Hilary Hutcheson wears a lot of hats—river guide, fly-shop owner, climate activist, and Orvis ambassador, to name a few—and holidays with her family allow her to simply focus on fun.
As one of the more recognizable faces in fly fishing, Orvis ambassador Hilary Hutcheson normally lives a peripatetic lifestyle, traveling around the country giving presentations on climate change, hosting events, and fishing famous waters. But this year, like most of us, she’s been a real homebody, spending time with her family in Columbia Falls, Montana, where she lives with her two daughters, Ella and Delaney; her partner, Ebon; and their three-legged Labrador, Jolene. Just down the road are her parents, Dave and Robin Lange, who still live in the house where Hilary grew up. Luckily, she’s been able to stay busy running her specialty shop, Lary’s Fly & Supply, and guiding anglers throughout northwestern Montana and Idaho.
After all this time spent close to home, the family has decided to travel for Thanksgiving for the first time, renting a place on the Oregon coast not far from Portland, where Hilary’s brother Brady and his partner, Andrew, live. According to Hilary, this trip is the fulfillment of a family promise. “They’ve always had it pretty easy as far as Thanksgiving duties go,” she says, laughing “Since Brady is the youngest and lives farthest away, we lovingly tease him about getting the royal guest treatment. We’ve always said, ‘One of these days, we’re going to make you host,’ and this seemed the perfect time.”
In Hilary’s family—she also has a sister, Whitney Milhoan, the former executive director of Casting for Recovery—holidays have always been focused around fun, physical activity, and the outdoors. Thanksgiving always kicks off with the family’s own take on the “Turkey Trot,” an in-costume 5K trail run for young and old alike. This tradition started years ago, when someone said they’d only go on the run if they could wear their fuzzy polar-bear hat, and things escalated from there. These days, it wouldn’t be unusual to see Whitney’s husband, Walker, running in a sequined prom dress or the kids gussied up in suits and ties on the trail. There is no prize for the fastest time, since costumes can make the actual running difficult, but there are several winners in categories such as Best Costume, Worst Costume, and Best Teammate. Winners receive honors including first in line for dinner or first slice of pie. This year’s run will be on the beach, which may make for some exciting new costume choices.
When it comes to the Thanksgiving meal itself, it’s a fairly traditional affair, as everyone gathers in the kitchen to work on the turkey and all the side dishes. The one twist is that each family member gets their own pie. Before the event, everyone puts in a request for their particular favorites—Hilary’s is chocolate-pecan—and then the massive baking operation begins. The holiday guest list also includes Whitney and Walker’s three kids—Gunnison, Augusta, and Cap—as well as Hilary’s partner, Ebon, and his adult son, Killion.
After dinner, it’s back outside for more classic Americana, an intense game of touch football. Everyone takes part in the good-natured competition, and Whitney’s 11-year-old son Gunnison—a serious youth-football player—usually takes charge. After the Turkey Trot, a huge meal, and football, they’re all ready to collapse and simply enjoy each other’s company for the rest of the evening.
According to Hilary, there’s one other family tradition that deserves mention: the annual Christmastime pranking of the neighbors. Her parents have had the same neighbors since Hilary was a kid, so the families are extremely close. All year long, Hilary’s family schemes of a new and fun way to make the neighbors’ Christmas morning a new experience. In the past, they’ve filled the hot tub with rubber duckies, rolled giant snowballs in front of all the doors, and used Kool-Aid to color the snow around the house. Hilary says that the real fun is in the clandestine execution of the prank, sneaking across the field that separates the two houses without being seen.
Because Brady is in Portland and Whitney lives in Bozeman—a five-hour drive from Columbia Falls—it doesn’t really matter whether the family gathers in Montana, Oregon, or anywhere else. The joy is in coming together, reconnecting through unique holiday rituals, and just enjoying each other’s company. 2020 has been a doozy for everyone involved, but sitting around a well laid table with people we love reminds us that there is still much to be thankful for.