Ultimate Road Trip

Flowing This Strong Since 1996

They call it Stormy Mondays. Sunday night, we checked the weather forecast and saw rain at 1 p.m. the following day — ideal for the smoky conditions. However, within hours of going to sleep, we heard rain falling on the tent. And it continued. And continued. By 8 a.m., the rain showed no signs of stopping, so we hastily packed up the car and the soaked tent, driving to West Glacier. There, we posted up in Freda’s, a burger-french fry-shake type restaurant that had WiFi.

We worked steadily throughout the day, the rain falling relentlessly. While customers around us ate their chicken tenders and huckleberry parfaits, we were snacking on our veggie wraps and jalapeño chips, unwilling to pay an exorbitant amount for mediocre food. When we finally wrapped up the work day, it was the perfect time to enter the park — 3:00 p.m., meaning no reservation required.

The “Huckleberry Hut” is pricey but has some keepsakes

We drove to Howe Lake trail and did a rainy little hike on rolling hills. Four-and-a-half miles later, we were back at the car, pretty wet. Returning to Freda’s, we changed into dry clothes, then proceeded to fix some oatmeal for dinner at the umbrella-covered picnic tables outside. It sounds pathetic, but this oatmeal was actually delicious, chock full of peanut butter and apples and granola.

Howe Lake

For the night, we checked out a new dispersed spot quite close to the park entrance, which happened to be named “Ryan Road.” This was dispersed camping at its finest; small pull-offs tucked away all along the dense, forested road. We found an open spot at the top, quickly popped up the tent, then clambered inside to watch a movie and sleep.

On Tuesday, we awoke to less intense rain, even periods of dry air. Ryan made coffee as usual, and we hopped in the car, intending to spend the day at Freda’s again. Unfortunately, the key fob was struggling (as it has been on and off this trip), and we determined it needed a new battery. We used this as an opportunity to return to more proper civilization and go to an auto shop in Columbia Falls.

As we drove west to town, the rain kept coming down, increasing my skepticism of skies clearing in the afternoon. Though rainy, the views were still intensely beautiful; low-lying clouds drifted in and out of the pine trees on either side. When we arrived at O’Reilly’s, the skies had actually opened up, and we saw the sun and blue between the clouds properly for the first time in days. Capitalizing on being in town and having secured the battery, we chose to head to a coffee shop in Whitefish.

Whitefish was an immediate breath of fresh air and change of pace. We had left behind the weird amount of dispensaries and casinos in Kalispell for a true mountain town. We rolled up to a classic hipster coffee shop and got to work over coffee and a raspberry white chocolate chip scone (gas). Once we had cranked through significant work, we broke for lunch at a nearby park, where we aired out everything.

The tent was sopping wet, and our crash pads, sneakers, and other clothes weren’t much better. Gratefully, the sun had returned so we could dry them up some. We ate peanut butter and huckleberry jam sandwiches and Franz cookies while assessing the car load. A while back, we determined we could cut down on some of the clothing and gear we had and send it on home, clearing more precious space in the car. We had completed our assessment and were just hanging out, when suddenly, the rain returned with a vengeance. We scrambled to get everything packed back into the Forester and de-rig the tent, then hopped back into the car, dripping again. That’s life for you.

To keep out of the rain, we explored the little town. Whitefish has a chiller vibe than other mountain towns — not so bougie, no brand name stores like Patagonia or North Face. We checked out a used gear shop, a record store, local market, and several clothing shops.

Slow Burn Records

The first time we went to Durango, I showed Ryan the train museum. My college friends always think it’s weird that I find the place so enchanting, but I am a sucker for a miniature train riding around memorabilia. Trains just scream America to me in an actually positive way. The Wild West. The New Frontier. I knew I had found a kindred spirit when Ryan took the museum to be equally enchanting as I did, exploring the various cars and pins and old weaponry. And so, I was delighted to see that Whitefish also had a train depot and museum.

This museum was not nearly as vast nor well organized as Durango’s, but it still had charm. We marveled at the old newspaper clippings and signage and clothes, while the museum caretaker asked us “from whence we came.” It was a short but sweet visit.

Outside the depot, it appeared that people were setting up for something in the park, and we found it was a farmer’s market, starting in less than 2 hours. To kill time, we went to UPS and shipped back our stuff. Once again, a squall arrived out of thin air. Rain and hail dumped down as we rushed into the store. We worried how the farmer’s market folks, setting up, fared. Just as soon as it arrived, it disappeared and the sun was shining once more.

Still time on our hands, we got gas and water, and stopped in a local bar and grill for $2 Montuckys (cold snacks just taste different in Montana). A local farmer came by and asked if we wanted to buy any goods, showing us a sheet of yellow composition paper listing his offerings. Debating between sauerkraut, pie, and vegetables, we landed on sauerkraut, since we could add it to our veggie sandwiches. He gave us a big jar of it, which will likely last a while.

Sponsored post

Now the market was up and running, full of people. We spotted Polebridge Mercantile, which is a spot a guy in Bozeman had told us was the real place to get huckleberry bear claws. Approaching the table, we overheard that they were selling the bear claws 2-for-1 — apparently they’d taken a small beating from the hail that had ripped through. Didn’t bother us! We happily bought the claws for half the price, excited to eat them the next morning.

After spinning through the rest of the market and sampling some unreal asiago garlic sourdough, we bought some hot dogs from a bratwurst food truck, specifically so we could eat them with our sauerkraut — genius. It was around 6:00 when all was said and done, and we made our way back to Columbia Falls for groceries, then onto camp.

That night, we stayed at the top of Ryan Road. I made Spanish rice and beans and we watched the sun setting through the trees, a faint rainbow overhead. We felt grateful for a break from the rain, the beautiful views, and the homecooked food. We capped off the night with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Ted Lasso.

Sunset at camp
Rainbow over camp

The next morning, we got up to grey skies but thankfully no rain. The huckleberry bear claws, while damp, were twice as good as the ones in Kalispell and definitely bore a greater resemblance to a grizzly paw. A new neighbor pulled up in the site next to us, in a large RV branded with a bicycle company name out of Fruita, Colorado. Fruita is home to our fave pizza shop, the Hot Tomato, so we thought we’d wander over to ask if they had any slices to share.

Bear claw beauty

Turns out, our neighbor was a young California gal who’d bought the RV back in April. She’d never been to Colorado, though she was excited to check it out. She had her German Shepard and cat with her, but was otherwise traveling solo. To her, the gas prices were mercifully low here ($4/gallon compared to $8 in Mammoth!) and she was keen on checking out Glacier and the surrounding area. We showed her our set-up with the rooftop tent and Starlink, and you could tell she was appreciative — anyone who has a rig is down to discuss and admire what you have going on. Since we’d both aim to camp on Ryan Road that night, we offered each other a spot in the same pull-off if all the sites filled up.

Top of Ryan Road

We used lunch time to run to the bottom and back up to the top of Ryan Road, twice. It made a nice 10K, something I was definitely itching for.

Bottom of Ryan Road

From the moment we had pulled out those bear claws, bees had taken a real liking to us and our vicinity. As the day progressed, Ryan became increasingly frustrated by their presence and started swatting them with a towel. As I pulled out the lunch items, he downed three of them in a row. Not in his house.

Now that it was once again 3:00, we were free to enter the park. We chose to hike to Fish Lake, according to All Trails, a 5.7-mile out-and-back with 1,300 feet of gain. My watch indicated it was more like 5.4 and 1,800, and it felt like it. The beginning of the hike was relentlessly steep. It mellowed and went downhill a bit in the middle, before busting up again a mile before the lake and then leveling. We enjoyed the hard work, though, especially surrounded by this magical pine forest. I felt like a fairy or leprechaun or hobbit, for that matter, may appear any second. The lake was a nice view at the top.

Fish Lake
Enchanted forest

We determined we’d eat Kodiak pancakes for dinner within 10 minutes of starting the hike, so naturally it was all I could think about. As soon as we were back to camp, I was full speed ahead to flapjacks, especially eager to try some huckleberry jam on them, as well as a smoky maple syrup I had gotten in Vermont. Both were exquisite, and I say that with no exaggeration. I’ve now determined that I’ll need huckleberry syrup, too.

We woke up to brisk temperatures on Thursday morning, deterring us from getting out the tent. Once the sun came out, things steadily warmed to make working more comfortable.

After a productive morning, we hoofed it up and down Ryan Road one last time, then hit the boulder problems from Sunday again to get video (striving to get #sponsored). Right by the boulder area, there’s a fountain with spring water absolutely spurting from some pipe in the earth. It seemed to be a natural drinking well, though signs indicated to “drink at your own risk.” As I turned to Ryan to ask him if he was cool with it, an older local appeared with two empty orange juice jugs and reassured me: “That’s the cleanest water you’ll find anywhere. It’s been flowing this strong since 1996. It’s not even from snowmelt; it’s from a deep mountain spring. My grandfather and father only used this water for their coffee.” If I wasn’t sold before, I certainly was now. We thanked him and filled our 5-gallon jug, then headed on to Whitefish.

In Whitefish, we wanted to get some good food before making moves to Canada. We had seen Jersey Boys Pizzeria on Tuesday, and figured it was worth a try. When we got inside, I was curious about this local “coffee blonde” ale on tap, and ordered a couple. Tragically, the tap ran out, so the cashier gave me the remainder of the tap for us to drink and offered us to get a different beer. However, we weren’t stoked on any of the other draft beers, so she said we could take 4 canned beers. I decided we’d get two blonde ales and two IPAs from Cranky Sam, a brewery out of Missoula.

Pizza without beer is like peanut butter without the huckleberry jelly

Ryan, finishing up work, was bewildered at how I managed to get us 4 and a half (the coffee blonde) beers instead of two. I explained the whole debacle, incredulous at how this always happens to us. The huckleberry bear claws the other day also were 2-for-1. Multiple times, we’ve been at a pizzeria that’s messed up our order and given us a full pie for free. There are other instances I can’t recall presently. I truly believe this random luck we get has to do with the energy we put out; the positivity leads to positive experiences. I bought a sticker from Jersey Boys as an extra ounce of good will. Their pizza was solid, with a good undercarriage, as Dave Portnoy would say. Thin and crispy, NJ-style.

We hit the road for Canada, having carefully monitored the fires all week. The fire danger in Banff was low, the air quality wasn’t terrible, and the skies looked reasonably clear. We’d go for it. We were at the Canadian border in less than an hour and had no issue entering the country. As soon as we crossed, we had stunning views of the Canadian Rockies. The mountains looked formidable and lakes abounded. We shook our heads laughing at a passing train, the image just too picturesque. After 3.5 hours, we had made it to Radium Hot Springs, our camp site.

While Radium isn’t bustling, we did take the time to walk around. The market was naturally very intriguing to us, particularly the products only found in Canada. We purchased a family-size box of Nesquik cereal, Old Dutch chips, and “Canadian” bread. I had to buy a bottle of maple syrup, my supply at home dangerously low. We then cruised over to Radium Brewing, where we were allowed to snack on these products over a beer. All in all, a successful jaunt.

We camped just 5 minutes outside of town in a spot that several others were already situated, which was reassuring — we’d never done any dispersed camping in Canada before. The next morning, Ryan woke me up, saying, “You gotta see this!”

The clouds were hanging over the hot springs below us, making a similar image as when we drove over Teton Pass — but even more epic. Ryan FaceTimed several friends and family to show them the view; I have no cell service in Canada, so I just took pictures. What a magical morning.

Now we are off to Banff to backpack until Sunday! I’m excited for Ryan to see this place and all the people we will meet.

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