Monday, November 7, 2011

A Montana Road Trip

Hi everyone, it's well into fall by now and time sure seems to fly by! It has been just about a year since I first left for my South/Southeast Asia trip and back then I couldn't have possibly predicted how it would change my life.  

Since coming home from that adventure, the summer has been one great trip after another: Oregon, Shaw Island, California, Hawaii, Alaska and Montana. Between and during those trips, there has been a great deal of scheming and dreaming where to head next.  My original plan was to head to Central America, but I recently got a message from my friend Chris who I met on the FIRST day of my trip and traveled with in the Philippines.  Essentially, he said "Hey, I want to buy a cheap Land Rover and drive around Africa, you in?"  My answer was obviously yes.  Nothing is set in stone yet but it looks like I'll be headed to South Africa in January and traveling with Chris for a few months, then in June or so I will return to the States as I'd planned to live on Shaw Island in the San Juans.  No, a year ago I had no idea this would be my life but right now I can't think of doing it any other way.  

But anyways, I recently returned from a trip to Whitefish, Montana where my sister Robin lives, so let me tell you about it!

 I headed out of Seattle at about 8am, not a particularly early start but it was a familiar 11 hour drive so I was in no big hurry.  Traffic was light so I set my Subaru on cruse control and enjoyed the scenery.  Where I90 crosses the Columbia River at Vantage, WA is the Iron Horse Monument, and while you can see it from the interstate, it is just a short walk up the hill to this fantastic view. 

A few hours later I was heading up Lookout Pass where the Idaho/Montana border is and really enjoying the drive.  Around this area the larch trees start, and being fall they were all a fantastic yellow color, fall is here folks!  Shortly after entering Montana, I turned north on highway 135 towards Whitefish and enjoyed a Montana original, 70mph speed limits on 2-lane roads, haha. I watched the sun going down as I passed Flathead lake, and would be in Whitefish soon.

Made it, 552.9 miles later.  Robin was house sitting for some friends, and this would be the base of operations for my week long visit.  It has been a little while since we had seen each other, and I'm the first family member to be able to get out for a visit so Robin and I were both looking forward to a good week. 

Whitefish is a small town, just over 5,000 residents and built in large part around the Big Mountain ski area. It is very much a resort town and it feels that way, but it is a nice, friendly feeling place with a wealth of outdoor opportunities. 

We continued the short tour of town, checking out the cafe and frame shop/art gallery where Robin work, then stopping at Whitefish Lake,  and in the background is the 6,817 foot Big Mountain where Whitefish Mountain Resort resides.

 The next day was a pretty lazy day and I enjoyed getting in some good relaxing time. In the afternoon however, I joined Robin on a ski workout because she is also a ski coach, the job that brought her out to Montana in the first place.  It has been a very long time since I'd been on roller skis, but I had a good time.  After the ski, it was back to relaxing and reading my book.

 On Thursday, Robin and I went to hike up to the top of Big Mountain.  It is a nice walk through the ski runs and between trees, and the fall colors were great. 

Looking down on Whitefish Lake and the town from the top of the mountain. 

 Fall colors on the larch. 

 The afternoon was another workout with Robin and her small ski team, and we went for a nice run on some trails just out of town. 

The next day my sister had to work, so I had the day to myself.  I decided to go into Glacier National Park and Robin and I discussed some possible hikes and things to see in the area since I'd never been into Glacier before.  

 The next morning I drove into the park at the Wests Glacier entrance, and found I was the ONLY person around.  The ticket booth was closed, the ranger station was closed, and I didn't see another person anywhere.  I knew it was late in the season, but this was a bit unexpected, not that it was a problem of course. I looked over Lake McDonald while I decided where to go, and got my first good looks at the park and it's peaks. 

 I drove down the Going To The Sun Road, stooping off at a few view points and getting out to look at the river a few times.  By now, 10:15am, other people finally showed up and I no longer had the place to myself.

 One of the peaks visible from the road.

 The road was closed at Avalanche Creek for maintenance and the usual winter closure, so I parked and decided to walk the trail to Avalanche Lake, an easy 2 mile walk each way.  One of the most spectacular parts of the hike is very early in, Avalanche Gorge.  The rock and water here was just beautiful and I spent a while climbing around and taking photos. 

 Playing in a tree stump.

 After passing through a mature forest that had been hit by an avalanche and laid a tangled pile of logs in its wake (earning the name I guess) I reached the top of the valley.  I sat and ate lunch, then walked to the other end of the lake. 

 Moss covered forest floors, moss draped tree trunks and greenery everywhere. 

 Cool looking ice.

 This is the view from the far side of Avalanche Lake looking back down the trail, what a place and what a day!

Moss and fungus on the forest floor, I love this kind of stuff.

 I'd wanted to do another hike, but I was running out of daylight and decided to go on a bit of a driving tour instead.  I drove through the west side of the park on the Outside North Fork Road.  It was a great drive, going through the burn, seeing many peaks and getting a decent look at a black bear on the other side of the river from me. 

 I ended up in Polebridge, where I got a snack at the delicious bakery, and headed on my way. 

 Here is the view you get from Polebridge, pretty nice huh?

 From there, I turned south again, this time taking the Inside North Fork Road.  I like driving, and this road didn't disappoint.  Miles of single lane twisting gravel through the forest, and I only aw two other cars the whole time.  Because you are in the trees obviously you don't get any of the views I saw on the way in, but it was a nice perspective and took me through a nice area of the park as well. 

 I returned to town and Robin and I decided to go to the Whitefish Community Theater for a performance.  It was called 'Native Voices', and began with live music, then into a sort of single woman play using historical footage on screen to talk about the Native American experience being put in boarding school and then into World War Two.  It was a good performance, going over some sad but fascinating events in American history with regards to how native people were treated, and certainly a story that should be told. 

 Friday, was a total day to relax. I slept in, read my book and didn't do a whole lot else. Part of me felt like I was wasting my time coming out to Montana sitting indoors, but it felt good to just kick back I got over that feeling quickly, haha.  Robin had to work all day, so left to my own devices this was how I spent my day.

 Whitetail dear are everywhere, you can't drive through town without seeing a few in peoples yards.  I watched this particular deer eating and laying about in the back yard for a good half hour while I read my book, until someone else scared her away. 

 In the evening, we were going to dinner with some friends, so we brought some rice, stir fry and a salad. 

 A nice little dinner with the couple who used to coach the ski team Robin took over for.

 After dinner we headed up to the fancy restaurant of Big Mountain for a concert by Chuck Pyle, a folksy, country-style singer songwriter. 

The next day was another lazy day around the house for the most part, but just like visiting my sister Holly in Alaska earlier this summer, I mowed the lawn where I was staying.

In the afternoon we did get out for a short kayak on Whitefish lake, which has inspired a new travel idea, to kayak down the baja peninsula towing a surfboard. I have no idea how realistic something like that would be, but it's fun to think about travel ideas.

The next day we had planned on going rock climbing at a gym, but they wouldn't let us climb without being 'belay certified' by them at a class which took place in a few days. Instead we went to the public library and rented some movies.

Trick-or-Treaters in town.

Tuesday Robin had the day free again, and it was my last day of the visit so we went to Glacier National Park for the day.

When we left Whitefish the weather was good and we'd intended to go to the Many Glacier area, but about half way into the drive it began to snow, traffic was going 20mph and visibility was about 100 feet. Not ideal conditions.  Because of the weather we shortened our drive and pulled into the Two Medicine area instead.

We headed into the park and naturally no other people were around. The weather scares off some people, but not Robin and I! The first place we came into was just inside the park, Running Eagle Falls.  This falls, which emerges from inside the rock, was just a few minutes walk from the road and well worth it. 

Shortly after the falls you come to Two Medicine Lake and the end of the road.  Obviously it was still snowing and we couldn't see much at all, but we were there and while unprepared for snow, both of us being in trail running shoes, soldiered on because  hey, we had driven t his far, might as well do something!

Part of why we did this particular hike was because it lead to Twin Falls, and even if it were snowing we would be able to see them.  The snow had let up by this point in the hike, an hour and a half in, and the falls were great. 

Rather than head back the same trail, on the north side of the lake, we returned via the south trail and had a bridge to cross.  Due to the late timing of our visit, they had already taken the timbers off the bridge, so we had to Indiana Jones it across the river balancing on the steel cables left over the river.  Also, the sun was coming out!

A snow covered plant on the ground. Winter is coming.

And what do you know? The skies cleared up and for the last part of our hike we had beautiful views of the mountains around us.

This is just an old truck I saw on the drive home, I liked it so I had to get a photo. (too bad some jerk broke the window...)

Wednesday morning was the date of my departure, and I wanted to get an early start. Because Robin does the baking at the cafe where she works, she gets an even earlier start, and once I'd packed my car up I met her for some treats for the road.

Rather than heading back to Seattle on the same boring route as I came, I90, I decided to take Highway 2 all the way, and man I am happy I did.

Starting in total darkness I did almost hit one dear, but my reward was this beautiful fog covered lake at sunrise.

Farther down the road, I came across Kootenai falls, where I tried to scout out kayak routes down the water!

I came out of the mountains and hills of western Montana and the Idaho panhandle, into eastern Washington and farm country.  Talk about wide open spaces.

Passing the south end of Banks Lake, very near the Grand Coulee Dam

One of my favorite sections of road and one I am very familiar with, just outside of Leavenworth. 

Me being a very serious driver. Ok, maybe not, but looking serious! Anyways, I really do enjoy driving on trips, and the West sure is a fantastic place to do it. Sure am looking forward to driving in Africa!

And my route for the trip, 1265 total miles.  Surprisingly returning via Highway 2 (the northern of he roads) took nearly the same about of time as I90, and naturally is a much more scenic route.  In snow this obviously would not be the case, but it's a drive I'd recommend to anyone. Overall a very pleasant trip. It was great to see Robin again and check out what she is doing in Whitefish, and a nice low key outing to get me into the mindset of fall and a coming winter.  That said, I'm still wearing the flip flops I bought in Cambodia nearly a year ago, but their days might be numbered as it gets colder and colder!

As for what I am doing next I am not sure.  Assuming this whole Africa trip happens, and I sure hope it does, I will probably just hang out in Seattle until January, minus a few days up on Shaw Island.  I wouldn't mind getting a little winter this year, and I can keep saving up money.  Time is sure flying though, and I'm sure I'll be international before I know it.

Until next time everyone,