We go now to Missoula, which is like Eugene but with guns

I am so ashamed. I spent last week — the week of Eugene’s “Business Commute Challenge” — logging 1,800 miles in a minivan, burning tankfuls of fossil fuel.

We traveled to Missoula, Mont., to witness a college graduation in the family.

Yes, like Eugene, Missoula is a college town — home to the University of Montana. Also like Eugene, it seems to have lots of bikes.

And at first glance, Missoula bikes seem a lot like Eugene bikes.

For instance:

Nifty brakeless fixie with stunningly white “deep-V” rims and cool if not entirely practical handlebars:

Thirty-year-old Schwinn retro-clunker with plastic-bag saddle prophylactic:

The indomitable cratie:

And this ingenious homemade cargo bike …

… complete with foldable throne, cooler and tiki torch.

And in what was the shining highlight of the trip for me (my dear niece’s graduation from college notwithstanding, of course) Eugene Bicyclist got to ride in the throne!

That’s my brother doing the work. That’s me looking not-quite-relaxed in the back. And this was before he hit the curb. It was OK, though. The trailer weighs several thousand pounds and would be hard to flip.

But it was this trailer that opened my eyes to the vast cultural differences between Eugene and Missoula.

You see, I was chatting with the guy who built this trailer. And I learned that its original intent and purpose was not to carry his booth of homemade soaps and candles to Saturday Market (though they do have a Saturday market in Missoula). It was not to carry his kids. It was not to carry his dog. It was not to carry bags of bottles and aluminum cans to the recycling machine at Safeway. It was not even to carry a drunk friend (and leftover beer) home from a party.

It was built, he told us, for “mountain-bike hunting.” As in: riding up into the hills, shooting a deer, tossing the carcass onto the bike trailer and pedaling home.

It’s important to get out of Eugene every once in a while and get some perspective.

I also learned that the guy who built the trailer — a super friendly and gregarious fellow, by the way — was a Ph.D. student studying the sexual habits of fungi before he dropped out (too much politics in academia, he decided).

He said he was thinking about moving out of state, but he liked Montana because of the hunting laws — or lack thereof. “You can shoot whatever you want in Montana,” he told me.

Without trying to, I found myself a party to a number of conversations about guns during my four days in Montana — more conversations about guns than I have had in Eugene in several years.

“You can hardly go around the block in Montana without buying a gun,” another Montanan said to me the next day. He was telling a story about a woman he knew, who tried to register a gun that was given to her as a gift and the troubles that ensued. Convoluted gun laws. All that. “Every once in a while, those right-wing conspiracy nuts are right about something,” he pointed out.

This discussion, by the way, happened at a barbecue where I:

That’s not a cheetah. That’s a bison head, sitting out to be picked clean by bugs, worms and vermin so it can be used eventually as slightly less gruesome indoor decor.

One night during our stay, we stopped in a pizza place downtown. Missoula has what looks like a healthy, thriving downtown — where unlike Eugene they have kept the nice old buildings.

After being seated, I looked up to make sure my kid was happy in the high chair and in the background …

… yikes — more guns! Cold Steel Reign, it turns out, is a “post apocalyptic Wild West” Internet role-playing game. Which is something I did not know. (Silly kid — she thought I was taking a picture of her!)

I also spotted this camouflage spray-painted mountain bike locked up outside the local Holiday Inn:

They even did the crank arms, but I don’t know what’s up with the blue rims.

I must say I liked Missoula a lot. And I don’t even own guns.

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5 thoughts on “We go now to Missoula, which is like Eugene but with guns

  1. Yeah Missoula! My wife and I passed through there twice on a road trip last summer- it struck me as a gem. I didn’t pull out the bike during our night spent, but got to skateboard and check out a few bars. It seems so out of character for Montana, yet so appropriate at the same time. Good trip!

  2. I’ve passed through Missoula on a couple of long bike tours. Did you stop by Adventure Cycling’s headquarters? It’s a pretty amazing building.

  3. I do like Missoula! When I finally cut my last ties with the People’s Republic of Northern Idaho and flew the coop to Eugene, I had almost opted to go to Missoula instead. After several visits in town there was a long list of things I loved about it– the rattlesnake wilderness on the edge of town, co-op, proximity to big mountains, great coffee shops, peace center, Indian food, etc. Yet, there was this ever present fact that not only does Missoula have more guns, it’s cultural zone is a very limited area. Travel too far outside this zone and you are still very definitely in Montana. Still, hiking to the M sign and looking over the valley is just about enough to make me forget it.

    Great posting… thanks for the memories of Missoula.

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