Today I sit in Melrichies Coffee house, Davie St, West End, Vancouver. I am unemployed and loving it. Preparation is well underway for our move back to Australia, and I have finally found some time to write my next installment on our Montana Trip. If you haven't read part 1, here it is :-)
We slept a little on the overnight train from Seattle to Whitefish after a decent train meal, and killing a lot of time playing Yahtzee (best $10 we've ever spent). I was so excited to be in a sleeper carriage, that I found it hard to settle. I was like a dog in the back of a car, running from window to window wanting to take everything in. It was a crystal clear night and there were amazing views of the stars. I have rarely seen that many stars in the sky;I couldn't stop watching them. Eventually breakfast summoned us to the dining car at about 6:30 am, we fueled up on rubbery omlettes and overcooked vegetables just in time to disembark into the pitch black morning at Whitefish Station; about 7am.
We had pre-organised a shuttle to the mountain so we had a fat American guy, wearing a cowboy hat calling our names at the Amtrack station. It was quite amusing being called over the room as "For - beees". Although they have "Forbes Magazine" and manage to pronounce that correctly? Anyways, we were whisked away from the station and dropped right at Whitefish reception to check in. It was announced by our driver that we wanted breakfast, although we had never uttered a word about this, but then it obviously came the single most important point of discussion as to where we could get breakfast. After explaining that we had already eaten a slow morning ensued. Room service took ages to clear our room for check in. Our room was finally ready by 11am. After a bit of a boring wait, we discovered it was well worth it. The hotel room was freaking massive. An ex club room, the owners of the building decided to renovate it and turn it into a hotel room. It was easily 3 times as large as out apartment, with a big king bed, enclosed balcony with dining table, lounge and an amazing view over the whole valley. The kitchen was huge and fully equipped, massive bathroom, fireplace...WOW. We felt ridiculously spoiled! Best part was it was cheap. We could not believe the price we paid for such amazing accommodation.
After settling in and making an essential coffee, we caught a free shuttle down to the town of Whitefish to check it out. It was a quick trip, some amazing chicken wings, a salad and a grocery shop later and we were back up at the mountain to chill in our amazing apartment. Dinner that night was the squid and scallops that we bought in Seattle - they were the most amazing scallops I've ever had, coupled with a Californian Chardonnay (Napa Valley), which was probably the best Chardonnay I have ever had.
Day 4 was our first day skiing, but first I had to start the day with a good old run around the ski resort. I love running in new places, and ski resorts are no different. The run was a bit difficult as due to the snow depth pedestrian access isn't great, but I made it work and had an amazing hour long run, getting me back with time for an epic brekky, coffee and a stretch before hitting the hill. Skiing wise, we were blown away by Whitefish. Firstly we got an amazing bluebird day which is always great for scoping out a new mountain. We rode a lot of fun terrain, found some dry pow even days after the last snow, but most of all killed the groomers. I have never ridden groomers like this, they were amazing. So fast and they were all interesting and different with cool rollers to hit and amazing views. The day ended with a dinner of fresh fish from Seattle market, and a relaxing hot tub that overlooked the ski resort! Amazing.
Day 5 was a rest day. The forecast called for snow for the rest of the week, so we figured a day exploring Whitefish would be good. We headed down to the town of Whitefish soon after a delicious breakfast of home made muesli and the most amazing Montana Natural Yoghurt and Milk. Both were organic, no hormones, antibiotics etc. I haven't had dairy that good ever - Paris Creek may come close. Hats off to Montana for doing dairy right, the US was the last place I expected to get good dairy - BC has a bit to learn. Anyways, it snowed lightly all morning, making Whitefish so beautiful to walk around. We ventured out into the suburbs and just aimlessly wandered. I love getting into the suburbs of towns as you really get a sense for what makes up the community. When you get off the standard tourist route you can see the locals and how they conduct everyday life. We bumped into a lot of them and everyone was so friendly, including an elderly couple that reminisced on the time they saw a moose walk right through downtown. The suburbs were so quaint and typically American. I loved it.
We walked along an amazing trail network that hugged the Whitefish River, stopped in a snow covered park for lunch overlooking the river. Coincidence took us past an amazing little bike shop that also did espressos. Here I had a good chat with the guy that ran the place about cycling in Montana - sounds like it is really taking off, and that it would be worth visiting in summer.
After a good 3-4hrs of walking, Kate and I ended up at the Great Northern Brewing Company. This was hands down the best brew pub I've been to. I'd say 50% of the beer list was malt and yeast driven beers, that were super light on the hops, unlike every other North American brew pub I've been too, which has a beer list of IPA and that's it. What also made this brew pub unique was a good list of lagers, which were superb. I ended up getting a pint of their Steam Ale, which is a beer brewed with a larger yeast at room temperature. Malt driven, and delicious. Then I got a pint of their Amber Ale, once again malt driven in flavour. Delicious. Feeling a little tipsy as I don't often drink, we headed back up to our amazing mountain apartment to cook the most amazing steak from Seattle for dinner. My mind was blown by how amazing this steak was! Seared for a few minutes on each side then quickly finished off in the oven.
Day 6 was our first POW day for a while. I however was getting edgy about exercise and was up early, so I started the day with a good half hour core session and half an hour on the treadmill! Great way to start the day, then followed with a huge muesli meal to prepare for an amazing day of pow. We explored so much of the mountain. We hit up a few runs on groomers with half a foot of fresh for our first few runs. That was super fast and like riding in silk. Once these were tracked we headed for the steeps of Hellroaring Basin. We found one face that was a really steep black run, probably 30 turns in length, no tracks, blower face shots every turn! Made the whole trip worthwhile, not that it wasn't already worthwhile.
Kate was killing it, popping little ollies off everything and hauling ass on the groomers! I haven't seen her ride like this before, it was awesome. We were just shredding and having so much fun together. Once the legs were burning and saying no more, we retired to the hot tub, and then I cooked up an amazing bean chilli-con-carne and then celebrated our last North American holiday, and three years of good times and successes, by opening my Tasmanian Single Malt Whiskey. The best whiskey I've ever had! Sweet fruit driven flavours. Beautifully smooth and rounded with a very full mouth feel. If it weren't so ridiculously expensive I'd buy a bottle for those special occasions.
Day 7 was another amazing Pow Day! About a foot of snow had fallen at the top of the resort. We headed straight for a run we ended the day with the day before. We knew it would be epic if we got first tracks; and we did! Super dry pow, really steep gladed run. Blower face shots every turn! Amazing. We then tracked a few other zones, and just so happened to be at the top as Hellroaring Basin was cleared of Avvy danger. You best believe we headed straight to the same steeps as the day before and shredded it like there was no tomorrow. I saw Kate make some of her deepest turns ever, and once again, I was getting blower face shot after blower face shot. What a day.
We returned to the lodge, super pooched, but loving it. This is where it all gets interesting. We had an inkling that trains were running late due to the cold weather in Chicago - just from the odd comment that people had been making. So, being my overly cautious self, I contacted Amtrack to discover that Friday nights train was running 10 hrs late. Based on this, I assumed that our train for Saturday night will also run just as late (it was already 3 hours behind and hadn't even left Chicago yet), so we changed our reservation from the Saturday night train to the Friday night train, which was now so late that it was actually Saturday mornings train, it got slightly confusing at this point dealing with people about this Friday / Saturday train. This delay and train change suited us perfectly though. It removed the risk of missing Monday for Kates work in Vancouver, and meant that we would get to see the country side by daylight! Turning a annoying situation into a good situation :-) I feel that many people on the train that had traveled the whole way from Chicago would not have shared my enthusiasm for the delay.
We arose on Day 8 after a sleepless night. We had to get up so early to make sure that if the train had made up time overnight, we wouldn't miss it. However when we get to the train station we find that the train had been delayed a further two hours overnight, meaning we could have slept in a little more....oh well, such is life, at least we hadn't missed it. In the end, the delay at the station wasn't all bad as I found an amazing coffee shop that did great lattes and great muffins. This made my morning.
The train finally arrived and we settled in for the next 14 hours. Now, we had a connecting bus in Seattle that was departing the Seattle train station at 9:30pm. As it was, the train was going to get us to the station at 9:30 pm, so we were starting to look at another night in Seattle. Oh well. We figured we'd make a nice night of it and spend the following day at the market.
As the day ground on, the views continued to be amazing, but the train continued to run later and later. Super high winds were limiting the trains speed, and we just continued to see the arrival time grow later and later, to the point where it was starting to get pointless to pay for a nights accommodation in Seattle.
I decided to talk to the conductor when we realised that the arrival time was getting ridiculously late and that we would definitely miss our connecting bus. The conductor told me that she would try to work something out and get back to me. About fifteen minutes later she returned to our cabin with the news that they had arranged for the bus to stop by Everett after leaving Seattle (which it doesn't normally do), so that the train could drop us there, and we could jump on the bus when it came through. This worked perfectly as the bus didn't have to leave later, and we could get off the train earlier. I was so stoked that they had been able to organise it. Amtrack offered amazing service I have to say.
We disembarked at Everett and jumped on the bus 30 minutes later. In the meantime we had an interesting conversation with a nice Japanese girl who was living in Victoria, BC. The bus driver drove like a mad man! He killed it up the I-5, making it to Canada in record time. En route we drove past a massive factory fire! Never seen anything like that before, but the stupid thing was that morons were actually stopping on the I-5, getting out of their car and taking pictures. What is society coming to. Anyways, I fell asleep for a bit which is rare on buses, but I could not believe how quick we were at the border. Funnily enough the border guard kinda gave me shit when I told him we were returning to Australia while we still had time a valid work permit. It's not often that a border guard hassles you about leaving the country :-) Next thing we knew we were at Vancouver Central Station, hailing a cab home, and then finally in bed by 1am! Not bad really; we woke up in Whitefish at 4am on Saturday, and in bed in Vancouver by 1am on Sunday. Everything definitely fell into place for us on this bit of travel. The cold snap has wrought chaos for travelers on the East Coast, and we could have easily had a few days of delays and lots of travel expenses, but instead we managed to turn it onto a very scenic daytime train trip, and avoided any extra accommodation expenses :-)
The trip was so amazing. Kate and I have been spoiled for the last few weeks that's for sure, but we want to make the most of North America while we are here. Whitefish, Montana is a beautiful little town and an amazing ski resort well worth checking out if you have the time. Just be wary of train delays :-)