Springhill Road and Frank Norman

It’s as if Montana is on all fours. On the sllllloooowww crawl toward better weather.

If you were surprised by Saturday’s snow, you shouldn’t have been. I read the Area Summary on the weather page of the paper later in the day; it started with the words, “A mainly dry day …”

Not quite.

Weather forecasters should just make it easy on themselves and post the same prediction for mid-August to mid-June: “Chance of snow showers. EVERY “DAY.”

They wouldn’t be too far off.

Until the weather finally turns into something resembling spring and before the mountain trails dry out, I like to point the truck north and head to my second-favorite running area. Away from the narrow roads and half-finished subdivisions of Bozeman.

Springhill Road.

Like the many mountain trails (Sourdough, Cottonwood, Hyalite, the ‘M’, Storm Castle, etc), there are many options once you head in this direction. I like to just pick a dirt road, park the truck and start running.

I usually drive about 10 miles before I decide where to pull off. On Sunday morning, I turned right before Springhill turns into dirt at Rocky Mountain Road – at Gee Norman Road.

I ran east toward the Bridgers, then south when the road turned. All I heard were chirping birds and the occasional stream.

There were no orange construction signs or yellow backhoes; just brown dirt.

Since there’s little shade out there, Saturday’s snow had already melted. The road was soft (Yes! Said my knees), but not muddy.

Once I hit the pavement of Springhill Community Road, it was time to head east again. The road was quite busy, but only because Easter Mass was letting out.

Soon, it was back to the dirt. And peace.

I eventually turned around after running for 53 minutes, after a short out-and-back on Forswall Road, which becomes impassible (or impossible) before long.

On my way back past the Springhill Community Church, the road was quiet. (The 11 o’clock mass was still in session). Because I was admiring the view of the valley and the Tobacco Roots, I found myself running right in the middle of the road, along the yellow lines. My first instinct was to get over to the shoulder, but since no one was coming, I stayed right where I was. It was a tribute to a former running partner of mine – Jim Dulin – from my days in Vermont.

We ran together 10 years ago while training for the Philadelphia Marathon, my first attempt at the 26.2 distance. Dulin, which is what we called him, used to love running down the middle of roads, right on the yellow lines.

Anyhow, before long, I was back on Gee Norman Road and headed back to the truck. It was still a peaceful trot. And the best part was that not a single dog barked at me. One did come out of his yard and ran at/with me for a bit, but didn’t say anything.

Happy Easter, buddy.

Before long, I was back at the truck. It was a delightful 100-minute-or-so run.

I don’t have time to run out that way these days. Because of my daddy duties, it’s hard to find the time to drive 40 minutes round trip for a run.

The last time I was out that way, it was about a year and a half ago. My wife and daughter were back east for a quick family visit. I had all the time in the world one Sunday, so I set out for Springhill.

I ran much of the same route I took Sunday, except I ran up Corbly Gulch instead of going past the Springhill Church.

When I got back to my truck that day, I was stretching and admiring the deer that had just hopped a fence. That’s when a man in an Oldsmobile-type car drove by and waved. As he drove away – east on Gee Norman Road – I went back to stretching.

But after the man got about 50 yards away, he stopped and put the car in reverse. It was obvious that he was coming back for something. But what? A chat? Directions? I soon found out.

We spoke for a few minutes, then he began to tell me about the view from the Bridger foothills.

“I can take you up there if you like,” he said.

Normally, I would have politely declined. But, like I said, I had all the time in the world.

I took him up on his offer, grabbed my water bottle and off we went.

Soon we were shaking hands. He said his name was Frank Norman.

Gee Norman Road before long takes an abrupt right-hand turn south toward Springhill Community Road, which is where I had just run. But Frank continued east, straight into the mountains.

We passed through two gates that, in order to get them to open, he had to punch a code into a keypad to gain entry into the foothills. The whole time, I tried to keep my mind from wandering. I had just met Frank minutes before. I hesitate to call someone so friendly a “stranger,” but that’s what he was. But here we were sharing a nice conversation and a drive into the increasing beauty of the Bridgers. Frank seemed like a gentle man; he was about 70. I had no need to worry, I assured myself.

Slowly we climbed higher and higher along a rocky, curvy road.

I asked Frank about Gee Norman Road, and he told me about the history of the Gee and Norman families. I hardly remember the story – it had something to do with a man travelling from New York by train to homestead in Montana.

I did learn that Gee is pronounced like “Geese,” and not “Gee, I wonder…”

Anyhow, Frank and I eventually reached the top of whatever road we were on and he pointed the car south.

“There’s the fieldhouse,” he said.

And there it was, Brick Breeden Fieldhouse at MSU, shining in the sun, in the distance. We could see the whole city from our perch. It was amazing to be so close to the northern end of the Bridgers; a place I normally only see from the distance from my living room.

It was well worth the trip.

On our way down, we talked some more and I finished my water. Frank dropped me off and I hopped in the truck and headed home.

On Sunday, I ran by a house with a mailbox across the street with the name “F.A. Norman” on it. I wondered if Frank was there, or if that was indeed his house. I didn’t stop in. Who knows if he’d remember me. But I sure remember him.

I long for trail running this summer. But if it’s solitude I’m looking for – or maybe a little history lesson – I’m headed for Springhill.


1 Response to “Springhill Road and Frank Norman”

  1. 1 Terry
    February 19, 2011 at 4:39 am

    I am not sure how I got here but I just had to leave a note about Frank. I worked for Frank in the late seventies while I was going to MSU. He let me work a pretty flexible schedule working days when I had time and night shifts when I had school. I did everything for Frank from run his seed cleaning equipment to plowing fields. Frank was a great person to work for. He was as good a boss as you could ask for. You met a real true old fashioned Montana Treasure. If you see him while you are running up that way again say Hi for me.


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