Radium Hot Springs to Glacier National Park, Day 20 #MikeandTobyTravels

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The Apple Tree Motel, a roadside operation in Radium Springs, was run by a Luddite with frazzled blond hair and a weary smile.

“I refuse to run this place off the internet,” she said, handing me the heavy brass motel key. “All the other motels are booked up online and every day they’re calling me to take the overflow of their booking mess-ups. Besides, there would be no nowhere for people like you to go.”

“Amen to that,” I said, taking the key. I liked the heavy heft of it in my hand, the dull gold shine of the round brass door number tag. Once inside, the room had everything you needed—and the router for the building was located in the corner behind the TV, so for the first time on the trip I had lightning-fast wi-fi and got to upload a lot of photos. It technically had two bedrooms, but the second one was so small you had to turn and sidle crabwise to get around the bed. The coverlets were fake suede and above the bed hung folk prints with the picture and continued around the frame.

We were happy to find a laundromat the next morning after Mike bagged shots of  bighorn sheep rams and I uploaded my blog post. While the clothes were washing, we had breakfast at a local color restaurant, The Melting Pot. As often happens for me, there were no non-egg choices on the menu. The waiter steered me to the meatloaf-and-egg special.

“I’ll bring extra toast instead of eggs,” he said.

Healthy Canadian breakfast

Healthy Canadian breakfast. 8 slices of toast, mountain of potatoes, and meatloaf.

I ended up with 8 slices of heavily-buttered toast, a mountain of shaved potatoes, and a slab of meatloaf. I tried to only eat the meatloaf, but ended up munching down several slices of toast with blueberry jam as well. I’m definitely going to have to get back to calorie counting when this trip is over. Mike, in the meantime, had a smoked salmon, feta cheese and asparagus omelet that was one of the best breakfasts he said he’d had on the trip. Go figure. We’re both working on having low expectations, so we are delighted when things are good. This seems to be working because we’ve been delighted a lot since our previous Bad Day.

Fueled up with a bag of freshly-laundered clothes, we got on the road again through British Columbia heading for the Montana border. The country is warm and dry, rolling golden fields of grazing land peppered by pines of various kinds and a lot of goatsbeard, daisies, and bachelor’s button trimming the somewhat-battered roads.

Lured by a “Fresh Cherries!” sign, we pulled over to a working farm. The acreage around the farm’s buildings were heavily planted in a variety of spectacular tiger lilies as well as corn, tomatoes, cabbages, and beans. We drove down a graveled road behind some barns, where a bakery room was lined with huge fragrant loaves of bread, racks of pies and bins of rolls. The produce room beside it held caches of blueberries, cherries, beets, snap peas, kale and more. We were tempted by the pies (homemade strawberry rhubarb, yum!) but couldn’t figure out how we’d deal with one in the car so contented ourselves with a bag each of cherries and blueberries.

“Your flowers are so amazing,” I gushed to the tired-looking older woman swathed in a denim apron we’d roused from the kitchen of the bakery area to ring us up. She made an attempt to smile but had the look about her of years of getting up at 4:30 in the morning.

“Yeah, we do something with them sometimes when we have time,” she said. “And we don’t have time.” Looking around, I saw her husband, toothless and overall-clad, toting a big sack of vegetables in from a golf cart. Out in the field, bent over in the sun, were a couple of Hispanic-looking folks.

This gorgeous farm!! OMG

This gorgeous farm!! OMG

Leaving the beautiful farm, I felt sad. So far out in a depressed-looking countryside, with no young people to help out, and no gourmet farm-to-table restaurant to benefit from its bounty, the place looked to be a lot of hard work and a struggle to keep going—and yet still so abundant and attractive. A part of me would love to have something like that.

The rest of me knows better.

We crossed the border into the United States at Roosville, Montana, behind one other car. We entered the U.S. with no fanfare on our side, to pass by literally miles of cars stacked up in the Canada lane. It looked like a mass exodus to escape the zombie apolocalypse—miles of cars, vans, SUVs, Winnebagos, fifth wheels stacked with every kind of boat, jetski, quad and bike.

“What the heck?” We stopped in the middle of the road to allow an RV towing a Jetski to turn around into our lane to leave the endless line. Perhaps these were all Canadians returning home after a long weekend, or US people running away to Canada on the Fourth of July holiday. Whatever the reason, the disparity was overwhelming and we were very happy to be in the “get into the U.S.” line this time.

Montana looked much like British Columbia, only the roads were rougher, we saw more roadkill—a deer, a squirrel and bird or two (total roadkill sightings for our entire time in Canada: one crow)  and the trash cans at the rest stops, always pristine and empty in Canada, overflowed with refuse. Not that I’m comparing or anything…

We rolled into Glacier National Park around four, pretty tired and again, low expectations. Beguiled by no fishing licenses, we began stopping every mile or so along a verdant green highway rolling through the woods to fish in the pristine, sparkling Avalanche Creek. We didn’t get anything, but the joy of standing so close to the singing water, listening to the birds and watching the sun strike the tops of mountain peaks renewed both of our energy and excitement.

Coming back from one of these pullouts, I returned to the van and stowed my pole in the back.  Mike had shed his jacket and was wearing his T-shirt from the exertion of hiking along the river and casting. He’d gone ahead of the car to take a photo of the road, a sinuous curve through the trees accented by a sunlit mountain at the end. Seeing that his pole was already stowed, I shut the back hatch of the van and walked to the passenger door and pulled.

It was locked.

“Oh no!” Mike exclaimed. “Why did you close the hatch? The keys were in my jacket and the jacket’s in the back!”

“The back hatch was open, so I thought the rest of the doors were open. And you never put the keys in your jacket,” I said, as the two of us circled the van, now shut up tight as a turtle in its shell, impenetrable to us. We ran through the conversation again, more emphatically, then each of us apologized as we agreed it was a mutual accident.

“Now what?” It didn’t take five minutes for the cold roaring down from the snow-topped mountains to raise the hairs on Mike’s arms as we tried our cell phones to call for help, but there was no service available.

Fortunately cars were coming along beside our pullout fairly often, and we waited for the next park shuttle bus and flagged it down. They called the rangers, and left us there, feeling self-conscious and embarrassed but no longer severely worried.

Mike refused to take my awesome Viking jacket, but I took off my weird thermal hoodie and he put that on. It fit tight as a sausage casing.

“It looks good on you,” I said. “Not girlie at all.” I squeezed his arm muscles to cheer him up. I was proud of us. We never got mad or were mean to each other, something that would have happened when we were younger.

Mike passed the time while we waited by scrolling through the photos he’d taken on his camera and editing out the bad ones, and I read The Shell Seeker, the newest Lei Crime Kindle World novella by Christine Nolfi, on my phone. The story was so engrossing I went and sat on the ground behind a boulder out of the wind to concentrate, and I was so into it I didn’t realize the ranger had finally arrived until I heard Mike talking to someone out by the road.

The ranger, a tall, kindly man, stuck a rubber wedgie thing inside the driver’s side door, pumped it up with a handheld bladder, then inserted a long bent metal stick into the car and pressed the Unlock button. Presto! (I am definitely going to have to use this in a future novel.)

“I bet you didn’t think breaking into cars was going to be in your job description when you applied for the park service,” Mike said, grinning.

“I quickly discovered it’s one of my main functions,” the ranger said, packing up his (fascinating) bag of tools.

We got on the road again with many thanks, thrilled that the semi-disastrous problem had been so relatively easily solved. I was tired by then, and sagged in the seat from an overdose of too much stimulation.

“Let’s just get to the cabin.” I refused to get out of the car anymore as we rose from the valley floor into the most stunning drive we’d yet come across on the trip—and that’s saying something, because we’ve feasted our eyes on almost three weeks of outrageous beauty.

Glacier National Park has an immediacy to it, an in-your-face drama that elicited gasps from us around every corner. Named for the radical carving action of the glaciers that inhabited this area and gouged the peaks and valleys here, this place doesn’t allow tiredness or ennui. I got especially excited once I decided to do some time-lapse video out the window of the van with the selfie stick, which didn’t go that well but was fun to try.

The road is perilous, hugging the side of striated granite cliffs like a goat trail, boulders bulging from the walls. No RVs can fit on the road, and it was nice to have left their bulky company as we crept along. After seven p.m. by then, the light was sharp and slanted in the beginning of the lengthy sunset of the far north. Waterfalls gushed around and beneath each gully, and seeped alongside us in a lengthy section called the Weeping Wall. Every time we came around a corner, I was so close to the edge of the vastness that it sucked at me, and extending my phone out into it on the stick felt like an act of faith.

The beauty felt like pain. It made my teeth ache and my eyes water. I’m so sensitized to natural beauty that too much of it feels like overeating chocolate—and even driving slow, there was no way to take it all in. Clouds snagged on the razor-sharp peaks, downy wisps backlit by sunset. The snow still caught in the highest areas gleamed like marble veins, and I smelled the chill, elemental scent of stones and heard the roaring song of melted ice.

We finally made it through the 28 miles of exquisite Logan Pass, and turned into the Rising Sun Motor Lodge and Cabins. Checking in, we were astonished to find a really good restaurant at the lodge—we’d resigned ourselves to a dinner of beef jerky and potato chips, all the snacks we had in the car. Two Dog Flats Restaurant featured locally sourced, natural gourmet food, and we each had a delicious, reasonably-priced meal—I had local trout over whole wheat pasta primavera, and Mike had The Feast: beans, corn muffin, pulled pork, vegetables, chicken, and a steak. The whole bill, including wine, came to sixty dollars which felt like a giveaway after Canada’s high prices.

Our cabin was adorable and cozy with a powerful heater and good beds. Our low expectations and gratitude were rewarded by awesome.

“Thank you, God,” was what we both said as we climbed into bed, closing our eyes on another amazing day.

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