilling off the Divide and splitting downtown into two distinct neighborhoods. Walking down Higgins, we sure felt like we were in the big city; in Montana, anything over two stories is just about a skyscraper. With no real agenda, we took our time in town, picking through vintage stores packed with ranchwear, mirrors, and turquoise belt buckles.
Walking through the brick alleyways of Missoula, we spied a bike leaned up against a hidden arch, decked nose to tail with bikepacking bags and finished off with ENVE wheels. As we ran up to admire the rig, clearly built for some long days in the saddle, out walked 67-year-old Jon Bauer, a strapping former Wall Street trader turned Floridian and hardcore bikepacker. We quickly learned that John has ridden the Great Divide MTB route four times, and has no plans on slowing down; each summer, he comes up to Montana for 60 straight days of life on the road. Intrigued by his headfirst dive into the bike world, I asked him what keeps him coming back. His answer was simple and relatable: “I’ll go 100 days this year without knowing where I’ll sleep at the end of the day. This changes you — most people avoid uncertainty like the plague. I have no idea where I’ll sleep tomorrow night, but I know I’ll figure it out. I thrive on the serendipity, the unpredictability, and the confidence of knowing I can handle any situation that comes my way.” We swapped a few more stories with John before it was time for him to hit the road again, and we hopped on our bikes for some gravel riding in the Bitterroots, lured by the promise of open ranch roads and a little solitude after our morning in town.
While spinning through the country after this small-world encounter, I began to think more about my friends, the Coyotes, and how our near-constant togetherness has shaped my path. I’ve always thought of our crew as a case study on the idea that you’re the sum of the people you spend the most time with. We’re all from very different backgrounds, have unique strengths and interests and habits, and yet we are similar in the ways that bring me the most pride. One of the greatest gifts of this journey has been watching myself absorb the best they have to offer, becoming more whole by osmosis as I learn from my closest friends, and watching them do the same. Over house-made sodas and burgers at the Lolo Peaks Brewery, we unpacked this concept a bit more, acknowledging this special opportunity and relishing the last of our time together in Montana. Though the trip was coming to an end, we were relaxed and happy, not worried about the next adventure or the long drive home. We knew there were many more mountains to come.
“I was working at an investment bank in NYC, and I was walking to work on a Saturday when I passed a giant flea market. I walked through, and i saw a bike that happened to be my size. i hadn’t been on a bike since college. i paid $300 for the bike, skipped work, and spent the day remembering what it felt like to be free.”
The night after my friends left, I was too wired to find the sleep I so desperately needed. I watched a show with my girlfriend, a docuseries on Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, two of America’s most beloved public figures. The first episode revealed that Paul Newman was not an exceptionally talented actor; he had to work for it, spending years chiseling away at the awkward shell around his delivery, finally getting his big break only when a more famous actor died an untimely death. He attributed improved skills in his later career to a credo, the actor’s vow, written by the director Elia Kazan. The closing lines of this vow rattled in my head all night and through my solo ride the next morning:
The best and most human parts of me are those i have inhabited and hidden from the world. I will work on it. I will raise my voice. i will be heard.
– elia kazan
Here in Montana, under the impossibly big sky, maybe there’s finally room for these most human parts of me. Maybe it’s quiet enough for me to hear the long, low song of my real voice.
1. BOZEMAN TOWN DIRT
Distance: 13.5 mi
Elevation Gain: 843 ft
2. BEAVERHEAD LOOP
Distance: 58.4 mi
Elevation Gain: 4,394 ft
3. BOZEMAN CANYONS LOOP
Distance: 52 mi
Elevation Gain: 2,963 ft
4. WHITEFISH LAKE
Distance: 25.2 mi
Elevation Gain: 1,977 ft
5. MISSOULA COWBOY LOOP
Distance: 17.3 mi
Elevation Gain: 1,288 ft
Christian Van Os Keuls
Taylor & Gavin Wallace