Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Geezuz! September's Almost Over and Here Finally is the Story of Our Ill-Fated Vacation

It's almost time for Halloween again! I love me some Halloween. Last year was a total rip-off since I had to be in Boise for the occasion - but not this year. Nope. Whatever it is that the firm needs done on October 31, can be done by someone else. I'm going to go to work in costume, hang out with my co-workies and enjoy the day.

Lots has happened since I last updated this blog. I guess it was June! Daaang. Well, since then we've had a camporee, several church get-togethers, a vacation to Glacier National Park and are down a paycheck since Kristopher's job at Swedish came to an end. Life is generally quite good - I have continued the mission I began at the first of this year and am in pursuit of better health and answers as to how I can deal with/get rid of the pain I feel on a pretty much 24-7 basis. I don't have anything particularly interesting to write about this evening, which makes it pretty much the same as most evenings lately - but, I did promise my sister that I would post the story of our vacation, so that's what I'm about to do here. It's quite long, but here goes:

My Glacier National Park Vacation
Sometimes We Just Need to Get Away – Even if Staying Home Might Technically be a Better Idea
by Maryellen Skelton

I think that it has been about five years since I have taken a regular vacation. Even then, it was not quite a week, so in my mind it doesn’t really count as the full meal deal. Kristopher and I have been married just over six years now, and we haven’t taken a road trip together, so we put our heads together and decided that it was high time we did. So we somehow came up with the idea of going to Glacier National Park in northern Montana. We’d been talking about this trip since back in April, and finally, August came and it was time to go. We both took a week of vacation, got our good friend Kathie to look in on our kitties and that was that.
We had a great trip planned:
Day 1: Leave the house at 7:30 a.m. and drive for 9 or 10 hours until we arrive at Glacier National Park, where we have reservations at an Inn on the East side of the park. We should be arriving late – between 7 and 9 p.m. because there are a few things we still need to buy along the way – like food for camping out, and a small Weber grill for grilling steaks and chicken and such for two - but that’s alright because we have a full day of fun scheduled for the next day.
Day 2: Awake refreshed from a good night’s sleep and find a camping spot somewhere in a campground called Many Glacier. At 2:00 p.m., take a scenic boat tour from the historic Many Glacier Hotel of two of the lakes there. Afterward, find or make some dinner and enjoy an evening by the camp fire.
Day 3: MMMmmMm smell that clean mountain air! Wake up early, pack up camp and head for a place called Two Medicine – one of the older spots in the park with a lake that will allow motorized craft. Arrange for a tour of that lake, then spend any available daylight cruising around on that lake in a rented motor boat. After a great day of all these outdoor activities, another evening spent by the camp fire, gazing at the star strewn Montana sky, and an early bed time will ensure an even better Thursday.
Day 4: Heading for the west side of the park, we will take the famed “Road to the Sun” – according to Fodor’s guide “arguably the most scenically spectacular drive in the country”, to a place called Sprague Creek – which has a nice camp ground and nice hiking trails nearby. Being prepared for Sprague Creek to be filled, we have a back-up plan of going to Apgar or another nearby campground just in case. There’s no real plan for Thursday, but it will be our last evening in the park, so I’m sure we’ll enjoy ourselves. Roasting marshmallows and making s’mores, no doubt.
Day 5: Bid farewell to the glorious park, and begin making our way to Missoula where we have a reservation at a Staybridge Suites for Friday night. Even though we will have had a wonderful time in the park, and rainbows are appearing over our assholes, we will no doubt be ready for some nice clean sheets and other civilized amenities.
Day 6: Wake up early and head for home. Stop along the way and see Kristopher’s brother’s new home in Wenatchee and regale him and his wife with tales of our great vacation. Oh, and if it’s not too late, we’ll stop off at my friend Tracy’s house for a housewarming. La la la ….tra-la-la….
Like so many things in life . . . the reality worked out to be somewhat different from the plan.
Day 1 (Monday): Had to go to work for about four hours on Sunday, so didn’t get the stuff packed up in the car until after midnight. As a consequence, we got up later than expected and didn’t get out of the house to hit the road until 10:00 a.m. Right there we’re gettin’ a different start. But we are in a good mood and happy to get started on our vacation, so it’s all good. We get some breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box and filled up our car and headed down the road. Spirits were high for the first couple of hours. We had decided to take the route of Highway 2 all the way to our destination, pretty much anyway. It was going to be more scenic – and, in the end, we believed more direct. At the very last minute I had a twinge that this might not be the best course of action and I shared those sentiments with Kristopher who assured me that it was as there was an accident on I5 that morning that would have held us back from getting to I90 by about 45 minutes or more. So we headed down that road. By the time we got to Leavenworth, a mere 185 miles down the road, we had been driving for over four hours. And here is what Leavenworth looks like in the summer:
Anyway, I began to recalculate the drive time while we sat behind a line of cars that was being held up for road construction, I began to be afraid that this trip was going to take more along the lines of 10 to 12 hours to drive. No matter – it would be late when we got there, but we would still get there. So on we drove. And we drove, and we drove, and we drove drove drove. Late in the evening, I began to get concerned about my plan that we were going to enter on the West side of the park, take the Going to the Sun Road to our destination on the East side of the park – so, just before we got out of Washington, which was almost 7:00 p.m. (not even out of WASHINGTON yet, you see where this is going?) , I called and spoke to Lindsey at that desk of the Swiftwater Motel where we were going to be staying and she said that she would not attempt to take that road after dark. That during this time of the year, road crews would shut down that road for four hours at a time. Whew! I thought….we’ve dodged a bullet. Nevermind the fact that the alternate route we would have to take would be at the very least another 120 miles farther. No matter – we would get there. So, for the next hour or so, I felt pretty darn good about myself that I’d made that phone call. And on we drove in denial. As it approached 11:00 p.m., I called Lindsey again and let her know that we were not going to make it before her shift ended at 11:00. She said that she would let the security guard know and that he would let us in when we arrived. At about 1:00 a.m., we stopped to get some gas - completely punchy from having been on the road for fourteen hours (we had a time change), and Kristopher told me that I needed to turn around because I’d missed a sign. I was looking at a sign a couple of blocks away and it wasn’t the right one, and he flipped out and told me to get out of the car – that he would drive, and oh baby…it was ON then. For the next hour, over the most twisty, pathetically pot-hole ridden dark-ass roads you’ve ever seen, we fought. And I mean I was MAD! During about the last 8 miles of the trip, I realized that I was still bitching at Kris just to keep myself awake! By the time we got to the hotel, I was ready to start pounding on the goddamn glass to get the security guard to come out. But he did come out and I didn’t even have to vandalize the place to make it happen. We got to bed finally, and, though we were both completely wiped-out from the all day marathon in the car we went to sleep with a sense of well-being. All would be well. We had made it! We were in Glacier National Park and some time tomorrow, we would actually get to SEE it!
Day 2 (Tuesday): We got up fairly early and got our clothing bags packed up in the car, and went to breakfast. Should have known that there was gonna be trouble that day when the waitress told us that the restaurant was closed when we went in. Despite the fact there were several people sitting there in front of us eating. The waitress went on to explain that they served breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., then closed for an hour to tool-up for the switch to lunch and open again at 11:00 a.m. Okay then. Of course Kristopher was pretty pissy about that, but he got over it pretty quickly when we went next door and found some microwavable breakfast and I got some coffee. It was gonna be okay. Oh! And I forgot to mention that on our way to the park, on that lovely, lovely drive, I started my period. Oh yea….. Gonna be camping in bear country on my period. Woooo hooo! “Dumbass woman on menstrual cycle camps in bear inhabited national park and is mauled by a grizzly. Film at 11:00.”
Anyway, the next stop that morning was to pay our park fee. Since we came in late and basically through a little-used entrance, we got in for free – but being the honest assholes that we are, we had to drive back over to the entrance gate and pay our $25 fee for the week. Of course we wanted to pay for the week, because we were going to be there a week, right? Well, read on. After we paid our $25, we turned around and went back to the ranger station at Many Glacier so I could talk to a lady ranger and ask about camping while I was on my period. Evidently, all the stuff we had heard about people being attacked by bears because the woman was on her period at the time had no basis in truth – so, although it would be a pain in the ass for me to be on my period, it shouldn’t get us both killed. Hurray for that! Anyway, things were definitely looking up when we were able to get a camping spot at the Many Glacier campground. We were just there at the right time, just like we thought we would be with our planning, and we got one. It was basically on the same land as the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn where we had spent the previous night and we could just walk to the little store and get anything we needed. The rangers stopped by and told us about the rules about cooking and food storage, and told us about a great little camp program that was happening that evening and everything sounded wonderful. We got the tent all set up – we could have left it in the car, but spots at this campground are at such a premium, I wanted to get everything all set up so we wouldn’t have to worry about it after we got back from our boat ride extravaganza.

See? Isn't that just the cutest little campsite you ever saw? Also, it was about 80 degrees, and pretty darned hot in that tent, so I opened the windows and just left the screening up so the wind could get in. I didn’t want it to be hot and stuffy when we got back. The air mattress was all set up, and it had a down comforter on it, all tucked in with a fitted sheet, our sleeping bags, our clothes bags and our pillows were there. So we got some lunch at the same restaurant that turned us away for breakfast (It’s difficult to have hard feelings about such things when you’re hungry), and we got to the Many Glacier Hotel just in time to get parked and get on the boat. On the way to the hotel, we noticed that there was a light sprinkle getting started. Not to worry – no doubt it would soon stop. By the time we got onto the boat, that sprinkle had turned into genuine rain. No worry. No doubt it would stop soon. We got out on the lake, and the rain was coming down so hard that we couldn’t open the windows without getting soaked. So I was getting very disappointed and kinda pouty, but Kristopher was trying to stay positive. So that was nice and I tried as well. Now this boat ride we were taking was a combo boat ride and optional hike. And we were also going to be touring 2 lakes, not just one. We had to disembark the first boat and take a short hike to another boat and tour another lake. Lake Josephine. Anyway, the rain was coming down pretty good by the time we came to the first shore where we were to change boats, and the skipper asked who wanted to go on the hike as planned, and we definitely did not volunteer. Another thing I neglected to mention is that we, the husband and I, did not bring a single thing to deal with any kind of inclimate weather. Not an umbrella, not a rain poncho, not even so much as a jacket or sweatshirt. Oh yeah…. So, we weren’t gonna be the best candidates to go on the 2 mile hike in the rain. So, we went over and got on the next boat to tour lake Josephine. The walk to the other boat was up a fairly steep hill, and there was a bit of a wait while standing in the rain for the second boat. That was all very interesting, let me tell you. The rain, which was now coming down in buckets, was also coming down at a 90-degree angle. wind had kicked up and was driving this thing right into the realm of a significant summer storm. I began to get concerned for the tent and was wondering how it was fairing the storm. I wasn’t too worried at this point, thinking that it was likely that the weather was a lot worse here on the lake. So it went on. By now, I was just hoping to get through it quickly. We got finished with the tour of Lake Josephine, and were on the trail back to the other boat (for which we left the boat early because the rides were so crowded there was a chance you would not be able to get a seat if you didn’t get there quickly), and Kristopher said something crappy to me, and I hit him in the back of the neck with a water bottle that had about 3 ounces of water in it, and he turned around and was MAD. He said something hateful and we went back to the campground in a silent car. I was wet, cold, disappointed and seething. The plan was to go back to the tent, lie down for a while and try to recoup and hopefully not say anything about anything and thereby avoid getting a giant fight started. But we went back to the campground to find our tent soaked and all the stuff standing in a couple inches of water in places. The packed bags with our clothes were in the tent, the sleeping bags, the down comforter, the quilt, the air mattress and basically anything and everything that was made of cloth and would be very inconvenient to have wet when you have no handy way to get them dry again - were in the tent. And all of it – all of it was wet. This, of course, coupled with the still persistent rain, magnified the significance of what happened on the trail on the way from Lake Josephine, and there was some uncomfortable time in the car. Finally, the rain subsided and we began the process of pulling all of the stuff out of the tent and setting it up to dry somewhere on the campsite. Kristopher, thank God, brought a huge length of rope, probably 80 ft. of it, and strung it between some of the trees on the site. We were talking about going to the dryers at the Swiftcurrent Motel and putting in some of the wettest pieces when a guy passed by (never knew who this guy was or where he came from) that told us we could use the dryers ‘if the electricity wasn’t out in the whole valley’ – and other things like we were soon going to be out of water in the campground because none of the pumps were going to be working. Swell. So the feather mattress that was soaked, and all of Kristopher’s clothes that were also soaked in their bag and both sleeping bags and all the other cloth in the tent was strung out over the lines that Kristopher put up, and the hammock (which got plenty wet itself) and the bushes and everything else that would hold . Not wanting to sit there and look at the soaking wet stuff any longer, we headed to Babb for dinner. I was still feeling very down and like nothing was ever going to work out again even after we got there and right after we ordered our food, but then it started to get some better, and it wasn’t raining again, and things were looking up. The sun had been out for long enough that by the time dinner was over, I was sure that most of what we had was going to be dry enough to be passable and that the worst of it was done and over. That, as it turned out, was very true. There was nothing again on the trip quite like the sideways driving rain boat trip or the 2 inches of water in the tent and all the stuff wet while we were soaked to the bone and cold. However, we ain’t done yet. And, in the event it has escaped your attention, I am on day 2 of my period while camping here in bear country. So we have a great steak dinner at this cool steakhouse. I have a New York strip and Kristopher has a buffalo steak and we get free cheesecake to go for dessert, and we go back to the campsite. We have a nice fire, and hold our pillows in front of the fire to get them dry. We get out the Coleman stove and I heat up some water for hot tea (can’t have anything with sugar in it, or anything that might look like food or actual cooking after dark while camping in bear country). We have cheesecake and by the time we tuck in for the night, we are sleeping warm and comfy. And that’s a good thing because, about 30 minutes after we went to bed, it started raining. But again, we were warm and dry.

Day 3 (Wednesday): It’s good to have a plan so you have something to abandon. We managed to get up and get to the restaurant before they stopped serving breakfast – so already we’re stoked about that. We have a decent breakfast at the Swiftwater Motor Inn’s restaurant, and we went to the gift shop where we picked out rain jackets, hats and emergency ponchos. They were nice jackets and they were reasonably priced, and the hat that we found for Kristopher made him look like Mr. Wilderness himself. We were going to deal with the rain, and do so with a smile if we could. We read a weather report on the counter of the restaurant and it basically said that it was raining on the east side of the park, and it was raining on the west side of the park. So it really didn’t matter where we went. As such, we thought we would abandon the idea of going to Two Medicine and go ahead and take the Going to the Sun road to the west side of the park. At least we would have a beautiful drive, and likely we would find more to do on the west side of the park with the Apgar center there and so forth. So, we set out. The Going to the Sun road is a marvel of engineering – carved out of the side of the mountains and winding around the rock faces to incredible heights until ultimately crossing the continental divide, the views are reportedly breathtaking. We drove through St. Mary and picked up some cash, and started along the road. It was still raining, but not hard – certainly nothing we weren’t accustomed to seeing having come from Seattle. In fact, as we continued along the road we both remarked about how much this place we were in looked like Mt. Baker state park about 40 miles from home. In fact, the only things we could see due to the reduced visibility brought about by the cloud cover, were ALL very similar to the parks we see and drive through any time we feel like it. And we drove 14 hours on shitty Highway 2 to get here. Hmm. Smart. As we continued on our way on the Going to the Sun Road, the weather took a turn for the worse. The rain increased, and, when we were at the peak, the clouds began to roll in. Actual clouds. Not just fog, but the really think kind of white, cotton clouds that you sometimes get in when you’re flying. Except we weren’t flying. We were driving. To be more specific, I was driving. So the visibility that was diminished for sight-seeing, now became virtually nil, and the visibility for driving and seeing the road, went right along with it. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could only see about 7 inches in front of the hood. We were on the inside track, right next to the rock face and I was concentrating on staying just to the right of the center line, as I could not see a right-side line most of the time. Of course, oncoming traffic had the outside track, and they were worried about not falling off the side of the mountain so some of them were watching the center line and concentrating, no doubt, on staying right on it. Anyway, it was quite harrowing, and there was quite a bit of it. The one good thing about it is that we had abandoned bitching because the only scenery we could see looked an awful lot like Seattle, and started being grateful to be making it out alive. When we regained some visibility, we got stopped by the road construction crew. The road was narrowing to a one lane now. Yay. The rest of the drive down was uneventful, but took quite a bit of time. It was about 2.5 hours of stress and no views. We stopped at Lake McDonald where there was a lodge, and a place to have pizza. We looked around at the lodge and went to enquire about a room for the night at the lodge. I really hated to leave the park. Of course, there was no room at the lodge as they are booked well in advance – but we tried. The pizza was pretty good, and it should have been for the price of it. Anyway, whatever. We decided to give it up and leave the park. So goodbye to Glacier, and it was only Wednesday. On we drove, south toward Missoula. We planned to stop along the way and camp somewhere on Flathead lake. Luckily, that worked out and we found a nice place to stop for the night. I kept hoping that we would out run the rain, but we weren’t able to do that. It did actually stop raining long enough for us to get the tent set up, and to go into town (Polson) about 12 miles down the road and pick up some groceries and a tarp. So that’s what we did, and we found a little Weber like I wanted at the Ace Hardware store, and we bought some steaks at the grocery store next door. We went back to the campsite – it was dark by now – but we had a nice dinner there by the lake. Kristopher built a fire for us and the moon, just full on Saturday night, rose above the lake and gave some beautiful views. By the time we finished eating and put the dishes and other stuff away, it started to rain. We didn’t mind because we were tired and ready to go to bed anyway. And so it rained – and it rained all night long. That was okay because we stayed nice and dry inside our little Sir Edmond Hillary tent.

Day 4 (Thursday): By morning the rain had subsided, which was good because I really had to go pee. Did I mention that I was on my period while we were camping in bear country? So I got up and went to the bathrooms in the car so I could take a shower. Managed to do that without incident, then went back to the campsite and began the process of cooking breakfast, while Mr. Man got out of the tent and built another fire to burn stuff in. I did, however, take the time to put up the tarp so I could cook without getting wet if it started to rain again. And, as it turned out, it did do a bit of raining so it was a good thing we had it. Anyway, it was fun cooking breakfast, and the lake was beautiful. So it was a good morning. We got the bedding out and got it most of the way dry (yes, a little water got in the tent during the full night of raining), we got the car unpacked and re-packed in a bit better configuration and went down the road. The plan was to find some place to camp for this last night before it got too late. There were still a couple of state parks listed on the map that we could investigate before we got to Missoula. And so we drove on. We stopped and visited St. Ignatious mission in St. Ignatious MT. It was a pretty cool church with beautiful fresco paintings and it was a nice stop. All this time it is still raining as we go southward on our way. We continued on and headed for the bison range since Kristopher wanted to see that. It wasn’t far out of the way, and before entering the bison range, we stopped and had a hamburger from a surly vendor just outside of the range. We also stopped by a curio shop across the street where we got some wallets made from buffalo skin and Kristopher bought me some buffalo earrings. We went to the bison range entrance, and you’ll never guess what happened. It started to pour down RAIN. What a shocker. It was getting kind of late, and so we decided to head on down the road to our next campsite. I had found a place on the map that looked pretty good – it was east of Missoula and if we cut across a road going through the Flathead Reservation, we could be there in a couple of hours. Well, we did just that. Except that when we went through to the road going to Salmon lake (or Lake Placid – there were two to choose from), it was an unimproved road – no challenge for PePe, except that a couple of miles in, the road forked and there was absolutely no indication which was the correct direction to take. The only thing that even approximated a direction was a blue arrow painted by someone with a can of Krylon on the back of a stop sign pointing toward the fork on the right. And so we took it. That fork led us on a meandering path of some farms in the area, and, after about 30 minutes, right back out onto the highway from whence we came. And so, since neither of us was in the mood for much more adventure and Kristopher mapped us out a route to get to these parks that took us on some dependable roads. Dependable, yes. 90 miles more out of the way, yes. By the time we got to these parks to take a look at them, I was about ready to ditch the car and run away to the nearest airport to get home. But I was keepin’ it together. We looked at the first park, which was pretty nice, fairly secluded (if a little dark), and then went down the road (only a couple of miles or I would never have done it) and looked at the second park. When we got there we saw people whippin’ out their rain gear. Yep. It had followed us once again. Not able to bear the thought of having to set up for camping in the rain again, I got inot my back pack and got the file folder on all the arrangements I had made ahead of time and got the information on the hotel. Since we were fortunate enough to have cell phone signal, I called and got the hotel reservation changed to Thursday instead of Friday. So we went to Missoula to the Staybridge Inn, and there we salvaged our vacation. As soon as we checked in they told us about the free buffet that they had going on and how we still had an hour to enjoy it. Not 5 minutes – a whole hour. Ah….. We got our stuff up to the room, and as soon as Kristopher had dropped the bags he was carrying, he started dropping clothes. He hadn’t had a shower since Monday morning when we left home, and he was READY. After his shower, we went downstairs and had some Caesar salad with chicken. It was a decent dinner, but the best part about it was that we didn’t have to get back into the car for anything. We stayed right there and we were happy. They had a big movie room in the common area and we took a movie down there to watch. I also enjoyed the hot tub and pool (more the hot tub than the pool). It was great. We slept quite well in our king sized bed. Some time during the evening we made the decision to stay another night. Actually, it was more me who made the decision because I could not fathom getting up the next morning and getting into the car for another full day of driving. And, although I could see some places to stop and camp on the map, I had quite enough of trying to out run the weather and second guess the roads. So another night at the Staybridge Inn sounded just fine to me.
Day 5 (Friday): Woke up at about 9:00, got dressed in exercise clothes and went to the free breakfast buffet with Kristopher. Walked like I normally do, then after getting dressed went to the Sportsman’s Warehouse with Kristopher and spent just over two hours picking out his hunting gear with him. We went to a great place for ribs – I think it was called “Famous Dave’s” and man, it was gooooood stuff. I had ribs and Kristopher had a steak. Then we took off for downtown and rode the carousel together. We bought some stuff in the gift shop and took pics – then headed off to the mall. I bought a new necklace at Sears – a heart and ruby one, and Kristopher bought some shoe laces. We headed back to the hotel and watched some television and went to bed.
Day 6 (Saturday): Got up at 9:00 again (didn’t take a lot of time to try to figure out why I was sleeping so soundly) and did the free breakfast and walking thing. We took off for home about noon. We made it as far as Superior, MT and had some lunch at a place called Durango’s. We bought some souveniers there – I got a really cool dragon statue and some nice glass earrings. I also bought a dragon statue for Mr. Bill for Yule, and Kristopher a cool box for his God incense (nice little piece of altar gear to go with the water chalice he got at the mall), and a couple of spices that are really bad ass.
After that we pretty much drove straight home with one small stop off at the Coumbia river for some pictures and to stretch our legs.

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