Missoula's own champion biker andmaking Hellgate Canyon safer for a while 

The need for speed: The people of Missoula have no reason to feel left out of the hoopla of professional bicycle racing

Sure, Levi Leipheimer, native son of Butte, just placed eighth in his first Tour de France. But on July 21 a Missoula resident—Jessica Phillips—won the women’s national championship bicycle race in Nashville. If you see her cycling around town—you’ll know her by the stars and stripes jersey—give her a big congratulations as she speeds by.

You may also want to give her a big welcome to Missoula. Although we claim her as our own, truth be told she moved to town only two weeks before the national championship.

On the final hill of the 67-mile race, Phillips and one other rider built of a 20-second advantage on the peloton. (That’s the cycling pack, for those of you who shave your legs for enjoyment and not competitive racing.) At the finish line, their lead had shriveled to six seconds, but Phillips had plenty of time to out-sprint her competitor.

It was the first big win of the 24-year-old’s career. In fact, Phillips, who races for Team Saturn, has only won one other race this year. And which race was it? Missoula’s own Ecology Center Classic, a three-day affair in May in which she raced one day with the men’s peloton…just for the extra workout.

Roll them bones: Local lore—and roadside informational placards—inform us that Hellgate Canyon, like Montana’s other colorfully named geographic landmarks, earned its moniker only after a long and sordid history of bloodletting in the narrow passageway formed by Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo at the northeastern corner of Missoula. “La Porte d’Enfer,” or “Gate of Hell,” was once littered with the bones of Nez Perce and Salish hunting parties, as well as white trappers and other unfortunate stragglers along the river who unwittingly found themselves on the business end of a Blackfoot Indian arrow or tomahawk. One can only wonder if Bloody Dick Peak has such a messy past.

These days, Hellgate Canyon is considerably safer for human migration, though in recent years the same could not be said for the four-legged inhabitants of the area, notably, the deer and elk that inhabit Mount Jumbo, which are often seen grazing along the I-90 right-of-way. Motorists who frequent this winding stretch of asphalt are routinely served up a less-than-appetizing morning lesson in ruminant anatomy, the result of yet another unfortunate cervidae who strayed the night before and became ready fodder for the front grill of Uncle Bubba’s extended cab.

To cut down on the body count, increase driver safety and reduce the hazard to maintenance crews who routinely have to mop up such carnage, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has begun installing a higher, eight-foot fence between the Van Buren and East Missoula interchanges. And, to accommodate the animals that find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the fence, MDT is also installing two “jump-outs,” or earthen ramps, which have worked successfully in Wyoming, Utah, and Canada, but are fairly new to Montana. This way, stuck critters can more easily find their way back to greener—and safer—pastures. And for those who can’t, Darwin’s law still applies.

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