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'Bottomless well'
'Bottomless well'

A person, who worked behind the fountain counter serving various ice cream concoctions, was called a "soda jerk" in the olden days.

Although I've probably been a "jerk" a time or two in my life, I never had the opportunity to tangle with sodas in public until recently. I was among many senior volunteers, serving samples of products, at "Demo Days" in a local super market.

My job was to combine ice cream and root beer, for root beer floats, sometimes also called "black cows." Sounds like an easy task. But when the ice cream is too hard, or too soft, the carbonated beverage is fizzing over and thirsty customers are waiting in line, it's enough to drive a person to drink … more root beer.

One of the pleasant perks about the job is meeting and visiting with shoppers. Among folks stopping by was a pleasant woman who casually concluded our conversation with an invitation to go hiking. She said the Tuesday Hikers club was going to meet at her house the next week for a walk on Mount Jumbo.

Tuesday is usually a busy day. I didn't know if there would be time.

Then, she clinched my decision with a parting remark: "If you think you are capable."

Well! Those challenging words were like throwing down the gauntlet. Capable? Good grief. I swim half a mile a day several times a week. I pump iron. I dance, walk, weed and golf. Why wouldn't I be in shape for a short hike on Jumbo? We walk regularly on the river trails and the neighborhood.

I had forgotten there is a vast difference between walking and hiking, especially up inclines.

The legs are used as locomotion in both cases. But just as with a mountain bike, different gears are used for climbing. And I learned although my spirit was willing, some of my gears must have slipped with the years.

I have hiking boots, but decided my old athletic shoes were good enough. Fortunately, I did remember to take a small bottle of water. About a pint. I should have carried a gallon.

I was surprised at the size of the assembly gathered at the starting place in Lincoln Hills. There were 32 people and two dogs. The group looked like a safari in Nepal. There were back packs large and small, hiking boots, extra jackets, binoculars, cameras.

I quickly surmised this outing wasn't going to be like a walk in the park.

There were women of all ages, many of them younger, a few older.

Helen Bolle, a charter member of the Tuesday group, which began more than 20 years ago, remembered the last time I had accompanied them.

"It was a few years ago when you quit smoking," she recalled. She was amazed - and so was I - to think that was 16 years ago.

Helen was also given a rousing cheer before the hike began. It was announced her famed huckleberry pie had brought $1,050. at a recent auction, held as a fund-raiser, by the Five Valleys Land Trust. Helen said she had been contributing huckleberry pies for the event for the last 15 years.

"I believe the first one sold for five dollars," she said with a laugh. Last year someone paid $500. But this year was a record for her deep-dish pastry.

"I always worry the pie may not turn out good enough," she said, modestly.

After announcing names and numbers, at a given signal, the group hit the road. Within minutes, many of the hikers were striding far ahead. Like a faltering caboose, I was huffing and puffing , bringing up the rear. To myself, I grumbled: "I thought this was a hike, not a race."

The route followed a road, then a trail to the north of the mountain, through open space property acquired by the city.

As we climbed, some of the troop rapidly disappeared. I soon realized these folks weren't just Sunday hikers. They are serious trekkers, fleet of foot as mountain goats.

Occasionally, some would drop back to visit with me. Or we would stop (so I could catch my breath) and enjoy the flora and fauna. Balsam root, which I still think of as "sunflowers," is in full bloom. It's also being crowded out by spotted knapweed. Speaking of weeds, why don't folks concentrate on eradicating weeds in the city, as well as the hillsides? That's akin to building a fort with the enemy inside.

Back to the hike. Finally, the view from the top, magnificent! On one side, the splendor of the meeting place of "five great valleys" guarded by glistening Lolo Peak. On the other, the winding Clarks Fork, Bonner and the controversial dam and pond.

Betty Csorosz, leader of the outing, has resided in the area for 20 years and has hiked the mountain in all seasons. An observant, knowledgeable guide, she told of interesting points along the trail. The elk crossing and calving place in a hollow in the trees, or where she once had an encounter with a bear and her cub.

A lone man among the hikers, Glen Baumgardner, slowed his pace to accompany me for awhile. He and his wife, Cindy, joined the group when they moved to Missoula a few years ago.

"I always liked to hike. But I didn't want to be 'hard core.' I wanted to take time to enjoy the country," he said.

By the time we reached the summit, were over the saddle and headed down hill, I was feeling like Jake, the dog, who accompanied the hikers. His tongue was hanging almost to his paws.

From time to time, I was also asked if I would like to quit and return before finishing the hike, as a few did.

Quit? Never! I would finish if I had to crawl. I stayed upright until I got home.

Evelyn King is a retired Missoulian reporter whose column appears every Sunday in the Missoulian.

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