Shredding: East Coast Ice, Pow on the Tetons, and LOTS of Cheese

Traveling from Bozeman to Hartford is always an ordeal. I’ve become accustomed to losing a day to travel each way- but it’s a small price to pay to get home for the holidays. Thomas has family in Connecticut as well, so we travel together, which takes a lot of suck out of a normally stressful experience. This year, we decided to complicate things by packing our ski gear up and taking it with us for our epic ski-cation on top of our holiday travel.

  • Part 1 involved a 2 day foray into the Green Mountains of Vermont… Well, the very southernmost parts, anyway. We rented an Air B&B, bought lift passes, and sussed out a schedule for 2 days of shredding with Siblings and Significant Others at Mount Snow.
  • Part 2 involved flying into Idaho falls, crashing at our good friends parents (Thanks Greg and Mary!) home in Driggs, and skiing down the last hours of 2018 at Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming.

What this meant was a lot of meticulous research and coordination to get the most gear packed for the least amount of money possible. By the way- we didn’t spend ANY extra money- Thanks, United Credit Card! We measured, crammed, stuffed, begged, squeezed, and finally zipped our bag shut. We managed to fit all of our skiing accessories, 2 pairs of powder skis and poles, helmets, and boot warmers. The bag weighed in at a cool 48.5 lbs.

We made it to Hartford with little excitement as far as travel goes- The 11 dollar Goose Island IPAs at the Chicago Airport were spendy but delicious and necessary. As we stepped off the plane and into the familiar terminal at BDL, I relaxed- I was glad to be home. The next few days were a happy blur- Holiday festivities, amazing food, baking, family, and friends took precedence over everything else. I’m happy to say that once we left the airport, I didn’t check work email for the entire trip- usually easier said than done.

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A nice family photo

I’d like to talk about food at home for a minute. Living with a chef, I get treated pretty well. Thomas and I aren’t afraid to get wild in the kitchen with adventurous ingredients, new recipes, and fun flavor combinations. Going home for the holidays, however, is on a whole different level of luxury.  I am spoiled with amazing food the minute I get home. This trip was no different; I settled into a hot plate of classic French meat pie only minutes after walking through the door.

The treats didn’t stop- We had an abundance of Mince Pies courtesy of my recently repatriated sister, snowball cookies, and sugar and gingerbread cutouts.  Christmas eve was a smorgasbord of seafood complete with some fresh haddock, clams casino, crab cakes, tuna steaks, and scallops wrapped in bacon. Christmas day was accompanied by  a traditional breakfast of morning glory muffins and chocolate, followed by biscuits, bacon and eggs.  Our holiday party spread had creamy potatoes au gratin, Lasagna, rice pilaf, green beans almondine, and a holiday Ham, and I can’t forget the cheese platters that were omnipresent.

I spent most of my time visiting friends and seeing family, which is exactly how trips home are meant to be. However, by the time Christmas was over, I was pretty tired from all the visiting- just in time to ship up to Vermont and relax a little on the slopes of Mount Snow. Despite it’s namesake, the warm weather has not done this southern vermont resort any favors. We skied on boilerplate all weekend. That’s not to say we didn’t have a blast- we just had to alter our technique a little bit. As I navigated the treacherous and unfamiliar trails, I found myself asking- “Can I turn here?” And the answer would come: a loud scraping sound emanating from the bottom of my skis and an unchanged trajectory suggesting a resounding “NO”.

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The gang’s all here!

What Mount Snow lacked in it’s namesake, it more than made up for in local brews in stock. We cracked some cold ones at the lunch hour- I chose the Stout Trout Milk Stout, while Thomas had a Sip of Sunshine. As the day wore on, we broke into our own stash on the Bluebird bubble lift, possibly to the chagrin of a lady with a penchant for dirty looks. To her I say- Who doesn’t enjoy the crisp aroma of a Coors Light on a cold winter day, even if you aren’t in the Rockies? And when 3:00pm rolled around, our group reconvened at the Bull Wheel, the summit bar where beers are served up with a side of classic New England attitude.

That night, after a collective hour long nap, the savory scent of garlic filled the house as we prepared dinner- spaghetti and meatballs, courtesy of Dad. Beers were flowing, Alexa was playing all sorts of music from Grunge to Ariana Grande. We were determined to get rowdy, but despite our best efforts, a few spirited rounds of slap-cup and beer ball (and a manly exposition of shotgunning skills) were all it took to knock us all out. Doris had called it on the car ride up- we were all in bed before 10 pm.

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Riding up one of very few double chairs at Mt. Snow
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Thomas and Lucas tearing up the slopes!
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Hearty Pancake Breakfast before Day two!

A second day of skiing was filled with better weather- and much larger crowds. And the quad to the top of the mountain broke down (a regular occurance according to some frequent flyers) which meant >30 minute wait times for the Bluebird express. Sigh. We played the system by going in singles lines, and cut our time down to about 15 minutes. Still, the skiing was just okay, and the long lift lines encouraged us to get the heck out of there by 3:00PM. We caravaned down to Berkshire Brewing Company and enjoyed a flight each of tasty beers, rehashing our epic turns and, for Thomas and I at least, getting ready for our next set.

A few days later, Thomas and I packed our stuff and headed to the airport once again. Goodbyes are always hard, but it was also hard to not be excited for what the next few days held- skiing and ringing in the new year with good friends we hadn’t seen in a long while. Two flights, 4 free beers, and one mad dash through DIA later, we were out on the tarmac, deplaning at Idaho Falls. It felt glamorous; I always enjoy the tiny flights.

 

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Boarding our flight on the Tarmac at DIA

Our friends gave us the warmest, loudest, and most attention drawing greeting in Idaho. Barring the use of  fireworks and loudspeakers, I don’t think they could have done a better job. The warmth especially was appreciated, since the walk from the plane to the tiny regional airport was long, snowy, and cold. Good for skiing, bad for travel. A hearty dinner of Chili courtesy of Mary was much appreciated,  and we settled into an early night of movie watching, catching up, and prepping for our skiing adventure the following day. Greg informed us that we would be departing promptly at 8 AM.

At 7 AM, Greg informed us that there were 12″ of fresh pow on top of 10″ that had fallen the day before, and the weather looked clear.  He had already left for the hill. We rushed to eat and pack, and by the time we got to the resort the lots were filling up quickly. An hour later, we looked back at the windy mountain road from the chairlift and saw a long line of cars. While we were getting freshies, the people down below were undoubtedly cursing those 5 extra minutes of sleep.

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Gettin Freshies

What can I say about the skiing? It was PHENOMENAL. It was the best ski day I’ve ever had. We were carving fresh lines, rushing to the lift, and repeating. It was frigid, but we didn’t care. Everyone was giddy (except maybe the lifties- unfortunate for them, I know) had a giant grin plastered on their face- My cheeks were almost as sore as my quads the next day. The whole experience was just outrageously good, and I can only describe it as otherworldly. Every time I skied down an untouched powder stash, the only thing I could hear was my own breath (and whoops of jubilation, of course). The snow was so soft and fluffy that it was silent. No crunch, no whoosh, not the crackling of the East Coast ice we had experienced days before- just silence. Unreal.

We eventually had to stop for lunch to refuel, rehydrate, and defrost. Did I mention it was cold? A few more long laps from the top fried my legs, so it was time to see how Dan was doing on the bunny hill.  For his first day on downhill skis, he was crushing it! We took a break to crush some Deep Powder- the appropriately named Golden Ale from Grand Teton Brewing. After a few cold ones, we rode to the summit and took the Teton View Road down- a leisurely green run that meanders across the whole mountain, with beautiful views of the Grand Tetons.

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Flawless ski day at Targhee

We finished our day at the Trap Bar with a few hot drinks (Hello Peppermint schnapps and hot chocolate) and headed home with many snacks and grand plans for our NYE celebrations. We all almost fell asleep by 8:00 PM, and managed to stay awake only through sheer willpower and a hilarious game of Taboo. Happy New Years celebrations were at 12:01, and we were all in bed by 12:05. A happy year indeed!

 

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The (other) Gang’s All here!
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NYC Marathon Support team!

When I told people I was traveling to NYC for the New York Marathon, they assumed I was running it. No, I was absolutely not, was usually my response. My sister announced she won a bid in the NYC marathon, and I had to be there. I was support staff when she made her debut at the Wineglass marathon in upstate New York, so this was a bit like returning to where it all began. Besides, any excuse to see family is a welcome one!

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Amanda at the Expo

My trip was mildly stress inducing- I spent my “layover” careening wildly through the Chicago Airport after my incoming flight got stuck on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open. As I whipped past travelers with no more than a sideways glance and a grunt to announce my rapidly approaching presence, I thought- “How fitting”- a marathon weekend kicked off with running. I made my plane, by actual seconds, and proceeded to irritate all of my neighbors with my Half Mile Hack, a long dormant phenomenon I haven’t experienced since racing in college. I also spilled water on someones head while putting my bag in the overhead bin, and ate pizza in flight. Someone else is probably out there right now, blogging about The Plane Neighbor from Hell- oh well. At least I had the aisle seat! (What’s worse, that or taking my soaked boots off to dry out my feet on the return flight? I really am a horrible flyer.)

Once I arrived in the city, I met up with my sister and brother in law since I was planning on crashing their hotel room. I made myself comfortable on the floor with a combination of pillows and seat cushions, and was out like a light. The alarm at 5:30 AM (Ok, 5:35) went off way too soon. Amanda and I got dressed while Lucas stayed out of the way- the 12×12 foot room was too small for 3 people to be moving at the same time. We got on the elevator in pursuit of some hot coffee and pre race snacks- Or just snacks, in my case.

The Starbucks a block away from our hotel was scheduled to open at 6:00 AM. We arrived at 6:01 to a crowd of marathoners anxiously banging on the still locked door. Less than three minutes later, after plots to break in and hold hostages for hot coffee had already been made, the employee unlocked the door and we all got in line, systematically clearing out all available carbs in the display case. Pre race snacks? Check.

We hustled back to the hotel in time for Amanda to don her warmup outfit- since runners have to hang around for so long before their start time, it is recommended that they bring throwaway clothes to wear and toss before the start. All clothes that are discarded get donated, so it works. Fashionable and fabulous, she departed before 7:00 AM to catch her shuttle, leaving Lucas and I to make plans for the day. Since most streets were closed for the race, we opted to take the subway for our transportation. The amount of coordination it takes to shut down one of the busiest cities in the world AND herd 50,000 runners is insurmountable, and I was continually impressed throughout the race experience at how seamlessly everything functioned.

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Fashion is her Passion- those wind pants are about 10 sizes too big.

Lucas and I opted to hop on the subway and make our way into Brooklyn for a viewing spot around mile 12. We wandered the neighborhood looking for second breakfast and soaking in the pre-race hype. There were many runners taking advantage of the course, fulfilling some marathon fantasy or just enjoying the empty streets. Cyclists were also out in droves, all smiles as they flashed by. there are over 100 bands along the racecourse, and a few of them were already testing their sound system- we made an effort to find a location far away from the electric Keytar. We stopped in Cafe Biet to enjoy some leisurely coffee and bagels and watch as the first wave of racers (the hand bike division) came through.

Not long after, we found a spot on the street as the elite men and women cruised gracefully through the course at unreasonable speeds. What an incredible experience! The NYC marathon is known for being a challenging course, with almost constant ups and downs and a long, low grade hill leading up to the finish line. While it’s one of the “Marathon Majors”, it’s not a speedy course, and none of the runners broke any records. My parents joined us shortly after the elite women glided through, and quickly found another bakery across the street for sweet treats and warm coffee.

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Just a sample of the delicious baked goods right outside our marathon viewing spot!

The weather for the race was absolutely perfect- sunny, 55 degrees and a pleasant breeze, so standing on the sidewalk and catching up with mom and dad as the runners started to pick up passed the time quickly. We all got caught up in the contagious excitement of the runners, and since a lot of runners wear their name on their shirt, it was easy to cheer and give support as they made their way through Brooklyn, just shy of the halfway point. There were some creative outfits! Including

  • Blue Stripe Man wearing a speedo and a lot of body paint and not much else
  • Fish Taco- taco costume, fish head
  • A Joggler- jogging and juggling at the same time
  • Traditional Aztec garb
  • Banana costume
  • Clown
  • Several Tu Tus

The road was so full of runners we all but missed Amanda going by, despite the tracker app and mile marker time tables I prepared. My mom saw her as she passed us, but by the time we all looked, she was lost in a sea of athletes. Pro tip for anyone watching- blan a very specific location! We just said mile 12, and we missed our runner. She texted us and asked for specifics on our next spot, which we were able to give her, and told her to look for our fluorescent signs- that helped!

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There she goes! so photogenic! Around mile 20

We got on the subway and moved up to mile 18 on 1st avenue- about a 40 minute ride. There, we acquired some pizza and set up with the pink and yellow signs Mom had made. This time we all managed to spot Manda and give her hugs, high fives, and encouragement. She looked great! A quick half mile shuffle got us over to mile 21 on 5th avenue, where we saw her for the last time before her finish. The runners displayed a wide range of emotions- some determined to finish, some defeated, some as enthusiastic as they were on mile 12! Thankfully, Amanda was in that third category, and we cheered her on as she breezed by. We watched her little dot finish on the TCS marathon app as we waited for the train back to Manhattan.

If you’ve ever opened a can of sardines, you can envision and smell the experience we had next- cramming onto a train so full of people that I got more intimate with a complete stranger than I ever did with my high school boyfriend. 25 hellish and uncomfortable minutes later, we squeezed off the train which had somehow accommodated several stops of more people getting on, and breathed a sweet breath of fresh New York subway tunnel air- a reprieve from the car stank. Lucas had gone on to find Amanda after the finish, and my parents and I went in search of a much needed cold beer. We wandered a bit until we found the Perfect Pint- an Irish establishment with a beer menu full of lies! They advertised over 50 pints, but only had a handful. We ended up with Duvel, a nice strong Belgian style brew. The bar had all of its TVs tuned in to marathon coverage, so we watched interviews with the top finishers, drank our beers and reveled in the excitement of the day.

My parents and brother-in-law departed after dinner, leaving Amanda and I to have some sisterly bonding time. We drank a lot of beer, ate a lot of great food, and watched a lot of trashy television in bed- the perfect 72 hour sister reunion!

 

Columbus, Ohio

Written October 1st, 2018 (edited November 10th)

I’m taking a long weekend to visit my best friend in the whole world, Julia, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. It may seem strange to agree on such a non vacation destination, but we have a pact to alternate visiting each other at least once a year until we can figure out a way to live closer together. Last time it was my turn to travel she was living in Colorado, which was exciting and wild; much like Montana but on a larger scale.

This is my first time intentionally visiting Ohio. In the past I’ve driven through on cross country road trips and even spent a few days near Cleveland for a collegiate track meet, but I spent plenty of time complaining about the location. Now that I’m older and pretend to be wiser, I’m open to new experiences, and who knows? Maybe Columbus holds the Next Greatest Thing!

I’m currently sitting in the Ohio state university union, planning my afternoon. There is an abundance of school spirit, evidenced by the splashes of scarlet (NOT red, NOT crimson) in every possible direction. There are also a lot of renditions of what I thought were pot leaves, but actually belong to the tree of the state and university namesake- Buckeyes.  Shows what I know. Julia has class for 3 hours, so I have free rein of the area and no obligations. I think I’m going to wander until I find  a spot that suits my fancy.

Despite the widespread use of public electronic scooters, activated with the swipe of an app and a single dollar, I decide to move on foot. It’s slower, safer, and allows me to be more observant. I don’t really have a destination in mind, other than finding some food and possibly a drink or two.

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Mmm

First stop- White Castle! It seems out of place among the local shops and restaurants, but apparently it’s a big deal here, and I’ve never had it. What better time? I order a classic cheeseburger slider at the kiosk and before I even settle into bright orange plastic chair, my “meal” is in front of me. The piece of meat is thinner than some slices of deli turkey. The sautéed onions are heavy on the left side, nonexistent on the right, though the pickles are evenly distributed, and the cheese covers the meat nicely. The bun is shiny and round, and really throws off the meat to bread ratio. Oh well. It tastes surprisingly good for a fast food burger, and I am not bothered by the lack of ketchup. I am, however,  still hungry.  On to the next stop!

 

Mission coffee roasters is a hip coffee spot about 75 feet off of High street. It’s hip and industrial with exposed brick and metal pipe accents everywhere. I order an iced dirty chai latte which costs me $5.50 and comes out of a box. Sigh. Either way it tastes good, and the wifi is free, so I can’t complain too much. The iced beverage is a nice reprieve from the humid warm Ohio air- it’s 80 degrees outside on October 1st. I am sharing a table with 3 people- 2 appear to be students wearing telltale scarlet. The whole place is buzzing with the hum of caffeinated conversation and clacking of keyboards- for 4 pm on a Monday it’s busy. My coffee is gone, time to move on. Can I make happy hour somewhere?

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My next stop is a brightly colored bar with an outdoor patio and plenty of empty seats. The sign on the sidewalk lists a tempting half off all beers happy hour, and I’m sold. A well intending yet hilariously misinformed bartender recommends 3 “local” beers (from Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont) and even provides samples of each. I settle on the Oregon pint and snag a seat right on the sidewalk- even though it’s warm I can’t resist the prime people watching location.

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I have time to study the details of the Fireproof Building next door and the vibrant street art all around as well as the passers-by- A fa

ther and son carrying 2 pizzas, several runners who are either judgemental or jealous (possibly both) of my situation versus theirs, a woman having a rather loud phone conversation about groceries. As much as I want to stay and have another, I get a message from Julia- class is out. Having nursed my now warm beer too long, I leave it and hustle back to campus- stopping only for a second in a quirky jewelry store before moving on.

 

 

My afternoon in Columbus was a pleasant surprise- great food and drinks, and a lively college town atmosphere. As much as I’d like to say I’m cooler than Columbus, I have to admit it’s a place I would return to with little complaint.

 

Glacier day 2- 15 miles of excitement, and how sweet bread saved our lives

 

After a long and exciting day traveling to Glacier National Park, Doris and I both passed out as soon as we zipped up our sleeping bags, and didn’t move until the dawn chorus of chirping birds and yelling children stirred us from our sleep. Waking up without an alarm is such a luxury! We rolled out of our cozy burritos, quickly got dressed, made our lunches, stashed our cooler in the bear box, and hopped in the adventure corolla. Our next agenda item was securing a parking spot at Logan Pass- an endeavor that can end poorly if you don’t plan it right. The pass has limited spots, and once they go, they’re gone. You can spend hours circling around waiting for someone to leave, or if you’re especially unlucky you can arrive when the rangers stop letting cars into the lot. We wanted to avoid a confrontation. The early 16 mile drive from our campsite was quietly beautiful- day trippers were not yet awake, and the curvaceous cliffside-hugging road was more or less empty. A few adventurous cyclists were pedaling up the pass in the cool morning shade. As we ascended out of the forest, the views got increasingly more stunning- The massive U shaped glacial valleys were covered in thick green vegetation that eventually gave way to dark rock and white snow. Glacial lakes shimmered their signature blue. We drove along the garden wall, 100 feet or so below the Highline trail, where we would soon be hiking.

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The dotted line shows the Highline trail- see the Grinnell Glacier overlook a little over halfway through

Our arrival and subsequent parking at the pass was uneventful; our early morning paid off and we had the luxury of choosing a spot right on the edge of the lot for the best views. An hour later when we departed for the trail head, the lot was full. Now that we had a spot secured, we pulled out folding chairs, a coleman stove, and coffee- it was time for breakfast. We had oatmeal, bagels with peanut butter, Aeropress coffee, and a magnificent view.  A herd of bighorn sheep graced us with their gawky presence; their massive horns casting long shadows across the snow as they meandered through the meadow past a pair of backcountry skiers setting off. The women in the car next to us offered us some sesame sweet bread from their local bakery- I’m not sure of the origin, but we graciously accepted and packed it away to enjoy during the hike. Thank you, random strangers!

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Breakfast with a view!

After fending off several fellow tourists envious of our breakfast based ingenuity, we filled our packs with snacks, water, and layers, and headed toward the unassuming Highline trailhead to begin our 13 mile trek. The first mile is exciting; the trail is often no wider than 6 feet with a sheer cliff on one side and a rock wall on the other. I can’t imagine running into a vociferous mountain goat up there. The trail follows the cliffside high above the valley for several miles, and we appreciated both the incredible views and the cool air. Perhaps we would have moved a little faster had we known the temperatures would climb into the 90s that afternoon. The first ascent over haystack pass below Haystack Butte traversed a large snowfield and we came upon the remains of an avalanche- identified by the sight of many trees knocked over in a uniform direction. Oftentimes the Highline Trail is closed up until Independence day because of avalanche debris covering the path.

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Doris standing on the cliff- I would say our Mom wouldn’t approve but she hiked this portion of the trail last week! Hardcore!
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Views from this point in the trail
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One of many massive snowfields

We soon discovered what would prove to be the biggest challenge of the day- going to the bathroom. As I noted before, the trail is carved into the side of the cliff. There is nowhere to go, no privacy. The only way to avoid giving fellow hikers a show was to hustle past the closest hikers in front of us at what we hoped was a discrete pace, unhook our packs and unbutton our pants on the go, and scope out a spot that would provide the most cover. On the count of three we would drop trou, each looking over the others shoulder for oncoming traffic, and pee as fast as we could. We never got caught, but we did have a serious case of the giggles each time. Later, Doris stumbled upon another group doing the same hustle and bustle that we so gracefully pulled off. We exchanged knowing looks and congenial shrugs- that’s hiking for you!

About 7 miles in, we reached the Grinnell Glacier overlook- a steep 0.9 mile climb that rises over 900 feet to the top of the garden wall. Since you only live once and “we were there” we decided (read: I dragged Doris) to hike up. It’s only a 2 mile detour, though the misleading sign suggests it’s 0.6 and does not indicate elevation. Our pace slowed quickly on the serious incline (about 100 ft of elevation per .1 mile), and it took the better part of an hour plus some serious motivational speaking on my part, to get to the overlook. It was absolutely beautiful up there, and we sat and enjoyed the cool wind as we ate our pungent buffalo chicken sandwiches, contemplated glaciers, and watched Marmots trundle carelessly across steep snowfields.

A word on marmots- sneaky little buggers- they are roughly beaver sized rodents with large claws and high pitched screams. They are not afraid of humans, and will jump out at you. Doris can personally attest to this nerve wracking experience.

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Trundling Hoary Marmot in the center.

After descending from the overlook, we still had about 6 miles to go, but our legs were getting tired and our feet a bit achey. A brief stop at the pit toilets at the Granite Park Chalet gave us a much needed break, then it was, quite literally, all downhill from there. At first we descended through meadows dotted with pine trees which provided cool shade, but soon we were in a burn zone, exposed to the hot afternoon sun. The quaking aspen and wide array of wildflowers provided some distraction, but mostly we were hot, tired, and ready to lay down. We saw very few people after the Chalet compared to the dozens we encountered on the first half of the hike.

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Hello Doris
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Glacier Lilies Everywhere!

What seemed like hours and thousands of steps later, we finally heard the rushing of cars- a welcome sound after any long hike. We exited the woods at The Loop- a shuttle stop that would bring us back up the 13 traversed miles and drop us off at Logan Pass. Perhaps the most agonizing part of the day was the wait for the shuttle- Thanks to an accident that closed down the Going to the Sun Road, we waited an additional 45 minutes in the blazing sun.  A woman with a big mouth and a short temper kept reminding us just how hot it was and exactly how long we had been waiting for that shuttle. Some people. Remember that sweet bread? I had forgotten mine up until that point, and Doris and I shared my thick slice with the last of our water- A very welcome treat. Despite the heat and the sticky sunscreen dripping into our eyes and the disgruntled fellow hikers- we were in good spirits. The shuttle did come eventually, and even though people were still bitching about something or other, We chatted excitedly about our adventure. It’s astounding to me the things people find to complain about.

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How could you possibly be mad about this?

We returned to our car, tenderfooted and very sweaty. Immediately, we had people swarming us, asking if we were leaving. We told them as nicely as possible that it would be a while- we needed to hydrate, take our shoes off, change out of our sweaty clothes, and make a plan. The crowds were aggressive, even at 4:30 in the afternoon- amazing! We decided our best course of action was to drive to St. Mary for ice cream and firewood. The air conditioned car was luxurious, and the views on the other side of the park didn’t disappoint either. We ended up stopping at Johnsons of St. Marys and eschewing ice cream for bacon cheeseburgers- served with soup instead of french fries and an ungodly amount of coleslaw on a comically small plate.

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The Aftermath

Firewood obtained and stomachs satiated for the moment, we headed back into the park. Our pathetic bathroom paper towel wipedowns did little against the amount of post hike salt and stank buildup we were both experiencing, so objective number one was finding a path down to the water on the 9 mile long St. Mary Lake. We came across a particularly beautiful pull out, where the path to the lake was lined with what looked and smelled like beach plums, trembling aspens, and bear grass. Bathing suits and bearspray in hand, we scrabbled down to the water, ready this time for the shocking frigidity of the glacial runoff water.We both managed to dunk twice (I had to- the first dunk was so fast my ponytail didn’t even get wet!) and scrub off much of the grime accumulated throughout the day.

Refreshed and relaxed, we hopped back in the trusty adventure corolla- Doris took the wheel and gave me a chance to sit back and soak in the views. Not a quarter mile later, the vehicle in front of us stopped abruptly and a lady popped out of the sunroof, armed with a comically large camera. We followed her gaze and were rewarded with a rare sight- a young grizzly cub on the side of the road! Doris snapped a few quick pictures, watched the young cub toddle around for a few minutes, and we continued on our way.

I always find that I see the most active wildlife in the evening- the crowds have diminished, and the animals are around. We ran into a herd of mountain goats at Lunch Creek shortly after our bear encounter. They were scruffy as could be, in the process of shedding their winter coats in favor of shorter, more breathable fuzz. I had been hoping to see a goat before leaving the park, and this was more than I could have ever asked for! They provided the perfect ending to a bucolic and adventurous day.

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Scruffy and content

Doris did an excellent job of navigating the treacherous road back down the pass, and by the time we got to our tent, the sun was set and we were ready for a nice campfire. Thankfully our second batch of wood was much more flammable than the first, and caught in minutes. The flames spat sparks that danced up into the night sky, and we both sat mesmerized and quiet, contemplating either the vast and beautiful world we live in or the scrumptious Texas Toast cheeseburgers we ate- awe inspiring in different ways.

Once again we both slept heavily, waking only to the sound of vehicles cruising the campground loops in search of sites opening up. Unabashed inquiries made prior to coffee were shot down with an evil glare and an adamant response. Eventually we could no longer hide the fact that we were packing up, and when a kind woman took the time to stop in and ask us nicely if she could put our site number on her ticket submission, we said fine. The experience was eye opening; first come first serve is not for the faint of heart, especially on a weekend.

So there you have it, Laurie and Doris survive (thrive) in Glacier National Park. I feel so lucky to live in close proximity to such an astoundingly beautiful landscape. The park will eventually lose the glaciers we see today, but will always have the giant valleys carved hundreds of years ago by ancient, giant sheets of ice. Seeing the current glaciers so small serves as an important reminder to take care of our land, because the existence of such beauty is always finite. Of course, Yellowstone could blow up tomorrow, and ruin everything. perspective is important too.

 

 

 

A Wild Doris Appears- Glacier Expedition part One

Living across the country can be especially hard when it comes to seeing family. I plan on seeing everyone once a year, so when an additional visit gets scheduled, everyone is pleasantly surprised. Doris scheduled a summer trip out to Montana way back in January, and for 7 months we impatiently counted down the days until she would step out of her economy middle seat on our favorite airline (this is sarcasm, United) and onto Montana Soil. She traveled light; key items included hiking boots, bathing suits, and the all important Chaco.

We celebrated each other with a few glasses of wine at my favorite Happy Hour in town- Cafe Fresco. Thomas treated us to a delicious homemade quinoa salad- packed with veggies and protein for our upcoming arduous journey.

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When you find good light at Cafe Fresco, you can’t NOT take a sister selfie

We departed from Bozeman at 4:12AM on Independence day- a fitting day for travel to the crown jewel of the continent. After some crispy homemade breakfast sandwiches enjoyed while basking in the glow of a Montana sunrise over Butte’s very own Berkeley Pit, we sipped on much needed coffee and continued on our way. Interstate 90 carried us quickly to Missoula, at which point we realized we forgot to pack pillows and marshmallows- business essentials for camping. After a quick detour through the weird side of missoula in search of these must have items, we were back on track, barreling up highway 93 to Kalispell. A few hours later we turned on to meandering highway 35 that would carry us around the Flathead Lake and into Glacier. I should point out to all of my non Montana friends that these highways are just regular 2 lane roads but the speed limit is 70mph- keeps things interesting. One of my favorite games is Pass the Double Haul Tractor Trailer on the 2 lane highway- My mom hates that game.

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The trusty Adventure Corolla, Jackie

Accompanied by Doris’ eclectic spotify playlist, we arrived at the West Glacier entrance and found ourselves in a long line of traffic. In case you don’t know, Glaciers campgrounds are almost all first come first serve, which is what prompted the early departure in the first place- we wanted to be certain that we would secure a camping spot. Historically, the whole park has filled up as early as 10:00AM. We were only panicking mildly, checking the campground status page every 5 minutes. As we crawled towards the Apgar entrance, I was certain we would be sleeping illegally and uncomfortably in the back of the Corolla. Thankfully, the queue started moving faster because the park rangers said (probably) “Screw it!” and started waving people through the gates without making them pay, we were on a much better pace to find a spot. We later found out that on the rare occasion that traffic backs up to the highway, the have to get the line moving to avoid traffic accidents. Score for us, if we hadn’t already had the inter-agency pass.

Without a park map (the one they usually hand you after you’ve paid) I was navigating with only vague NPS signage and 2 year old memories of the park. It’s pretty hard to get lost- there is only a single road. However, tension grew as the miles ticked by and we still hadn’t seen the Avalanche Campground. I was sure we had missed it. I was also sure that I had drank far too much coffee, which wasn’t helping. 5 minutes and a few deep breaths later, there was Avalanche. There were spots left. Phew! We secured spot number 48A, a lovely partial sun spot with close access to the restrooms and not too noisy neighbors.

Avalanche campground is in a Cedar and Hemlock grove. The tall trees block out sunlight for much of the day and give the air a rich, piney scent. This is great if it’s hot, but sub optimal if its rainy- drying out wet stuff could be difficult here. Fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about bad weather- we had perfect summer days for our whole visit. We set up our tent (REI dome tent for 2- it’s the best!), took a nap, and planned to take a quick hike to stretch our legs.

On a side note, I have to give a shout out to my newest car camping obsession- a Big Agnes Sleeping Giant memory foam sleeping pad for my sleeping pad. Yes, really. It’s amazing! I slept like a baby, and I NEVER sleep well when camping. It takes my “meh” trail rated light weight pad and upgrades it to camping comfort level 1000. Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough. I want to sleep on it even though I have a bed at home. Way to go, Big Agnes- really hit it out of the park on this one!

We packed some snacks and water and set out to find the Avalanche Lake Trail head, located right in the campground. This was a major perk of camping here, since finding parking looked like a nightmare. We found out why as soon as we got on the trail- it was like walking in a long parade of tourists the entire three miles to the lake. I’m talking hundreds of people. Its not a short hike- at six miles round trip it requires some effort, especially for those coming from low altitude.

Most people compensated for this by going at a glacial (heh) pace. We tried in vain to get around each group of human shaped snails only to be thwarted by the next- at some point I think we just gave up and slogged along with the crowd. Despite the death-march pace, we still made pretty good time, and the payoff at the lake is completely worth it. Glacial lake, rivulets of water streaming down mountainsides, the signature blue water dramatic against the green and then grey slopes- does it get any better?

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Avalanche Lake- View from the first beach

In an attempt to get away from the crowd, Doris and I walked a little farther around the lake and found a piece of shore that was unoccupied. We quickly changed into our bathing suits, realizing only after we headed back that we probably gave the whole beach a nice show. Taking turns so we could document our first glacial dip, we gasped our way into and out of the water in record time- the lakes are all so frigid that they literally take your breath away. The smooth, slimy rocks that line the shore made for added entertainment upon attempted fast exit. See below.

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Feeling refreshed and slightly less sweaty than before, we wandered back along the trail, passing hordes of eager hikers whose levels of preparedness ranged from 40 liter hiking pack with bear spray (Ok, that was us) to flip flops and no water bottle. As an experienced hiker I always cringe when I see the latter, because their foolhardiness could cost everyone on the trail if something were to go wrong. Unfortunately, this is a byproduct of having uneducated people with direct access to the backcountry, especially bear country. All I can do is preach preparedness and do my best to be ready for anything on the trail.

After our hike, we drove down to  Lake Macdonald to see if we could find a park map- No luck. We did, however, find some Dust Cutter Huckleberry Lemonade and a nice seat on the shore, where we watched the evening lake tour boat load and launch in preparation for sunset. The breeze was strong, so we didn’t get any of the iconic reflection photos, but had some time to reflect on our journey so far while skipping rocks across the choppy surface.

 

Because no camping trip is complete without someones ability to build a fire questioned, I let Doris duel with our stubborn firewood supply. The damp wood combined with a lack of dry tinder encouraged creative thinking when it came to structure building, and the eventual liberal use of lighter fluid (we were responsible, don’t worry). Success is credited to our teamwork and superior outdoor skills. The fluid probably feels a little miffed. A belated fireside dinner of hot dogs with pilfered grocery store mustard packets and Oreo s’mores accompanied by a few sips of Montana made Neversweat Whiskey and Summer Honey beers felt well deserved.

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A picture is worth a thousand words

Painful as it was, we let the stubborn fire die out as the stars poked through the dense foliage. We couldn’t keep our eyes open, and retired to the comfort of our tent, exchanging few words before we both drifted off to sleep. We had a big day to rest up for.

F is for Flan and Florida

Given the limited number of confections beginning with F, I went with one I have been lusting after for several months in culture-weak Bozeman- Flan. Flan is traditionally made with a caramelized sugar poured into ramekins, and a yolky vanilla custard poured over the top, baked, and chilled, then flipped out of the ramekins to achieve the dark amber sugar topping. The resulting flavor is clean and sweet. Historically, the custard dessert is often associated with Mexican or Spanish culture, but actually dates back to the roman empire, and has swept across several nations since. Its simplicity survives even among today’s advanced techniques.

Custard is made with varying ratios of dairy, eggs, and sugar- conceptually basic and ingredients are easy to obtain. however, the resulting product is creamy and delicious, and acts as a canvas of sorts for flavors, textures, and presentations. Technically, flan is straightforward, and while melting sugar over high heat still freaks me out a little, I actually did it right the first time. The resulting flavor and color was supreme, and had me wishing I had made a little extra. The Wow factor of this dessert is pretty high without being overly time consuming or exhausting.

While I’m posting for the letter F, I might as well recap our Florida trip highlights- After all, it was a wonderful vacation with all the right amounts of sight seeing, sipping drinks, activities, and lounging. Even though its over I can still reminisce on one of my favorite parts- the gloriously lazy day spent sipping Yuengling on the beach while determining if there was a correlation between men’s age and swim trunk length.

Our totally biased study determined that men 20-29 years favored shortie shorts (significantly above the knee), men 30-59 years were largely in board shorts (knee length or slightly longer) and the only men we saw in budgie smugglers (british term for speedos, thanks, Amanda Afield for that visual) were well over 70. For better or for worse.

Being away from Bozeman gave us a whole new variety in our food scene, and we took serious advantage. We ate all sorts of cuisine- traditional Cuban sandwiches accompanied by sangria, shrimp and catfish po’boys, chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick, Fresh caught yellowfin tuna pan seared and served up by Thomas, accompanied by wild caught scallops. Perhaps my favorite was the traditional Filipino dinner we had at an unassuming little beachfront restaurant on a rainy Wednesday evening, which included caught-that-day flounder deep fried and accompanied by mung bean soup, dumplings, pancit, and deep fried plantains.

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Po’Boys at Harrys
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Filipino Dinner

Our active Bozeman lifestyle got left behind in favor of lazier activities, partially because we were relaxing, but also because humidity is real and it is dangerous. On a fatefully motivating day, we got around to running at noon. It was 90 degrees at 100% humidity. I know better, but I thought we would be fine. I was wrong. We managed 3 sad miles and a dramatic collapsing finish on our condo deck, resulting in gatorade comercial amounts of sweat and a recovery period which included sitting in air conditioning and drinking pina coladas.  I know why water sports are king now. Speaking of which, we spent plenty of time flapping around in the water and attempting to surf the waves of Sub Tropical Storm Alberto. Key word- attempting, but I would be lying if I said we didn’t have a blast every time we stepped into the Atlantic. We spent plenty of time with our toes in the sand, playing beach bocce ball or just strolling lazily towards the pier and enjoying each others company.

Beach Cruiser style bikes are quite popular in St. Augustine, given the entirely flat Floridian landscape. Wanting some physical activity that was less gross than running, we rented some rusty old rigs and biked down to the Anastasia state park. The campground down there is quite nice, with ample facilities and over 100 camp spots, though most of them were occupied by RVs. As tent campers, we first scoffed at the tin boxers, but then again the exhausting heat and abundance of mosquitoes aren’t exactly conducive to spending the night in the great outdoors. We pedaled our then-sweaty butts down to Anastasia water sports, and despite small watercraft advisories, managed to rent a double kayak to paddle around the inlet for an hour. With Thomas propelling us from the rear and me steering at the helm, we paddled in a lot of circles before working out some semblance of a working system. The wind brought on plenty of water to keep us cool, and the waterfowl was impeccable. As we made our way across the water, I noted sightings of 2 Roseate spoonbills, one great heron, one grey heron, several Ergrets, a few pelicans and a wood stork. Though we were sure we would shipwreck and have to survive off the land, we did manage to return to the beach unscathed, and finished out the day at Old Coast Ales, a new brewery with an enthusiastic list of beers to soothe our tired muscles and sunburnt noses.

Historic St. Augustine was also a destination for us, with its gorgeous 16th century spanish architecture and tiny old streets lined with eateries and tchotchke shops. We had some local beers, enjoyed affogado for the first time, and even found a cinnamon bun worthy of competing with my own. We learned to play Cricket darts at our new favorite craft brewery, Dog Rose, and even made conversation with some locals at the Oyster.  St. Augustine has been a vacation destination for my family for a long time, and it was great to get to introduce Thomas to all of the wonderful things the area has to offer.

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Arrrgh Matey
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Outside the Taco place!
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Ancient City Brewing (Actually our least favorite, but the only one I took a photo of

Signing off until next time! What to make for G?

 

 

 

 

Moving on up in the world, and other big life changes

Last post, I alluded to being pretty busy over the past month- I wasn’t lying! Even now, looking at the date and realizing that it’s practically June is pretty wild, but then it’s been a wild year. Here are the major changes that have culminated in the last few weeks:

1. Thomas and I are officially living together in my apartment

2. I got a much anticipated promotion / career shifting title change

3. I am on my first real non familial/ work related vacation ever

Also, kind of bigger picture- I’ve been making some lifestyle changes and swapping a few late night beer sessions for early morning runs with surprisingly good results- Doctors Hate This One Crazy Fitness Trick! Actually, Thomas and I decided to embark on a trail running journey that will be culminating June 23rd in the very scary form of a 10 mile 2,000 foot climb into the Bridger foothills. Do not ask me why because I do not know why. But if I don’t want to breathe my last breath lying with my face in the dirt at one of the many false summits on the 10 mile route, leg muscles twitching and my hand reaching pitifully towards the general direction of the finish line, I have to run more. So I’m running more. If you never hear from me again after June 23, you will know where to send the rescue crews.

 

Lets go back to point number one. My dear Thomas and I have decided to deny each other all personal space and move into my shoebox apartment together. We’ve shared smaller spaces (read- 6’x8′ two person tent) with less amenities for less time, so I figure we will be fine. The apartment comes equipped with 2 rooms (good) one bathroom (less good) and most importantly, enough counter space that we can both prep our respective food projects at the same time without any major irritation. Seriously, we do a lot of cooking and baking delicious treats- jury is out on how this is going to affect my positive running lifestyle.

So far so good, but we were sharing our new space for all of 4 days before we up and left to go on vacation (see point number 3) so there is still a lot that has to be done. For instance, we have been using my Craigslist futon as a couch- the crown jewel of an otherwise bare living room, save for a few half dead herb plants and one giant overstuffed armchair. My old roommate took all of his very stylish and trendy IKEA furniture and years supply of bone broth from Costco with him, leaving us with a clean slate, of sorts.

At first this was an exciting prospect- and still kind of is. Getting to make our space together is going to be a lot of fun. I need a toaster oven, he wants some fancy shower head. We both want a tv and probably some furniture. Unfortunately, furniture is expensive, and if you want to experience salespeople doing their best to sell you something you don’t need, look no further than your local furniture store. Thomas and I were blissfully unaware of the dangers of these establishments before one whirlwind afternoon of store hopping, where our pitiful lack of knowledge of the SteelFlex couch system and uncomprehending stares at the mention of a Broyhill collection gained us reproachful looks from the salesman. At each location we were pretty quickly directed to the discount section in the back, a treasure trove of delightfully ugly pieces. Our noncommittal attitude towards various fabrics and color swatches was probably a dead giveaway that we weren’t serious buyers.

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Hello discount section – where we belong according to every salesperson

We are beginning to prepare ourselves to dive back in to the world of furniture sales in a while, but in the meantime we are enjoying the little pleasures of living together- fresh coffee is brewed in the morning before I wake up, Thomas gets to come home to surprise baked goods, we both get to reap the benefits of having someone to talk to (or at, depending on the topic) at any given moment. I’m sure I will have some more qualified opinions in a few weeks, but for now I am absolutely thrilled at the concept of living with my favorite person!

Point number two- promotion! I have been at my current job for a little over a year now, and before that I started what I thought would be my professional career at MSU. I was making a pitiful salary but also gaining that elusive experience that can be so hard to come by, so whatever. What was NOT ‘so whatever’ was the serious lack of cash- I had very little left over each month. There was enough to pay for essentials and a few drinks to help me forget about the perpetual looming of student debt and wimpy wage woes but I wasn’t able to put much away. I finally started a savings account like a good millenial, at which point  I realized just how little I was actually making compared to my cost of living. ( On a side note, I recently read some article directed at women that recommended a new way to handle finances- start an F-you fund. As in money to have saved up to royally F someone for your benefit, I guess. I know what they meant was money to have in case of an emergency, but with a fun, kitschy name, presumably because women can’t understand the highly complex concept of a savings account?)

Shortly after, I left MSU and joined a startup in Lidar technology as the admin assistant and leaving the world of athletics behind. Taking a title cut and dropping the career my education prepared me for was a risky move, but one that paid me more than my ‘lofty’ Director position in athletics and also allowed me to stay in Bozeman. At the very least, it would hold me over until I found something better.

Honestly, I never even looked back- the politics of athletics seem ridiculous and superficial compared to this work. Startups are generally high risk high reward, and this one in particular provided me an opportunity to grow quickly into a role much more sophisticated than your typical admin. Since I have been there the company has doubled in size, and with a little direction and prodding, I convinced my superiors to pay me more money to do a more exciting job.  So when I return to Bozeman, I will be the Production Operations Specialist, or the P.O.S., as one of my favorite coworkers pointed out immediately after my promotion was announced to the company with devilish delight. Leave it to the engineers to rain on my promotional parade.

Also worth mentioning is the all important startup lingo- ambiguous terms such as “the space”, “taking it offline”, “critical path” and “closing the loop” are just a few phrases that get kicked around more often than a hackysack at a Grateful Dead cover band show. I don’t think anyone knows what they mean and yet I haven’t attended a single meeting where one of these buzz words has not been said.

Point number 3- Vacation! So here we are, in beautiful St. Augustine beach, FL, and let me tell you, this is so much better than a few self pity flavored beers at the Molly in Bozeman. Lesson learned- self made vacations are wonderfully worth it. We have been eating local cuisine, soaking up too much sun at the beach, and wandering the historic city of st Augustine. I have been identifying as many birds as I can, and Thomas is learning more about Floridian birds than he ever wanted to. Life is great. Knowing I have more financial security and a wonderful person to come home to when we get back to real life is even better!

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St Augustine harbor- and me in a romper. Bridge of lions drawn in the background

Escape to the Mountains: Showdown

Time has flown since I’ve been living in Bozeman, and the beginning of 2018 was no exception. Before I knew it I had left the comfort of my sleepy Connecticut hometown and traveled back to Montana, then schlepped off to Las Vegas for CES on a whirlwind 5 day work trip that involved more hours walking around than sleeping. Lowlight of the trip? I unwittingly spent 23 dollars on a breakfast sandwich. A BREAKFAST SANDWICH!! Similar lowlight- I ordered an 8 dollar bowl of chicken soup, and it was just broth. oops. Vegas is not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet, let me tell you. With bright lights still shining in my eyes and sores on my butt from the horribly uncomfortable Allegiant flight back to bozeman, I had a few quiet days to recuperate before getting back to work and my busy winter lifestyle.

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In the lobby of our Vegas Hotel

I’ve been skiing every chance I get, so weekends fly by, and though being on the mountain is a welcome part of my week it is part of the grind. It’s a lot of work to get up early, put on 16 layers of mildly gamey cold weather gear (because washing ski clothes when all you have is coin-op is a choice, not a requirement, and besides, you only wear them once a week…). THEN you have to haul your gear to the car, warm up the car, drink 36 oz of coffee, pee 3 times, and drive up to the mountain. It’s a little exhausting just thinking about it. By the time ski day is over, I always feel like i need an extra day to recover from my recreational activities.

After a few weeks back in the cold grip of the Montana winter, I decided it was time for Thomas and I to take a little break from the Gallatin Valley and more importantly our routine. I still wanted to ski, just at a more leisurely pace and away from lots of people. Thankfully, There are several smaller ski hills all over the state of Montana that were prime for the picking and full of fresh pow- I’ve heard Montana has the best snow out of anyone in the lower 48 this year. I settled on Showdown Mountain, a local hidden treasure tucked away in the Little Belt Mountains, a smaller range that is nestled between the Bridgers and the Big Belts, with the Crazies looming to the Southeast. Showdown is in an ideal location- about 2 hours from Bozeman, but only 30 minutes from White Sulphur Springs, a sleepy town with natural hot springs and some humble lodging for the eager skier crowd.

The drive out was absolutely stunning- we watched the sun set as we drove North, winding along Bridger Canyon Road, then caught the last of the alpine glow as we headed up the flat, lonely Highway 89 the rest of the way. The view of the Crazies was so stunning- I was glad not to be driving so I could watch the giant crags and spines change in the dwindling light.

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After we dropped off our gear in the cabin, we ventured into the frigid single digit temperatures to find some libations and chose The Stockman as our destination- an unassuming western style wood plank front building with tiny windows and a heavy wooden door. Two seats at the bar called us, and the crackling fire made us cozy. We each had 2 beers from the only brewery in town, the 2 Basset, and shared a riveting conversation with a local about driving, trucks, and truck auctions. We left shortly after, shivering our way down the road to our cabin and gazing wistfully at the clouds of steam pouring off of the hot springs across the street. Our loud footsteps startled a small herd of curious Mule deer camped out on the Town Hall Green, and we ran away from the scene almost as fast as they did, to the safety of our cabin.

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View from our Cabin

The next morning we were treated to some questionable biscuits and gravy courtesy of the cabins, and off we went to Showdown! The temperature never rose above 5 degrees, so it was a bone chilling day of steep slopes, carving, and checking out new terrain. There was no fresh snow, and the cold kept most of the runs crusty for the better part of the day, but there was plenty of good skiing to be had!  Our ambitions of hitting every black on the mountain were dashed as we rode up the longest 12 minute lift and caught views of the steep, deep, quarter mile long mogul runs, named things like Glory Hole and Gun Barrel. Nice. Because of the heavy snowfall, those “bumps” were absolutely massive- doable, but not very fun for us without fresh powder (yes, I know we are spoiled). We did manage to finagle our way down some shorter mogul runs through some gorgeous glades, and even found a little gully that really sent us for a ride, aptly named James Bond. The steep wide open groomers rated as blues were probably my favorite, and the lack of crowds allowed us to take liberties with our sweeping turns down the corduroy runs.

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Cold

After 6 hours of non stop skiing (ok, we stopped twice- Once to heat up chimi changas and purchase some french fries, and once so I could use an indoor bathroom- The rustic outhouses were a nice touch, but  it was so cold you could literally freeze your ass off) we were ready to call it quits.

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Warming up with some Rainier at the summit

We hauled our gear into Geraldine the Jetta, and drove the lovely road through the Helena National Forest back to White Sulphur, where we made haste in putting our swimsuits on. It was time for Hot Springs!

Montana Hot Springs are kind of a special thing- there are developed ones, such as these, and natural springs as well requiring a hike in. I like to explore them whenever I can, so I welcomed this opportunity to see what White Sulphur had in store. The 3 pools of varying temperatures had drawn a crowd on the very cold day, and the winds of the storm blowing in from the East drove people deeper into the pungent waters. You can guess from the name what they smelled like, especially the Hot Pool- the original hot spring located indoors with heavy sulfur build up on the walls.  Despite our 30 minute drive from the ski hill we were both still quite cold, and the spring water was finally what brought us back to feeling our extremities again.

We fell asleep early, toasty and warm and curled up watching the Olympics. The next morning we opted to make our own breakfast- hash browns, bacon, and eggs, before heading back to Bozeman. Feeling refreshed and relaxed, the drive back was cheery and bright, and we even stopped in Wilsall for a hot cup of coffee to fight off the continual chill. All in all, a wonderful getaway in the midst of a cold winter that allowed me to forget about the daily grind that tends to consume us without us even realizing. It’s important to get out every once in a while!

Highway 212: an exercise in reaching new heights

 

It started with a trip to Red Lodge. We were enamored with the idea of Red Lodge Brewing Company, hiking, backcountry camping, and squeezing in one last campfire before the weather demanded we sleep indoors. Everything was exactly as wonderful as we had anticipated, from the tasty Helio Hefe we sipped to the sound of polka music at an unexpected early season OktoberFest to the pair of moose we saw not 30 yards away on the hiking trail. However, what truly took my breath away (other than the first sighting of the moose- that was incredible) was the drive both in and out of town. Usually the drive is something you endure to get to your destination, but here, it really was “about the journey, not the destination”.

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One of the two moose spotted off of the East Rosebud Trailhead
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Thomas enjoying his Blog Debut and also the frigid water at East Rosebud Lake

The two lane road that winds in from the East welcomes the wayward traveler with a strange and strangely enticing conglomerate of steel sided double wide trailers and classic farmhouses, complete with picket fences and geldings grazing the yellowed late summer grass. More impressively, North Americas “most beautiful highway 212” sits a few miles to the West, winding up the unfriendly slopes of the Beartooth Mountains in a serpentine path. Undoubtedly an engineering feat deserving of many accolades, the mountain pass tops out at a shocking 10,600 ft above sea level. This road, colloquially known as the Beartooth Highway is also one of the most dangerous, terrifying, exhilarating stretches of road in the world.

Quick history lesson for you- National Scenic Byways are roads across the United States which have one or more of 6 qualifying traits including archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, or scenic significance. Starting in 1991 congress implemented the Byway system in an effort to preserve important if less traveled pieces of American history in addition to boosting economy and tourism in quieter corners of our beautiful country. Byways that meet two or more of the intrinsic qualities listed above may be recognized further as All-American roads, which typically provide more scenic views of unique features specific to that area. There are 120 byways and 30 All-American roads in the US, and the Beartooth highway is one of the 30.

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Red Lodge side of the pass

arguably, it provides at least 3 of the qualities; natural, recreational, and scenic. Of course the views are breathtaking; overlooking the Red Lodge side of the pass grants views of sheer rock faces and, as you gain height, snowy plateaus and tundras that stay icy all year long. The rugged landscape is untouched save for a few rough country two tracks which precariously wind up the opposite side of the canyon- not for the faint of heart or anything less than 4WD. When you reach the highest point in the pass, something unexpected comes into view- A lift tower juts out of the rock at an unnatural angle above a basin lofted high in the mountains. Right now it is empty, but in the Spring and well into Summer the lift is operational for those with enough gumption to ski down the near vertical slopes of wild terrain and enough faith in the rickety J lift that provides the only path back to the top.

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Beartooth Pass Ski Area- Note that you can’t see the next lift tower because the lift is too steep. No thanks.

While the Red Lodge side of the pass is staggering and dramatic, the Yellowstone side is, in my humble opinion, more scenic. The road wanders at a much more gentle pace along rolling hills and between many glacial lakes that are scattered among massive grey boulders and tall Lodgepoles. One of the more prominent features is the Beartooth Butte, a giant rock formation with impressive color and height even when compared to the vast beauty in the surrounding area.

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Beartooth Butte above Beartooth Lake on a grey morning

The remainder of the trip led us through the Lamar Valley and then the Paradise Valley, past herds of Stubby Necked Deer and, eventually, toward the familiar outline of the Bridgers. I can’t wait to venture back over the pass again next year, perhaps in spring when wildflowers are in bloom.

 

Yellowstone: beauty or behemoth?

As the old PR saying goes “No publicity is bad publicity”. In this day and age, I have to disagree. Montana is a bit of a hidden gem, a quiet corner of the contiguous states that holds some of the most beautiful public land in the world. In the past few years, the secret has been slipping out, and the number of tourists and visitors are increasing at a rapid rate. This new influx directly correlates with the number of “no vacancy” bumper stickers on MT license plate clad Subaru Outbacks. It’s no big secret: without tourism, our cities wouldn’t thrive as they do. However, that doesn’t necessitate the annual invasion of eager “nature enthusiasts” rolling into town in their Yukons and Escalades, ready to tweet and insta every inch of the charming small town #vibes.

With all of the instant gratification that accompanies the popular social media outlets, it is impossible to portray the significance of anything, and yet everything is immediately available. In fact, when I find myself googling with no results after a minute or two, I get irrationally frustrated with the lack of accessibility to certain information. Those who have never been west of the Mississippi or even on the north American continent have likely seen the pristine shores of lake McDonald on Natureporn Instagram and twitter feeds. The awe factor is almost lost then, because one might brush off a wild story of an adventure in Grand Teton with a dismissive swipe of a finger, and “Oh, I saw that already”.

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Overlooking Grizzly Lake: A picture may be worth a thousand words, but being there renders you speechless

 

Likewise, everyone has heard of the debauchery that has plagued Yellowstone since opening day of the NPS centennial, and while the news has gone viral, the vital point of the story is missed. The impossible capacity for human stupidity is entertaining for an instant, and sometimes shocking (man dissolved in boiling acidic water) or rage inducing (bison calf, alligator, gorilla euthanized because of human interaction). As each tragic story surfaces (or doesn’t- sorry) We forget the last, only shaking our heads at the latest and gravest situation, posting a status about it, and letting it fade into timeline oblivion.

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Mission Mountains

Stories like these have always existed on a smaller, more local scale. Communities involved in hiking and camping may have heard about bear maulings or lost hikers, but nobody else was concerned, because it really didn’t concern them. It’s only recently with the ability to share a photo and a story in an instant that everyone has become privy to these unfortunate mishaps, and because they are now in the know, feel obligated to do something with it. Stand up for animal rights in the case of human vs animal, where the animal gets euthanized. Boycott the national park system because they are suddenly overrun with tourists and fools who can’t follow rules. Post a status or change your profile picture because you’re praying for this group or that group who has suffered a great tragedy. Bad things have been happening everywhere all the time, but now that we are exposed, it’s somehow worse, and we feel better doing something, even if it’s nothing, to justify our knowledge and lack of action.

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Fluffy? Yes. Friendly? No.

In the case of Yellowstone and the recent chain of horrible events, I feel there is only one answer. Keep enjoying your park.  Be a stand up citizen, abide by the rules, and if you want to avoid the hordes, do so! There are just under 3500 acres of park land in Yellowstone. Use them. Get out, enjoy nature, break a sweat, and post an Instagram, if you feel so inclined! Share with the news hungry social media world what a wonderful place you live in. Those who are avoiding the parks because of the crowds are missing the entire point of the parks- a place “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. All people.

As for me, I’ve discovered that the beauty of Yellowstone is its vastness and overabundance of opportunities available to all. A 14 hour fun filled day of driving the 2 loops and seeing it all? Go for it.  Hiking 10 miles through the backcountry up a peak, into a ravine, along a river, or to a campsite? Have at it, if that floats your boat. You could enjoy a lazy afternoon fishing on the lake, or spend time picnicking at one of the many quiet sites designated for this purpose. You may see others, but once you get off the road, the park gets a whole lot quieter, people are more likeminded and respectful, and you get a second to breathe in the beauty that truly makes a park like Yellowstone so important. The bottom line here is that if you look past the media, and take in the natural wonders that have always been in the southwest corner of Montana, you’ll find yourself breathing some fresh air, taking in some staggeringly striking views, and maybe even shutting down your phone, because you probably don’t have service anyways. Happy trails!13332856_10154393404989095_3827047513079507792_n