Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vacation Report

Avalanche Creek

Avalanche Creek

Avalanche Lake

In my notebook, on the page before I started jotting down some notes about vacation, while we were on vacation (to keep 'facts' fresh in my memory once I started to write about it all), there's a short list of reportedly hallucinogenic mushrooms, common in North America: Smoky-grilled Woodlover and Brick Top. I am in no way endorsing the consumption of wild mushrooms, I just thought I'd share.
On the drive out, we left Zelienople, PA early in the morning and stopped for the night west of Chicago in Hoffman Estates, IL and stayed at the Red Roof Inn. All of our lodging choices were based on whether or not they accept pets, as Bela was along for the ride. Let me tell you, that beagle done herself, nay, her whole breed, proud! She slept and ate and pooped the whole way and the whole way back, with very little fuss and basically on demand.
Night #2 was spent in St. Cloud, MN at the Travelodge. There was a small State Park down the road from us, well within walking distance, so we walked Bela there. When we got back, MK noticed a tick burrowing into her foot near the strap on her Teva. Me, being a smoker and excited by anything that is even remotely squicky, lit a match and burned the tick's ass. It backed out, but honestly, it hadn't gotten in far at all. Then we flushed it down the toilet.
The last night on the road on our way to Big Fork, MT was spent in Glendive, MT, a town I always end up calling 'Endive'. A bunch of bikers were checking in at that Days Inn at the same time we were and they loved Bela! Who wouldn't love her? A monster, a ghoul, that's who. Right before we got to Endive, as we passed through the ass end of North Dakota, we came upon the unexpected site of Painted Canyon Overlook at Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Of course we stopped and do you know what we saw, amongst the bison and wild horses and painted canyon? Amish, wearing crocs and nikes and using digital cameras. They can't actually be Amish, or they wouldn't be doing any of those things, and I don't know enough about the splinter Amish sects to wager a guess as to who they actually are, so I called them Amish. Here we have Amish in PA, driving buggies and wearing plain black shoes that look painful.
Finally, after four days on the road and 2200 miles, we arrived in Big Fork. Our hosts, J and B, were excited to finally see us, and we were so glad to finally have reached our destination (my ass literally had a kink in it) that I would've killed people had J handed me a gun and said, Shoot! Then we settled in for some drinks, conversation, and dinner (a delicious chili with a savory/sweet cornbread prepared by J that blended together perfectly with the heat off the chili!!!). Then more drinks and conversation.
OK, now I know that I've allude to my drinking and my penchant for nonstop chatter in the past, but until you've actually spent time with me, it's all just talk of talk and alcohol. In the real world, I never shut up and once cocktail hour hits, forget it. I'm not exactly teetering around on wedgies like my sister, but there are those times I have my moments. Swilling my glass of wine, pontificating on how something has my goat. I really would like a goat, btw. I find myself insufferable, which is why I cling to MK like grim death and bow down to my friends in gratitude because they all deserve my undying devotion and then some!
And one thing I want to say before I get too far into this morass: J and B were excellent hosts! Or more accurately hostesses, but I hate that sort of female 'ess' thing, which is a thing that gets my goat, so I leave it out. They are women, and they were our hostesses, but I'll refer to them as our hosts. Think of me, us, as a parasite. A parasite doesn't choose a hostess, they have a host. They hosted us :D
The first full day in Big Fork saw MK and me doing much of nothing. I think that we needed down time to get over the big drive, enjoy the surroundings, talk more, watch the dog figure out the doggie door in the cabin, and basically acclimate ourselves to elevation. I pretty much sat on the porch, smoked, and avoided reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". It's a good book, don't get me wrong, it just that it made me feel as if I'm not doing enough for my family, and the planet. I hate shit like that. I'm doing all that I can, given how easily diverted I am from tasks, meaning, perceived reality. I don't need some book telling me that I should appreciate rain more. I have never, ever, dissed rain. I love rain. The best afternoon sex is had during a thunderstorm!
Back to the issues at hand:
A few things I noticed out west were the road signs indicating threat of wildfire. It was always at HIGH. I told MK, no throwing cigarette butts out of the car window...not that I'm allowed to smoke in the car with her. Also, through parts of Montana there were periodic homemade signs out in the middle of nowhere, range country, that extolled the evils of meth: Meth Kills Dreams, Meth is the Road to Death, Meth Destroys Everything. Signs set up along the road where there was nothing but miles and miles of grazing land for the beef. Not a town or homestead in site. The signs were somewhat large, readable even while driving 75mph, and seemingly made by those who knew of what they spoke, honest and forthright, but not preachy. Then there were the crosses and wreaths for those killed on the road. More than I've seen in any state. I doubt that more people die in car crashes in MT than do out east, but obvious their death sites get tended better. Here in PA a cross goes up, and when the seasons take their toll, that's the end of it. In MT, I think that the loved ones comes back, place a new memorial, hold on to that curve or stretch of road that claimed so much.
J told me that their soil there is powdery and poor, good for grasses, so they have raised bed gardens. We ate greens from the garden in our salads and on our sandwiches the whole stay there. The rocks that they'd collected from the property were used to build a water feature off the patio, fed by a stream further up the mountain. MK and I walked up to see the stream and discovered some huckleberries, bear poop, and wild mustard. Mustard grows everywhere out there, whole bright yellow fields of it!
MK learned of an intact ghost town outside of Missoula, so we headed out there one day. Missoula's a pretty big town and is home to the University of Montana. We had lunch at a little deli, the Rattlesnake Cafe, and then set our course for the ghost town, Garnet. Garnet is located back in the hills, off a dirt and gravel chip road. Eleven miles of utter rutted hell. I lost a hubcap, and at some point the windsheild got chipped and we watched it crack the whole way across for the next week. I'm telling you, that Jeep is a tank!
Anyway, we got to Garnet and though there were quite a few other touristy types there, including a group of Italians, it was definitely eery. Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to visit a ghost town (what kid doesn't?), and Garnet did not disappoint. The former hotel was the most creepy, but I think that had to do with the bare bed springs and the way that the light was coming in at that time of the afternoon (too harsh). It just drew everything out so starkly.
We also went to Kehoe's Agate Shop, which was nothing great. Our rock shop, Appalachian Rock Shop, is actually better. Next time I'm in there I'll have to commend them on not sucking! Plus, somewhere we picked up a map of Glacier national Park (11.95, published by National Geographic) to prepare for our hikes up there.
Finally, we made the short drive from Big Fork to Glacier, it was about an hour away, which given how far we had to drive just to go to the grocery store for beer and lunchmeat, an hour is nothing. Here an hour in the car is so different. In an hour I'm almost in Erie, halfway to Cleveland, at a racetrack in West Virginia.
We got to Glacier and stopped at the information/gift shop. We bought some decals for our cars (MK's Honda is plastered with stickers from our many and varied travels) and found out where to pick up the shuttle to the hiking trails. You can drive to the hiking trails, but there's limited parking, so it's better to just pick up a shuttle. The shuttle took us to Trail of the Cedars, which is a short trail that dumps you directly on the Avalanche Lake Trail. ALT was crowded the day we were there, but then this is a MUST hike if you're visiting Glacier. It's moderate in difficulty, it's actually less strenuous than the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail, but MK and were both really unaccustomed to the altitude. The elevation and thinner air was killing us! But we made the hike, and what a reward you get at the end! Avalanche Lake is gorgeous, the mountains striking, the sky so close you feel as if you're in it, and the water glistening like jewels. We sat on a bench and ate our packed lunch, careful to keep all of our trash with us (including my cigarette butts). We took off our boots and waded into the jade green water of the lake. It was freezing and completely refreshing! We remained here for about an hour, drinking in the beauty, taking pictures, just smiling like idiots :)
The next day we returned to Glacier and drove the Going-To-The-Sun Road to Logan Pass. This road is an engineering marvel that it was even built. Narrow, switchback, with steep inclines and steeper drop offs. Literally a goat path. Neither of us wanted to drive, but what can you do? I had to focus entirely on simply driving, I couldn't look at one thing because vertigo would kick in. MK was clicking pictures furiously, which is the best thing about a digital camera. There's just so much to see! The melting glaciers, the Weeping Wall, the wild life, the unparrelled vistas (each more magnificent than another). Once we got to the parking area at Logan Pass the park rangers were getting ready to shut it because it was over full. We parked illegally but ate our packed lunches in the open hatch of the Jeep, in case we were asked to move. We weren't, and when we left, someone took our legal parking spot ;)
I can't imagine what it must've been like in the days when true explorers made this trek on horseback with pack mules, camping out under that sky, with stars so close you could snatch them away from the heavens.
The trip to Glacier was really the trip of a lifetime, with almost too much to see and comprehend, and honestly, it would not have come about at all without the invitation to visit extended by J. I cannot stress what great hosts J and B were, how we enjoyed their company so much that MK remarked, I didn't expect to like them so much! I know that sounds kind of funny, but taken in the context in which she said it, she meant that we've made some lifelong friends here :) J is a riot, and once I get the Tina pictures developed, I'll share them :) J's mom is into dolls. I don't know why some older women glom onto dolls, but some do and it's a little terrifying. One evening, after a lot of wine, J brought out Tina, a former animated store mannequin that still moves when plugged in, but not as much as she used to. We gave her a lit cigarette, and for some reason then reduced ourselves to tears laughing. I'm not doing the episode justice, but trust me, it was hysterical! I kept hoping that she'd burst into flames. There's the money shot!
We had the best time with J and B, we just love them. They're into foodie stuff, both have better palates than either of us, and J ratted me out for drinking instant coffee. B was properly mortified at that news ;) B's a serious artist, and by serious I mean with real talent, not someone just playing at it. Some of her work was in our cabin and I was blown away by it. Such concept and technique, perfectly executed, serious but still with whimsy. I loved it!!!
Well, this whole report has gotten longer than I intended, so I will end it with some thoughts on Wyoming: On the drive back we passed through WY and it's a dump compared to either MT or the Dakotas. Plus, the people were rude. I hadn't run into a rude person since IL so it was a little shocking to meet an asshat out west. Then I remembered. Cheney is from WY and suddenly everything fell into place.
I'll post more pics soon!


gypsywee said...

You are too kind. I'm so happy you had a good time. It was great having you and Glacier Park is one of my all-time favorite places on earth so you had to like it. Oh, I have to mention...that I look awful in the "tina" pics so if you could post one without me in it that would be great! ;)

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

Oops, I already put up a Tina pic on facebook ;)
I loved our entire trip, even the drive. The drive proved a couple of things: 1) Caty can tolerate my inane chatter for hours on end. 2) Valeria Bertinelli's life sounds less vacuous when she reads it. 3) The dog would follows us to the very gates of hell and not complain. And lastly, 4) That the journey really is everything!
Thank You so much for such a memorable adventure!

Miss Kitty said...

Oh, Gypsy, you were smiling real pretty in one of 'em. Still, we will respect your wishes, almost as much as we respect your pot-stickers. And, Sweetie, I am always glad to journey with you! (This is everybody's cue to say, "Aw!" and privately throw up.)

drollgirl said...

wow!! what a vacation!!! it sounds like you had a blast, and it is all so fucking gorgeous! i am not really that outdoorsy (AT ALL), but i think i could handle some of this stuff. it is just gorgeous!

and having great hosts make all the difference in the world. and being able to avoid hotel fees makes traveling affordable!!!

and i love that you brought your dog! hooray for that, and that you made it home safely! :)

Julie said...

Did you get a picture of the animated mannequin?? Those things give me the creeps!

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

Droll, it's not like we went camping...something that MK would never do anyway ;) The scenery there was absolutely gorgeous! Breath taking!
Julie - yes, I have shots of the doll. I'll edit J out and post something of Tina smoking ;D

Anonymous said...

I was glad you had such a great time and loved reading your account of the trip! :-) Of course...I knew you *would* have a wonderful time. (J and B are SO much fun!) I kept thinking about the fact that you and J were both foodies (and outstanding cooks) and how relaxed and happy all of you would be in that laid-back environment.

Doesn't it seem that *every* route is a "scenic route" in Montana?

lynt said...

I have had a visit to Glacier on my 'to see' list for a while. Sounds like I'll keep it there.