26.08.2013 - 27.08.2013 28 °C
The 31 hour train journey to Whitefish was a breeze, honestly! On a train its so easy to break the time up - watch this, read that, go for dinner, have a beer, play cards, have a snack, bed time, breakfast, scenery watching, and we were there!
Ok a few things happened along the way; sat in the sightseeing lounge (huge ceiling windows which enables amazing views) we passed through stunning rivers, lakes, waterfalls and the Rocky Mountains for the most jaw dropping sunset, whilst a local volunteer talked us through the spectacular scenery as we enjoyed red wine and cheese, (THIS is why we didn't drive!) a crazy girl got drunk in said carriage which resulted in her being escorted off the train by local police at 1am, kicking and screaming, cuffed and in the arse-end of nowhere; AND we finally got our Sleeper Packs.
In Whitefish we stayed in a proper Motel, which was ace! (Definitely no air bnbs here) Tons of bikers were staying there too, their shiny motors all parked in a row out front. We sought out a bar for a night cap, and found $1 beers, in the alpine town hotspot "The Great Northern", which was going off for a Monday night. It reminded us of a ski town, and was quite cold with the clear night sky, showing off amazing constellations. We chose Whitefish to break up the long trip to Portland; it's high in Montana state near the Canadian border, and is gateway to the National Glacier Park, where we had a tour booked for the next day, so early night for us.
Our morning began with a walk to the calming Whitefish lake, where we soaked up the sun on the dock; surrounded by just a few familys holidaying, some ducks, a deer and many tall pines. Michael couldn't resist a dip, he loves a wild water swim.
Being the "gateway" to the National Glacier Park, you would assume a bus/train/shuttle would transport visitors to the park 30 miles away, but our request was met by blank faces and the suggestion of a taxi. EVERYONE here hires a car, and we were stuck! We paid the only taxi firm in Whitefish (actually we rang the only two, to try and haggle the hefty cost, and the same guy picked up) to take us through the stunning scenic towns and into the forests...
Our tour was run by a sweet old lady called Debbie, with a really southern drawl, who drove us up the windy, narrow mountains on the Going To The Sun Road; in her original restored open air 1960s bus (which she cleans by hand every night!).
She talked us through the spectacular scenery; and with many stops we learnt about how the park was discovered and protected, the mountains, the families who live there, the children who grew up there, the grizzly and brown bears who prowl the woods, (we didn't see any though!) the goats, the birds, the waterfalls, and most importantly the glaciers.
Sheer drops the whole way, the road is carved into the mountains, nicknamed the Garden Wall, reaching 2000ft, and at 53 miles long, is the only road in the whole park; one way in, and one way out.
It was a mind blowing day and we got back to Whitefish to catch the weekly market where we tried local produce including the Huckleberry jam which they're crazy on; Whitefish is one of those places that no one has heard of, not even Americans... It's the kind of place you might see mentioned on some fishing documentary on a channel that nobody watches. Our itinerary in the states was all major cities, except Whitefish. It's a town for local people, driving huge pick up trucks. They go fishing and advise you carry bear spray about your person just in case you meet a Grizzly, pretty different from Harpenden and Ripponden respectively.
To visit a place like this untouched from all the advertising bullshit and heart attack fast food of the cities we had seen in the US was refreshing. The rolling mountains, the epic Douglas Fir trees which grow tall given the slightest chance, the fresh air and the still lakes make for breathtaking views, without a Dunkin Donuts in sight.
Leaving Whitefish we hopped over to the train station (made of logs with a museum inside!) just to check everything was fine with our 9pm - 14 hour train to Portland. Best to check as sometimes the trains might be half an hour late...
"No train"... "Replacement"... "Air-con broken" ... "Engine problems"
Our overnight train of 14 hours was cancelled. It pulled in on time and stopped there, ejecting all passengers to undergo repairs.
We were getting to Portland by bus.
600+ miles. It better be a nice bus.
To put it mildly, it was worse than a Mega Bus, easily 20 years older than us, and SO rattly and hot; plus our driver had clearly NEVER EVER driven stick shift before, or maybe even driven a motor vehicle before, Chiara nervously tuned into the gear box, and swears he never even made it to 5th gear. If we ever managed to doze off we were awoken by his lurching gear grinding and bad attempts to work the clutch and accelerator at the same time. His heart really was in the right place though and we all got a Subways packed lunch for our 14 hour bus ride. Hm.
We clunked into every train station along the way to pick up other bleary eyed passengers to get to our changing destination, Spokane (where?). The mishaps of our driver thickened as at one point he ran into the bushes with a torch, (engine still running), no one had a clue what was going on, everyone had their iPhone maps up, children asleep everywhere, and all we could do was laugh at the situation. Nervously. Around 4am we finally arrived at Spokane, where we were transferred to a proper coach and managed to get a few hours sleep. It really was uncomfortable, but funnily enough, we got in at the same time as the train was due. Says a lot!
Portland better be worth it...