1.) Find a local spot (breweries) 2.) Chat and make friends with locals 3.) Take their information and suggestions 4.) Apply that 5.) Enjoy yourself thoroughly 6.) Repeat!
We last left off with our hero waking in the unseen surroundings of an Idahoan back road.
Below is a picture of that road. Beautiful, treacherous, and foreign to myself and perhaps others like you.
The frosty landscape through Idaho that morning was crispylicious. Another foreign appearing surrounding that I can not recall, rarely, if ever, being a part of. Slight rolling plains glistening white with vision unobscured by rocky mountains was an inviting change of pace. The roads were skinny and the speed limits surprisingly high. I enjoyed the sexy feeling of gradual dips and long curves among heightened speeds. Narrowing my attention for patches of ice and potholes as future road spans were revealed to me was a new cup of coffee for sure. As I passed though Caribou-Targhee National Forest patches of sun punched through an overcasted morning, illuminating icy swirls like celestial winternados. As soon as entering Montana I encountered my first real adverse road conditions of the trip. Paired with gusts carrying ice instead of dust and pushing snow spikes laterally halfway across the roadways; the landscape was only more accented with strange beauty. The lack of other travelers on the roads and addition of antelope in the whitescapes surrounding me, further added to the transcending feeling sometimes only isolation can provide.
Pushing into Butte, MT I had decided I needed a break (beer/pizza). A strange day in a detached town for me. T’was sunny and the streets were filled with slush and teenagers (oddly). The “Old” section of town was reminiscent of the days of mining booms and was rich of buildings oozing with character composed of crumbling bricks. I found the only food serving brewery that was open in the middle of the day and stopped in for my refreshments. I had the place to myself sans the staff. The brew was tasty and the pizza delish however, the view was what was most appealing. I wrapped up my pizzacasion and got back on the road, za box in tow. Roadside views were lackluster until I entered Flathead National Forest. Flathead Lake lies to the east of the forest and is actually the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. I didn’t really get to explore it but, I did get a nice view of it the next day from atop a local Big Mountain. The drive continued with more low capped peaks and hills off to one side. More beauty but, nothing really compelling enough to expand upon.
I had previously decided that I could check out a section of West Glacier National Park that had some areas open for the winter season. I hope this lends one to believe that I actually do a bit of research and planning before I head out on long expeditions such as this. I’ve flown by the seat of my pants way more loosely in the past and I’ve learned a lot from those experiences. Sure, there’s a large margin in my “plans” that allows for impromptu experiences, that’s more than what I’m about but, one can make life just that much easier (and safer) with a little loose planning. Anyway, I had read that there was a plowed picnic area at Apgar with which they allowed “camping” as well as a section of road alongside Lake McDonald that was cleared. I had Apgar in mind for my sleepspot for the evening. Before this though, I stopped at Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls MT where I enjoyed a savory brewha, a tasty snack, and some nice conversation. within my conversations at the bar I met a girl who was currently quitting her job and accepting a new one where she would sell Alaskan adventure tours with a company based out of Skagway, AK. The world never ceases to amaze me with its coincidences and size. We chatted for while over another beer and I shared my experiences with seasonal work, travel, and Alaska. She seemed to glow with excitement for her future by the end of it. We also talked about the area and she told me of the town of Whitefish just west of there. I didn’t look into Whitefish previously and I didn’t plan on stopping through there on my journey but, the name of the town stood out in the back of my mind. She described it as being built up around a ski resort on Big Mountain (AKA Whitefish Mt.) and old railroad operations. She said it had a varied and entertaining downtown area with “neat” old buildings and random house poker games happening in the back of bars. I decided that I might need to check this place out this evening. But first, I wanted to check out where I might be sleeping later. This is always a good idea to at least investigate your bedding-down situation before one heads into town to perhaps have an evening of unbeknownst proportions. At Apgar I found the scene to be a little detached and eerie. An absent attended entry gate to the park led way to the Apgar “village” which at this time was a snowed-up ghost town. There was not another human to be seen and my presence seemed a trespass of sorts as I wandered intimidating roadways. The roads although plowed, were chunked up with ice and snow as well as occasional slush puddles with unknown proximities. I found the winter-converted picnic-camping area which also emitted the same landscape of emptiness and frozen purgatory. To this I decided, “yep, a lovely place to sleep indeed”. On my way out of Apgar to head towards Whitefish I played out in my head my return to camp with the slush puddles being converted into sheets of cracking ice and increasing hazards throughout the area. I guess it wasn’t enough to kick me off that horse though.
The evening seemed to be providing me with easy excuses to use up one of my built-in “play days”
I found downtown Whitefish just as darkness really started to settle. There wasn’t really a sunset being as it had been very overcasted most of the day. I did a couple of loops round through the streets to scope out the situation and then found a parking spot. I headed towards the establishment previously recommended by my Backslope Brewery Buddy. I almost always check out locally recommended joints and am seldomly disappointed. This is an important step in my process of optimising my experience while traveling. (Find the a local spot (breweries), chat and make friends with locals, take their information and suggestions, apply that, enjoy yourself thoroughly, repeat!) Bulldog Saloon was that establishment. An old style sports bar with vintage memorabilia, rustic decor, and local media with handwritten notes plastered across it’s walls. The men’s bathroom was classy and covered in nudie photos for encouragement. A small grill and fryer combo located towards the front corner filled the long room with mouth-watering smells of burgers and fries. The room was full and bustling with conversation and laughter. Despite the fullness, I had no problem quickly grabbing a beer from the bar. I headed towards the back of the bar and found the poker table. I was quickly welcomed by the dealer and the owner of the game who set me up with a seat and started to introduce me to some of the local players. He took my cash and set me up with the house chips. I had never been a part of a poker game like this outside of family play around the holidays. The mood was very light and jovial aided by low stakes. The rules were house set and laid out on the wall. A few people cycled though the game throughout the next couple hours including an interesting and intoxicated French-Canadian who eventually got kicked out of the game. I met a couple of local skiers who told me about Big Mountain, the local ski resort right on the edge of town. I was completely oblivious to the fact of there being a ski area there before this day and the talk of decent mountain started to get me excited. I had brought along my skis and gear up from Colorado and had expectations of hitting a few slopes if they presented themselves to me. The evening seemed to be providing me with easy excuses to use up one of my built-in “play days” of the trip. I left the table with hopes of morrow sunshine and pristine conditions.
I sat cross-legged for about a beers worth of time and the bitter cold began to sink into the marrow of my bones
I soon headed back out to Apgar with slipping thoughts of it’s condition. These were mostly superceded by elated feelings from the evenings interactions though. I found the entry and picnic area to be almost exactly how I expected it with worsened road conditions. However, for some reason I drove with more confidence and had an easier time at it than before. I did have hopes of perhaps other people finding their way into the area for the evening but alas, they were not fulfilled. This of course added to the frozen eeriness of my situation. It was slightly frightening but, mostly just surreal and exciting. I prepped my bed and decided I wanted another beverage and to explore a little. Upon doing so I found that there was a frozen lake just beyond the site I had parked my car. I vaguely knew that it was there based off previous research but, had all but forgotten it and so therefore, t’was a surprise. I decided to venture out upon it. It was pitch black out. The lack of noise and light pollution was a deep solace rarely achieved. I walked out about 50ft. taking less cares than I really should have. I guessed I was buzzed enough on life and bev to not care for a lot of things in those moments. I sat cross-legged for about a beers worth of time and the bitter cold began to sink into the marrow of my bones. I lied out, hood up, and peered into starless abyss for a short length of time, but enough time. Enough time to have thoughts of emptiness, thoughts of solus. Enough time to see through the clouds and into an oblivion. How lucky I was in those moments. Lucky to be alive and feel as I did. The ice could’ve cracked and gave without warning. I could’ve sank like a stone into a freezing unknown depth. And I could’ve left this existence completely happy and content.
However, this was not the case and the universe pushes me on.
I sleep like a log besides temps in the teens and wake surprised to unbelievable sights and wonderful day ahead. Join me in Part IV as I take in my morning views over frozen Lake McDonald, fueling me into an incredible play day on Big Mountain. I make a new friend, am gifted with unusually clear and beautiful weather, and experience winter terrain the likes of which are unworldly and perfect.