Okay, it’s confession time.

I’m an old man. Some might even call me a fat old man (hey, I’m a recreational eater, okay?).

courtesy freeimages.com/Josephine Eber

So a few months ago I was at first a little hesitant when I was contacted by Chuck Johnson, the publisher/owner of Wilderness Adventures Press of Belgrade, Montana and asked to consider writing a fly fishing guide for the mountain lakes of Northwest Montana. The conversation went something like this:

  • Chuck: You seem to be pretty knowledgable. How’d you like to write for us?
  • Me: A fly fishing guide? I’d like to, but most of our mountain lakes are pretty brushy around the edge. A guy has to do some wading to be effective. Or be a pretty good roll caster.
  • Chuck: Get a float tube or a backpack boat.
  • Me: That would mean packing it in on my back. And I’m not a young man.
  • Chuck: Get a pack goat.Well, I signed the book contract and I did get the boat. But I’m the pack goat. I guess this makes me an old goat (okay, a fat old goat).

Even though I’m a fat old goat, I do like to hike and backpack and so I try and stay in reasonably good shape. I’ve even overcome the boredom of the treadmill. But add 50 pounds of boat and gear on my back and hike mile after mile? I knew I was going to have to take my fitness to another level.

So I got on the Internet and for me I found the key: HIIT.

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. The basic idea behind HIIT is to alternate between short, intense training and very brief rest periods. HIIT as a training routine hits your hard. Real hard. However, the beauty of HIIT is that it’s so intense you only have to follow a routine for 10-20 minutes three days a week instead of the usual 30-60 minute workout five days a week. And when it comes to stamina and aerobic benefits, it yields better results for most folks. In this case, less really is more.

A guy can find lots of information on the Internet about HIIT and a superabundance of work out routines. But the problem I found with most of the work out routines is that they’re designed for young bucks, not fat old goats so I had to come up with my own version of HIIT. With all of this in consideration, I’m pleased to present my version of HIIT for old goats, fat or otherwise. My modified HIIT routine also works for young bucks who don’t care to swing a 20 pound kettle ball overhead. My routine uses the lowly treadmill, and is as follows:

  • 4 minutes of warm up:
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 6% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 8% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 10% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 12% incline.
  • Next, alternate for 10 reps each:
  • 1 minute at 3.2 MPH, 12% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 12% incline.
  • 3 minutes of cool down:
  • 3 minutes at 2.0 MPH, 0% incline.I programmed the above routine into my treadmill, which makes my HIIT workout a no brainer although still a strainer. Modify as you see fit, of course. I combine my HIIT routine with strength training but that’s another story.

Now for the inevitable disclaimer: always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine. There. I’ve said it. Now go HIIT it.

Comments, wagers on how soon I’ll croak, etcetera?

Do It On the Fly

My raft was floating high as we drifted downriver, but my hopes were about sunk. We were near the end of a five mile float trip down Montana’s Lower Clark Fork River and my grandson and my daughter’s boyfriend Jeff had not had one hit. They had tossed lures and bait from one side of the river to the other in an effort to nail one of the Clark’s hefty trout but with no success. I had my fly rod aboard, but I’d stayed on the oars the whole time in order to give them the best shot as they had come from out of state. But then it happened.

A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat
A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat

Jeff pointed toward the opposite bank. “Look at THAT!” he said.

“That” was a series of trout rises just downstream from a small, rocky point that jutted out into the river and stalled the current.

“That” was what I was waiting for.

I had them both real up and put their spinning rods away as I rowed across to the rocky point and dropped the anchor. After squinting toward the rises and determining that the trout were feeding on a hatch of PMDs (Pale Morning Duns), I tied a #14 PMD dry fly to the end of the leader. I made a few false casts to work out some fly line and dropped the fly just downstream from the point so it would float down the edge of the broken current and meet the feeding trout.

Fish on! I soon boated a fat rainbow of about 15.” I dried out the fly, dabbed on a little dry fly floatant and worked the fly back out to the feeding trout.

Fish on! I handed the bobbing fly rod to my grandson. The fish made a few determined runs, then came unbuttoned. By now the fly looked a bit bedraggled, so I tied on a fresh offering and once again dropped the fly just upstream from the feeding trout.

Fish on! This time the fly rod went to Jeff, and immediately the trout made a smoking run downstream. Jeff managed to turn the fish before it got into the backing, and it responded by stubbornly sulking on the river bottom. Jeff and the fish played a game of tug a war for a few minutes until the Jeff won. Another chubby ‘bow of about 15” came to the net.

This last effort put the trout down and they stopped feeding. I rowed the raft down to our takeout. Jeff shook his head as the raft bumped the shore. “Man,” he said, “I gotta learn to fly fish!”

How about you? If you’re a fly fisher, you’re nodding your knowledgable head in appreciation. There’s few things more exciting than catching trout on a dry fly. 

However, if you’re not a fly fisher you don’t have to lose out on the experience of doing it on the fly. You can get with a local outfitter and fishing guide such as Joe Cantrell who just about has every trout named in every hole. Joe can arrange a guided float trip for you on the Lower Clark Fork River. Included in his reasonably-priced package is all the tackle and flies, free casting lessons if you need them, and a hungry-man shore lunch. Joe also owns a lodge on the banks of the Clark Fork and can put you up for a fair price.

So, how about it, fishers? Do you do it on the fly? Or would you like to learn more about it? Tell me!


“You try them first. If you live, I’ll try them.”

Bag of Meadow Mushrooms
Bag of freshly gathered Meadow Mushrooms, dirt and all

I’d just phoned a neighbor and informed her that she has Meadow Mushrooms popping up all over her lawn. Although I’d made a positive I.D. on the choice fungi from some I’d gathered from my own property, she was hesitant to eat them. And rightly so. Mushroom poisoning is no fun. And if you eat the wrong kind of mushroom you can end up planted in the ground and pushing up mushrooms over your grave. However, because I told her I’d already eaten some and was still standing, she thought she’d give them a try.

Meadow mushrooms are among the finest of edible mushrooms. Mushroom lovers dream about them. And based on when and where they grow and confirmed by making a spore print, they’re easy to identify. The taste is like commercial “button” mushrooms, only more so.

Dehydrating mushrooms
Meadow Mushrooms, ready to dehydrate

After pigging out on as many as I could (first raw, then sliced, cooked, and sautéed with shrimp and angel hair pasta, then finally sautéed in butter all by themselves), I loaded the rest of my harvest in my food dehydrator for later.

This morning I got up thinking about gathering more Meadow mushrooms. I’m very greedy when it comes to mushrooms. Having harvested all the Meadow mushrooms from my property, I called my neighbor and asked her if she’d tried them.

“Yes, I did,” she said. “They’re wonderful! But I can’t eat them all, so if you want more come and get them.” 

Bwah Ha Ha!

Are you a mushroom lover? Go ahead and leave a comment!

Shank Meat’s Back on the Table, Boys!

Savory Shank Stew

I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy, so thoroughly enjoy boning, cutting and wrapping my own deer and elk – except for dealing with the shank meat. When it comes to the shank I hate the long and tedious process of filleting off the normally unpalatable silver skin.

But I found a way to cook up the shank meat silver skin and all, turning a notoriously tough cut of meat into gourmet fair. Try this recipe once, and you’ll prize the shank almost as much as the prime cuts. Cooked slow and low, the meat is fork tender and the silver skin dissolves and acts as a natural thickening.

  • 1½ lbs (more or less) boneless shank meat w/silver skin, cut into about 1” chunks
  • 1 very large onion, sliced thin (about 1½ cup)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1- 15 ounce can ready to use beef broth
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • ⅓ cup tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or other good quality vegetable oil.

Heat oil to medium high in Dutch oven, brown meat half at a time. Remove with fork or slotted spoon to retain oil in Dutch oven, set meat aside. Reduce heat to medium-low, add onions and garlic, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (do not brown).

Remove lid, add broth, wine, tomato paste, and bring to boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, return meat to Dutch oven, add bay leaf. Cover and place in preheated 275 degree oven (or simmer very slowly in Dutch oven). Roast in oven for 2-3 hours or until tender. Serve over a bed of rice, pasta, couscous or potatoes and taste a little bit of heaven. Serves four hungry dudes.

Necessity is the Mother of Pancakes

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our camping spot near the shores of the mountain lake. As soon as we had camp set up, my backpacking buddy reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of white powder.

“Look what I brought!” he said. My friend Russ doesn’t do drugs, so without reservation I asked what was in the bag.

Oh, yeah baby!
Oh, yeah baby!

Russ smiled triumphantly. “Pancake mix!”

Russ and I both love pancakes so I smiled back. But I had to ask:

“Did you bring any butter?”



“No. But look at all the ripe huckleberries around here! We can add them to the batter and our pancakes will be awesome!”

“Hmm.” I said. “I love huckleberries but they’re rather tart. But I have an idea.”

I reached in my pack and pulled out a package of instant oatmeal, cinnamon and spice flavor. “In the morning, let’s try adding this to the batter and the huckleberry mixture. It should sweeten up the mix. Either we’ll have a new taste sensation or a blowout.”

The pancakes were awesome! So awesome, in fact, that I have to share the recipe with you. Pancake mix doesn’t weigh much, and neither does flavored instant oatmeal so they’re both light in the pack. If you don’t have ripe huckleberries available, you can bring along a little dried fruit, chop up it  and rehydrate it some before making your mix. Now then:

  • 1/2 c. huckleberries or rehydrated fruit of your choice.
  • 1 pkg. instant oatmeal, your choice of flavor.
  • About a c. of pancake mix.
  • Enough water to make a thick batter. You want it a little lumpy. Too thin? Add more pancake mix. Too thick? Add more water. Cook ’em up and enjoy. I ate mine with my fingers.

The result is like fruit scones. The instant oatmeal adds just enough sweetness and Russ noted that he didn’t experience the sugar rush/crash that he gets when he uses syrup.

A few days ago I made these at home for breakfast. I didn’t have a mountain lake nearby, but the pancakes tasted just as good!

Comments? Questions?

Way Out in the Outback

Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173
Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173

Do you R-E-A-L-L-Y want to get away from it all? I mean go way, way back and probably not see another hiker for miles and miles and miles?

Have I got a trail for you!

Trail 173 begins about  1/4 mile before Blacktail Creek Road ends (Forest Service Road 304). To get to Blacktail Creek Road, take the Superior Exit from I-90 (Exit 47).  If you exit from I-90 Westbound, turn left after exiting, continue about 1/4 mile to the stop sign and turn left and proceed under the Interstate. At the “T” turn right and continue about 1/2 mile to Blacktail Creek Road and turn left. If you exit from I-90 Eastbound, turn right off the exit and then right at the “T.”

Once at the trailhead, you’ll notice that the trail immediately jumps up but it gentles out shortly after. For the next half mile the trail meanders and crosses Thompson Creek twice. Shortly after crossing the creek for the second time, the trail turns North-Northwest and follows the course of Blacktail Creek uphill. After another 1/2 mile or so the trail generally traces a Westerly course, and can be followed for about eight miles until it intersects with Trail 152. Hike left (South-Southwest) on Trail 152. Follow Trail 152 about five miles and you’ll come to Trial 151. Trail 151 runs South and intersects with the Stateline National Recreation Trail after about another five miles. From this point, you can hike around eight miles Northwest until the trail intersects with Dry Creek Road (FS Road 342) or hike generally Southeast along the Stateline National Recreation Trail about seven miles to Cascade Pass and the Cedar Creek Road (FS Road 320).

Obviously, the through-hike route is for seasoned hikers or backpackers and you’ll want to arrange for a ride back to the point of beginning. Although the route isn’t overly steep most of the way (call it “moderate”), it’s a long, long way to its eventual end if you include the other trails in your itinerary.

However, one of the things I really like about Trail 173 is the lack of other hikers. As a bonus, you can go as near or far as you like. But if you’re like me, you just can’t resist another bend in the trail – until you realize it’s many miles back to the truck!

I purposely haven’t revealed everything about this hike; I’ve left some nice surprises for you.

Questions? Comments?  Click the “Comment” button just under the title of this post or email me: mike(at)mikeraether(.com).

The Disconnection Connection

“How do you stand it?”

The question was posed by our youngest son. After being on his own for a while, he’d stopped by for a visit. The TV was off, the radio was silenced and the stereo was resting. The only sound was the methodic ticking of a clock. 

Ward Creek Trail
Ward Creek Trail – Making Time to Think

•Again the question came: “It’s so quiet here. How do you stand it?”

I remembered this incident recently when I read about a study done by the University of Virginia and reported in the July 4, 2014 edition of Science magazine. Study subjects consisting of a broad span of ages ages were asked to spend six to 15 minutes by themselves without any external stimuli – no computer, cell phone, music, TV, magazines or books to entertain them; nothing to write with or on. Instead, they were told to occupy themselves with their thoughts – in other words, disconnect from the external world and connect with the internal world.

Most of the people who participated in the study didn’t like the experience. The researchers are not yet sure why, although they have some theories. One of their theories is that the human mind is designed to focus on the external world and when those external stimuli are removed the mind becomes uncomfortable.

•I have my own theory.

As a culture, I think we’re overstimulated. So much so that being alone with our thoughts is almost torture.

I find this hard to understand. I love to get away by myself to a quiet place and have time just to think. In fact, I deliberately create such times. I find them restful and refreshing. Life make sense again as take time to sort things out. As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Misérables, “there are many mouths that speak, and but few heads that think.”

Consider my dog. The pasture grass behind my house is taller than she is. As she romps around in the tall grass, I can only tell where she is by the rusting movements. After a few moments of this, she realizes she’s lost track of me. She leaps above the grass, looks around and finds me. Satisfied, she drops back down in the grass and resumes finding bugs are whatever it was she was doing.

I believe we must do the same. As we rustle through the tall grass of life, we need to take some time out to stick our heads above the mess and get our bearings. In other words, take time to think. Disconnect in order to connect.

What about you? Do you like being alone? Are you comfortable with disconnecting? Why or why not? What refreshes you? We’re all different. What recharges your batteries? I have a friend who recharges by being around lots of people. That works for him. Let us know what you think!

•Click the “Comment” button under the title of this post and chime in.

Mineral County, Montana: An Outdoorsman’s Overview

I was stunned. It was abundantly more than I could ask or think.

When I arrived in heavily forested Mineral County in far Western Montana, one of the first things I did was spread out a USDA Forest Service map for the Superior Ranger District. As an outdoorsman, I wanted to learn about where I’d landed. What I discovered was an outdoorsman’s jaw dropper.

Bonanza Lake #1
Bonanza Lake #1

First off, Mineral County is 87% publicly owned, and these public lands contain hundreds of miles of non motorized recreational trails. My new “back yard” was home to over 50 mountain lakes, most accessible only by trail and many with good to excellent trout fishing. All mine for the hiking.

And then there is the Clark Fork River with its many tributaries. The Clark Fork is big water that drains most of Western Montana. Although the Clark is overshadowed by the abundance of Montana’s blue ribbon trout waters, the Clark yields beautiful fish up to five pounds for those who learn how to fool ’em. The Clark’s tribs are fair to excellent fishing for brookies, cutts, ‘bows and sometimes big bull trout (be sure to check the regs).

Did I mention the hunting? No, not yet, but as some of you were wondering if I’d get there, here we go –

First, I have to deconstruct your thinking.

Montana in general is not the hunter’s paradise some make it out to be. There’s not a big game animal standing behind every tree or game birds flushing from every bush. Still, the hunting is pretty good, and there’s a certain romanticism connected with hunting in Montana. However, for sheer numbers, a hunter would be better off elsewhere.

But  back to Mineral County. I enjoy good hunting here and the proof is mounted on my walls. The hunting pressure is light if a hunter is willing to get back in the bush a quarter mile or so. Still, the mountains of Mineral County have been called young men’s mountains as they are steep and heavily forested. But a seasoned hunter knows that elk and deer don’t usually go straight up the mountain; they’re much smarter than that. They make trails. And a hunter who finds the game trails and uses them finds it much easier to get around the mountains. And he saves a lot of sweat and energy in the process.

Rivers, streams, mountains, lakes, trails, wildlife – yeah, I like it here. I also like sharing. How about coming along with me on some of my adventures? Follow my posts this year under the category “Leisure” and I’ll introduce you to some special places.

By the way, how about sharing with me? What are your favorite things to do in the great outdoors? Or perhaps you have a question or suggestion? Feel free to comment!




Real Men Own Poodles

Overheard recently by my wife at her place of employment –

“You ought to meet Katherine’s husband. He’s this big, 6’3” macho outdoorsman and his dog is a POODLE!”

Ahem. That’s STANDARD Poodle, if you please. Not one of those yappy little car wash mitts.

So why a poodle for a macho man? Sophie for webI’m glad you asked that question, because there’s a backstory. Not that I owe you an explanation. But seeing as how you’ve read this far, let’s continue.

When we moved to North Central Montana years ago (The Land of the Upland Bird) I wanted a bird dog. So I got a yellow Lab pup. Named him “Nugget” as I expected him to be pure gold. And he was.

Trained him myself, and in spite of my many mistakes Nugget became a retriever’s retriever. But the inevitable happened. Nugget turned 13 last January, and went the way of all the earth shortly after.

I began thinking about another dog, but after Nugget I couldn’t bear to get another Lab. So I started doing some research, and discovered that Standard Poodles were originally bred as hunting retrievers. Some of them still have it in their blood.

Bonus: Unlike Labs, poodles don’t shed. Labs shed like a Montana blizzard, and my wife was tired of vacuuming up enough hair each week to make a new dog.

Enter the Standard Poodle.

The short story: I contacted Dreamscapes Standard Poodles in Trout Creek, Montana. Dreamscapes breeds their Standards for bird hunting, retrieving, backpacking and carting. We now share our home with a very nice female Standard pup of just under four months of age. Her call name is Sophie – alias Sweet Pea, alias Snuggle Bunny, alias Daddy’s Girlie-Girl and sometimes alias Monster Baby.

After church last Sunday a friend gave me a ride home. I asked him if he’d like to see my new dog.

He said, “Does she have bows in her hair and painted toenails?”

I smiled. “Of course. Bright red.”

He laughed and said, “I’ll pass.”

Silly redneck. Everybody knows poodles make the best hunting dogs.

What do you think? Are you with me or agin me? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Dropped by the Helping Hand of Obamacare – An Update

I gotta be me, and me is have to be fair.

So I was complaining to my tax consultant about the denial of a subsidy to help with my health care coverage. I had been informed by a heath care advocate I was too poor to qualify. My tax pro interrupted me and said, “This doesn’t sound right. I know the local health care advocate. I’ll call her for you and see what the deal is.”

As it turned out, the deal is (or was, or whatever) that a mistake had been made. I contacted the advocate who apologized for the error and recalculated my eligibility. The Happy Ending is that I now have health care thanks to a healthy subsidy.

Well, maybe it’s not quite such a happy ending for the taxpayers who have to pick up the cost of my subsidy. I still don’t think it’s right for the government to force me to either buy health care or pay a fine. Of course, they don’t call it a fine; they call it a “shared responsibility payment.” But a fine by any other name is still a fine.

My local daily newspaper The Missoulian ran an interesting opinion piece today by George Will. Within the article, Mr. Will asserted that the ACA may be unconstitutional as it violates the Origin Clause. Mmm. It’s worth checking out here.