Lucy in Idaho - wander with melissa

Whitefish, I’m in love.

Today I find myself in Whitefish, Montana. I could live here.

I did some hiking and sightseeing in Coeur d’Alene (which I haven’t yet successfully spelled correctly without Googling), and it is a beautiful town. I was going to dedicate this post to CDA (easier to spell), but then I got to Whitefish and now think it’s a dump in comparison. Whitefish is easier to type, too.

Lucy and I drove around Lake CDA, which is quite a distance, and really is breathtaking. Long, long lake surrounded by evergreen forest and snowcapped mountains, with a windy road along one side. That about sums it up. I was looking for a picturesque spot for sunset photos and severely underestimated how long it would take to drive around so most of it was seen in partial darkness. We had our first wildlife scare on the way – deer running across the one-lane road. Fortunately, I was driving at annoying-tourist speed.

Lucy in Coeur d'Alene - wander with melissa

 

We packed up the next morning and drove the steep mountain roads into Montana, and I have to admit I was somewhat terrified at times. Signs posted every few miles told me to watch for ice, or that the bridges are icy, or the shady spots are icy, and since I haven’t driven in snow in years I immediately assumed the entire roadway was a giant sheet of ice. I spent hours barely going the speed limit, sometimes under and hoping my Hawaii license plates would allow people to forgive me, while imagining my truck sliding off the mountain, tumbling several times, and ending in a fiery crash at the bottom in a fluffy pile of snow. Realistically, though, it was only drizzling, most of the snow was melted and not a drop on the road, and I am accustomed to my imagination running off in random, horrible directions. The temperature was in the low-40s and I didn’t see any evidence of other people hurtling to their deaths. The scariest part was at one of the peaks before the curving 6% downgrade, raining and foggy with snow cover all around in the forest, and I was at least happy I couldn’t see enough through the fog to the bottom of the valley. Needless to say, we lived, although I really could have used those CBD gummies I bought in Portland – just for this occasion – which were buried somewhere in the back of my truck.

After surviving the first few miles of Montana, we turned up toward Whitefish on mostly one-lane roads; these were pretty clear and the driving was much less stressful. All in all, though, my journey thus far from Portland has had me poking Lucy to wake her up every few minutes to tell her how beautiful it is. Or that she’s missing a herd of cows.

I had randomly selected The Pine Lodge in Whitefish and made a reservation that morning (since it is now even colder and rainier and I will not be camping), and it was a good choice. This is a great place to stay, right along the Whitefish river but just outside town. Lucy sniffed the carpet, but only a fraction as long as in CDA, so it is definitely a clean place. I thought that might be a niche job for my dog – hotel cleanliness inspector. You would be rated according to how many seconds it takes Lucy to cover the room.

Lucy and I were both super stressed from the drive so the first thing we did was find a dog park for her to run. Whitefish seems to be a very dog-friendly town, as evidenced by the 200 dog grooming, boarding, and pet stores we passed. We found a 5-acre dog park, mostly mud at this time of year, and she ran her brains out with another dog she met. And since she was already long-overdue for a bath, we went to a do-it-yourself dog wash store (omg who knew these existed??) and now she smells like strawberries. She hated every moment of it, and I ended up spending 10 minutes wiping down the walls and floors of the room since she somehow sprayed water several feet into the pet food area.

Lucy Whitefish dogpark - wander with melissa

 

Many of the roads in Glacier National Park are still closed so Lucy and I found a trail to hike that didn’t require driving through the snow up to the mountains this morning. I do want to hike Glacier sometime, but I’ll have to plan that better. We went to Swift Creek trailhead (I had chosen a different one but somehow couldn’t find it). Grizzly bear season is starting and warning signs were posted everywhere. I’ve wanted to see a bear for as long as I can remember, so we started down the trail with high hopes.

I imagined that my first bear sighting would be something like the first time I went scuba diving to look for Laverne, the famous Kona tiger shark. Totally excited at first, ready to observe and photograph one of nature’s most fearsome creatures; but when I finally saw her I hid behind a lump of coral, hyperventilating and peeing my wetsuit. And forgot to take a picture. (For the record, I was much braver each successive time I saw her).

Lucy and I started down the trail, camera in hand (new, crappy camera – my good Nikon died in Portland and the camera shop couldn’t fix it. I had to mail it to Nikon and I’m hoping to catch up with it further into Montana. I had to buy the best Nikon that Best Buy had to offer, which after my D750 is almost archaic. Still, better than my iPhone). The forest was completely silent, and the smell was something I had completely forgotten – glorious wet evergreen forest smell. The trail was icy in places and the going was slow. Lucy learned that if she dug a little hole in the snow she could stick her nose in and smell wonderful decaying things. She also learned that she loves deer poop.

Whitefish forest - wander with melissa

 

And while I’m thinking of poop – the trail was wonderfully clean, in terms of trash, except for… yes, dog poop bags! Really. It’s nice that owners are conscientious enough to pick up after their pets, but you have to take the plastic bag with you and put it in the trash! Poop bags of all the colors of the rainbow were along the trail. Idiots.

It took some time to walk the Swift Creek loop due to the ice, and we stopped off at the Creek overlook hoping to see one of the bears hunting fish (although I have no idea if bears do that everywhere, or if the bears here are like Yogi and just look for unprotected picnic baskets). I wanted to go to the lake to look for bears but it was two more miles of icy trail along a steep ridge and I had no desire to slide off the edge, so Lucy and I started back. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to run into a bear; I had no bear spray, and my hunting knife was last used to cut lemons and was currently residing in a bag with my kitchen supplies (but really I’d get mauled before I got close enough to use my knife – it’s more a morale knife than a hunting knife). I wondered what Lucy would do. As a Plott hound, her breed was originally bred to hunt bear – but my dog, who is frightened of bridges and rustling plastic bags and the squeak that doors make – who knows. In my head she is ferociously protecting me, barking and driving the hungry bear away, but in reality I could see her trying to hide behind my legs, tangling me in her leash and causing me to fall on the ice, then we’d both get eaten. 

Swift creek - wander with melissa

 

Enjoying the quiet and the relaxing smells of forest as we neared the end of the trail, dreaming of what to have for lunch, we were completely startled by a massive, shaggy brown thing running across our trail. A grizzly bear! Oh My God A Grizzly Bear! 

Much like in the ocean, I hid behind the nearest tree and peeked out, but thankfully I did not pee myself (much more obvious on land). Lucy was absolutely silent, standing rigid, staring ahead. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and saw I was near the entrance to the loop so going back wasn’t an option; in fact looking a bit closer I could see my truck in the parking lot. I wondered what they would say if I called 911 and told them a bear was in the forest. So we waited, all the while peering out from behind a tree. It was totally quiet. Not even a chirping bird. 

And then I looked down at my feet. I thought I was standing on a stick, but it was a severed deer leg. The hoof, plus about 10 inches of bone with some fur. Lucy didn’t even notice it, she was still in guard mode. Time to move.

I hadn’t seen the bear for a few minutes, so we left the trail and crept quietly to the far side of the parking lot and reached my truck. After my heart started beating again I was upset I didn’t have a picture, so I left my driver’s side door open and Lucy and I cautiously headed back toward where we saw the bear. If we only went a little way in we could run and jump into the truck if we had a little head start. Supposing, of course, I didn’t panic and slip on the ice and become this bear’s first spring meal.

Whitefish deer - wander with melissa

 

We stayed out another half hour but never saw her again. More deer, squirrels and birds, but nothing else. It was a great day. And like with Laverne, I will be a little braver next time I see a bear. But I probably won’t be any braver driving. Wish me clear roads and blue skies for my next big drive tomorrow.

Aloha from Montana!

M

 

 

 

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Lucy on a plane - wander with melissa

I don’t need a mocha, I just need Jesus

This evening finds me in Couer d’Alene, Idaho at a motel on the outskirts of town. Lucy is frantically sniffing the carpet and the walls and to be honest, I’m a bit concerned; she rarely smells grass that thoroughly. Something very interesting must have happened in this room.

I want to hike and camp in Couer d’Alene and was planning on doing some research tomorrow before I got here, but – surprise – this town was much closer than I had anticipated and here I am without a clue. I had weeks to plan this trip and I neglected to even locate Idaho on a map. I have a bit of a deadline and my Grand Canyon excursion got cancelled (for the time being), so last night I was drinking some wine with Clare and Chris and decided I should have at least one destination planned. Clare said, “Get on 90 and go to Couer d’Alene” and that was the extent of my forward thinking.

I left Hawaii three weeks ago, and while waiting for my truck to arrive in Seattle have done some amazing sightseeing in the Pacific Northwest. Lucy and I arrived in Portland and I split the time between Clare’s condo and Pam’s house in Salem. We walked the city (I’ve learned that Lucy is terrified of bridges, add that to the immense list of things my dog is afraid of), visited with more family than I expected, attended a twins’ 7-year-old birthday party at a bowling alley, an opera, and a symphony, drove the 101/Pacific Coast Highway from Salem to Canon Beach with many stops along the way, and spent a lot of quality time with Pam and Adam playing in their garden and recovering from the move from the Big Island.

Lucy had a hard time adjusting to the city and I was pretty pleased when she calmed down enough to make friends with Toby, Pam and Adam’s dog. The two of them played nonstop from the moment they woke up until neither of them could stay awake any longer. I was pretty nervous about introducing them as Lucy has a history of letting her puppy friends bully her, but Lucy hasn’t had a dog friend like Toby before – it was true dog love for her.

 

Lucy and Toby - wander with melissa

 

I caught a ride to Tacoma with Eva and Michael when my truck finally arrived, hopped a bus to Seattle, then drove to Bellingham to visit Nick and Hilary and their spunky 7-month-old Harvey. We explored a bit before I had to get back to Lucy (I didn’t want to leave her for too long, cities and travel have made her a bit unruly – hopefully that’s temporary). I took the coastal scenic route through the islands and a ferry from Whidbey, stopping in La Push for the annual Quileute Indian welcoming ceremony for the gray whales (and my first stop for speeding). Standing on the beach I saw at least 5 different whales spouting with occasional breaches, along with sea lions and bald eagles. For a moment I felt like I could be back in Hawaii, but then my feet started freezing and I got back on the road, taking 101 for another dose of sightseeing.

After a couple more days in Salem and another night in Portland to say goodbye, I hit the road. After driving only in Hawaii for the past 15 years I have to admit I was a bit nervous to be on highways again. The short drives I took in Oregon and Washington got me in the groove pretty quickly – it all came back to me as I was cruising in rush hour, in the dark, in the rain, terrified I might accidentally fly off a bridge. After that, today was easy. The only issue was finding a good radio station every hour or two; the airwaves of my route was plentiful in Spanish language and gospel, and my iPod hasn’t been updated in a decade. I hit the scan button and caught brief moments of each station, including “When I wake up in the morning, I don’t need a mocha – I just need Jesus.” Awesome.

 

Lake Crescent - wander with melissa

 

So much more has happened in the past month but for now this is all my brain can handle – it’s time for bed. Apologies for any typos in this quick summary but my eyes are slowly closing. And I’ll probably think of 20 things I meant to write about in the middle of the night.

Have a lovely day.

M

 

 

Help support the journey – Buy a book!

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

Stock photos on Adobe Stock

Sign up for this blog on the homepage to get updates on the trip, and watch Hawaii Ocean Photography for extra photos!