Behind the Show: Let Me By Kris Millgate

Cover Photo: Luke Nelson, Scout Mountain Ultra Trails race director, and his daughter cross a stream while gathering garbage near Pocatello.

Outdoor Idaho's "Trailblazers" show airs May 14th at 8 pm on Idaho Public Television.

One of several dozen trash bags filled by volunteers during trail clean-up in eastern Idaho.

Following volunteers on trash duty in the woods was the highlight of my summer. Not that garbage is pleasant, far from it, but being out is. Especially when you’ve been in for four months.

This is the first time I’ve spent more time inside than outside while producing a show for Outdoor Idaho. There are two catastrophic reasons why, and both I’d be willing to do without, but the reality is we don’t always have the luxury of choosing our challenges. We have to roll with what hits us. Even when it hits hard. Even when it hurts. And even when it humbles us far beyond what we think we deserve. I started working on Trailblazers while stuck inside. A year later, I’m finishing the show while stuck inside again, so let me.

Wildflowers blooming in a high-mountain meadow during a video shoot of teenagers doing trail work in the Sawtooths.

Field production for Trailblazers started in spring 2019. Videographer Jay Krajic noticed my stumbling gait and slower speed right away. He carried all the camera gear. I carried one water bottle and yet, I still struggled. I was awkward and off balance like a top-heavy toddler. Jay didn’t have a free hand to help me so I didn’t ask for help. Instead, I told him, “I am going to fall. Let me.”

An x-ray of Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate's right leg. A puck to the shin during youth hockey practice broke her leg in three places.

I fall easily because I spent four months on the couch growing bone. Three breaks in one leg after a puck to the shin while coaching kid hockey. To grow bone, you have to hold still. When you hold still, you lose muscle. On the couch, I witnessed a five-inch shrink of my quad, total calf deflation and the slip of my knee cap.

Volunteers from the Idaho Wildlife Federation learn to build water bars with the U.S. Forest Service in the Boise National Forest. Water bars divert storm runoff away from trails.

Despite the drastic decline, I learned to walk without a limp by April, the same month I was cleared for field work. I managed to gracefully put together the show’s production schedule while on the couch and on a lot of medication, but I was far from graceful once I went outside. Jay wasn’t used to my clumsy scene. Beau Baty wasn’t used to it either.

Outdoor Idaho videographer Jay Krajic records log removal done by Beau Baty and Marshall Andersen of Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas near Swan Valley.

I was running trail in Yellowstone’s backcountry when I first met Beau and his llamas in 2018. By the time we met again for the outfitters segment of Trailblazers in 2019, I had a new leg and he had a new diagnosis. Cancer. He’s beating it with chemotherapy, but he was exhausted by the end of our day in the field. My leg was exhausted too, but we were both happy just to be out limping around.

Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate edits stories in a tent while waiting for the rain to stop in the Sawtooths during production of Trailblazers.

Over the summer, my leg grew stronger. After running nearly 1,000 trail miles in 2018, I figured out how to run one awkward, ugly mile in 2019 and field production for Trailblazers continued while I worked out of a tent instead of on the couch. Jay and I followed bikers, hikers, hunters, runners and teenagers into the backcountry. All of them doing trail work for free, including the disgusting chore of gathering garbage piles on public land.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) started this nation’s trail system nearly a century ago, with Idaho at the heart of that movement. Trail work today isn’t any easier. Some of the tools are the same and the intensity of the labor is definitely the same. The people taking care of public land are well intended with strength beyond heart. I admire them and I admonish myself. I’m out of shape and out of sorts due to lack of leg, but I most certainly will not use a cane or trekking poles so if I fall, let me.

Outdoor Idaho videographer Jay Krajic follows a pair of teens relocating a trail marker with Idaho Trails Association in the Sawtooth National Forest.

We finished shooting Trailblazers in fall 2019. I finished writing the script by the end of the year. In spring 2020, all major elements were in place for the show’s May debut. Only a few black holes left to fill with footage and I’ll do that on my next trip to Idaho Public Television in Boise. But there is no trip. I live in Idaho Falls and that’s where I stay. Home. Everyone stays home. Idaho, like the rest of the world, is plagued with the COVID-19 viral pandemic.

Reviewing shots during the rough-cut stage of the new Outdoor Idaho show "Trailblazers."

Jay and I finish the show remotely. He plays chunks of audio over the phone and I adjust edits with verbal commands over the phone in response. He sends me video rough cuts too, but my wireless keyboard connects with my older son’s computer instead of my office computer so he’s seeing the show upstairs in his room instead of me seeing it downstairs in my office. Distance learning for school doesn’t pair well with home office for work.

Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate tolerates her son's squeaky rubber chicken while her family self-isolates during COVID-19 and she works on show script at home.

My younger son, bored with no school like all other students due to the virus, runs through the house squeezing a rubber chicken that expels octaves ranging up and down the annoying scale. My office door is not soundproof and it’s made of glass. I see, and hear, him clearly as he runs passed the glass with the chicken in one hand and a cookie in the other. He’s lived in the same pajamas for a week. We all have. Our washer caught fire on day four of the stay-at-home order. We let a stranger into our house to deliver a new washer, breaking our quarantine streak, but it was essential. I swear it. You should see our pajamas.

The only person to enter Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate's home during Idaho's stay-at-home order for COVID-19 is the man who delivered a new washer.

When the delivery guy comes in, my husband goes out. He’s fiddling with our camp trailer. He hopes he finds some propane soon so he can social distance alone out there instead of in here with us. And me, I’m weathering this sit-in surprisingly well. It’s way less painful than the last time I endured isolation. Plus, I have several days worth of outdoor footage to look at while finishing Trailblazers, which airs May 14, 2020.

Outdoor Idaho staffers Jay Krajic in Boise and Kris Millgate in Idaho Falls finished the new show, "Trailblazers," airing May 14, 2020, without being in the same room or the same city. They wrapped final edits by phone and email.

Watching people pre-virus, all smiles and within 6 feet of each other, warms my heart. We’ll be back out there. I know it. Just like I knew it when I lived on the couch healing my leg last spring. I missed dirt back then and I miss it now. At least I can tinker in my backyard this time. I have a new appreciation for dirt. It heals in ways we don’t recognize until we can’t touch it, see it, smell it. Time on trail, however your body manages to get you there, is time well earned and time well spent. And if I fall when we all get back out there, let me.