Reflections on Common Ground: Q&A with Anthony Pavkovich

Common Ground Teaser from Eli Abeles-Allison on Vimeo.

Ignited by a passion for public lands and wild places, a group of friends set out in the summer of 2017 from Bozeman on a run spanning over 200 miles through the Greater Yellowstone to Red Lodge. By running, filming, and writing, they spread their message and advocated for public lands through various news outlets: Trail Runner Magazine, Outside Bozeman, and right here and here at Montana Trail Crew. But their work didn't stop there. Read on to take in some details on their adventure and find out about the short film, Common Ground, premiering April 24th in Bozeman and May 18th in Missoula. The film documents both their journey and struggle on behalf of the special places they consider "home." In the following Q&A, Anthony Pavkovich recounts the experience:



MTC: First off, can you tell us a little bit about "Common Ground?" What is it and how did it come to be?

Anthony: This project, “Common Ground,” was a celebration of the public spaces that make up our backyards in SW Montana. It began as a response to Montana’s legislative attack on public lands and wild spaces and took shape on the steps of the Capitol during the Public Lands Rally in January 2017.

After spending the summer of 2016 focused on ultra-racing, I wanted to do a more personal journey starting from my front door and traversing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Last July, I convinced two of my best friends to embark on a week long, two hundred and forty mile run across our public lands from Bozeman to Red Lodge. The goal of this run was twofold: to empower our community to act in defense of our public lands and inspire adventure across the places we call home.

MTC: Stepping back a bit, can you share a little bit about your background? When did you start trail running? Where does your passion for public lands stem from? When were you first inspired by the Greater Yellowstone?

Anthony: I actually haven’t been a runner all that long, it was more of a fluke anyways. When I first moved to Bozeman, I was obsessed with climbing; running was simply a way to stay in shape for big objectives. After scaring myself taking a bad fall ice climbing, I needed a break from the steeps and got coerced to sign up for the Grand Canyon 50k. I shocked myself and the crowd by taking home the win in my first race since middle school.

Public lands have always been important to me and my family. I grew up in the Park Service and had the opportunity to live around some amazing pieces of public land. On the first day of moving out west, after college, I climbed to the top of Hyalite Peak south of Bozeman. Though I was still a few years away from moving to SW Montana permanently, I knew that the the Greater Yellowstone would one day be my home.
Credit: Seth Langbauer
MTC: Your Common Ground project is undoubtedly something that gets the wheels spinning in the minds of our readers. But I imagine that putting together something like this isn't easy. Can you share a blow by blow account of what a multi-day Wilderness run entails? How many daily miles/vert did you cover? What type of gear did you carry? Where did you sleep?

Anthony: A run like this wouldn’t be possible without a strong community. When I first came up with the idea, I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete it alone. Having partners on the trail kept me accountable and determined. We would travel anywhere from a marathon to nearly fifty trail miles a day. Each day would vary from gaining 5,000 to 10,000 feet across mountain ridges and along smooth singletrack in the valleys.

We were super lucky that we didn’t have to carry a ton of gear each day. With a wonderful support crew, we finished each night camping in the front country. Friends were kind enough to have food warmed, our tents set up, and piles of cookies waiting for us each evening. That way, on the trail we only had to carry the day’s food, a water filter, extra layers, and camera gear. Because of such tremendous support, we could move semi-fast and light across the ecosystem.
Credit: Seth Langbauer 
MTC: Is there something you left behind that you wish you would have brought? Is there something you brought that you wish you would have left behind? How would you do things differently?

Anthony: For the most part, we executed our plan fairly well. Occasionally I’d wish for one more sandwich or an extra pair of socks but our omissions didn’t really hinder us. The only thing I would do differently is pack more solid food for the days. Gu and ShotBlocks get pretty old by day two. Granny’s Doughnuts and chocolate chip cookies go down much better.
MTC: Can you tell me a bit about some of the low points of your run? What helped push you through? 

Anthony: My lowest point of the run was our third evening after we came off back to back forty plus mile days. I was tired, cranky, and sleep deprived and had another forty mile day ahead in the morning. Simply going to sleep helped. 

However, the next day, it was our community that got us through. Friends shuffled us out of bed and back onto the trail. Some joined us for stretches through Yellowstone National Park and others had a big lunch waiting at our halfway point of the day. 

After seventeen hours on the move, we stumbled through the dark to the trailhead. Our crew’s excitement pushed our lowest points away and constantly picked us back up.

MTC: What are some of the highlights? Was there ever a moment along the way when you were just blown away by what you were experiencing?

Anthony: My most memorable highlight was running the Gallatin Crest into Yellowstone. Being on top of the landscape as the sun rose and looking south to the Tetons and east into the Absorakas blew me away. Overall, it was my reevaluation of home that amazed me. Zach Altman put it best, “I define home to be the places you can reach on foot from your front door.”

MTC: Generating awareness of the threats to our public lands is really the purpose of this project. Clearly, it has been a tumultuous year for those of us who care about Public Lands and wild places. From your perspective, what can we as trail runners do to lend our voice to the conversation?

Anthony: Trail runners have to speak up. We are the silent user group: state and federal officials rarely know where we go or what we do. As a community, we are often uncounted as users of our public lands. Therefore, we need to engage and communicate.

MTC: Are there local Montana organizations that you've found are particularly effective at articulating the message to the we need to safeguard public lands?

I’m a big supporter of the Montana Wilderness Association as a voice for quiet recreation. As a board member for our local chapter, we strive to listen to our community and look for balanced solutions on our public lands. One of these is the Gallatin Forest Partnership that was created to help structure long term planning in the Gallatin Range. This partnership has the support of the mountain bike community, local environmental groups, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers as we work to long term compromises in our community.

More than anything else, I want to encourage the trail running community to get involved in their backyards. Help with the decision making, volunteer with trailwork, and talk to your neighbors. 

After the trip, Zach summed up the value of our trip. “Virtually every mile we ran on that trip was public land,” he said. “And, I think, the run itself and the amount of people it took for that to succeed is a good metaphor for how we need to come together on public lands issues and see to it that these lands continue to exist.”

MTC: I'm sure most of our Bozeman audience is already planning to attend the upcoming screening of Common Ground. Can you tell us about the film, what you hope to do with it, and where we should look to find out about upcoming screenings throughout the Treasure State?

Anthony: Throughout this project, we have been working on putting together a short film highlighting the need to work together to protect our public lands while using the narrative of our run as the framework for the film. Tianse Abeles-Allison, of Done with It’ Productions put the film together, and our hope is that this film will encourage conversations in our recreation community about the importance of engaging and protecting our public lands.

In Missoula, we will be showing the film at Runners Edge May 18th. As we work out other tour dates, they can be found at www.commongroundmt.com. If you’d like to help put together a showing in your community, please reach out.

Really, I just want to say thank you. A huge thanks to everyone that helped with this project and kept us moving on and off the trail. We couldn’t have done it without all the support.

MTC: Thanks, Anthony. We look forward to coming out for the film!


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