I might’ve been done hiking the Wonderland Trail, but vacation certainly wasn’t over! Adam and I had a loose plan for our last few days. Part 3? Glacier National Park. We visited here seven years ago and loved it, but it was in June, and the Going-To-The-Sun Road was closed in the middle because there was still a lot of snow and the road wasn’t cleared yet. So we ended up getting a site at a campground just outside the Park and tent-camping the first night, then driving as far as we could on the Going-To-The-Sun Road (for those that aren’t aware, this is the main road that runs through Glacier National Park and is pretty famous for it’s incredible scenery – definitely something you need to experience if you’re there!). We went as far as we could, and then turned around. The second night at our campground we decided to grab one of their tiny cabins. It consisted of a bed, a nightstand and a lamp. Super-cool little cabin. Then we drove around to the other side of the park and drove as far as we could up the Going-To-The-Sun Road on that side. We always said we’d come back and drive the whole thing. Well, that was a long story to get to now.
Part 3. Day 1. Monday, August 7, 2017
We left our hotel room in Yakima and hit the road toward Glacier NP. We played trivia, tried white coffee (it was okay), swung in at the Spokane Co-op for some camping goodies (we were planning on camping while in the park), and got back on the road. It was a whirlwind, and it looked as though we were going to arrive pretty late, so we decided last minute to find a room along the way and start fresh in the morning. We landed in Thompson Falls, Montana around 7pm. Our room was a small, super-cute cabin-y style room – very cozy. We were thrilled to be back in Montana – it’s our favorite state!
We head to Minnie’s Diner in town, which came highly recommended by… well, pretty much everyone we talked to. Thompson Falls is a pretty small town, and this local diner was just a perfect small-town-Montana experience. We arrived to find no clean tables, which Adam said was a good sign. We waited quite a long time for our food, too, but it was all part of the experience. Good food, too, of course!
Part 3. Day 2. Tuesday, August 8, 2017
We really enjoyed our short visit to Thompson Falls. In the morning we slept in – but not too late – because we wanted to hit up a little coffee shop (Beagle’s Bakery & Espresso) right across the street from our hotel. I’m pretty sure I had what I think might’ve been my favorite coffee on the whole vacation (that’s saying a lot, as you’ll see in my next entry!). With coffees in hand, off we went! Finally! Glacier!
On the way Adam spotted a hand-painted sign that read in ginormous red letters, “CHERRIES,” and I spotted a giant, bronze-colored bull statue. So of course, we pulled in. We were at M&S Meats in Rollins, Montana, which is apparently famous for their buffalo jerky. We bought some cherries at the little roadside stand, and also some cheese curds from in the store. In hindsight, I wish we would’ve bought some buffalo jerky! Whoops, next time! I learned a lesson about cheese curds. We’re from Wisconsin, and we have damn good cheese curds. Adam asked at the counter when they were made (when you buy them in Wisconsin this answer usually comes in the frame of hours if you’re getting the good, squeaky fresh ones). The lady cheerily responded, “Oh, they just delivered them two weeks ago!” Adam said he literally almost laughed as a knee-jerk reaction, but held it back and just bought them. We are so spoiled and maybe a little bit cheese-curd-snooty. And they weren’t great. Next time? We’ll get the jerky – what they’re known for! We got some photos in front of the giant, anatomically correct bull with his tail raised (why are these things always so funny to me!?), and got back on the road.
We arrived at Glacier National Park, and learned that there was only like two tiny little campgrounds that had a site or two available, but they were really close to a couple of active wildfires that weren’t yet contained, and the ranger told us that they were pretty smokey and might actually get closed down soon. We wanted to stay two nights, so we decided to look elsewhere, just outside the park. Guess where we ended up? That same campground we were in seven years ago! They’re sign just off the road said that they had no sites available, but we called before we got there and I was told they had something for our one small tent. And they did! I think it might’ve been the last site, but we didn’t care! The only bummer about camping was campfires were prohibited due to a fire ban (for obvious reasons with all the wildfires in the area! Smoking wasn’t even allowed outside a vehicle! It was pretty serious.) We were really hoping to have a campfire, but as it turns out, we didn’t spend much time at our campsite anyway.
We set up our tent and then started on the Going-To-The-Sun Road. It was open all the way through, so our plan was to drive the whole thing, and along the way I could scope out a few spots for a potential trail run the next day, and we would enjoy the scenery and the drive. It was beautiful! The road was really fun with sharp, winding switchbacks that dropped off a really long ways down on one side and a rock wall on the other. The sweeping valleys below were thick and green with pine forest and the mountains on the other side were full of color and pretty darn majestic, shooting up into the sky with giant stone spires. We had some firesmoke haze here, too, so the mountains further off blended into the sky all dreamy and pretty-like.
Once we arrived on the east side of the park, we decided to take the road around the south side of the park back to our campsite. It was getting late, and we were going to be driving some of it in the dark – the road around the park wouldn’t be as curvy and crazy as the Going-to-the-Sun Road was. We had to deal with a few free-ranging cows in the road once outside of the park, but other than that, the ride back to our tent went smoothly – we were in our tents to sleep at 11:20pm. Talk about another full, great day!
Part 3. Day 3. Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Ooh, I loved this day! It certainly had its challenges, though!
Our plan was to get up early and try to get a campsite inside the park. I guess if you arrive early enough, you can usually find someone else packing up and tag the little pole with a self-registration slip. It’s crazy in these popular National Parks! We did get up at 5:30am, which came pretty quick. Especially since we were kept up really late listening to a couple a few sites down from us having a midnight drunken sprawl. It got pretty intense a couple of times with a lot of yelling, swearing, “get off of me!’s” and loud banging on a car door or something. Finally I think they both passed out, and so did we.
We left the campground at 6:15am and got to the Two Medicine Campground a little over an hour later at 7:30am – and found an open site with nobody in it! We didn’t even have to squat on some poor family trying to pack up! (A ranger actually told us that’s what you have to do sometimes – just wait for someone to pack up and tag their site. Crazy.) We set up the tent to be certain our site would still be ours when we got back and once again hit the road.
We stopped for breakfast (or tried for breakfast) at a restaurant called Johnson’s in St. Mary. When we arrived, they had just switched over to lunch. At this point in our vacation, we decided we were going to have a few “non-keto” things if it seemed right. We were on vacation and didn’t want to miss out on something fun just because of our way of eating. And besides, that’s not how keto works. It’s not a diet, and shouldn’t really be treated that way (although it’s hard to get out of that mindset at times, because that’s pretty much how I’ve always been!). I think this was the first meal on the trip that I didn’t ask for anything special. No “hold the bread,” or “can I substitute this for that.” Adam and I both ordered the lunch special – homemade beef-vegetable soup and sloppy joe’s on homemade bread with huckleberry coleslaw. They had me at huckleberry coleslaw! It was all amazing, but Adam and I both got stuffed super-fast and ended up leaving behind most of the bread, anyway. It was good, but too filling! We wanted the meat and that awesome coleslaw! Afterward, with a full belly? Totally worth it.
I made what turned out to be kind of crazy decision to trail run on the Highline Trail way up high at Logan Pass, which is on the Continental Divide (6,646 ft.). It was crazy for two reasons. First, it’s called the Highline Trail – it runs along a cliff edge with a pretty steep drop-off (crazy but freakin’ awesome!). Second, it was INSANELY busy up there! It was a random August Wednesday, for God’s sake. You’d have thought it was a frickin’ holiday! There was nowhere to park at pull-offs, and there were cars and people EVERYWHERE! It was overwhelming. I mean, I’m thrilled to see so many people using our national parks – just like we are – but it felt way too congested and got really stressful. We couldn’t even get into the parking lot at Logan Pass. They actually had people turning cars away from even trying, and this was where I needed to get dropped off for my run.
We drove to a not-so-scenic pull-off because it had room for our car and hatched a plan. Adam would drive up to the pass and stop with just enough time for me to jump out near the trailhead. He would find a place to park (hopefully one in that full parking lot) and wait two hours. I mean, we both set our watches when I jumped out in case he would have to do a drive-by pick-up. Then we’d know we could meet up for sure. I’d run for an hour, turn around and then run back. So that’s what we did. He pulled up to the trailhead, stopped the car, we started our watches, I got out and he took off. He battled all that chaos while I went for a fantastic run. This guy is the best. I can’t wait until I have a chance to run some ultra races. He is going to be the best crew guy!! (He always has been!)
Anyway, I head out right away, passing by people since most were out hiking, and everyone was in such a good mood and so friendly! I came up to the cliff edge and felt really good on my feet, so I just jogged along. There was a cable that you could hold on to, even. It was a very steep drop-off right on the edge of the trail. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a trip and fall here could likely be fatal. If I’d have felt at all unstable or nervous, I’d have hiked it, but I felt great. It was kind of funny because at one point there was a lady that I apparently made really nervous because she turned toward the rock wall and covered her eyes as I passed by, then a young girl said, “she’s passed, mom! You can look now!” She must have been a little afraid of heights or something. Sorry, random lady! I didn’t mean to scare you!
If you can handle my annoying huffing and puffing, here’s a little video of me running part of the Highline Trail:
I ended up running a total of a 7.3-miles as an out-and-back, and it was amazing. I felt so great. It seemed like my hiking legs were still ready to go, and I just ran and ran and ran. The scenery was amazing – I still stopped to take a lot of photos and try to absorb as much of it as I could. Hiking can be so much nicer because you are going slower and it feels like you can take more in, but I also like trail running sometimes because you can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time and see more that way, too. This situation seemed perfect for a trail run since I was going to be short on time.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. My feet got totally filthy and I sweat my butt off. It was perfect. At my turn-around point, which happened to be at a saddle with a view of valleys on both sides after a series of uphill switchbacks, I asked a guy to grab a photo of me. I sat on a rock for a few minutes, taking in my surroundings, then head back. I showed up at the trailhead where I started a little before our two-hour meet-up time. I found Adam parked in the parking lot! He got a spot, but he said it wasn’t exactly relaxing and he wanted to get the heck out of there. He said there was really nowhere outside to sit in shade (it was really hot) because there were so many people milling around, and sitting in the car was awkward because other cars would drive past and wait for you to pull out, thinking you’re about to leave… but he was waiting for me. So it ended up being kind of an awkward situation. I took a quick pee in the bathroom and we got back on the road.
Next up on my Glacier Adventure was my random obsession to try stand-up-padding on Lake McDonald. I had no idea if this was something that existed, but I just figured, “How could they NOT rent stand-up-paddle boards on Lake Frickin’ McDonald in Glacier National Park!?” Well, I was right! We found a place that had some rentals and about two hours left before closing. I got a quick lesson and head out. It felt so wobbly! I was afraid to move my feet once I stood up on it! I started paddling out toward the middle of the lake and it got a little choppy. I strained to feel sturdy, but I got the hang of it and was able to get going at a pretty good clip. I was still kind of afraid to move my feet, though! I could tell this was something that would get so much better and so much more fun with more practice.
It was a really peaceful experience, just paddling out away from the shore and toward the hazy mountain in the distance. I went out in a somewhat straight line, stopping every once in a while to gaze down into the crystal-clear water and breathe in the air with it’s slightly smokey flavor. What an experience. Life is amazing.
After about an hour I paddled back into shore, satisfied, but hungry! I hadn’t eaten since breakfast… or lunch… (since the sloppy joe’s), so Adam and I swung in at a restaurant and had some bunless burgers for dinner and then found a little ice cream shop that had huckleberry ice cream, so we got cones. I was definitely planning on indulging in some ice cream on this vacation! I had the strawberry malt in Yakima, and now an ice cream cone. It was so good, and again, worth every damn lick. I still felt like it wasn’t something I’d want to do as regularly as I had been a few months back (I would eat a LOT of ice cream), but what a treat.
After our ice creams were gone, we head back to our campsite at Two Medicine. It was dark before we knew it, and we were playing cribbage at our picnic table by headlamp light. We munched on cherries, pork cracklins, pistachios, and some kind-of-gross huckleberry cordials, and shared a lot of laughs, somehow getting on a roll of turning everything we said into some sort of innuendo. No better way to end an epic couple of whirlwind days in Glacier National Park than to play a few games of cribbage outside in the dark, under the stars. Together.
Tonight I love ice cream. I may be keto, but I’ll forever have a special place in my belly for ice cream.
A few more from my trail run: