by Gretchen Steele

Chances are if you are reading this you already understand the importance of “passing it on” and taking youngsters afield and waterfowl hunting. There are multiple reasons to pass on the tradition of waterfowl hunting. In this era of electronic and technological bombardment, it becomes even more important to help connect children to the land and help build a good conservation ethic. Teaching the young ones about waterfowl hunting also makes for increased family bonding time, develops life skills such as responsibility, good sportsmanship, self – discipline, respect, and contributes positively to both physical and mental health.

However, taking the wee ones to the duck blind or goose pit does require a little planning on your part as an adult in order to ensure a successful time in the field. If that time in the field is not fun, or worse yet if it’s miserable, it’s hard to retain those young folks as future conservationists and hunters.

Here are some ways to help insure that your youngster has an enjoyable and productive time in the field this waterfowl season.


GRETCHENWATERFOWLIt goes without saying, but safety should be the number one concern anytime you head outdoors with child. These first experiences will lay the ground work for their safety actions later in life. If they are taught both via instruction and by example from the get go good hunting and outdoor safety practices, it will become ingrained and instinctive them as they grow into adulthood.

Look for youth wingshooting clinics, insure their attendance at a hunter safety course, repeat over and over basic gun, boat, water, and weather safety. Explain the why of safety rules, the reason we need to wear hearing protection and life jackets. Set an example by always displaying the best safety practices when afield.


Since most states and public land waterfowl areas have a designated youth season, as well as special youth hunts, take advantage of those opportunities. Conservation organizations such as Delta Waterfowl also have specially designated “First Hunt” waterfowl hunts that can take much of the work out of the hunting trip for you and are geared especially towards a young audience with additional activities that turn a hunting trip into an event.



Education should start well before your youngster ever steps into the duck blind. Take your youngster scouting with you, and use this as an opportunity to teach waterfowl identification skills. Invite your youngster to sit down with you when preparing or ordering any permits, licenses, windshield cards etc. It’s important for young ones to learn the entire process, from buying your duck stamp and shells to having that delicious duck breast for supper. This goes for all aspects of the hunt, everything from ethics and safety, to the waterfowl, to the habitat. Don’t be rigid in your instruction, but rather let the youngsters innate curigretchen_steele_youth_waterfowl_hunting-7573osity lead to the areas they want to learn. Encourage them to be curious, and ask all the questions they want. Help them research youth friendly facts by visiting websites directed towards young folks and waterfowl and hunting in general. This will help build their anticipation level for the actual trip afield.


Young hunters don’t need to be outfitted in the best high tech hunting attire that money can buy, but they DO have to be comfortable, warm and dry. Be sure that their outdoor gear fits appropriately and isn’t too big, too floppy, and causing issues with walking or shooting. Just like with adults, it’s hard to stay motivated and enjoy the time afield when your hands and feet hurt from the cold. Keeping the young ones warm and dry will keep them from being miserable and not wanting to join you the next trip to the duck blind. Pack extra hand and foot warmers or a small heater. Ask them frequently how they are doing. If you just assume that they are fine, and wait until you hear “I’m cold…I want to go home” you are already in trouble, since likely it will take a little time to pack up decoys, gear, and hike back to the vehicle – rendering them past cold and flat out miserable by the time they are getting warm in the clubhouse or truck.


Youngsters in a duck blind can easily eat their weight in snacks. They are ALWAYS hungry. First, think about what kinds of snacks to take. For example, if they eat half a dozen candy bars and guzzle three bottles Mountain Dew you are will have a wired for sound can’t sit still wiggling nightmare on your hands. Instead opt for smarter snacks like peanut butter and crackers, pretzels, jerky, or dried fruit and some juice boxes. Second, think about the packaging. The snapping and crackling of little fingers ripping through individually packaged snacks can sound like a jet airplane when trying to be still in the blind. Not to mention all those wrappers that have to be gathered up and hauled out. Consider packing in zipper top plastic bags for a little more ease in opening with gloved hands and for a little quieter snacking experience.


There is no magical age for when a youth should take their first birds. Certainly, practice, experience, training, and adequate supervision are all very important aspects of a first harvest; but just being properly educated in the use of firearms and firearms safety, and demonstrating the ability to reliably use a firearm is only one aspect. The youngster must be mentally ready also. If a young hunter is pushed too hard before they are really ready it can ruin the experience, and may turn them away from hunting all together. Assure the young person in blind that there are no expectations, and when they feel ready to take the shot and down the bird – you will do all you can to help them be successful. ON THEIR TERMS. There is a highly likely chance that if a child is forced to shoot before they truly feel ready the likelihood of a bad shot and crippled game is high. An event like that can completely turn them away from hunting. Praise them for what they do shoot. Even if it is a lowly coot – for that young hunter it is prize and treat it as such. Make every success they have an opportunity for positive feedback and praise.

It’s perfectly normal for children to feel sad and possibly even cry after a harvest. Children aren’t always as comfortable with death and dying animals as we assume they might be. Allow them to feel a little sad, allow them to have a few tears if need be. Negating their feelings, belittling them, telling them to “man up” etc. may make them feel they are unworthy to hunt. Instead, use this opportunity to talk about putting food on the table, humane killing, why we respect what we kill, explain the importance of keeping populations in check. Acknowledge and accept their feelings and demonstrate the positive parts of hunting.


It’s hard to tolerate a bored, wiggly, whiny, child when you are waiting for birds, but have realistic expectations and keep the experience positive. Use this time to talk about the other wildlife and birds in the habitat around you, pack some age appropriate field guides and books about wildlife, nature and hunting. Use your smartphone and some the great apps for hunting, bird id, bird sounds, tracking etc. to spice things up a little. A deck of cards can also come in handy as well! Small digital cameras are an inexpensive way to also keep the young ones entertained. Appoint them “official photographer “status and encourage them to capture moments that can later be used on a snow day to make a scrapbook about their hunting trips.


Most of all, stay positive and remember that the time in the blind a young child is able to tolerate can be relatively short. Be prepared to call the hunt earlier than normal. Play up all of the positive aspects, all of the things in addition to killing birds that make waterfowl hunting such an enjoyable experience, and you will go far in building a lifetime love of waterfowl hunting and conservation in your young companion.



ELK STIR FRY: Recipe by Mia Enstrom

Living in rural Colorado hunting season is a BIG time of the year. Not only is it my favorite time of the year for going out and making memories in the woods, but its also my major grocery shopping for the year. No meat wrapped in plastic in my household all my meat is organic mountain fed elk, deer, bear, pronghorn, or sometimes even mountain lion. Yes, I said mountain lion. Anyways elk is what I have a majority of every year and I love cooking with it. I believe elk is some of the best tasting meat on the planet. No joke…. this stuff is seriously THAT good! Elk stir fry is a different direction to take this lean meat, but it is a delicious direction!
Elk Stir Fry
2 Pounds elk meat (I use back strap, shoulder, or hind quarter steak meat)
1 Purple onion
2 Red bell peppers
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons montreal steak seasoning
1 Cup stir fry sauce ( I use Kikkoman brand)
Slice your onion, bell peppers and in a pan caramelize in butter over medium high heat. Slice your meat in skinny strips and season with steak seasoning. Once onions and peppers are caramelized transfer them to a plate and cook your sliced meat in pan over medium high heat until desired temperature. Once meat is cooked pour onion/pepper mixture back over meat and mix together in pan over medium heat. Once mixed pour over your stir fry sauce and stir until blended. Serve over rice.
I have used a variety of veggies in this recipe as well. So whatever you desire throw it in with your peppers and onions when caramelizing! Add more sauce if you wish for more. Can be served over Udon noodles, too!
-Mia Enstrom

Learning how to “Gear Up” for Hunting

So you’ve decided you’d like to try out hunting. There are a few things you’ll need to do before you “gear up” and get out in the woods. Your journey should begin prior to hunting season. Most states require that you take a hunter education course. This will not only familiarize you with the gun aspect, but the game in your area. Another great outlet for women who would like to learn to hunt is Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW). They offer workshops for women to help them learn more about the outdoors, which they say “means becoming more competent, more confident, and more aware.” “BOW” has been around since 1991, and specializes in helping female beginners learn outdoor skills. All equipment needed is provided; a woman needs only the desire to learn and she can have fun doing it!


The basic items needed to hunt are a hunting license, animal tags, camo, a rifle
with a scope, ammunition and land.

Check your local regulations to make sure your firearms selection is legal for the game you’ve selected.

If your new to hunting, purchasing your gear can be confusing and costly. Once you decide what game you’ll be hunting there is only place I will recommend for womens hunting apparel. Hunting apparel is something that you don’t want to cut corners on. Prois Hunting & Field Apparel is the best on the market for women in my humble opinion. If you like to stay warm and dry, and actually have apparel that fits, it’s the place to purchase from. My favorite mid-weight pants, “The Generation X Series” are made with a windstopping and waterproof fabric. They sit at your natural waist and have ample room through hips and thighs. Made with boot zips for convenience and elastic drawstring with cord stop to draw pants close to boot. This reduces infiltration of debris and dampness into the boot. You will be writing “Thank You” letters to Prois after donning these on a hunt. Wearing these feel like putting on a warm micro-fleece lined pillow pant. Can you say, Ahhhh? The back pockets have pillowtop closures to keep contents in place. Their deep cargo pockets (with magnetic closures for ease of access) ensure enhanced silence. You have plenty of room to bring along all your essentials.  My favorite versatile shirt, “Prois’s Ultra Backcountry Shirt” wicks moisture away from the skin, keeping you cool when it is hot and warm when it is cool. It’s neck zipper is added to allow venting in warm weather. The convenient 3 compartment lumbar pocket system is perfect for holding calls, gloves, hand warmers and other hunting necessitites. There’s room to bring along plenty of quiet snacks or handheld devices to play for downtime.

Before you run out and purchase a rifle and scope there are few things to consider. You want a rifle that fits you properly and a scope that will perform. If you come to love hunting, you are sure to expand your hunting to other game. Purchasing a rifle and scope that you can use for any game in your area is ideal. I personally hunt with a Savage 7mm 08. With my rifle I can hunt any game in my area. Your rifle is something that will have to fit your body type and chosen game. Ranges often have rifles you can shoot to try out.


Once you purchased your rifle you’ll need a scope. Finding the best quality scope for the best price is essential. I use a Vortex Diamondback HP 3-12 × 42 Scope. I highly recommend Vortex scopes. Not only are they affordable they have a vip warranty. Its a Lifetime, Unlimited, Fully Transferable, Unconditional warranty. Vortex will repair or replace the product (at no charge) in the event it becomes damaged or defectiveThe Diamondback HP(High Performance) riflescope offers a full-on array of features that you as a hunter will love. The Diamondback has a Dead-Hold BDC reticle that helps eliminate guesswork on hold-over and windage corrections. XD extra-low dispersion glass increases resolution and color fidelity while XR fully multi-coated lenses maximize every minute of shooting light. When you learn about the golden hour, being able to see through your scope in this last light is mandatory. The image is bright and crisp even at extended ranges with this scope. The scopes fogproof performance with it being waterproof will have you thanking Vortex. Once you purchase your scope, you’ll need to sight in your scope to your rifle. Once sighted in, I recommend practicing with your rifle on 25yd., 50yd., & 100yd. ranges. This way you can get familiar with your distances. Most importantly don’t get overwhelmed. Be sure to put in scouting your game prior to opening season. Finding those snipes isn’t easy! Hunting is a learning process. It teachs you patience, ethics, sustainability, disipline and appreciation for hard work!

If you enjoy nature, hunting will open your eyes to things you’ve never dreamed you would see. Most importantly get out there and have fun.
Happy Hunting!

Sincerely, my best to you, Tarra Stoddard



Próis® Hunting Apparel has the Gear Women Need for Pursuing Big Game This Season


Hunting season is once again upon us, and hunters everywhere are preparing to battle the elements in pursuit of North American Big Game across the continent. Whatever your target may be, go into the field with confidence and poise under the protection of Próis Hunting Apparel. Heavy north winds, snow, or rain- none of these stand a chance against the most innovative hunting gear available for women. Take a closer look at the company’s cutting-edge line of women’s outdoor apparel.

Let’s start by discussing one of the company’s most popular garments, the Generation X Jacket. Constructed of Próis’ signature water resistant and wind stopping nylon tricot fabric, the Gen-X is the ultimate in functionality. It features scapular pockets located between the shoulder blades to house activated hand warmers and a deep-set lumbar pocket across the back to hold soft goods or act as a vent. Deep hand pockets and an additional zippered arm pocket keep valuables close-by should you need them in a pinch. Extended hooding adds additional warmth and blockage from the wind. And, as always, the zippers feature snap down sliders for added silence.

A popular pairing for the Gen-X jacket are the similarly named Generation-X pants. Put these two items together and you will be ready for anything. Wind stopping and water resistant fabric keeps the hunter protected from unpredictable weather. Fleece lining along the inner pant provides extra warmth and comfort. The Gen-X pants feature front, back, and cargo pockets which all snap or zip closed in order to keep contents in place. For the hunter who likes to layer, these pants have built in boot zips to ease donning and an elastic drawstring to keep debris and moisture out of the boot.

The Generation-X Jacket and Pants are both available in the following patterns: Realtree AP HD®, Advantage Max-1 HD®, and Mothwing Mountain Mimicry. They come in sizes XS-XXL.

For a complete head to toe outfit, Próis staff recommends Incredisocks and a pair of Zamberlan boots. Made from bamboo charcoal, the sleek designs of the Incredisocks only confirm Incrediwear’s commitment to perfection. This recipe ensures a perfect match for the hunting lifestyle. Keeping you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm, Incredisocks performance unequivocally lives up to the promise of excellence. Invest in a pair of Zamberlan Women’s hunting boots and you will have the perfect sock and boot combination for the ultimate in silence and comfort while you hunt. Constructed with a supported instep, narrow heel, and high arch, these boots were made specifically with the female foot in mind.

Get all of these items and more at or call (970) 641-3355 to receive additional advice from the staff on recommended sizing and camo patterns.

My Top Ten Backcountry Tips by Nancy Rodriguez

After spending numerous hunting seasons living out of a backpack in the backcountry, I have found a few tips and items that can make life a whole lot easier during your next backcountry adventure. Here are my top ten must haves for the backcountry.

Top 3

  1. SPOT Satellite Tracker- The SPOT is an emergency locating beacon and satellite GPS messenger. Not only can you send out an emergency SOS transmission to emergency responders if need be, but you can also send a message to your loved ones that everything is okay in the backcountry. This is the most important 5 ounces I carry in my pack.Top 5
  2. Water Filtration Systems- Weighing only 2 ounces, the Sawyer Mini water filter is a backpackers dream. It is so small and compact that you can use the straw to drink right out of the tiniest seep of water. Pump filters use a lot of energy, so for big volumes of water I prefer the Sawyer gravity feed purifier. Just pour in the water and let gravity do the work.Top 1-2
  3. Hiking at Night – Hiking during the heat of the day can quickly cause heat exposure, energy depletion, and dehydration. Hiking at night will minimize the stressors of the heat and you will lessen your water consumption.
  4. Cozy Camp- Depending on your hunt, you may spend numerous nights sleeping on the dirt. Of course you will want to remove rocks, sticks, and brush away from your tent location, but making your tent pad level is just as important. No matter what the slope is, we will clear dirt to make our pad level. We try to do this on a scouting trip. This way our camp spot will be ready to go for the hunt and we can quickly set up (even in the dark).Top 4
  5. Flagging Tape- A small piece of flagging tape wrapped around a strap on your backpack will help you locate your pack more easily when you drop it for a stalk. It also makes it easier to keep tabs on your hunting partner if you separate. Top 9
  6. Luci Solar Lantern- This is an inflatable solar powered lantern that weighs less than 4 ounces. It’s extremely bright and doesn’t require batteries. During the day just set it out in the sun to recharge, so when you get back to camp it will be ready to go. It’s perfect for the backcountry or at any camp.
  7. Cushioned Toe Tape- This may seem minor, but your feet are everything in hunting. Personally, I get hotspots on my toes (no matter what boots I have on). Nexcare waterproof tape is cushioned medical tape that helps to alleviate hotspots. Wrap a small amount around a straw (cut the straw to size), so you don’t have to carry the entire roll in your backpack. Top 8
  8. Wax Paper and Cotton Ball Fire Starters- Fire starters should always be in your backpack. Two lightweight fire starters that I have had great success with are cotton balls dipped in Vaseline and folded up Wax paper. They are both extremely flammable, super light weight and take up hardly any space in your pack.
  9. Emergency SOL Bivvy- The SOL emergency bivvy is a perfect survival bag. Whether your sleeping bag gets wet or you’re caught away from camp at night, the SOL bag will do the trick. They are waterproof, windproof, and reflect up to 90% of your body’s heat back to you. They weigh less than 4 ounces and pack down to the size of a small apple.
  10. Clip On Light- It’s always a good idea to carry a secondary emergency light source. Clip on lights are about the size of a quarter, weigh next to nothing and easily clip on the outside of your pack. In the event a headlamp goes out, you will always have a back up light source.Top 6


After years spent in the backcountry, I still learn new techniques and find new gear to help us have enjoyable experiences. Remember, if you have an idea or find a product that you can’t live without, share them with others. You never know if you can help someone have a better experience or it could even save someone’s life. I wish everyone a safe, enjoyable and successful hunting season.

Top 10


It’s so quiet that all I can hear is the sound of my heavy breathing as I make my way deep into elk country. No wait, I think to myself, I hear a noise. It’s a low grumbling. It gets a little louder, and a little louder still. Then, all of a sudden I hear a squishy, explosion sound followed by a pungent smell. I look down and see the top of my 6 month old’s head. She’s dangling from a front pack and yep, full diaper. The grumbling noises are followed by a happy squeal and then some random babbling. For a minute there I almost felt as if I was sneaking through the woods.

There’s one month until the start of archery elk season in Colorado and I’m doing some scouting. I have been hunting these woods now for over 20 years and my dad before me and we know these woods like the back of our hands. We also know that there are elk in here. My scouting this year is more focused because I now have a baby who requires much of my time and I’ll likely be taking her with me for some of the hunts as my husband will be working during season and the grandparents are out of town. Plus, it’s what we do. We’ve always hunted as a family and I see no need to stop now that I have a family of my own.

I do realize that my strategy for this coming archery season needs to change this year. I used to be in incredible shape and put in miles from sun up until sun down and I could run from one canyon to the next after a bugling elk. But this year I’ll be packing a 7 month old and she’s not only heavy, but not exactly sneaky, stalking material. My normal strategy of spot and stalk may have to change.

Today I’m putting up some game cams deep in the woods to check for some patterns that may make hunting with a baby easier. As I’m walking a long I can’t help but picture myself sneaking up on a nice bull while he’s raking his horns on a tree, unaware of my presence…. that is until the baby on my back squeals with joy at the site of a large animal and waves her arms in the air. Yep, that’s how I envision it. And I got a reassuring message from Kirstie Pike, CEO of Prois when I told her I’d be hunting with my daughter. “LMAO! Some of my worst hunting experiences were with my kids!!! Way to land on your feet!”. I’m not quite sure I’ve landed on my feet, but more likely my head.

So, my expectations are a little different than years past, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it my best effort. I’m an experienced hunter, so I’ll take what I know and try to make the best plan possible, and when that doesn’t work I’ll improvise the best I can.


My plan:

Scout some good locations for some ground blinds, where my daughter and I can sit and wait for an unsuspecting elk to walk by. The ground blind will be equipped with a camouflaged baby tent where Tiegan (my daughter) can move around and play without being seen. It’ll also double as a diaper changing station. Sit, patiently (or not so patiently), in ground blind while the sounds of baby babbling and the smell of dirty diapers fills the air. J


I consider my plan to be flawless. (insert sarcasm) But all it takes is one elk to walk by, right?

Plan B: Spot and Stalk and elk with a babbling, constantly moving baby on my back.

Again, another flawless plan….


Or so we’ll see.


Two weeks later….

Today Tiegan and I checked one of our cameras deep in the woods on this ridge next to an avalanche chute. She babbled and chewed on my finger most of the way there. It was a great day, with no clouds in sight and a crisp feel to the air, which made it feel like fall was on the way. We climbed the long logging road up to the top of the ridge, cut back into the deep woods, across two avalanche chutes and up to a high ridge. I set up her tent and she played a bit while I got the card out of the camera and set it back up. Just after noon, we were still on top of the ridge. I was feeding Tiegan a bottle and looked across to the other side of the avalanche chute and out walks 2 bulls and a couple of cows. Great! I think to myself, this ought to be a good test. We had to walk/sneak back past them to get to the truck, so I would be able to see how sneaky we could be. I pack up the tent and all our gear and get her in the pack and cut across the chute several hundred yards below the elk.

We (I) quietly move across the trees. I keep Tiegan distracted with a chew toy. We make it to within a hundred yards below the feeding elk. Not even remotely close to being within bow range, but I’m not interested in spooking them, or at least I hadn’t planned on it. As we get to the edge of the trees along the chute. Tiegan cuts loose with some babbling. I look up to where the elk are and sure enough they’ve zeroed in on our location. Luckily the wind is good and they just stare, trying to make sense of the moving thing on my back. Before they figure it out I slip into the trees and head back towards the truck.

This will definitely be an adventure, a difficult one.

This year I’ve put up some game cameras in my usual hunting spots way back in the backcountry. I’ve never used game cameras for scouting before. I’ve always just used them to check out the deer, skunks, raccoon, mountain lions and bears that roam through our property outside of town. And I’m horrible at placing the game cameras too as these are the type of pictures I get….

cowelkIsn’t she cute…


Yeah…the horns from this guy block the entire head of the bull in the water. Just my luck…


The only 2 photos I got of these bulls. I never get a look at the far one and the closer one you only see a teasing bit of his nose and brow tines….

I’ve gotten a few other decent pictures too…..


But mostly it’s just nice seeing elk and it gives me an idea as to their patterns and what time of day they are moving. This is important because I’ll likely be spending a lot of time in a ground blind. I’ve never hunted from a ground blind or a tree stand before. I’ve never able to sit still for long enough. So, this will be new experience on many different levels for me. This ground blind won’t be your typical blind as it will be complete with a baby tent and a diaper changing station. The tent’s purpose is so that she can move around and play and not be seen by large animals with great eye sight. I’ll cover it with a camo netting.


I’ve been packing the tent with me on our scouting trips and she loves it. It’s great to keep her out of the rain and bugs and gives my shoulders and back much needed rest every couple of hours. Another thing I’ve been doing is practicing a call around her so that she’s used to the noise. She makes a pretty good cow call/squeal, so there’s an added bonus. I’ve also practiced shooting my bow while she’s in the pack on my back. She get’s super excited at the sound of the arrows hitting the target and squeals with joy every time the arrow flies. Yeah, this is going to be an interesting season for sure.

I’ve also been going through some of the things I’ll be packing this season that I normally wouldn’t. Here’s my list so far…



Air-tight Ziploc bags for dirty diapers (to hopefully keep the smell at bay)

Baby Tent

Bottles of milk & baby food

A small toy or two

Extra clothes/layers for the baby


As far as failures & successes go, there is always an adventure and this one will likely not disappoint. So, here’s to family tradition, and keeping a sense of humor about all things….

-Tracy Barnes

BRIDGER RIDGE RUN by Megan DeHaan and Kelly Altschwager

“Fitness cannot be bought, borrowed, of bestowed. Like honor, it must be earned.” – Winddrinkers motto

This all started when two women, introduced by a great company, befriended each other because of similar interests. What once was a simple message, quickly turned into the start of a lifelong friendship and one badass mountain. The Bridger Ridge Run, 2015. It’s said to be one of the toughest mountain races in the country, and Trail Runner Magazine’s top 10 bucket list races for all runners. Soon, one woman’s passion forged its way into another woman’s dream. They were made for each other. KellyMegan

Prois was once again was the “middle-man” in the creation of this friendship. It’s constantly bringing women together with common interests and common ways of life. These two were no exception. Kelly Altschwager is apart of the Prois Staff, a Certified Personal Trainer and Owner of Western Workouts. She works with countless people helping them improve their lives with healthy lifestyles and fitness. Megan DeHaan is also apart of the Prois Staff, Rancher, and is an avid trail runner among other things. She balances an incredibly busy life with grace & is harder working than most.

One day, Megan asked Kelly if she would want to run the infamous ridge with her in 2015. After a few jokes about Kelly’s lack of running skill, she broke down and decided to throw her hat in the runner’s lottery assuming she would never be chosen. It was a safe move she thought. After all, Megan said she “probably wouldn’t get in her first year”. Not long after, Kelly received the confirmation letter “CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made it in!”. An immediate call was sent to Megan full of excitement and fear, if she were to be fully honest. Not long after that letter and that call her training began.

Over the next several months they exchanged phone calls, texts and messages on what to do, how to train and nutrition requirements. In all reality, that’s what Kelly does for a living, but never like this! Never on a mountainous trail in a mountain range she’s never been too?! (The youtube video doesn’t make it look any better either. You can check it out at The days of training quickly came to a close. The anxiety was relentless and finally that Thursday in August came and Kelly arrived in Montana at the DeHaan Ranch. It was an instant friendship between both women and their families alike. They wound up talking all night about what was to come, what their game plan was and how excited and nervous they were.

Then, 4:30am came that following Saturday. That dreaded alarm because you didn’t sleep a wink. That holy coffee pot that every runner glorifies. And off they went to the starting line. Several hours of driving, hitchhiking (yes, thats how you get there), and the instant energy you get after that mountain range comes into view behind the trees grew… they had arrived. Wave one starts at 7:00 am, then wave two, and then their wave at 7:10 followed by two more. They were noticed by numerous people right away. Could it btara pice the matching Nathan packs? Or the matching watches? OR, was is that they were the only two women with matching camo Prois shirts and hats? People asked if they were sisters. They laughed and said they might as well be.

Their wave’s starting time neared and they placed themselves in the front of everyone else in that wave. People joked and said they would protect the rest of the runners from wildlife. They were the hunters, they could start first. Then boom, 7:10 on the dot and Megan takes off running and keeps a good pace with Kelly. They soon come to their natural paces as they reach the bowl leading up to Sacajawea and the bag pipes start playing and the spirit of the race takes hold. Sudden addiction strikes, and they haven’t even reached the first summit. Kelly starts thinking, “What have I got myself into? Can I really make this? Sure I can! I got this! Who is that screaming my name? I think thats Megan? YES! It is!”. After a long first climb, they’re on the top of Sacajawea Peak and they about loose themselves in awe of the view. It’s simply breathtaking. You could never fully understand the massive grandeur of it all until you’re standing on the top. Then the epic downhill towards the next saddle and off they go.

Kelly’s husband decided earlier that he would hike several miles up to the halfway point with the kids and take Megan’s oldest along as well. A simple, yet steep (OK, VERY steep) mountain that most kids couldn’t make. But the boys pushed on to watch their momma’s run. They got there 5 minutes before Megan crossed into the halfway point and she lost it. Hugging her son, she told him how proud she was of him for making it all the way up there. It took her about a mile to recover and breathe again. She had been so inspired seeing her handsome boy there cheering her on. Soon after, Kelly came across the same point fresh as can be, hugged her family tight and pushed on. Kelly

The hardest half was over, but the push to the finish had just begun. Megan was going in and out between negative and positive thinking. Could she make her goal time? No way. Wait, she felt better, maybe she could? “Just keep pushing,” she thought. “You can still make it in under your last years pace no problem.” So she pushed on prepared to do just that. She knew her friend was pushing through the hardest race of her life so why couldn’t she do the same? That’s the thing about this mountain, your mind has to overcome what your body is telling you, you can’t do. But you can, and you will, and you will never regret it. It will change you, it always changes you. You can’t go back to the wuss you thought you were, especially after you just overcame that treacherous mountain that most will never attempt.

Megan finally reached Mt. Baldy and knew it was “all downhill from here”. She knew she could bomb down that mountain. She knew it well and knew every last trick in the book. As she reached the aid station she took a sip of gatorade and quickly turned and noticed some downright angel of a person had carried up a keg of locally crafted microbrew…and it was cold. So. Very. Cold. So she drank down a few gulps, took a second to savor the intense moment of happiness, and started down that downhill section. Kelly was making great time and pushing hard and she was feeling more confident than she had expected. And then, in the blink of an eye, the rocks crumbled below her feet and in an uncontrolled instant, went her knee. Her GOOD knee, at that. She knew in that second she had the push of her life ahead of her to finish this thing. Her “I won’t quit” nature kicked in full force. She was ready to conquer. Even if conquering meant limping, which she did, across that finish line. She pushed, she dug deep, she refused to quit and then, she too saw the angel at the top of Mt. Baldy with a cold glass of beer. It was like heavens parted and you could hear “Hallelujah” being shouted from the mountain tops!

It’s at this point though that the work really started. It’s hard enough getting down that torrential downhill slope as it is… and that’s with two good legs. Add a bad knee and a limp and its dang near impossible but it had to be done. Another self pep talk and off the side of the mountain she went. Meanwhile, Megan had crossed the finish line below. She was pushing for another PR this year. She had PR’d every year since she started running this race. This being the 4th attempt, she thought another 30 minute PR would be sufficient. However, she felt like she finally reached that point where 30 minutes was too much to ask. She Bridgerknew she was going to be faster than last year anyhow. And she was, by 19 minutes. Only 11 minutes shy of her goal. Success! (And there’s still next year.)

By 6 hrs and 30 minutes (into the race) within the time Megan knew Kelly should finish, she and Andy (Kelly’s husband) started to get a bit worried. She was pacing well at the halfway point and should have been off the mountain by now. Megan checked with the Hamm radio operators who would know if anyone had gotten hurt and/or couldn’t continue. They said they hadn’t heard anything about her. That was a good sign, but still. Once 7 hours passed they knew something was wrong. Megan asked Andy, “Is she going to hate me when she gets done?” Andy said, “Umm, no. She is going to be pissed at that mountain and she is going to be back next year to prove it wrong!” Sure enough, after the 10th time asking each other “Is that her?”, they saw her. They knew it was her immediately. She was limping, struggling, and fighting the urge to quit. The last few miles are almost quite literally straight down. Megan ran up the end of trail in flip flops with open arms and started yelling up the mountain, “YOU GOT THIS KELLY!!! COME ON GIRL!!!” Kelly soon got down to Megan and being the incredibly friend she is, Megan offered an arm to help her down. Kelly quickly said “NO! I JUST NEED TO FINISH THIS!” Megan laughed loudly, she knew she was going say that. Megan couldn’t have been more inspired or more proud. She let Kelly past and followed her, cheering her the rest of the way down. Kelly collapsed into her family’s arms a handful of gimpy strides later. It was over… Take a deep breath. Let it all sink in.

All the anxiety, all the training, all the mental preparation. Nothing can prepare you for that. Nothing like being up there on that mountain and experiencing the spirit of the ridge. Kelly will be back next year, it’s already been scheduled. Megan has proudly created a monster. This is a story about two women, two states apart, who have the same passion for love and life and beating all the odds. The odds that come fully stacked against you on that ridge. All of this started with Prois, it always does, and it always will. No other company can bring people together in a way quite like this. This is something beyond average or normal. Its exceptional and it’s inspiring.

“You can’t cheat the mountain, it knows how much you’ve invested. It won’t give you anything you haven’t worked for.” – Author Unknown

-Kelly Altschwager and Megan DeHaan