Montana Mountain High

So the reason we left Vancouver on December 28 was because we wanted to see if we could make it back to Boulder for my brother’s annual New Year’s Eve party even if we took a trip to Montana on the way. I won’t call it a detour because we wanted to go to Montana. It may have resulted in more hours and miles of driving than it would have with a more direct route home but even after the second day of driving it felt worth it to me.

Angie has been in Montana before and loves it. Being winter, we did not plan to see some of the things that she would most like to show me (Glacier National Park for example), but she did really want me to see something of the state. And it is very beautiful for sure.

Big bonus was getting to drive from Spokane to Whitefish on a spectacularly sunny and clear (though sub-freezing) winter’s day. The high temperature of the day was when we left Spokane, where it was about 20F (and due to fall as the day proceeded). But the sun was out nearly all day and the drive was pretty amazing, especially after we turned off US 90 onto Montana Route 135, and drove through the mountains and along the shore of Flathead Lake on US 95. A picture can’t really capture how spectacular some of the views were, and unfortunately it was also hard to pull the car off the road at many of the best views because it was mainly narrow two-lane highway. Angie took a couple of great pix but the best shots are in our heads.

Driving along the coast of Flathead Lake

Driving along the coast of Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake Coast

Flathead Lake Coast

The light was amazing and the water looked incredible. The mountains on the far side of Flathead Lake were snow white, literally. It was a sight for sore eyes. It made us very glad we decided to bite the bullet and drive all the way to Spokane on Sunday, even though that was a very long day and we prefer not to drive in the dark.

Here’s our route to Whitefish:

MontanaRoute

In addition, Angie had heard about a bike retreat in Whitefish, so we wanted to check it out. This place is called the Whitefish Bike Retreat, and it totally is a retreat (though there is wifi). You drive through Kalispell (a pretty town from what we saw on our drive-through, though Angie says it’s grown a lot) and the town of Whitefish, and up and up the hill about five miles to this property just west of the Glacier National Park Boundary.

Retreat

The owner took an old barn and converted it into a bunkhouse with a full kitchen and a nice public area. There are bunk rooms and a couple of rooms that are more private, as well as camping spaces on the grounds for the seasons where it’s possible to do that. The retreat is really close to the Great Divide trail as well as a lot of great single track, and the owner designed it to provide significant support for cyclists coming to the area. The other couple that was staying at the retreat rode fat tire bikes the day we got there, despite the bitter cold, and there are many other activities available. The retreat has a lot of the things we could only hope for during parts of our recent Europe trek: a well-equipped kitchen, secure bike storage that includes a workshop and tools that you can access whenever you want, a washer and dryer, and great showers. And bike themed decor everywhere, which I don’t personally think is crucial to its success but it’s very cute.

photo 2

Plus it’s a great setting and really peaceful (maybe not as much during the summer when it’s full I expect, but lovely right now). The common space is welcoming and the private rooms are cozy. The only downside for us was that we didn’t know how far off the beaten track the place was until we got here, so it was too late to pick up supplies for dinner unless we wanted to go out again, which we did not, given that the road is snow-covered dirt. However, we fortunately had a decent supply of vegetables and leftovers that made a good dinner, and we had eggs, yoghurt and turkey bacon from which we were able to fashion a tasty breakfast in the morning before we hit the road.

We didn’t rush away from the retreat on Tuesday morning. It was about -15° F when we left the retreat and were happy that the car started with no trouble. Our late start contributed to a challenging day of driving. We probably shouldn’t have gone as far as we did, since conditions were a bit dicey in places, with high winds blowing the snow across the road as we negotiated mountain passes. But in order to get to Boulder by Wednesday night, it was necessary, so we did it and survived, reaching Billings by about 8:15 in the evening. The drive was not as spectacular as the day before. We drove along the other side of the lake, hoping for an equally scenic view. Unfortunately it was really foggy and we didn’t see very much, although the steam coming off the water was very dramatic in places.

We spent the night in Billings at a Sleep Inn, which was actually one of the nicer chain hotels we’ve stayed in on this trip. We managed to leave there by 8:45 and reached Boulder by six in the evening, making many stops along the way to eat, swap drivers and stretch ours and Rebbe’s legs. Most of the drive was through Wyoming, which was not as spectacular as Montana, but the latter part of the day was lovely and the sky was as clear on Wednesday as it had been for most of the two days before.

We did see two bald eagles on Wednesday (we’d seen at least one on Tuesday), and tons of hawks, but did not see any elk or moose on any of the legs of this part of the trip. Funnily enough, we didn’t see any bison on the whole trip until right after we crossed into Colorado as we neared Denver. We did see a lot of antelope in Wyoming and a couple of coyotes crossing a creek in Montana.

The big lesson from this period of driving was that we need to plan the coming back as well as the going a bit better and not feel as rushed, though that whole bit about spending the night in anonymous hotel rooms makes one want to speed through certain stages (and we may end up doing that again on our way to Ohio). It was too cold to enjoy the scenery very much, plus in most national parks dogs are only allowed in certain areas, so we were less tempted to dawdle. Otherwise we might have detoured to Yellowstone, or on Wednesday, to Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. We made a promise to ourselves to come back. Angie has been to Yellowstone before but I never have, and of course would really love to. And the battlefield is of course a significant historic site I’d love to see too. Sadly, that will have to wait for another day.

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Posted in USA

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