Montana: Sensory Overload
Before I continue with our story, I want to make a small comment about the products I mention and occasionally link. We don't make any money from these links nor are sponsored in any way. We include only them as a courtesy and because I like the little details; maybe you do too.
Perhaps energized by a sleep in an actual bed, we awoke surprisingly early in Creston and started our drive towards Kalispell. We snacked on a few apples and a cold sandwich as we drove towards the border, as part of this trip was also to adhere to the budget we had planned for our travels. This was actually one of the more important partsm as food is something very important to me (big surprise, right?) and frequently on my mind. Thankfully Clo and I have very similar tastes in terms of food we can eat regularly (meat and cheese, though we vary in our bread choices) so I've found it rather easy to keep my tummy full. Because if it's not satisfied in my tummy, I might become "hangry" - and no one wants that.
Our drive through through Idaho and the Kootenay National Forest being rather uneventful, we finally arrived in the early afternoon at April (my awesome sister) and Kurt's (her awesome husband) place. We had been driving for nearly five hours, so as you can imagine we were a might bit peckish. Thankfully they had anticipated our need, and so had leftovers ready for us - but these were "leftovers" in the same way Kobe Bryant "only" has basketball skills second to Michael Jordan. BBQ pork ribs and herb & cheesy garlic pasta, with some fresh garden veggies (they also have a small company and sell their produce to local restaurants). This set the tone for the culinary experience we'd partake in for the rest of our time in Montana. Shortly thereafter we started on a brewery tour of nearby Whitefish and their home, Kalispell - it was a great night of indulgence after a few gastronomically more sparse days on the road.
The next morning we woke up bright but not very early, and helped with preparations to leave on the first of two weekends we'd spend with them. Clo and I spent a lengthy 2 or 3 minutes preparing, which basically involved throwing the stuff we had brought inside their house back into Wilbur. Complicated procedure. We did help out April and Kurt a bit, but their preparations are like some sort of classical orchestra. We helped out a bit with the chorus and hand-clapping, but obviously we were out of our league when it came to the piano solo or brass section. Anyway, after a short time we left for the Double Arrow lookout!
The drive there was a rather peaceful two hours, through the Flathead National Forest and in the western foothills of the Rocky mountains. April and Kurt have stayed at a couple of other lookouts in the past, but this was a new one for them. The lookouts themselves are pretty cool - they are all unused fire lookouts that have been turned into rental units for the public. They are very inexpensive and each one is unique; only a few have electricity, some just use propane, some require a hike and some you can drive to, but they are all similar in the awesome views they have, all situated on top of mountains. Double Arrow also had a very well maintained bathroom outside, a huge firepit (including lots of firewood) and a wonderful breeze that was always active. And no mosquitoes. So far Montana was pretty awesome.
The first night we were treated to an amazing meal, fresh grilled trout, herb couscous and a lovely cucumber, dill and lemon salad. More importantly, this was the first time that Clo had started a bonfire herself. She was in charge of the fire and to say she took this seriously would be a significant understatement; by the end of the night she had enough charcoal smeared on nearly every part of her body to be mistaken for a chimney cleaner. We also had an amazing fire, around which we hung out well into the night, chatting and drinking beer. It was quite great to hang out with my sister and Kurt, and to do so in such a chill and relaxed place was really quite nice.
We had two nights total at the lookout, and on the second day we were there we went to do some canoeing on the Clearwater River. It was a short twenty minute drive away, and we had three hours to float our way down the river. Of course, we had a few beers, snacks and a dog (Jasper, Kurt and April's child) to keep us company. A difficult day. We got back to the lookout and had an amazing dinner of pork carnitas tacos. I stuffed myself a bit too much with the delicious dinner and, exhausted after a long day of relaxing, fell asleep not too long after 9pm.
The next day I started it, as per usual with Kurt around, with fresh ground drip coffee. I will make a slight topic detour here. I stopped drinking coffee regularly when we moved to Walla Walla, partly for cost reasons and also partly because I thought I had been drinking too much of it in Singapore (I don't like having habits for too long). I threw that out the window for the time we were in Montana, because Kurt's coffee is awesome and it was always available and freshly ground (seriously, even when we were backpacking... he takes his coffee seriously). Unfortunately for Clo, she was the only one who doesn't drink coffee and so getting a kiss from her early in the morning is a challenge. I suggested that coffee breath is better than morning breath, but it didn't get very far past the committee of me and myself.
Back on the topic of our trip! After packing up and cleaning out the lookout, we headed back to Kalispell around noon. The rest of the day we spent relaxing (and some flower decoration - see below), with Kurt and April taking some time to take care of their garden, chickens and other things they had missed for the past few days. Both of them had to work the rest of the week as well, so Clo and I we were going to take a couple of days for ourselves and see what sort of trouble we could get into.
The next day (Wednesday the 10th) ended up being rainy and overcast, so we decided to spend it mostly doing some online chores (emails, WhatsApp, Youtube videos and other serious business) and a few actual errands (instead of our plan to go trekking in Glacier National Park). We fueled up Wilbur (he's very thirsty), shopped for some travel-related items we were missing (such as a hat for me - I found one after 10+ years of searching! You'll see it later), Clo went out to do some photography and we generally hung out and took it easy.
Thursday was supposed to be a beautiful day, so we decided to do a full day of touristy stuff and go hiking. It was also going to be a long day, so we took off at the very early (for us) time of 9am. We started out by driving along the famous "Going to the Sun" road through Glacier National Park, which was an experience in of itself. I only found out about this drive a few months ago, and I was very excited to do it. It was supposed to be one of the most dramatic drives in North America, and it didn't disappoint. We spent nearly as much driving as we did pulled over on the side of the road taking pictures! I loved it.
After a few hours we finally arrived at our destination, the Swiftcurrent Trailhead. Clo and I had agreed on the hike we wanted to do in Glacier before we looked carefully at the map, so we ended up choosing a hike that was literally as far away from Kalispell as we could get. Oh well! The trailhead was packed and we barely found a parking spot, but soon enough we were hiking our way to the Iceberg Lake. Thankfully it was soon clear that everyone wasn't doing the same trek as us, so even though the trail wasn't empty we only saw people every 5-10 minutes (and much less often on the way down).
The hike was spectacular and worth the long drive. In some ways it was similar in difficulty (minus the part in the snow) to our long hike in Kokanee, but the scenery and terrain were very different. The wildlife was quite different too! Instead of the hordes of marmots, we saw a lot more birds, two moose (one about 100m away and the second only 20m), a deer and many squirrels (including one who was very greedy and totally unafraid of humans). We finally made our way down and reached Wilbur a couple hours earlier than planned, which made us very happy as we would be able to reach Kalispell before dark and let us have a nice shower and full nights sleep before starting our weekend of backpacking the next day.
Kurt, Clo and I (in the spirit of transparency, it was mostly Kurt) spent most of Friday morning preparing, since April was working most of the day. She got back from work early in the afternoon and after a short 1-hour drive (that was 50% driving up the side of a mountain on a dirt road), we arrived at the trailhead for the Jewel Basin. The parking lot was almost full as well, which wasn't surprising for a beautiful Friday afternoon, but we were a bit concerned that we wouldn't get the best camping spot at Black Lake. Thankfully most of the hikers were there only for the day, so after about 3 hours of a beautiful (and moderately difficult - first is half steep uphill and second half an easy downhill) we arrived and were quite pleased to get the campsite at the intersection of the lake and the creek.
To an outside observer (not that there were any - we saw four other people for the next two days here) the next couple of hours would have been a bit comical. From unpacking Jasper (he has his own backpack and carries all his own food) to setting up his tent (yes, the dog has his own tent), to the entirety of the rest of the campsite being set up before Clo and I finished our tent (it wasn't too complicated, but it's the first time we had taken it out of the bag!), it was an entertaining afternoon. Clo's first evening tent camping in about 20 years began on a great note, when Kurt pulled out the ice (yup... ice. He carried up ziplock bags of water wrapped around dry ice), vodka and lemonade and we had a couple refreshing cocktails. As you can tell, camping with April and Kurt is a real chore.
Later that evening after we finished a delicious dinner and did a little fishing (caught some, but too small), I was able to do something I had been eagerly anticipating for quite some time. It really signified to me that we were finally in the wilderness as I took a small trowel, a roll of toilet paper and went to dig a hole and take a crap in the woods. I'm not sure Clo shared my enthusiasm.
The rest of our two and a half days here were very relaxing and calming for me, filled with fishing (I'm normally not a big fan, but I caught a bunch of tiny fish and felt very accomplished), chatting, eating and just hanging out and admiring the views. For Clo and I it was also a test of a few pieces of equipment; it was the first time we brought our camp chairs into the wilderness, and they turned out to be a big hit. Even more so was our hammock, which for us was again the first time we had taken it out of the bag. I don't want to say that we fought over who would get the next turn in it, but it was rarely unoccupied and it was responsible for the only time I have ever seen Kurt fully inactive for more than a few minutes. Not surprising anyone who knows him, he also found a way to take the hammock experience to a whole new level.
Finally it was Sunday morning, and we needed to pack up our gear and get ready for the hike back to Wilbur and the drive to Kalispell. The packing up went very smoothly (especially after fresh coffee - something I enjoyed every day, thanks to Kurt and April) and the hike back down was quite a bit easier than the way up. The drive back was also simple enough, and we arrived back to our home base in the early afternoon. We quickly took our stuff inside and did some basic unpacking, but as we were all hungry we didn't spend too much time taking our showers and getting ready for food!
Our last night with April and Kurt was spent do a impromptu tour of pubs within walking distance, as we had nearly 90 minutes to spend before the place we had marked for dinner finally opened. So we ended up waiting at a couple of other places and taking up the time with beers and fries. After finally eating our very Montana (I rate this as larger than American) sized hamburgers at Hops, we slowly made our way back to Kurt and April's and went to bed at the very late hour of 7:15pm.
We did wake up early (seriously! It was about 6:30!) the next morning to say our final goodbyes to my sister, who leaves for work early. A couple of hours later, we said goodbye to Kurt and Jasper and started our longish (~7 hrs) drive back to Walla Walla. Even though it had been nearly two weeks, the time really seemed to fly by for me. I hadn't realized how much I missed hiking and being in the outdoors, and it was awesome to share it with Clo. I had lots of time to think, lots of time to enjoy conversations with Clo and quite a few wonderful outdoor pooping experiences. What more could I ask for?
... baby wipes. We did forget to bring baby wipes on this trip. Thanks to Costco we now have 900 of them and don't plan on ever going without them again.