When In Montana, Drink Moose Drool

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I’ll never understand people who go on vacation and insist on having KFC, Starbucks and Budweiser.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that being in Paris, France and ordering a Royale with Cheese is comforting in that it will taste the same as the one you could order in Paris, Ontario – but it’s just not something you make habit.

My brother took a trek up the coast of Australia a few years back and found it frustrating. It felt like he was driving the coast of California, the infestation of American chains was so pervasive.

Homogeny may be comfortable, but eating local and being local is vital to the adventure of travel.

That’s why I didn’t drink any of the “brand beers” when I first moved to Calgary. I wanted to know what was special about Big Rock and Wild Rose.

And I do the same on the road. I mean where’s the fun in eating at a Bubba Gump’s in the Cancun airport? Where’s the “Mexico” in that?

On a recent trip to Montana, a two four of Kokanee is just $17 at the Costco in Kalispell, but by ordering familiar, I’d be missing out on local. So I toss a half sack of Wild Huckleberry Wheat Lager from the Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish into my cart instead.

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We travel to see how the other side of the world lives, to experience life through their eyes, to explore their customs. Sure, some of those customs may include IHOP, Budweiser, Burger King and more – but you can experience that at home.

When in Montana, drink Moose Drool and eat huckleberries.

Going Around The Going To The Sun Road

July 1, 2011 - Plowing the Big DriftImage via Glacier NPS

You’d think that by June 30, it would be easy to drive across the mountains without fear of snow – you’d be right, but not in Glacier National Park.

Even thought plowing starts on April 1, the large dump of snow in 2011 made one of the best drives you’ll ever take still unpassable on the 1 of July (the photo at the top of this page is from the Glacier National Park Flickr account and was taken July 1.)

[You can check the latest Going To The Sun Road conditions here.]

So, with The Going To The Sun Road closed, you’ll need to go around. The Going To The Sun Road crosses the middle of Glacier National Park, the other road (the one that’s open 12 months a year instead of barely 3, skirts the outside of the park. It offers some of the views, but it is exactly what it sounds like: instead of going through the heart of something magical, you have to tiptoe around it.

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It’s not the same thing, but near Lower Two Medicine Lake, you climb over Looking Glass Road (Hwy 49) that has some of the precariousness of the “real” road, and while the views are magnificent, they’re not the same.

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The trip around the park is longer, but the actual time it takes to cross is about the same. The 115km/h downhill speed limits on Hwy 2 make up for the 40km/h speed limits up Logan Pass.

Still, even with the road closed, you can attack part of the drive from either side. We did 16 miles from Apgar to Avalanche along beautiful Macdonald Lake. It wasnt the same, but it was still beautiful.

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20110703 montana - 22The Going To The Sun Road is one of the best (and scariest) drives in the world. If it spooks you, and you’d like a little time to watch the scenery go by, you can hire one of the vintage Red Jammer roll top buses to make the trek.

They’ve been climbing the passes since soon after the road was opened in 1930. A variety of narrated tours are available for $25-$85. When you see the narrow passes that barely allow two cars to ride abreast over the peak, you’ll wonder how these beasts that seat 4 across can make it.

Direct Energy Nest

Ptarmigan Village in Whitefish, Montana

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Ask Twitter and you shall receive.

A week ago we finally green-lighted a family vacation to Montana. My wife has been longing for a visit to Target and the closest one to Calgary is a nearly 6 hour drive away in Kalispell.

That’s all I knew about the area, there’s a Target in Kalispell. So I asked on Twitter what we should do, where we should stay.

@MisterYYC, John Smiley, recommended a place he stayed at with his family as a kid, Ptargmigan Village. It looked a little “70s-ish” but the price was right so I booked it.

I liked that the property had self-cater condos alongside a pool, playground and pond on the property.

When I arrived I discovered even more. There was a stocked fishing pond, private beach access to Whitefish Lake and each building totally surrounded by a woods, the rush of creeks cascading down the mountain filling the silence.

36 living 4We stayed in 36-Windriver and the accommodations are perfect for a family of 4. My wife says “this is my kind of camping.” An allusion to the forested surroundings that make you feel like you are a Mountain Man in the wilderness, while still having indoor plumbing, a stove, freezer and fridge. Our unit was lofted with a queen bed upstairs, a hide-a-bed downstairs and a workable kitchen with everything we needed.

The kicker? Only $125 a night. I booked for a long weekend only two days before we needed the unit. What a steal.

We chatted with some of the owners in the pool area and found the property is popular with Calgarians getting partial ownership and visiting a few times a year in ski season and the summer.

We loved our 4 nights at Ptarmigan Village and will be back. Soon.

I Am Not My Father

The moment Zacharie pulled the rainbow trout out of the water and it lay on the dock gasping I started mentally gasping along with the fish. I have been fishing since I was a young child. Sun fish, perch, salmon, trout, halibut, bass, rock fish – I’ve caught them all with either my father or a guide by me side.

This time, however, at Elmer’s Pond in Whitefish, Montana, it was just me and my four year old son.

Just before his fourth birthday, as we were shopping for camping gear for our first trip, he spotted what he calls his “Go Diego Go fishing rod.” Modeled after Diego’s famous Rescue Pack, the rod has been a non stop wish of his. My father bought it for him for his birthday, and each day since he has asked to practice casting in the driveway.

I should have known I wouldnt be able to handle the sight of the gasping fish on the dock. I have been searching YouTube for information on how to properly gear a line (yeah, my Dad did that for me) and the higgle piggle concoction of tackle in my box would give away my naivete to any seasoned angler.

Still, I managed to get a hook, a bobber and a weight on his Go Diego Go fishing rod and on the third cast into Elmer’s Pond, the bobber disappeared. We were lucky, the hole had been stocked just the day before and the rainbows quickly nibbled away at our ball of bread.

Zacharie reeled it in, we raised it on to the dock, and as it flopped around I thought, “Now what?!”

20110703 montana - 22I asked Zacharie what we should do, somehow hoping the 4 year old would channel my father and give me an answer.

“Throw him back,” he quickly replied. Having just seen Finding Nemo the week before his gospel was “fish are friends, not food.”

I don’t think I could have bonked the fish and cleaned it. It would have been impossible. My dad has always done that. The guide has always done that. Sure, I have helped a couple of times when I was younger, but our last few trips as adults have been to fly-in resorts where that sort of dirty work is done for you.

I got the hook out and girlishly herded the rainbow back into the pond as if it was a spider I was trying to shoo out a door.

My son caught his first fish and it was a wonderful father/son moment to have shared, and something that scared me – I am not my father.

I haven’t picked up any of his skills. I can’t install insulation. I can’t work with wood. I can’t green thumb in the garden. I can’t fish.

I took him for granted. I was lazy around his expertise and I have learned nothing. I am not my father, and it’s a shame.

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