Sunday, August 29, 2004


For those of you that have not noticed, this trip has become a tour of amazing ski towns throughout the West. Sandpoint. Whitefish. Fernie. Calgary. Banff. Lake Louise. Today the tour continued with Golden, Rogers Pass, and Revelstoke. All sit in the famous B.C. Interior, and are blessed with bountiful snow, amazing mountains, and quaint historic streets.

Golden has historically been a sleepy logging town that happened to have a ski area nearby. Everything changed when investors bought the small ski area, and flooded its expansion with capital. Now known as Kicking Horse, the ski area boasts over 4,000 vertical feet of terrain, making it among the biggest ski areas in North America.

Revelstoke is legendary for its powder skiing, and is home to several of the famous heli-ski operations for which Canada is known. In between sits Rogers Pass, arguably home to the best backcountry skiing on the continent. It is only August, but visiting these places leads to thoughts of winter glory.

We landed in Revelstoke, a wonderful town on the Columbia River. Unfortunately, the rain has continued in spades today, so little exploration has been done. The plus side of all this rain is the benefit for the forest fires in British Columbia. As of August 24th, there were over 2,300 forest fires in the Province; however, three constant days of hard rain have done wonders for the blazes.

In addition, there is a fresh coat of snow on the high peaks. For a tour of western ski towns, that seems appropriate….even in August.

Day 9 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven Today: 170
Miles Driven Total: 1,437
Ski Shops on Main Street in Golden: 5
Restaurants on Main Street in Golden: 4
Sets of Spiral Tunnels Observed: 1

Enjoy the still unfortunately rainy photos.

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Saturday, August 28, 2004


Road trips tend to develop themes. We have a triumvirate: trains, bears, and precipitation. While that recipe might sounds like a traveler's nightmare, we are still having a damn good time.

The West was settled, in part, by train. In fact, not long ago, our road trip destinations were connected only by rail. Accordingly, it is no surprise that every stop on this road trip is a rail hub. Thankfully, except for our first night, proximity to rail lines has not been a problem.

Following Trans-Canadian Rail Line west out of Calgary, one quickly reaches the resort towns of Cranmore, Banff, and Lake Louise. Each of these towns sits amidst the spectacular glacially carved peaks of the Canadian Rockies, and each utilizes its beautiful setting to the fullest extent. We decided to spend the night at the least developed of the three – Lake Louise.

As with Glacier National Park, the Canadian Rockies is prime bear country. Although we didn’t see any, each of these three towns has embraced the bear as its unofficial mascot. At the same time, each has undertaken whatever steps it deems necessary to protect residents and visitors. In Lake Louise, that includes the installation of a 7,000-volt electric fence around the Lake Louise Campground.

In spite of the downpour, we did a seven-mile, 1,800-vertical-foot hike up to Saddleback Pass. The scenery was spectacular, although most of the high peaks were obscured by low-hanging clouds. After a quick tour through the famous Chateau Lake Louise, and a peek at the famous LL Panorama, we struck out to the west towards Golden and Revelstoke. Hopefully, we can change at least one of our themes, and find some good weather.

Day 8 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven Today: 150
Miles Driven Total: 1,267
Japanese Tourists Seen in Banff: 1,875
Number of Hours without Rain: 2

Enjoy the unfortunately rainy photos.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Giant Marshmallows, the Frank Slide, and Other Road Trip Gems

Giant Marshmallows are cool. Or, they at least they seem cool when the monotony of the road has warped your brain. When your day is measured by mileage markers, the drumming of precip, and the steady “whump whump” of the wipers, anything new seems fun and interesting.

Western Canada is a mix of glorious mountains and pastoral ranchland. Between the meandering, lazy cattle, giant rolls of hay lay motionless in the fields. Many of these behemoths have congregated near the highway, and some have dressed themselves in sea-foam green plastic zoot suits. Sea-foam green is so hot right now.

The beauty of a road trip is the odd moments frozen in your memory. Like the first time you see the ginkgo petrified forest. Or, even better, the world’s largest truck. The first look at the Frank Slide is one of those moments. On a cold night in 1903, ten-gajillion metric meters of rock broke loose from a mountainside near Crowsnest Pass, and buried a portion of the town of Frank. The visual of this slide is overwhelming, as the rockslide traveled at least a mile and a half across the valley before climbing hundreds of feet up the other side. To this day, giant boulders are heaped hundreds of feet high throughout the valley.

After four straight nights in a tent, a hotel room is starting to sound pretty good. It’s not that we are tired of camping. We like camping. However, the wettest week in the history of Canada is starting to get us down. Rain has fallen incessantly since we left Glacier. Our tent is starting to grow moss.

We land in Fernie, British Columbia. If you are a skier, you know Fernie. Legendary snow. Breathtaking steeps. Interior B.C. skiing at its best. In August Fernie provides other interesting activities. Mountain biking, hiking, climbing, fly fishing – all sports that don’t take kindly to buckets and buckets of rain. Although the downpour dampened our stay in Fernie, it didn’t dampen our affinity for this quaint town on the Elk River.

Despite our love for B.C., we decide to move on in search of better weather. Calgary is the home of our friends Mike and Liane. However, even with 220 miles of driving, we have not escaped the rain. Is this some sort of Seattle curse? M&L’s house is stunningly beautiful, and so close to many great things. This, plus their hospitality makes us forget the constant precipitation. Calgary is a good city. Quaint neighborhoods line the Bow River, and parks dot the landscape. Much like Denver, Calgary is also a gateway to the Rocky Mountains. Banff, Lake Louise, Cranmore. These mountains are magical. If we can get a break from Mother Nature, the next few days are going to be good.

Day 5,6 & 7 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven Day 5: 167 (Glacier to Fernie)
Miles Driven Day 6: 220 (Fernie to Calgary)
Miles Driven Day 7: 25 (Around Calgary)
Miles Driven Total: 1,117
Weight of One Tire on World’s Largest Truck: 8,000 lbs
Weight of World’s Largest Truck: 520,000 lbs

Enjoy the Photos.

For more info on the world's largest truck, click here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Buffalo Soldiers

Setting our sights north, we point the car towards Fernie, British Columbia, and roll out of Glacier National Park. Stunning scenery continues as we cross the border, and head north through ranchland along the eastern edge of Waterton Lakes National Park, in Alberta, Canada. Unfortunately, rain is pounding down relentlessly, and low clouds obscure the high peaks.

A sign appears out of the downpour. It simply says, “Buffalo Paddock.” Without hesitation, we steer south on to a dirt road – drawn by the lure of the unknown, and weird road trip adventures.

Crossing a cattle guard into a huge fenced pasture, we find ourselves on a one-lane track through the grassland. There is no guard, attendant, or park ranger. Like Jurassic Park, the tour is pre-ordained; we go where the road takes us.

For the first 800 meters, we see nothing, but the next bend reveals a meandering heard of bison. We glide to a stop, and they swarm around our car. Oblivious to us, we listen to them eat, chew, and grunt their way through a lunch of wild grass.

We sit, silently transfixed by these huge animals for what seems like forever until they move slowly to the south. Speechless, we look at each other. We are going to like Canada.

Buffalo Paddock Factoids:
Miles of B.P. Road: 2
Top Speed: 10mph
Number of Buffalo: 40-50
Closest Buffalo to Car: 5 feet
Weight of Average North American Bison: 2,000 pounds
Weight of Our Chevy Cavalier Rental Car: 2,606 pounds

Check out the Bison Photos.
In case you missed it above, here is the buffalo movie.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Going To The Sun

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA – “The middle of the food chain is a bad place to be,” I thought, as we happened upon the heaping pile of fresh bear scat in the middle of the trail. Lynn turned to me gravely, “it’s still warm.” Five miles from the nearest road, and suddenly we felt very small.

Glacier National Park in Northwest Montana is one of the crown jewels of the U.S. Park System, and it compares favorably to any mountain landscape on the continent. Designated a National Park in 1909, Glacier was looked upon by the railroad tycoons as a natural draw to lure customers out West. As a result of these two facts, Glacier has always walked the thin line between development and protected wilderness. Five provincial-style lodges dot the glacially carved landscape, and a road was literally carved out of vertiginous rock faces to traverse the Park’s most scenic mountain pass.

Yet, amidst this development, Glacier retains vast swaths of pristine wild land. Huge mountains rise vertically from verdant-river valleys carved long ago by the Park’s namesake glaciers. Old growth forest carpets much of the lowlands, interrupted only by deep-green meadows punctuated with Technicolor wildflowers, while glacier-capped peaks soar overhead. It is a vertical canvas, displaying some of Nature’s best work.

“The tracks up here are kinda small,” I mutter rather hopefully, noting that the print in the mud was every bit as big as my size 11 shoe. Thinking to myself, what do I know -- I just saw my first bear ever from the comfort of a car an hour ago -- I look Lynn in the eye and tentatively say, “I don’t think it is a Grizzly.”

Thanks to the efforts to protect this majestic land, as well as the efforts of our more environmentally conscious neighbors to the North, Glacier National Park is the southern tip of a wilderness corridor that extends far into Canada. As a result, Glacier contains one of the few truly healthy ecosystems in the United States, with a wide variety of flora and fauna, including, deer, elk, mountain lions, moose, wolves, and bears. Yes, lots of bears.

The decision to go backpacking in bear country isn’t as daft as one might think. Thousands of people explore Glacier’s valleys, climb Glacier’s peaks, and paddle Glacier’s waters every year without incident. The Park Rangers monitor bear-activity, and will close a trail if the bears become a threat. Rangers also educate backcountry users about human behavior in bear country, and the use of proper protocol keeps human-bear interaction to a minimum. Bears don’t eat people for food, and in fact want nothing to do with humans. The fact of the matter is that backpacking in Glacier is really quite safe. Nevertheless, still-steaming bear scat on your trail is still scary as hell.

Lynn and I set out yesterday morning from Whitefish for the short drive to West Glacier, Montana. After a quick stop at the backcountry permit office, we eased our car onto the famous Going To The Sun Road. Perhaps the most spectacular 50+ miles of paved road in the country, GTTSR bisects picture-perfect meadows and meandering river valleys before climbing up and over spectacular Logan Pass. On the way it passes numerous waterfalls pounding down steep slopes, and provides outstanding views to numerous sky scraping peaks cloaked in glacial ice.

Awed by the drive through Glacier, we made our way to the Red Eagle Trailhead on the East side of the Park. Our destination was Red Eagle Lake, an easy 7.5 miles into the backcountry. The trail was spectacular, as it passed through wide meadows of swishy tall grasses, knee-deep wildflowers, and fresh berries. We crossed two amazing wooden suspension bridges over Red Eagle Creek, before coming to stop to gaze in wonder at a big pile of shit.

“What should we do?”

“What can we do? Keep walking.”

We continued on without incident, talking loudly and periodically clapping, so as not to surprise our friend. The next two days were amazing. We watched deer frolic on the beach, loons glide across the surface of the lake, and cutthroat trout cruise the shallows. We swam, fly-fished, hiked, and relaxed in an amazing amphitheater of high peaks. It rained quite a bit, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for “our” amazing mountain valley.

Day 3 & 4 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven Today and Yesterday: 75
Miles Driven Total: 705
Miles Hiked: 16
Bears Seen from Car: 5 (3 Grizzlies, 2 Black Bears)
Bears Seen on Trail: 0
Fish Caught: A few, but not enough...

Enjoy the Glacier National Park Photos.

Friday, August 20, 2004


WHITEFISH, MONTANA – My friend Sue always told me I would like Montana. Turns out, she was right.

After a night of shaking ground, piercing whistles, and thundering trains, we groggily set out for the solitude of Northwest Montana. Driving north and then west of Sandpoint, we followed the unbelievably beautiful Kootenai River through its majestic valley toward the sleepy town of Libby. As we sped past, fly fishermen stalked trout, under the watchful eye of bald eagles doing the same. This scene repeated itself in every valley we traversed as we plunged deeper into Montana, yet because of our schedule we had little chance to break out the fly rod. Undaunted, we continued on towards Kalispell. As we approached the pastoral Flathead Valley, and turned north towards Whitefish, a sheer wall of mountain and rock thrust toward the sky on the eastern horizon. Sue is apparently a very smart woman.

Whitefish is home to Big Mountain Ski Area, and like Sandpoint, it has that diametric mellow-adrenaline vibe common to western ski towns. Dogs passed in the back of pickup trucks, and every car carried a mountain bike, kayak, or both. Naturally, we felt right at home.

Planning to camp in Whitefish, we had scoped out campgrounds in advance, and felt confident would avoid another “train incident,” and yet another sleepless night. What our research didn’t tell us is that Whitefish, and unfortunately our pristine campground on the south shore of Whitefish Lake, sits right on the main rail line from Chicago to Seattle. The same set of tracks that runs through – you guessed it – Sandpoint, Idaho.

Thus far, four trains have passed in a flurry of noise and momentum, but at least tonight our campsite is a few hundred yards away, nestle in a grove of aspens. Tonight will be better. After all, we are in Montana.

Day 2 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven Today: 268
Miles Driven Total: 638
Montana Trout Stream Passed: 11
Montana Trout Streams Fished: 0
Bald Eagles Seen: 2

Enjoy the Photos.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Hit The Road

SANDPOINT, IDAHO – The ferry trip to Seattle this morning felt different. It could have been the pea-soup-fog enveloping the boat, or the quirky flautist playing endless melodies just out of sight in the dense mist. Or, the brilliant summer sun glinting off the tops of the downtown buildings, like a beacon of light to the boat buried in the muck far below. Or, it could have simply been that this was the first step of many for us.

Finally we are on the proverbial road. After weeks of planning, discussing, revising, and re-revising our travel plans, we finally decided to actually travel somewhere. Road trips are always good, or at least they seem that way when you set out for your destination. It felt great today to hit the road with a minimalist plan to explore the grand mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It may not be the most exotic of our planned destinations, but it is a great start.

Our first stop was Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. CDA is a famous Idaho resort town just 10 miles across the border from Spokane, Washington. We rolled into town with high expectations, given the spectacular forested shores of lake Coeur d’Alene. However, despite its longstanding reputation, CDA has an odd Kalifornia-WalMart-surftown vibe that seems out of place in the majestic mountains of the northern Idaho panhandle. Fancy resorts line the lake, and the beach jumps with the bustling crowds of summer, while suburbia sprawls up the valley to the north. It is clear people like CDA, but it wasn’t our thing, so we soon sped north in search of a real mountain town.

Sandpoint, Idaho was recently written up in Outside Magazine as one of 20 dream towns left in America. Set at the north end of giant Lake Pend Orielle (pond-er-ay), Sandpoint is surrounded by the southern end of the spectacular Purcell Range. Mountains rise from all sides, and the various arms of the lake sprawl to the south. All matters of outdoor recreation are taken seriously in Sandpoint, as evidenced by the multitude of bikes, kayaks, and ski racks strapped to the tops of every car in sight. This is more like it.

Unfortunately, for the unemployed dirtbag travelers, all of the truly affordable inns and lodges are full tonight, and so are all of the nearby campgrounds. Well, all of the campgrounds except one. There is a miniscule camping area with an amazing location adjacent to Sandpoint City Park, complete with a marina and beach. It is perfect, except for the railroad tracks 35 feet behind and above our tent. Given the complete lack of alternatives, we are going to take it. After all, how many trains can come by in one night?

Day 1 Road Trip Factoids:
Miles Driven Today: 370
Miles Driven Total: 370
Pimped-Out Rides Seen in CDA: 17
Pimped-Out Rides Seen in the Other 368 miles: 0
Number of Trains in First 21 Minutes at Campsite: 3

Enjoy the Sandpoint Photos.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Seattle, Bainbridge, the Northwest…

When most people think of Seattle, they think of rain. In fact, folks back East think Northwesterners have moss growing behind their ears. While Seattle gets its fair share of the wet stuff in the winter (and, if we are being honest, in the Spring and Fall too), what most people don’t realize is that the summers here are perfect. Not nice. Not great. Perfect.

We are lucky enough to be spending part of this summer in Washington State. Frequent readers of this blog know our story, but for those new to the scene, here is the short version. Lynn was born in Seattle, and I in Colorado. After years in the steamy climes of Virginia and the mountains of Colorado, we both ended up in the Curt-Cobain-Seattle of the early 90s. We then moved to Colorado for a few years, relocated to Boston for a few more, before deciding to drop out for a few months of long-anticipated travel. Cut to the present.

Lynn’s parents live on a bucolic island surrounded by both high mountain peaks and tranquil water. Home to 20,000+ lucky residents, Bainbridge Island sits in Puget Sound, just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, and an hour from the majesty of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. With all the amenities of a city, and the beauty of a pastoral wilderness, Bainbridge is an amazing place to live. Especially during a perfect Pacific Northwest summer.

Since we arrived here on July 1, our calendars have been full and our days busy. We spent the July 4th holiday on Whidbey Island with longtime family friends, and enjoyed spectacular fireworks reflecting off the Sound from the comfort of our private bonfire on the beach. We have hiked extensively among the moss-draped old-growth forests and crystalline high-alpine ridges of Olympic National Park. We have picked fresh blueberries and blackberries from the awesome tangle of plants thriving in the idyllic garden behind the house, and we have explored the beach and sand dollar fields in Murden Cove in front of the house on the lowest tide of the year.

Every day, we watch the resident pair of Bald Eagles frolic in the cove, fishing for salmon, and fending off scoldings from the local Osprey. Great Blue Herons constantly stalk the flats looking for sustenance, and every evening a flock of Canadian Geese land in formation in full view of our front deck.

Periodically, we hop the ferry for the quick ride to downtown Seattle, to see friends, ply the stalls of Pike Place Market, or simply feel the funky vibe that Seattle has to offer. This afternoon we climbed in kayaks for a tour of Murden Cove. Yes, it has been a good summer. In fact, it has been perfect.

Enjoy the Seattle photos.

Check out Joyce's Fabulous Garden.