A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: vicki_h

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods: Part II

Back to Glacier National Park

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER. OKAY, SOMETIMES IT KILLS YOU.

We started the day with oversized omelets and stuffed French toast at the Whistestop Restaurant.

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Okay, I know what you are thinking. This trip has been really boring so far. French toast? Cute restaurants?

Where is the excitement? Where is the adventure? Where are the inevitable mishaps that lead to events like nearly crapping in a shopkeeper’s basket in the crowded streets of Oia, Greece or finding oneself trapped at the end of a long dead-end alley in the slums of Rome? Where is the catastrophic food poisoning on the way home from Honduras?

Apparently, I had saved it all up for one glorious disaster.

An epic fail.

And it was called the Firebrand Pass Trail.

On every trip, I like to do some hikes we’ve never done. The Siyeh Pass hike had been new, but that had been a day hike. I needed a new overnight trip to notch into my hiking belt.

I had settled on the Firebrand Pass hike, a 9 mile journey to a remote backcountry campground with some serious uphill and downhill to tackle along the way.

Our first hint that maybe I hadn’t done enough research was at the trailhead.

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Steve and Al pulled up to the railroad tracks in The Middle of Nowhere, MT and looked at us dubiously as we pulled our packs out of the vehicle and strapped them on.

The location was so unremarkable and poorly designated that we drove past it three times before we finally pulled over and decided this must be it.
“Are you SURE?” she asked. “This doesn’t look like a trail head. There aren’t any signs.”

Matt and I looked across the tracks at a rickety old fence with a paper sign on it and no sign of a trail.

“I’m sure,” I said, waving them off like this was all part of the plan, although I was sweating bullets on the inside. This looked like a place to get lost and poop yourself to death after becoming paralyzed from eating poisonous berries, not a place to hike into the backcountry toward an awesome night at an amazing campground.

“You guys go on and have fun, we’ll see you tomorrow,” I said with more confidence than I actually possessed.

Why had I picked this hike again?

Information on this hike had been hard to come by. It was located in a remote area, far from all of the other trails. It didn’t seem very popular. Yet I had read descriptions of “outstanding views,” “a hike to escape the crowds,” “lightly trafficked,” “a long way away from civilizations,” and “hiking in extraordinary isolated seclusion.”

I was drawn to the Firebrand Pass hike by its promise of beauty and solitude, the two things Matt and I crave most on a backcountry hike. Now I was starting to wonder if I had made a mistake and simply put us on a dirt trail in the middle of nowhere on the way toward nothing.

Because this hike was far outside the “typical” boundaries of the park for most visitors, it doesn’t get much traffic despite its epic scenery. It also requires a steep 2100 foot ascent to the pass, which can experience wind gusts up to 50 mph. Then there is the matter of a heavy pack required if one intends to make one’s way all the way to the lake to camp overnight.

But none of those are the real reason most visitors skip the hike beyond the pass to go all the way back to Ole Lake.

It’s the descent from Firebrand Pass to the lake that gets them. Apparently, not many people are interested in a steep, 2680 foot descent in just a couple of miles on a narrow ridge trail comprised completely of ankle deep, loose scree.

I knew this going in, but felt Matt and I were up to the challenge.

I really should have read the fine print.

The hike started off fine. The first few miles were very pleasant, passing through valleys, meadows, fields of late season wildflowers, and traversing aspen groves. A little way in, we found the sign so we knew we were headed the right way.

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The day was overcast, which kept the heat at bay, which was nice because most of the hike afforded very little shade.

As the trail started to ascend, we passed 2 of the only 3 people we would see on this hike. They were coming toward us, headed out, as they had only hiked as far as the pass early that morning and turned around.

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It was two 50-something women on a day hike and they stopped to ask us a strange favor.

Apparently, they had passed a very young woman, hiking alone, with no gear, no water, only a dirty jacket and a book in her hands. As Firebrand Pass is a long hike with no water sources, this struck them as odd. She handed them her phone and asked them to take her photo. As they passed her, they became increasingly worried about her lack of proper clothing and water.

We promised to watch for her if we passed her along our route. Surely she wasn’t headed all the way to the campground.

Odd.

Who hikes alone on a remote trail with no water and a book?

We continued on and at a little over 4 miles we reached the basin below Firebrand Pass. The views were stunning. We could see the route to the pass above and took a moment to enjoy the scenery before heading up.

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It was here that we encountered the young woman, about 18 years old by my best guess. She was out of shape and inappropriately dressed. She was indeed hiking alone with no pack, no food, and no water. She carried a filthy puffer jacket in one hand and a ratty paperback in the other.

WTH???

We had only a moment to make a tough decision. We still had a 1.5 mile steep climb to the pass in the August heat followed by about 4 miles of steep descent before reaching the lake. There were no water sources that we knew of before reaching the lake, so the only water we had were the 2 bottles that we had in our pack….bottles we had counted on having with us until we reached the lake. One was full and one wasn’t.

And there was this young woman, so ill prepared with absolutely no business being out here.

We gave her the full bottle.

I could only hope that God would reward me for my giving spirit by not letting me die of dehydration before finding more water.

I still wonder if she made it out okay and what her story was. In my dream, she met up with Mister Fabulous on her way out and he threw her dirty jacket aside, wrapped her in his billowy scarf, and they hiked off into the sunset, taking selfies and drinking my water.

We will never know.

It was time to make the long slog up to the pass.

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When we finally reached the top, we only paused for a second. The wind was so fierce it was hard to stand upright. All we could do was immediately start the hike down the other side.

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Which turned out to be absolutely HORRIFIC.

I don’t consider myself a wimp. I’m no sissy. I have slept in the snow with wet feet, hiked 7 miles down a rugged mountain face in flip flops because my heels were too blistered for boots, pushed a golf cart out of the sand with my bare hands because it was stuck and I was alone with my girlfriend who wasn’t any stronger than I was, and spent several days on a deserted island in nothing more than a glorified tent.

I can endure a certain amount of adversity.

That scree slope, however, was my undoing.

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First, it was crazy steep. That’s bad enough if you have firm ground beneath you, as opposed to loose gravel so deep it’s like walking in quicksand. Second, the trail was narrow and dropped off on one side. One misplaced step and you’d fall off the edge and plunge several hundred feet below. Third, a trail in loose scree is hard to see. There were countless animal trails that crisscrossed the mountain going every which way and, at times, I wasn’t even sure which trail was THE trial.

And it went on FOREVER.

And FOREVER.

It was like a small planet. A planet filled with nothing but loose, shifting rock. It was certain death.

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I WAS SCARED, PEOPLE? OKAY?

And then I fell.

Oh, dear sweet baby Jesus in a manger, I FELL.

My feet literally slid straight out from under me, like I was trying to walk down a slope of ice or snow, rather than gravel. I landed on my butt and slid for what felt like an eternity, but that was probably about 1.6 seconds in reality, and managed to grab onto a small branch to stop my descent.

I was so shaken up by this point that I took itty bitty baby steps the rest of the way down.

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By the time we reached the bottom, my legs were a quivering pile of overcooked spaghetti and my nerves were shot.

Certainly that had to be the worst of it, no?

No.

We started trudging through the woods.

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We trudged.

And we trudged.

It was supposed to be a mile to the lake but we walked well over a mile and still found ourselves deep in the woods.

It was getting late. I had jelly legs And I was pretty sure we were lost.

We stopped to pull out the map and, as best we could tell, we were still on the right trail, but it was much farther to the lake than the map showed.

We had no choice but to keep walking.

We walked.

And walked.

And walked.

We were seriously contemplating simply pitching our tent in the woods and turning around to go back the way we had come the next morning when the trees broke and I saw the lake.

And then the sign for the campground.

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I nearly cried.

I was so relieved. The day was over. We had a couple of hours of daylight left to enjoy the lake, have a nice camp dinner, and cozy into our tent for the night.

My sigh of relief might have been premature.

As we unloaded our backpacks onto the dirt, we realized one significant item was conspicuously missing.

I hadn’t packed the tent.

We literally stood there in silence and stared, as though we could force the tent to materialize before us. Just maybe, if I stared at that bag of beef jerky long enough, it would become a tent.

On every trip with me, there is at least one moment that earns Matt yet another gold star in his “He Didn’t Kill Her Yet” book.

As Matt simply shook his head in disbelief, I spoke up, “At least I packed the fly.” I shrugged. I was struggling to find something that would make this horrible situation less horrible.

See, there is the tent, your wonderful enclosed capsule of nylon that separates you from the “outside.” Then, there is the fly, a thick cover that spreads over the top and sides of the tent in inclement weather conditions.

Do not make the mistake of thinking the fly is in any way an actual tent. It is essentially a domed tarp.

I had also managed to bring the tent poles and stakes. Just not the ACTUAL TENT.

“Isn’t this the point of camping?” I asked, “Adventure?”

Matt ignored me as he stared at the tent poles, a bag of clothes pins, some rope and a tarp and tried to figure out how to make them into a proper shelter.

Our first attempt was an utter failure.

It stood for a few minutes before starting to deflate, like a sad little balloon, until it was nothing more than a pile of blue and yellow plastic on the ground.

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That’s when Matt figured out that there were loops inside the fly and hooks on the ends that would actually hold the tent poles. What he constructed was a giant shell with no floor that we tied down with rope.

It would have to do.

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While it allowed us to feel like we had shelter, the reality was that it would not keep us warm and that anything with 4 legs ….or eight….or NONE….could scamper, crawl, or slither inside during the night.

At least we were alone at the campground that night. It was a small victory that our calamity could remain a private shame.

The other positive was that the forecast didn’t call for rain.

Now THAT would be a calamity!

We spent the evening enjoying the solitude of the small lake, having a simple dinner, and drinking enough wine to ensure we wouldn’t even know we were sleeping in the open woods without a tent.

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Sure, to many this toilet simply screams, “Hell no,” but when you have just hiked for 10 hours without a bathroom break while consuming approximately 3 months’ worth of water, this is practically heaven. An actual TOILET in the woods is a miracle. It eliminates the problems of the butt hover or the half-squat, both of which are completely ineffective at avoiding getting pee into your pants which will be around your ankles unless you take the time to remove your boots and take your pants completely off, which you won’t BECAUSE YOU’RE ON A TRAIL IN THE WOODS. Even better, there is a spectacular view and actual toilet paper (provided you remembered to put it in your pocket).

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Granted, there is the lack of privacy to deal with. You never know who is going to be watching.

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And, thoughtful as it was, this toilet brush seemed quite pointless.

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Finally, the sun dipped behind the mountains, leaving behind a glowing sky that would quickly turn to pitch black.

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It was time to head to our “tent.”

We had barely placed our heads on our pillows when I heard something LARGE moving around in the woods, just feet away. Maybe it was just that deer. But what if it wasn’t???

We both shouted and flipped on our flashlights, only to hear whatever it was moving away in the darkness.

And that’s when the storm started.

Bolts of electricity from the sky immediately replaced bears in the dark as the scariest thing in Montana.

When referring to “things that pucker your butthole”, the fury of Zeus takes a big poop all over the lowly bear.

We could hear the wind blowing the trees above us harshly, as the thunder cracked and lightning bolted through the sky.

“Really??” I said to Matt, “After everything else today….THIS??? Really???”

“It will be fine,” Matt said, “As long as the wind doesn’t blow our tarp away.”

I immediately reminded him that we were far more likely to die by lightning strike than by being attacked by a bear.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website, YOU ARE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE OUTSIDE DURING A THUNDERSTORM. Being under a tarp on the dirt does not qualify as being inside.

We held onto the edges of our tarp and suffered through the night.

SPAM: THE OTHER WHITE RED PINK MEAT.

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Weary, we decamped and had a breakfast of cheese grits and Spam. Perhaps a breakfast made from a giant vat of whipped pig that has been pummeled and poured into an inorganic geometric shape seems unappetizing, and just a little creepy, but after our long night, being alive and eating Spam seemed amazing.

It had been, of course, a miserable way to spend the night, but when we had some time to dry out (and eat some mysteriously cubed meat), we couldn’t stop laughing.

The truth is, it’s not the pleasant nights we spend under the stars that we remember for years to come. Instead, we’ll reminisce about that time we almost died under a tarp in the woods during a thunderstorm. Sure, it’s miserable and hateful while it’s happening, but it’s legendary when it’s over. It’s the experience that sticks with you. Getting lost, getting cold, getting hungry, getting wet, getting scared, and coming out on top; that’s the stuff that makes life worth living.

That’s the stuff we’ll remember.

I’d like to say that, once the night was over, the worst had passed.

In the past 12 hours, I had feared death by falling off a mountain, death by random bear, and death by lightning.

But they were not the worst of it.

In reality, my most terrifying, life-threatening, wildlife event turned out to be the hike back up the scree slope to Firebrand Pass.

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I realized I shouldn’t have worried about bears and sleeping in the open during a thunderstorm. I should have been worried about that piece of pie I ate and trying to haul it along with a stuffed French toast belly and that extra glass of wine up a steep gravel slope. It wasn’t a bear encounter that was going to kill me.

No, I was going to die by sliding painfully down a mountain of gravel into a tree that was waiting 400 feet below me.

All because I ate that extra pancake.

I literally did a death march up the mountain, bent at a 90 degree angle, hands on my thighs, backpack parallel to the ground like a turtle shell, pausing every 90 seconds to gasp for breath, curse, and cry.

Periodically, I would simply stand and groan loudly, so much so that Matt said I sounded like an elephant giving birth. Matt ,naturally, was practically dancing up the mountain.

For the first stretch, I was cranky. By the middle, I was wretched. Before we reached the top, I wanted to punch Matt in the nose. I probably would have if I could have caught up to him.

The word “miserable” took on a whole new meaning for me. This was not the Firebrand Pass trail, it was the Mount Misery trail. The only reason I didn’t cry is because I couldn’t get enough oxygen.

I should have stayed at home, binge-watching the Real Housewives of Orange County in my sweat pants with my dogs.

I consumed more water on the way up that mountain than I have the rest of this calendar year. Sad, but true.

Somehow, by a combination of stubbornness, the grace of God, and guttural screaming, I made it to the top.

I would have stopped to revel in it, but couldn’t for fear of being blown back down by the 50 mph winds.

We made our way through the golden fields back toward the trailhead.

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Yes - even in the wilderness, Matt checks his cell phone.

He was probably sending a message to Steve and Al to bring the car fortified with alcohol and painkillers.

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I’m sure Steve and Al were surprised to see us climb out of the woods intact. After dropping us off, I am pretty sure they expected to come back to find us dismembered beside the tracks, everything stolen except our packet of Spam.

And you know you have great friends when they immediately open the back of the SUV to pull out cups, champagne, and OJ.

God bless ‘em.

Friends show up to give you a ride from the trailhead. Real friends show up with mimosas.

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They had no idea how much I needed it.

We made a short drive and stopped at Johnson’s KOA for a hearty lunch. The mile high huckleberry ice cream pie was amazing.

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As we started our drive back across the park, we noticed that, in just the few days we had been here, the smoke had grown so thick that if we hadn’t been many times before, we wouldn’t have known any of the magnificent peaks were even there.

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It was about that time that I received a phone call from the Lake McDonald Lodge to tell us that they were closing due to the fire.

Understand that they are only a few lodges in the park with limited rooms. We had booked almost a year in advance to even have rooms. Now, we had to find rooms for THAT NIGHT? Impossible.

As luck would have it, the Village Inn at Apgar had a cancellation.

For one room.

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While it wasn’t exactly the 2 deluxe queen cabins that we had reserved at Lake McDonald, it was the only room left in a 60 mile radius and we took it. Besides, it was a definite step up from the previous night.

We spent a beautiful, if slightly hazy, night on the shores of Lake McDonald at the Village Inn with a spectacular dinner at Belton Chalet.

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Steamed PEI mussels with verde chorizo broth, burrata and heirloom tomato salad, spicy bisque, rich porcini and ricotta mac and cheese with bacon, and bison meatloaf followed by a delightful little jar of banana pudding.

It was almost good enough to make us forget about the awkward sleeping arrangements.

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GONE FISHING

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We enjoyed the sunrise at Lake McDonald followed by a fat loaded breakfast at Eddie’s of Apgar.

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The guys really wanted to do some fly fishing, and we were all exhausted, so instead of hiking up a mountain, we did nothing more than hike the shores of the Flathead River.

It was a beautiful day to do a whole lot of nothing.

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Fishing was a hardship for Al and I, but we endured somehow.

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I am happy to report that no life threatening events occurred that day.

Our final night in the park was at Belton Chalet. I love the vintage rustic rooms. It’s like stepping back to a gentler, quieter time.

A time without tents and Spam.

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We cleaned up and made the long drive down a mostly dirt road through miles and miles of nothing to have dinner at the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge.

Polebridge is an electricity-free community cradled between the Continental Divide and Whitefish Mountain Range. It’s 27 miles from the entrance at West Glacier, with 13 of those miles on dirt road. Made up of a handful of houses, cabins, a hostel and a few small ranches along the North Fork Road, Polebridge is mostly made up of rustic locals and a scattering of hardy visitors. The hub of the area is the historic Polebridge Mercantile (the Merc) and the Northern Lights Saloon—both powered by generators. It’s a haven for hippies and random dogs, and isthe best place to find freshly baked pastries as big as your head.

I can’t come to GNP without making the long, arduous trip to Polebridge.

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You know that dream you have about living way out in the woods? You have that dream, right? Don’t we all have that dream?

Every time I drive out to Polebridge, the dream is alive. In it, I live in a cozy farmhouse where all of the furniture is made out of logs and planks that look like they were wrenched off the side of an old barn. I grow my own food and even MAKE PIE CRUST FROM SCRATCH. I wear flannel shirts and have a golden retriever. In it, I raise fat chickens and goats, even though my parents live on a farm and have that stuff and I know better because that shizz requires a lot of hard work and is full of perpetual animal poop. But in my dream, the animals are self-feeding and cleaning and simply look cuddly and give me eggs and cheese.

Polebridge can do that to you. You can see yourself getting “off the grid” and living in simplicity with a 3 legged dog and a wood burning stove, making your own clothing out of hemp and brewing beer on your back porch.

It’s deliciously authentic.

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Speaking of delicious, it was pizza night at the saloon.

Yes, please.

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And I’ll have a piece of pie with a blue eyed cat on the side.

A huckleberry bear claw to go? Why not?

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SHOPPING: FISHING FOR GIRLS, EXCEPT THAT WE ACTUALLY COME HOME WITH THINGS.

It was our day to leave the park, but it was good timing, as the Sprague Fire had grown in the past couple of days, covering much of the park in a thick haze and forcing several early closures.

We were heartbroken to hear that the historic Sperry Chalet, a hike-in only lodge high in the mountains above Lake McDonald that we had visited many times, had been lost to the fire the night before.

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The guys has a fishing trip planned and Al and I had a date with some shopping in Whitefish, so we fueled up at Montana Coffee Traders before going our separate ways.

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Whitefish is the quintessential mountain town, replete with rough-hewn logs, fur throws, and lots of plaid things. We managed to do some credit card damage before the guys called to be picked up.

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We grabbed lunch at Backslope Brewing before heading in for the afternoon to tackle the laborious task of taking an SUV full of dirty clothes and camping gear and trying to fit it into a few suitcases.

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It literally took all afternoon and involved an inordinate amount of swearing.

Finally finished, we rewarded our hard work with cocktails in the rustic bar of the Tamarack Lodge.

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Because this only whetted our appetite for small glasses filled with brown liquid, we made a trip to the Glacier Distilling Company before dinner. Glacier Distilling is a locally owned, small batch distillery where all of the spirits are hand crafted and hand bottled in their adorable red Whiskey Barn.

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Then it was time for dinner. I was super excited.

While I was planning our trip, I ran across an article titled, “The Most Romantic Restaurants in Every State.” Montana’s Whitefish Lake Restaurant was listed and we were staying only a short drive down the road.

Built in 1936, the 75 year old restaurant is considered by many to be the best in the Flathead Valley. Housed in an original tamarack log building with cathedral ceilings and fireplaces, it promised to be as romantic as it was delicious.

Not that we would ever know.

I Google Mapped us to the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, where we promptly entered the restaurant and provided the name for our reservation.

The hostess gave us an odd look, but showed us to a table immediately.

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The room was sleek and stylish and had a spectacular view of the lake, but it didn’t exude the historic atmosphere that I had expected. No matter, the menu looked amazing and the place smelled divine.

We dove enthusiastically into the duck nachos and ordered a bottle of red wine.

Everything was delicious. Maybe not quite as romantic as I expected, but the sunset view over the lake was a nice touch.

It was about halfway through my crispy fried quail over butternut squash and fingerling potatoes that I got the phone call.

From the Whitefish Lake Restaurant.

Asking me where I was.

“I’m here,” I said, stupidly.

“You’re where, exactly?” the gentleman on the phone asked.

“At the restaurant. At the Lodge. On Whitefish Lake.”

He sighed. “We aren’t on Whitefish Lake. You are at the Boathouse. No worries. It happens all the time.”

We were at the wrong restaurant.

Sometimes, even I am amazed at how stupid I am.

In my defense….who names their restaurant the Whitefish Lake Restaurant when there is only ONE restaurant on Whitefish Lake and YOU ARE NOT IT?????

Apparently, the Whitefish Lake Restaurant is not on Whitefish Lake, but is at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, in which case it should have been named the Whitefish Golf Club Restaurant.

So close to eating at the most romantic restaurant, but….NO.

As we dove into the giant slab of huckleberry cheesecake, we felt we had made a good mistake.

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There was nothing left to do but catch a few hours of sleep before our 3:00 a.m. wake up call to head to the airport.

We were dusty and tired. We had blisters and back pain. I love the backcountry and leaving the wilderness, with all its untouched and pristine beauty, is hard every time. It’s a vacation that is intensely challenging at times and it isn’t always comfortable, but being alone with your thoughts, being alone with your spouse, and being one with the big wide world is indescribable. You solve all of the world’s problems on a dirt trail. You come out a new person. A better person.

The Sprague Fire that burned while we were there ended up burning about 18,000 acres of the park. As a lightning fire (SEE HOW DANGEROUS LIGHTNING IS????) I realize that it is simply part of nature’s cycle and it must happen, but it is still a devastating loss to someone that visits the park to see that natural beauty.

As much as we love it, we’ll probably look to new mountains for our future adventures. In addition to the ravaged landscape, the popularity of the park has exploded. When we first visited, annual visitation was about 1.6 million people. While that sounds like a lot, the park felt vast and empty when we were there. Now, with over 3.2 million visitors per year, it’s just too crowded for us.

I think we plan to step away for a while and let her heal. In the meantime, there are new mountains to climb, new trails to conquer, new tents to forget.

“And into the forest we’ll go, to lose our minds and find our souls.”

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Posted by vicki_h 06:59 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (6)

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods: Part I

Back to Glacier National Park

When we are in the mountains of Montana, we forget to count the days. Nothing exists but the crunch of the trail beneath our boots, the fresh air that smells of pine and wildflowers, and the big blue sky that stretches endlessly above us. We forget about alarm clocks and schedules. We go to the mountains to fill our spirits with good things. We come home refreshed.

Going to Montana feels like going home. I can’t explain it, other than to say that I feel like I am my best self when I am there. I feel the most complete and at peace. As much as I love my island home in the Bahamas, my heart truly lives in the mountains of Montana.

In Montana, I feel wild and free.

It was time to go over the mountains and through the woods.

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ARE WE THERE YET?

A series of airline mishaps got us to GNP in the dark, rather than our original noon arrival time. We did nothing more than crash in our simple cabin at the Apgar Village Lodge when we arrived. It was not the day we had planned. We went to bed grumpy and frustrated, having missed out on a half day of our plans.

We did enjoy a beautiful evening at Lake McDonald, however. We just caught the dying rays of the sun. We spent the night in a simple cabin. Accommodations in the park are pretty basic, but we can't help but love them in all their terrible simplicity.

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When we woke up the next morning on the shores of Lake McDonald, all was forgiven.

This place had a magic that soothed the soul. As we gazed across the water at a spectacular sunrise, we simply felt blessed to be in this place.

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We had a quick breakfast in our cabin on our circa 1951 yellow formica table, sipping coffee from our brown diner mugs, and contemplated our day.

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Losing our leisurely entry day meant we had to hit the ground running. No lolling around looking at the scenery to get acclimated. We were hitting it hard with the demanding Siyeh Pass Loop hike. Not truly a loop, the hike would take us 11 miles, ending about a mile from where we began, requiring a shuttle ride back to where we started. In addition to the stunning views, we’d get to enjoy 2300 feet of elevation gain, one reason why this hike was considered one of the more strenuous hikes in the park.

We were worried that the nearby Sprague Fire, which had been sparked by lightning about 2 weeks before our arrival in the park, would create too much haze and smoke to enjoy the hike. The fire had already grown to 1500 acres. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was very little smoke at all. It was a beautiful day for a hike!

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And what a hike it was. Considered one of the most scenic day hikes in the park, it didn’t disappoint. Despite the fact that it was labeled “strenuous,” it really didn’t seem that bad at all. A walk in the park, really.

The trail meandered along Siyeh Creek for a short distance before turning sharply into the forest.

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After a long series of moderately inclined switchbacks, we reached a flat area called “Preston Park,” a glacially carved valley filled with soft meadows and what remained of the season’s wildflowers. Each meadow became larger as we approached Siyeh Pass.

We were surrounded by giants. Matahpi Peak, Piegan Mountain, and Heavy Runner Mountain towered above us as we made our way through the sunny meadows.

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After several miles of meadow, we crossed Siyeh Creek. The views were outstanding.

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It was then that my least favorite part of any hike began, climbing to the pass. We had about 1.5 miles of steep climbing to reach Siyeh Pass.

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As we made our way up the endless switchbacks, I really didn’t think it was all that grueling, considering the descriptions of the hike I had read: “significantly challenging,” “really difficult hike,” “bring plenty of water and strong knees,” “very steep scree slope.” I could see the summit and it wasn’t that far away.

When I reached it, I realized why it didn’t seem that bad. It was a false summit. We had only just gotten started. From there, the trail rose steeply upward for what seemed an eternity.

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With every new switchback, I became more certain I should have just stayed at the motel for the day and watched daytime TV in my pajamas, eating vending machine chips.

Unfortunately, I was 5 miles from anywhere in either direction. Fueled by determination (and a strong desire for the Italian Hoagie wedged deeply in Matt's backpack), we powered up the mountain.

The views at the top were …..just…..magnificent.

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Unfortunately, what goes up must come down and I generally find going steeply downhill more painful than going up. Thankfully, we were distracted from the steep trek downward by big horn sheep scattered on either side of the trail and views to forever.

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When we finally got low enough to be out of the wind and were able to find a spot that wasn’t so steep we’d surely slide to our deaths if we stopped moving, we sat down for lunch.

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From this point, it was a long hike through Sunrift Gorge back to the Going to the Sun Road where we would shuttle back to the car and meet our friends as they finished up their Highline Trail hike. The high point of the afternoon was finding a pool of ice cold water we could soak our aching feet in.

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As we neared the bottom, we noticed the thickening haze from the wildfires. The afternoon winds had blown the smoke our way. Thankfully, we were “out of the woods” and headed to Many Glacier Hotel, where we could grab some showers, some dinner, and rest our weary feet.

Many Glacier is a beautiful historic property on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. One of my favorite moments on any trip to GNP is sitting on the expansive deck in an oversized Adirondack chair, a drink in my hand, reliving the best moments of the day as the sun sets behind Mount Grinnell.

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Sunset gazing was followed by dinner at the best steakhouse in northwest Montana. The Cattle Baron supper club looks like a total dive from the outside, complete with a parking lot full of pick-up trucks and more than its share of neon beer signs adorning the windows. Once you walk inside, you are transported, greeted by gleaming wood, white tablecloths, and candlelight. It’s filled with everything a fancy Montana steakhouse should have: giant wagon wheels, barstools made out of whiskey barrels, antler chandeliers, and Indian headdresses. What’s not to love?

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And the steaks? Prehistoric.

And so fresh you might drive past tomorrow night’s meal on the way home.

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GUESS WHO CAME TO DINNER?

It’s hard to beat waking up at Many Glacier Hotel, grabbing a cup of coffee, and watching the sun come up. Sure, the coffee isn’t very good and it’s terribly overpriced, but …that view.

Sunrise over Swiftcurrent Lake is majestic.

The sun crawls slowly over the edges of the mountains, first red, then gold, and the water is still as glass, turning every beautiful image into a double vision.

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Afterward, we headed a mile down the road to the Swiftcurrent Motel where we grabbed a hearty breakfast at Nell’s.

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This was also where Matt and I needed to pick up our backcountry pass. Oh yes. We were doing it again. We would be hiking into the backcountry and camping overnight.

So I got 3 pancakes instead of 2.

And I stuffed a few packets of jelly into my pocket.

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We did the Cracker Lake hike on our very first trip to Glacier National Park and I was awestruck by the turquoise lake hidden far back in a cirque of mountains. It has always remained my very favorite hike.

While we had returned to do the hike several more times on subsequent trips, we had never obtained a camping permit to spend the night there. This time, I had managed to secure an advanced reservation for one of the 3 coveted tent sites at Cracker Lake for the night.

This broke the 12 mile hike into 2 days. Only 6 miles of hiking in a day was practically leisurely compared to the Siyeh Pass hike, even though I would have a full pack on my back. Steve and Al would hike in with us, but would hike back out on their own while we set up camp to stay for the night. We’d rejoin them the next day back at the Many Glacier Hotel.

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The hike back to Cracker Lake started with a trek high around the edge of Cracker Flats. I always look for bears here. It just seems like a place they would be. If I was a bear, I’d definitely be down there.

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"No, I am not easily distracted...oooooo.....is that a bird?"

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The trail then entered the forest where it climbed endless switchbacks up and up and up for what literally seems like an eternity. Even though I had hiked this trail at least 5 times before, I didn’t remember it being this difficult. Oh yes, the backpack. There’s a really big difference between walking somewhere and walking somewhere with a bag the size of a small European country on your back.

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Around mile 5, the trail broke out of the forest into a canyon. We still couldn’t see the lake, and the trail wound around and around, over one hill after another, never actually getting to the lake. We were certain at each rise that we’d see the lake on the other side.

The anticipation was maddening.

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Just before mile 6, we reached the top of a hill and the lake came into view in all its cerulean splendor.

The color of the lake is the result of “glacial flour," fine rock particles from the glacier grinding on the mountains above” suspended in the water, reflecting the light.

It was simply breathtaking.

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We spread out on a warm rock for lunch, soaking in the sunshine like a bunch of lizards, and feeling too lazy to move.

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That’s when Mister Fabulous arrived.

In all my days of hiking in the backcountry, I have never seen anything like him.

A young man in hiking attire that was far too fancy to be practical strolled up to our spot and made it clear that we were exactly where he intended to be. He was alone and carried a billowy white scarf (what the???) and a camera with a selfie stick. Despite our obviously invasive presence, he proceeded to flutter around the meadow photographing himself with his scarf in a dramatic fashion, all while shooting daggers at us with his eyes because our hiking and becoming one with nature was apparently interfering with his Instagram photo shoot.

He was starring in his own movie, and we were bad extras.

I did my personal best to ensure a Cheez-It ended up in the background of every shot.

With lunch over and Mister Fabulous hallway back to the Many Glacier Hotel with his billowy white scarf, it was time for Steve and Alison to hit the trail back while Matt and I finished the last mile to the campground and set up camp for the night.

I was giddy. I had never gone past the overlook point on the trail. For all the times I had been to Cracker Lake, I had never actually been TO Cracker Lake.

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The trail took us to a hill overlooking the lake where we found 3 tent sites, each as spectacular as the other. We chose the one that seemed to offer the most privacy from the other two and set up camp.

I couldn’t believe the view from our tent.

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Sure, backcountry camping requires a long walk with a heavy pack, a lot of organized planning of gear, meals that are less spectacular than crap you ate in your college dorm room, and there is that whole “setting up camp” business before you can relax, but this view was exactly why we suffered through it.

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A backcountry campsite beats front country camping any day. My experience with front country camping was that the only thing “camplike” about it was the tent, but that it was mostly screaming children, the smell of burnt hot dogs and chili, and competing radios with Toby Keith trying to out sing Nascar.

Not this place.

This was pristine. This was perfect. The silence was complete and the air smelled of nothing more than fresh wildflowers.

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We spent the afternoon walking the shore of the lake, laying on the warm rocks and listening to the water trickle down from the mountains above, and simply taking off our shoes to walk barefoot in the water.

Oh, and chilling our wine in the ice cold water.

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Why wine? Because I don’t hike unless there is wine at the end of the trail. Backcountry camping is why wine comes in plastic pouches, people.

Dinner was cheese and crackers (i.e., pasteurized processed cheese food and Triscuits) followed by gourmet noodles (i.e., Ramen noodles with foil pouch chicken and veges), which we almost got to eat hard and raw because I forgot the matches. Thankfully, we were able to use the barter system (which is all you have when you are 6 miles from anything) to secure some matches from our tent neighbors in exchange for sunscreen, which they had forgotten, as evidenced by their bright red faces hiding inside their tent until the sun went down.

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We thought that being this far out in the wilderness would prevent unwanted dinner guests (like screaming children with hot dog sticks and pockets filled with half melted chocolate), but then this guy showed up.

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Within seconds, the other 4 campers (all young women) had moved to our tent and stood with me and Matt while we watched to see what the bear would do.

It was only then that I realized the benefit that having small children at a campground would offer. Sure, they seem to only have one volume – SCREAMING – and one speed – RUNNING - but they are also bite sized and typically covered in BBQ sauce and melted marshmallows. I’m no outdoor expert, but if I was a bear, that would certainly sound more delicious to me than a 47 year old pre-menopausal woman coated unapologetically in DEET.

As we watched, huddled together, the bear continued walking at a leisurely pace around the shore toward our side of the lake. I really didn’t want him to keep walking toward us only to be surprised when he discovered his path was covered with smelly humans who had just eaten dinner and probably had some leftover chicken on their pants, so I stood at our tent and yelled, “HEY BEAR!”

Seriously. That’s what they tell you to do in the backcountry camping orientation video you are required to watch when you pick up your permits. It tells you how to pee properly, how not to die of exposure, and what to do if you see a bear.

The answer to that third item, obviously, is to yell, “HEY BEAR!”

I can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, it was my hope that by alerting him to our presence, he would run away.

Instead, the bear just stood there looking at me while I looked at him.

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He stared.

I stared.

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He walked a few more feet and stared.

I stared.

We did this until it got too dark to see him anymore.

Well….hell.

Rather than all 6 of us sitting together in our tent all night (which we seriously considered), everyone eventually made their way back to their own tent, zipped up tight, and hoped their tent didn’t simply look like an airy crepe filled with a delicious meat snack.

“Your odds of getting attacked by a bear are, like, 1 in 2 million,” Matt said as he dozed off to sleep. “Stop worrying, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than get attacked by a bear, and do you know anyone who’s been struck by lightning? I didn’t think so. Go to sleep.”

I went to sleep, stars blazing above….imagining that every crackling twig or swish of grass was most certainly the bear on the hill above, catching a whiff of the pasteurized processed cheese product I had smeared on my sweat pants.

It doesn’t matter that the bear was probably miles away by this time, it is amazing the volume of irrational thoughts that the darkness of a backcountry campsite can generate. When you are sleeping in a tent in the wilderness of Montana, every unidentifiable night noise is clearly a bear coming to eat you in your sleep.

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WHEW. WE'RE OUT OF THE WOODS.

Bears or no, waking up at Cracker Lake was a magical experience. Although, the first thing I did was use the binoculars to make sure the bear was gone.

The light was soft and the air was still and quiet. A lone mountain goat stood sentry on a rock outcropping above us.

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We enjoyed hot coffee, loaded oatmeal, and crispy bacon before breaking camp and starting the long, and thankfully uneventful, hike back out.

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We made it back to the Many Glacier Hotel before lunch, met up with Steve and Alison, and drove back toward Babb. Our goal was to drive all the way to East Glacier, about 2.5 hours on the curvy Montana roads.

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We stopped en route at Two Sisters, a funky little place just outside of Many Glacier, near St. Mary. They make a mean burger and some amazing pie a la mode.

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From there, it was a long and lazy drive to East Glacier Village to the Glacier Park Lodge for the night with a real bed and a real shower.

Matt and I chose to stay in the adorable Gardener’s Cottage which was as cozy as it was cute. Set apart from the main lodge, it gave me a chance to clean and organize our camping gear and repack our backpacks for the following day’s overnight hike.

Because one miserable night sleeping with one eye open in the woods wondering if you will die before sunrise is simply not enough.

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We fortified ourselves with cocktails in the lodge bar before heading to our favorite East Glacier restaurant for dinner. Serranos is a quaint little dive that serves killer margaritas and delicious Mexican food.

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The platter of nachos was big enough to feed all four of us, but that didn’t stop me from making a valiant attempt to eat them by myself.

I failed.

That night, I was happy to sleep in a real bed with nothing to hear but the sound of a box fan that meant me no harm.

Want to know what else happens in Montana??? Stay tuned for Part II!

Posted by vicki_h 05:49 Archived in USA Tagged hiking camping national_park montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

Vicki's Very Vegas Birthday.

The timing of this post is not in any way intended to disregard the suffering that Las Vegas is experiencing in the wake of the tragedy that occurred there 2 weeks ago. I believe we all have a heaviness of heart that hopefully has led us to our knees in prayer for the individuals impacted by that horrific event and simply for the state of our nation.

This post is a reminder of better times, of fun, and light heartedness....because we could all probably use a little bit of that right now.

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It’s no secret that Vegas is not my favorite place to go. While Matt loves to go every so often to get his poker fix, I typically hide in the spa for the duration of the visit.

So, you can imagine how excited I was when our friends had expiring airfare vouchers that had to be used by the end of July and the only place to go was Vegas.

“But it’s my birthday,” I kept repeating while no one listened.

I finally agreed to give in, but on one condition: “MY birthday, MY plans. Agreed?”

And that’s how I ended up in Vegas for my birthday.

And how it turned out to be amazing.

47 awesome things about my 47th birthday

1) Limo from the airport with champagne. The only way to travel in Vegas. Or to work, really.

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2) Terrace 1 Bedroom at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Matt always insists we stay at the Venetian because he loves their poker room. But this was MY BIRTHDAY. I wanted to stay somewhere cool, modern, flashy….all the things that I am not! It simply oozed glitz.

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3) 52 Stories at the Cosmopolitan.

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4) That View.

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5) A giant soaking tub with champagne and a view of the Vegas Strip and lots of bubbles.

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6) The “Shot in the Dark” at the Vesper Bar. Agave Vodka, Ancho Chile Liqueur, New Orleans Style Coffee Liqueur, Chai Masala Tea, and Firewater topped with the most delicious Horchata Cream. To. Die. For.

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7) Beauty and Essex. While it lacks the awesomeness of an endless champagne bar in the ladies’ room like the NYC original, it still managed to be uber chic and undeniably delicious.

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8) This View. (which is different from That View)

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9) This random pair of underwear in the elevator first thing in the morning. Just looking at it made me want to rub hand sanitizer in my eyeballs.

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10) Friends who ensured I looked like a total cheese nug on my birthday. At least I was color coordinated.

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11) The Brunch Club at Herringbone at the Aria. Ahhhhhh…MAZING. Delightful small stations with amazing food and endless ordering from the menu as well as non-stop chill tunes from the coolest DJ on the planet.

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12) CHILAQUILES….remember, this is the food that changed my life in Mexico a few months ago.

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13) Bottomless mimosas. And adorable waiters who kept bringing them.

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14) A free “birthday shot” from the bartender that tasted like a beach in a glass. (the shot...not the bartender)

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15) A birthday wish and a rose from the host.

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16) The best brunch station of all time called “For the kid in you” filled with all manner of candies and yummies. My plate looked like a childhood dream.

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17) Birthday massages at the spa.

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18) CHAMPAGNE! (and not killing anyone below the terrace with the cork)

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19) Birthday cake from the Milk Bar with sparkler candles.

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20) This Viagra tie.

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21) Sitting inside a dazzling display of crystals at the Chandelier Bar.

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22) This weird green drink which looked like a bad chemistry experiment but that tasted absolutely amazing.

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23) Matching martinis.

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24) STK for an unforgettable birthday dinner.

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25) A complimentary birthday dessert that looked remarkably like a dog turd with a sparkler.

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26) VIP table at the Pitbull show.

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27) Drinks made with pure grain alcohol served in absurdly large plastic cups.

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28) The fact that every dancer in Pitbull’s show had an enormous behind. Big butts should be celebrated.

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29) Being so close to Pitbull that he could sweat on us.

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30) Finding the secret pizza place hidden inside Cosmopolitan at 2:00 a.m.

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31) Friends who are not opposed to wearing a pair of bunny ears that you found discarded from the Playboy Midsummer Nights Dream party going on down the hall at the club. (Now...where did we leave that hand sanitizer?)

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32) Being asked by security to please not eat your pizza on the floor of the lobby.

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33) ALL OF THIS.

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34) Morning after breakfast at Eggslut.

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35) Devin Villarama with VIP services at the Cosmopolitan for hooking us up with this amazing cabana at the Marquee Day Club pool party.

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36) These outfits. I need one. Just to wear around the house on Saturdays when I am doing laundry.

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37) Getting a free upgrade to the biggest cabana with a free private pool because it’s your birthday. (And because you’re the oldest people there and they want to hide you in the corner)

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38) Eating all of your favorite foods in one meal: Sushi and nachos and french fries and bacon cheeseburgers and pizza and strawberries and champagne.

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39) The weirdness that is a Vegas pool party.

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40) A dedicated server who is sweet as sugar. I’m pretty sure that’s what the guys liked about her.

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41) The other view. (Not to be confused with This View or That View)

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42) The spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chili and sweet soy at Zuma. Oh, and the rock shrimp tempura. And the kappa maki.

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43) These guys.

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44) And these ladies.

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45) And these friends.

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46) And going home exhausted after 2 days of non-stop awesome.

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47) And not dying.

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Stay strong, Vegas. You were there for us during our good times. We're with you in spirit now.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:46 Archived in USA Tagged las_vegas vegas Comments (0)

Better Late Than Never - July on Guana Cay

Obviously, I am a little behind on the travel blog. We did a lot of travelling over the summer, but life got in the way and the photos have stayed buried in my camera and the stories have stayed buried in my memory. It’s time to get them out of there!

As we have done for many years, we made a trip to Guana Cay in Abaco for the week of July 4th. What can I tell you about Abaco that I haven’t already? How many more photos of deliciously clear water can I show?

Besides, it’s been almost 3 months. I have no idea what we did.

Rather than a play-by-play that will leave you knowing every meal I ate and what time I brushed my teeth each morning, I’m simply going to share my favorite stories from this trip.

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Doom, Despair, and Agony on Me….the Cheeseburger in Paradise Party

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We arrived at the airport early Friday morning, with every intention of getting to the boat and making the hour-plus boat ride to Fiddle Cay in time for the 2017 cheeseburger party. This was an optimistic goal, and one that, in hindsight, we should have crossed off our list.

First, let me make it clear that this IS NOT the same party that we have attended in years past…AND LOVED.

THAT party was the Stranded Naked Cheeseburger Party, hosted by Bob and Pat Henderson. We enjoyed it immensely every year that we attended.

Bob and Pat had to take a hiatus from the Cheeseburger Party due to several difficult family events and, without their blessing, another group started the “Cheeseburger in Paradise Party” on the same date and on the same deserted cay. Our gut instinct was to avoid the new party and find something else to do, but we were travelling with friends and they really wanted to go.

We should have stuck with our gut. I found the event less awe-inspiring than in years past.

We managed to arrive around 1:00 p.m. and found a very different atmosphere than we were used to. It was apparent that large crowds from Nassau and other non-Abaco places were present and they definitely changed the feel of the event.

Too many jet-skis with careless drivers zoomed recklessly between carefully anchored boats, causing them to rock and crash into each other as the repeated wake hit. A hover boat kept zipping past people trying to relax in the shallow water. Small boats that barely looked seaworthy floated in, loaded with about 5 times the number of bodies that could safely be aboard. Too many deafening speaker systems, thongs stretched far past their maximum usefulness, and guys with grabby hands.

Ick.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and we were in a beautiful spot – might as well enjoy what we could.

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We entertained ourselves by dragging out the Inflata-Bull and dragging it around. It wasn’t until about halfway through the day that I realized exactly why Matt wanted to be in charge of the Inflata-Bull.

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I’m a little slow.

The day was going fine until I realized the pool float my camera (yes….THE camera) was being pulled around on was getting splashed excessively and that my camera was sitting in an inch of water.

This is the last photo that camera ever took.

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It would be vacation by iPhone at this point.

So far, I had made the bad decision to even come to the Cheeseburger Party and the bad decision to think a float in the ocean was a safe place for a $4,500 camera. I decided to make it 3 for 3 and agreed to sleep on the boat that night, despite how it went the last time.

I thought we had remedied all the issues we encountered the last time we tried to sleep aboard:

• We now had a power cord long enough to reach the dock which gave us a/c and allowed us to use the bathroom;
• We had the center cushion that actually allowed the seating and table in the cabin to be turned into a bed; and
• I was not dying of the Bubonic Plague.

Apparently, I had been misinformed.

While we had a power cord, the a/c on the boat didn’t actually WORK. Likewise, Matt proceeded to inform me that something was wrong with the flushing on the toilet so I couldn’t use that either.

This would have been fine had the dock we chose for the night ACTUALLY HAD A BATHROOM. Quite the opposite…it was located in the middle of nowhere and had no facilities of any kind. It was more “dock with electricity” than marina.

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I went to bed and hoped for the best.

Much like my “hope for the best” with the Cheeseburger Party, the best was not meant to be.

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and HAD TO GO.

It was not #1.

We were on a remote stretch of Green Turtle Cay, so I made the decision to try to walk into “town” and see if there was any sort of park building or other public facility where I might find a bathroom.

The walk was excruciatingly long and dark. Like dark dark.

I walked around town and exhausted every possibility.

There was no bathroom.

I was sweaty and desperate.

I walked back to the remote dock and did the only thing I could do. …I had to hang my happy a$$ of a dock ladder and go in the ocean.

It was horrific and humiliating.

I feel very sorry for the turtles and fish.

At least it was dark dark.

Social Media vs. Reality: My true confession

I am sharing this photo to illustrate the difference in the version of our life we wish to portray through social media and the reality of our life.

The moment I was trying to portray…a peaceful, solitary morning on the beach.

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The actual moment…I sit and stare at the ocean unaware that my dog has chosen that exact moment to take a crap behind me.

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The hard truth: My life is less about peaceful moments on the beach and more about picking up crap.

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.

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How do you know if someone REALLY loves you? I mean really, really, really loves you?

They’ll pee on you if you ask them to.

Unfortunately, after getting a jellyfish wrapped around my upper thigh on Treasure Sands’ beach and enduring Matt’s hot urine on my leg, I discovered that whole “jellyfish and pee thing” is a myth.

Now my leg hurt and I was covered in pee.

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Don’t worry, I was able to effectively drown my sorrows with pink drinks.

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Meanwhile, back at Nippers…..

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It was a great summer week, filled with all of the best things….good friends, my sweet dogs, lots of boat drinks, endless sunshine, and all the fried things.

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Until next time Abaco!!

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Posted by vicki_h 12:05 Archived in Bahamas Tagged islands tropical bahamas nippers abaco elbow_cay guana_cay grabbers marsh_harbour lubbers_landing Comments (1)

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part III

Day Five

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After a breakfast of fresh papaya juice and egg casserole with rustic potatoes and vegetables (and copious amounts of buttered bread), we decided to spend some time exploring the island.

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Today was the only day that low tide was mid-day, allowing us a chance to visit the beautiful sandbar that we had heard about on the other end of the beach.

We rented a golf cart and set about our mini-adventure.

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A short ride down the beachfront took us to the “end of the road.” We found ourselves at Punta Mosquito, an endless shallow sea of impossibly clear water, sundrenched hammocks, and soft, sandy beaches with virtually no one in sight.

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We spent the morning lounging in the clear water, chasing schools of tiny rays, and walking the extensive sandbar as far as we could go.

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This was the most activity we had encountered in 5 days, so we had to follow that with a trip to Barquito for cold beverages with a side order of blue-eyed puppies.

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A ride through town took us past the colorful art that wove its way into every street corner and across every building.

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We followed the road as far as it went in the opposite direction and found ourselves at Punta Coco, another shallow, deserted beach.

It seemed this tiny island had no limit to the sleepy beaches one could find a hammock and endless clear water.

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As we made our way back through town, we stopped for lunch at Viva Zapata. The restaurant was brightly painted with colorful murals and swings hung from the bar.

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We grossly over ordered and found ourselves faced with a table full of food we couldn’t possibly eat: ceviche and chips, queso fundido with spicy chorizo, garlicky shrimp, chicken nachos covered in melty cheese, and a pile of guacamole.

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We did our best, but eventually threw in the towel. Who were we kidding?

We waddled back to our beach and collapsed.

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When we finally roused ourselves, we strolled into town for cocktails at Bar Arena, a rooftop bar in the center of town.

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The drinks were creative and wonderful, the décor was very cool, and the breeze was a welcome respite from the evening heat.

They also served these wickedly addictive candy coated peanuts that we simply couldn't stop eating.

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With no actual plans for dinner, we simply wandered through town looking for something that caught our eye.

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We decided to stop at La Parilla de Juan, which I had heard good things about.

As we climbed the stairs to the upper floor, we really weren’t sure what to expect.

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We were pleasantly surprised by a very elegant, open-air restaurant with an outdoor terrace.

We chose to sit outside where we could watch the chef prepare the meats on the open fire.

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While the restaurant is known for its pasta, the smell of grilled steak was almost more than we could bear.

We compromised with a lobster linquine and surf and turf, served with their amazing grilled bread and a caprese salad.

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We continued to be amazed by the food offerings on Holbox.

Matt was ready to call it a night, but I had spent all week smelling the delicious crepes and marquesitas on the square each night as we passed by. When La Parilla informed us that they had run out of the apple pie, I knew tonight was the night.

Matt has always been perplexed by my inexplicable fondness for street food. If it comes out of the trunk of a car or is being whipped up on a greasy grill on the side of a highway, I’m all over it.

Sure, it has led to more than one bout with some serious digestive distress, but it has also resulted in some of my favorite food experiences.

My very soul needed a marquesita.

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The combination of cheese and chocolate inside a crispy sweet crepe was more than I could resist. It sounded delicious and terrible all at the same time.

I took a bite.

It was a perfect combination of sweet and savory, crispy and soft at the same time. It was the best $1 I had ever spent.

My stint in the long marquesita line had made Matt thirsty, so we popped into Luuma for a couple of cocktails before heading back to Casa las Tortugas.

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It was officially time to call it a night.

Day Six

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It was my favorite time of day: breakfast.

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“What day is it?” Matt asked lazily, taking a sip of his fresh watermelon juice as we waited for breakfast to arrive. I watched as a big drip of condensation lazily made its way down the side of the glass.

“Wednesday. No, wait, Thursday. Friday?”

We had discovered that it was easy to lose time on Holbox.

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The name means “black hole.” The name originally came from the very deep, very dark lagoon found on the island, but I think the name more accurately describes the way you can simply vanish here. I felt like we were disappearing into a void of sunshine and chilled tequila….never to be seen again.

We had settled into the languid rhythm of the island. Days seemed longer. Nights seemed later. Our hair was getting lighter. Our skin was getting darker. The water felt warmer. Drinks tasted colder.

Life was sweeter.

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There was sand and sun, but something was different. Something really set this place apart from anything I had ever experienced…The people. The food. The sounds. The slow warmth of it spread into your limbs until you felt you could simply fade into the soft cotton of your daybed.

It really seemed that time had stood still here on Holbox. Maybe that was why we weren’t even sure what day it was.

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I spent the entirety of our last day at Casa las Tortugas in my bikini. I never put my shoes on. I wasn’t even sure where they were at this point. I smelled like honey and coconut oil.

I tried to keep a cocktail in my hand at all times. If I felt too lazy, someone from Mandarina would bring it to me.

Our day was spent on the horizontal, alternating between a hammock, a soft shady daybed, and a thatched-roof palapa near the beach.

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It was official. We had come undone.

In the late afternoon we roused ourselves long enough to grab some cocktails at a nearby beach bar and find some lunch.

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We enjoyed a late afternoon lunch at Pizzeria Edelyn to try the famous “lobster pizza” that the island claims you can’t leave without sampling.

Our consensus was that we probably could have left the island without sampling it.

It was fine, it just wasn’t worth prying ourselves off our beach chairs for.

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It was worth the walk, however, simply to find the only salon in existence that specializes in that "Duran Duran" look.

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We enjoyed our final sunset with cocktails at Casa Sandra’s small beachfront bar. A mariachi band strolled down the sand. Dogs played at our feet.

It was bittersweet.

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We had decided to have our final dinner at El Chapulim.

Rated #1 on nearly every travel site for Holbox that existed, I felt certain this place would be overhyped.

And we were late.

Everyone knows that if you want to eat at El Chapulim, you show up early. They don’t take reservations and the chef prepares a set amount of exactly 4 entrees each night. When you arrive, if you are lucky enough to be seated, the chef comes out to tell you what he has prepared. Your order is taken, and your food is brought out to you in minutes.

I had read that you must arrive by 6:30 if you wanted to get a seat. It was almost 8:00. I knew we would be turned away in shame.

As luck would have it, we were seated. And we were the last ones that got a table.

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It was Holbox magic.

We had eaten a lot of good meals on the trip. Matt and I both agreed that this was easily one of our best overall food vacations, with the only exceptions being Greece and Italy. The meals had been outstanding.

El Chapulim was the best meal of the trip.

It really lived up to the hype.

Maybe it was the chef’s dog laying under our table. Maybe it was the glow of candlelight that made everything seem magical. Maybe it was just the remnants of the tequila haze that I had lived in for the past week.

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But everything about our dinner seemed perfect.

It was the perfect way to end this trip.

Day Seven

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We couldn’t believe it was our last Mandarina breakfast. We went big, not only ordering the fruit and the omelet, but tackling a giant plate of banana and Nutella waffles too.

We had to leave Mexico.

We were getting fat.

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We had time to take one last look around.

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We had arrived a week ago not really knowing what to expect. We had not found cookie-cutter luxury. It was not a Four Seasons.

Holbox’s edges were rough, but the simple beauty of it shone anyway. There was a gypsy sensibility, an undercurrent of rustic stylishness, and a touch of “beach chic” everywhere we looked. It’s an island of sleepy days and mellow sunsets.

Holbox was lazy. It was vibrant. It conjured images of colorful art, wild flamingoes, and endless palapas rustling in the breeze.

I could still taste the smoky mescal and tangy ceviche and feel the gritty sand between my toes.

We had found an unspoiled island that combined awe-inspiring encounters with nature, true Mexican hospitality and a laid-back European vibe. We found fishermen and wooden boats falling apart at the water’s edge, random dogs lying under our feet at even the nicest restaurants, and an uncomplicated simplicity that we found irresistible.

As I packed to leave, I realized I didn’t even know where my shoes were, and that made me happy.

We’re back home now and Holbox is a distant memory, fading more with each workday.

But somewhere, on a remote stretch of underdeveloped paradise on the Yucatan Peninsula, a swaying hammock waits for my return. 

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Posted by vicki_h 18:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (3)

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