09.09.2010 - 12.09.2010
Thursday, September 9
I LOVE CAMPING!!!!
We woke up to mist on the lake and hot coffee. The rain had stopped and it was quiet and perfect. It was still dark, but we had to head out because we were still going to try to do our Canada hike, just as a day hike instead of an overnighter. We had to get a move on. We agreed that I would take a flashlight and go over to the cooking area and make coffee, hot cocoa, and oatmeal while Matt packed up the camp.
I had to visit the pit toilet first. I made my way over with my flashlight and then flipped it off when I entered. It’s not like I needed to see in there. I knew where everything was.
That’s when I felt the tickle on my leg.
I flipped the flashlight that was hanging around my neck but unfortunately flipped it to STROBE so I could only scream while flailing pathetically at the 8 legged thing crawling up my thigh that I couldn’t really see. Between the strobe light and the screaming, it must have looked and sounded like Bee Gees night at Skatetown U.S.A.
I felt bad when I realized it was only a granddaddy longleg. Poor little thing only had one leg left by the time I was done.
We had our breakfast and hiked out without incident. We changed clothes in the car and drove over to Tamarack Outfitters to catch the 8 a.m. shuttle to the Carthew-Alderson trail. When we arrived, they told us that it was still covered in snow, visibility was bad, and the trail was just wet, wet, wet. They advised that we cancel. We did.
Weathered out of hiking AGAIN, we decided to drive back down to Montana toward our lodge for the night, the Many Glacier Hotel to see if there was any chance of an early check-in. It was just as rainy in Montana, so there would be no hiking today. We spent the day reading in front of the fireplace at Many Glacier.
Depressed because 2 days of hiking had been cancelled and there had been no pretty weather photo ops…..I was in a funk. Matt knew what would cheer me up.
We headed to the Park Café for a late lunch of peanut butter milkshakes, cheeseburgers, fries, and pie.
Pie makes everything better.
The evening was spent reading, doing puzzles, taking naps, and eating cookies. It was like we were practicing to be 92 years old. But it was nice.
Friday, September 10
We had planned the Grinnell Glacier hike for Friday, but the weather was not going to cooperate. The weather was not ideal, but it looked like it might be clearer south of us, so we drove along the east side of Glacier toward the Two Medicine entrance.
The skies were blue and clear on the drive down. It was the Big Sky of Montana that I had been wanting to see all week.
It’s a good thing we had views on the way down, because when we got into Two Medicine, inside the park, it was just as thick and gray as it had been at Many Glacier. We had decided to try the Cobalt Lake Hike, and it wasn’t raining, so we decided to go for it.
The weather held out for most of the hike. I thought we were going to have a fine day as we walked past streaming waterfalls, along the side of flowing creeks, across swinging cable bridges.
We picked the ripe huckleberries that were abundant along the trail that were still wet from the morning’s rain. It was so nice we decided to save our lunch and eat it at Cobalt Lake before making the hike back.
We must have gotten about a mile from the lake when the icy hurricane hit. Fierce clouds blew in from NOWHERE and we were attacked by strong winds and gusting ice and rain. Within minutes we were soaked and shivering. We kept walking toward the lake in hopes that the campground might have a shelter of some sort where we could sit out the worst of it.
When we got to Cobalt Lake, the rain was so heavy, I couldn’t even see the lake. The wind was driving through my wet clothes and I was freezing. I started to shiver as we simply turned around and started walking back. No lake. No lunch.
Step. Squish. Step. Squish. Step. Squish.
When it finally stopped raining, I pulled a soggy bag of Cheeze-Its out of my backpack. Hello lunch.
We walked, wet, hungry and cold six miles back to Two Medicine.
Now, I need to tell you about the moose. You see, I have never really seen a moose in Glacier National Park. There was one behind a tree once, and I knew it was there, but I couldn’t really SEE it so that doesn’t count. I had actually planned our hikes on the trip to increase my probability of seeing a moose. Our planned Canadian hikes practically came with a moose guarantee…but those got cancelled, now, didn’t they? So today was my last chance to see a moose. I stopped and scanned every beaver pond….every marshy pit….ever willow lined creek….no moose.
We were about 1/10 of a mile from the end of the trail when we passed a chatty couple. They were all happy and bright. Obviously, they had not just hiked through Hurricane Two Medicine and had to eat soggy Cheese-Its under a rain poncho for lunch.
“Did you see the moose?” they asked, chipper as chipmunks.
“No, no moose,” we replied flatly, exhausted as the mud dried thickly on our boots and our pants.
“Oh, yeah. There’s a moose right back there. You just walked right by him. Everybody’s seen him today.” Stupid people.
We took off our muddy boots and made the long drive back to Many Glacier.
We consoled ourselves by cleaning up and heading to our favorite eating place, the Cattle Baron Supper Club. The first time we saw it, with it’s dirty brown exterior, pick-up truck lined parking lot, and neon beer signs, I told Matt I wasn’t eating there. I told him it probably had more pool tables than waiters and likely featured a cigarette machine, juke box, and chips hanging on the wall. No way. I wasn’t going.
Well, I finally relented years ago and it turned out to be amazing. We knew it as soon as we walked in. You expect a smoky dive with Shenandoah singing, “If Bubba Can Dance….” and the sound of a mechanical bull, but what you see is a warm interior of gleaming wood and candlelight, with a spiral staircase twirling to the second floor around a giant tree that stands sentinel on one end of the place. When you look upstairs you see white tablecloths and waiters dressed in white shirts and ties carrying silver trays laden with prehistoric sized steaks. Now, we return every time. It’s one of the highlights of the trip.
It was time to get my Yee-Haw on.
I ordered the filet which was cooked to perfection and had to weigh in at about 14 ounces and Matt got some ridiculously huge ribeye that was so big it hung off his plate. Homemade bread and butter, potatoes slathered in their special dressing, salads with thick blue cheese, and sautéed mushrooms and onions made us forget every wet, cold, muddy step of the trip.
Despite our bulging bellies, we stopped by the Park Café for one more slice of pie before heading back to the lodge. The coconut cream and the peach pie were to die for.
Fat and happy, we fell asleep to the sound of fierce winds whistling through the mountains.
Saturday, September 11
It was time to leave the park, and I was okay with that. It was another wet, cold and gray morning. The wind was blowing ferociously as we drove the Going to the Sun Road back to West Glacier and then headed out of the park down to Columbia Falls for a “Goodbye Breakfast.”
We always stop at Montana Coffee Traders for coffee to take home and a giant breakfast of eggs scrambled with onions and cheese, crispy bacon, and fried potatoes. Before we knew it, we were at the airport saying goodbye to Kalispell from the air.
We were on our way to KRAP.
The airport identifier for Rapid City, SD may not have been well thought out, but the town itself was pretty alright.
After only 3 hours of flying, we landed in the early afternoon and took our rental car down a long, straight highway toward Interior, SD. We kept looking for a speed limit sign and finally figured out there wasn’t a speed limit. None.
Matt said, “I can’t believe I finally get to drive a straight highway with no speed limit…and I am in a Kia.”
We drove past fields of gold and skies of blue until we reached Interior, SD…population 67 and gateway to the Badlands National Park. Interior has 4 streets, one 5x10 jail, a church for every 30 residents, and a blue painted horse at the Cowboy Corner.
We didn’t have lots of time, so we did the Badlands Loop Drive. The Badlands were amazing. Steep peaks rose and dramatic gorges fell. Hills of gold and green and rose mounded above the prairies and then fell below the earth. Antelope and prairie dogs ran and buffalo stood guard in the distance.
We exited near Wall, SD and decided to stop in to see the famous Wall Drug Store. Like any good kid would, I rode the jackelope and the fake bucking bronco and gorged myself on homemade doughnuts and hot dogs. We drove back to Rapid City as the sun set golden over fields of hay.
For dinner, I found what was reputed to be one of the best restaurants in all of South Dakota…the modest little Corn Exchange Bistro in Rapid City. When we arrived, I knew we were in good hands when they seated us at the bar while they readied our table and gave us a glass of their “wine of the night” and it was called Viviacious Vicki.
They brought fresh bread with a garlic butter as we drooled over the menu. The restaurant prides itself on using the best local foods and the menu was a thing of beauty. We started off with the cheese plate, a platter of fresh, local artisanal cheeses, dates, apricots, grapes, house marinated olives, and water crackers. I then had an heirloom tomato salad with house made blue cheese dressing and fresh bacon. For dinner, I tried the Buffalo Bolognese and followed it with a flourless chocolate torte.
I do believe it might be the best restaurant in South Dakota.
Sunday, September 12
After All You Can Eat 99 Cent Cowboy Pancakes at the Dances With Wolves movie set along with 2 busloads of AARP tourists, it was time to head home.
We had a 5.5 hour flight ahead with a pit stop in Hannibal, Missouri and the weather was fine and clear. But first….a Mount Rushmore fly by!! Who else gets to see it from this perspective?
As we flew toward home, I reflected on the previous week. It wasn’t what I expected, for sure, and I will admit there were more than a few moments when I just broke down and said, “This sucks,” but it had been all of the adventure that I had hoped for and had some shining moments. I guess you could say it was the best of times…it was the worst of times.
We endured snow, sleet, rain, mud, gusty winds, near hypothermia, sore bodies, wet feet, hunger pains, windburned faces, outdoor toilets, ice, and wild animals. I had significantly less skin on my feet, my legs felt they would never recover, and one big toenail had already turned purple. But it was a small price to pay to pay to see the untouched and dramatic beauty of the backcountry…a land of spontaneous waterfalls and alpine lakes, of carpets of wildflowers and snow covered peaks. I could still hear the patter of the rain on the tent and could smell the crisp smoke of the campfire. I could taste the melted chocolate oozing from a toasted cookie dripping down my fingertips. I imagined the solitary ripple of a lone duck on a remote lake in the morning fog and the curious stare of a baby mountain goat as it walked 6 inches from my side. Imprinted on my soul were God’s handiwork of towering mountains and glacial lakes in swirls of cobalt and turquoise.
I took home with me something special. Something I had seen. Something I had experienced. Something I had endured. For a brief moment, I had been one with nature. I had slept in her arms and woken to her soft misty breath.
She would return with me, a small still voice inside reminding me of the quiet of the night when the dark is impenetrable and the only sound is the sigh of the waterfall as the marmots whistle good night.