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2021 Canada & Alaska Road Trip: The Way Back

You can see part 1 here.

Day 9 – Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

Up early because the plan called for us to get from Anchorage to Whitehorse, a little more than 700 miles and about 13 hours, in a single day. We blew past a bunch of glaciers in Wrangell-St Elias National Park, slowed down for wildlife:

made it into Canada encountering zero hostility, and many many hours later, arrived at the same Whitehorse campground that we stayed at on the way up.

Day 10 – Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

According to the aurora forecast, both the evening of the 24th and the evening of the 25th were going to be good nights to get a glimpse of the northern lights. Greg caught a glimpse one morning on the way up (that I missed) but I was determined to see the green glow and so I set an alarm for 3am on both nights… and I set up my GoPro to take a timelapse from the top of the truck, which both nights, captured a couple of glimpses:

in both Whitehorse and the next night in Fort Nelson. The drive from Whitehorse to Fort Nelson was remarkable again for the scenery through Muncho Lake Provincial Park and Stone Mountain Provincial Park (both closer to Fort Nelson) but we didn’t stop anywhere to enjoy the views.

Day 11 – Thursday, August 26th, 2021

Up early to get on the road so that we could get through the 615 miles / ~11 hours of driving to our hotel in Jasper. Lunched on the tailgate of the truck in Dawson Creek, snapped some pictures of Mile 0 and the World’s Largest Beaver, and finally made it to our hotel in Jasper:

Day 12 – Friday, August 27th, 2021

Up early, gassed up, got coffee, and hit the road for the longest day of the trip (we drove almost 800 miles and made it home Saturday morning at about 2am). The drive through Jasper and Banff is called the Icefields Parkway and we easily could have spent a week or longer driving and camping through this part of the trip:

After driving for a couple hours… and here’s a horrible timelapse of said drive:

we got off the main highway and did a short 6 mile hike up to the Wilcox Viewpoint, which had views of the Athabasca Glacier, some bighorn sheep, and a number of other mountains that I’m going to come back and climb some day:

We originally had talked about trying to get to Canmore (near Banff) then spending the night somewhere in Washington, and driving home the rest of the way on Saturday but as so often happens on long roadtrips, we were exhausted and just wanted to hightail it home, so we did.

No regrets, I’d do the trip again in a heartbeat. Next time I’m going to have a tricked out Tundra (minus the dorkel) and take a couple months, spending extra time in Yukon / Kluane, Alaska, and Jasper / Banff, probably taking the ferry up, and then driving back.

2021 Canada & Alaska Road Trip: The Drive Up

On July 26th, while talking with some friends about life, work, families, and road trips, my friend Greg mentioned that he was thinking about a road trip to Alaska (about 2800 miles from Portland, which is ~= to a drive from San Francisco to New York City), but didn’t know if his wife and kid would want to go.

On August 9th, the border between the United States and Canada opened up for the first time in over 16 months.

On August 16th, at about 1:30pm, Greg and I drove through the Canadian border crossing on our way up to Alaska. The plan:

Alaska Roadtrip on Roadtrippers

came together pretty quickly. We wanted to drive all the way to Fairbanks, hit Denali & Anchorage, drive back through Jasper and Banff, doing as many hikes along the way as we could.

We originally planned on going up the westernmost route (Vancouver to Prince George to Prince Rupert to Dease Lake) so that we could see some of the Canadian coastline but after looking more closely at the route above Prince Rupert, we decided to head up to Whitehorse through Fort Nelson.

We got back home a little after 1am on Saturday, August 28th. We drove about 5800 miles in 12 days. Here’s a day by day recap with pictures and video.

Trip Planning

We collaborated on a Google doc that had sections for “Crossing the borders” (lots to plan for here because of Covid, example 1 & 2), “Personal Items”, “Food and water”, “Vehicle”, “Sleeping gear”, and “Other” (things like binoculars, camp chair, etc). The REI camping checklist is pretty similar, minus the things we thought about for driving more than 5,000 miles on super remote highways.

The plan was to car camp as much as possible with hotels as a backup, which we were definitely prepared to do. We both had tents, coolers (with only dry stuff until we got past the Canadian border), drinking water (these are great), hiking backpacks with the ten essentials, and maybe most crucially, the 2020 version of The Milepost.

We both scheduled our molecular Covid test (can’t do the antigen tests) for the day or two before departure. I got my results pretty quickly but Greg’s didn’t come back until after we got through the Canadian border, more on that later. I luckily had gotten new tires on the truck a couple weeks previous and had a recent service / oil change.

Online tools that were helpful:

  1. https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast – a great website that can help you see where and when you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights
  2. ArrivCan – technically not a website… an app, but crucial for getting into Canada
  3. Roadtrippers.com – I’ve used this app more than a couple times, it’s really helpful for finding (and remembering) places that you want to see, and for sketching out various scenarios.
  4. AllTrails – we’re both subscribers, we found some great hikes, more on those later.
  5. Alaska Marine Highway System – kidding, this is actually a horrible website that makes it impossible really really hard to figure out how to travel along the Alaska coastline. We thought about trying to take the ferry back from Anchorage but abandoned the idea after a couple of hours of trying out various routes and schedules.

Day 1 – Monday, August 16th, 2021

Gassed up at 7:30am, arrived at Greg’s house shortly after, made it to Bellingham by 12:30pm, got lunch, and then an hour later got in line at the US / Canada border. Up until this point everything had gone very smoothly. Greg’s molecular test results from Sunday hadn’t been emailed to him yet (and we both had to have negative tests before hitting the border) so he found a place near SeaTac that had a 1 hour turnaround on Covid tests and while it did take more than an hour, he got the negative result that he needed. But then we met with the most friendly Canadian Border Services agent. I thought we said all the right things (no alcohol, no fresh fruits, no weapons) but we apparently gave the wrong answers to the “what is your quarantine plan?” We both had just received negative tests and figured that this portion of the ArrivCan app questionnaire and the agent interview was perfunctory, something that someone would have to have who tested positive. Either way, the first bump in the road. The agent handed us 2 Covid test boxes and told us to pull over about 50 yards ahead to take yet another Covid test, whose results we’d get somewhere between 24 and 36 hours later, and most importantly, if positive, would require us to quarantine somewhere in Canada (he said it was a federal crime to go back to the US if we tested positive and didn’t quarantine), without moving, for 2 weeks. So that was stressful.

We made it through though, got groceries for the next week in Vancouver, and headed up to Whistler, where we intended to camp for the night before a hike the next morning. Speed bump number #2: they were doing road maintenance on the Sea to Sky highway, which added 2 hours of bumper to bumper traffic.

Speed bump #3: while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic and looking at The Milepost to figure out the camping spot for the night, the sky opened up and poured giant buckets of rain down, which put a damper on our camping plans. We finally got into Whistler, had dinner at La Cantina – Urban Taco Bar, and hoped that the weather would change, which it didn’t. So on the first night, after hoping to camp most nights, we ended up in a hotel called the Blackcomb Lodge. So ended day 1.

Day 2 – Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

A hike and a drive day, so up at 6:30am, at the trailhead by 7:15am, hike starts at 7:38am. The first 3 miles are effectively straight up hill, without much scenery, you’re in the trees for the most part. But then the trees opened up near the top of the climb to views of the west like this:

and then after you crest the last hill, you get views of at least 4, maybe 5 different glaciers that all feed into Wedgemount Lake.

There are a bunch of great campsites for backpackers (in some places with wooden decks), and a couple of bear bag hangs, which I’ve never seen in the US. We had lunch at the lake, hiked to the eastern side to see how close we could get to the glacier, and then hiked back down to the car. Total time: almost 7 hours.

After the hike we drove north and east on Highway 99 for a couple hours until we hit Highway 97 and then hightailed it to Prince George, hoping to score a tent site somewhere on the outskirts of the city. This was the only part of the drive that we hit smoke on, as there were fires to the east of us. The drive on Highway 97 felt eerily similar to a drive on Highway 97 through Oregon: very dry, small trees, high desert.

Speed bump #4: driving late at night in places that have lots of “Watch for Moose” signs and no other cars on the road is spooky and it turns out, arriving at 10:30pm means none of the campgrounds were open. We made a decision to not drive after dark for the rest of the trip and lucked into the last room at a brand new Best Western, ending day 2.

Day 3 – Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

We got up, we drove all day on Highway 97 east and then turned north, arriving in Fort Nelson about 515 miles later. We got a tent spot at the Triple “G” Hideaway RV Park & Campground, had a run down main street to stretch our legs, had dinner outside at the onsite restaurant, and then hit the hay to get ready for another long day of driving.

Day 4 – Thursday, August 19th, 2021

Up early for a longer day of driving, this time almost 600 miles. I finally got the GoPro time-lapse going for this part of the drive, but you have to deal with the bugs and the rain:

which didn’t do the scenery justice. I think we both agreed that the prettiest part of the entire drive was through Stone Mountain Provincial Park, which had a bunch of potential hikes and camping spots, but wasn’t in the cards for us with our timeline. The wildlife and scenery were amazing:

I really wanted the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake to be fun but it was either a 1 hour movie… or a gift shop. Could be so much more!

600 miles later, we made it to Whitehorse, a great little city bisected by a gorgeous river. We stretched our legs on a walk around said river, had an amazing dinner at Klondike Rib & Salmon, and then camped at Hi Country RV Park.

Day 5 – Friday, August 20th, 2021

Friday, early start, Greg said he saw the aurora just before the sun was coming up. Breakfast at Tim Horton’s, 2 hours later we arrive at our second hike of the trip, this one called Sheep Creek Trail, which is supposedly teaming with bears. We didn’t see any sheep or bears.

On a clear day, you can see for miles, deep into the Kluane National Park & Reserve… but it wasn’t clear. Either way, we had a great hike, spending the first half of the hike letting the bears know that we were there.

The drive from Whitehorse to the hike, and then all the way to Fairbanks, was gorgeous in the morning and then monotonous for the last couple hours:

but we made it and crashed at a Best Western near the airport in Fairbanks. Next time it’d be great to spend a couple days exploring Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Reserve and more of Kluane National Park, but of which look to be covered in glaciers and tall peaks.

Day 6 – Saturday, August 21th, 2021

Later start (time change), target for the day was Denali National Park. The guidebook did say that Denali was kind of a crapshoot in terms of being able to see, you know, the actual mountain, but we tried anyway. The park is similar to Glacier or Yosemite in that there’s a drive in to see the sights, but different in that in order to actually see the sights, you need to get on a bus for anything past the initial 15 miles that you can drive, which is substantial as the non-drivable part is almost 80 miles long.

The combination of the cloudy / rainy weather and Covid (not going to ride on a bus with 20 other people for 4 hours) meant that we got in a nice hike (half of the Savage Alpine Trail and the entire Savage River Loop Trail) at the very end of the 15 miles that you can drive, broke out the binoculars and spotting scope to look at the mountains and wildlife, and decided to make haste for Anchorage, only a couple hours south. I’d love to explore Denali again, but I’d bring a bike or ride the bus to get into the backcountry.

Day 7 – Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Made it to Anchorage on Saturday night, “camped” at a hotel again. Up early for a 2.5 hour drive from Anchorage south and east, on the Seward Highway, which hugs the shorelines of Turnagain Arm, “…arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America”.

Our goal for the day was to hike what looked on paper / mobile devices to be a breathtaking hike alongside a glacier, up to the originating ice field (“… a large area of interconnected glaciers”), on a trail called the Harding Ice Field Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park. We finally go to the trailhead at about 10am, started up about 25 minutes later, and then after 5 hours later, and almost 10 miles and 4k feet of vertical gain, we were back in the parking lot. The trail is surreal: the first couple miles feels (at least in August) like you’re in a rain forest. You’re only at a couple hundred feet above sea level, it’s humid, and the trail is surrounded not conifers, but by cottonwood trees and then higher up by taller shrub bushes that aren’t dissimilar to plants you’d see on a hike in Kauai. But then you get above tree line and the plants disappear and it turns into a moonscape, an ice field that stretches north, west, and south for miles. We had a quick lunch at the top, descended down on some sketchy loose rock to get closer to the glacier, and then headed back out for the descent. Definitely a top 10 hike for me even though it was, yet again, overcast.

After the hike we had a nice drive through Seward, ate an entire pizza at Klondike Pizzeria, and drove back to Anchorage. Notably, on the way back, I’m 99% sure that we saw beluga whales in Turnagain Arm and spotted my favorite overlanding blog / instagram / youtube peeps (actually their amazing Tundra rig) from Bound For Nowhere, who are simultaneously on a trip through Alaska.

Day 8 – Monday, August 23rd, 2021

We’re starting to think about heading back and in order to get back through Canada to the United States, we again have to get a negative molecular Covid test. Reservations procured a couple days earlier at Walgreens, we showed up on time, did the nostril swab dance, and had our negative results with an hour. We took got some quarters to do laundry at the hotel, got the laundry done, and then did a long trek from the hotel into downtown and back, procuring gifts for the family back home. I had dinner with an old highschool / college friend I hadn’t seen in years, and then before we knew it, it was time to start heading back, which is posted here.

DIY Modern Coat Rack

With my time off I’ve been slowly building up my skills with wood. I’ve built a couple bigger things (chicken coop 2x, shed 1x, table saw table based on this video, planer table based on this video) but haven’t really done any indoor projects. I stumbled across this really nice looking coat rack blog post months ago:

https://www.instructables.com/Modern-Coat-Rack/

and had it on my list to build since then. I made time this week to finally make it happen and I built two of them, to stack, which IMHO, turned out alright:

Woodworking: Modern Coat Rack

Here are some build notes:

1) That blog post doesn’t start with a cutting list… which is a bummer because I initially overestimated the thickness of the board that one would need to build this project and unnecessarily spent a bunch of money on a board that was 2 inches thick by 6 inches tall that I’ll have to find another use for. Lesson #1: build a model first with cheap wood, then buy the expensive stuff.

2) Alternatively, head on over to this blog post, which has precise dimensions for what you’ll need to buy. I ended up over at Woodcrafters in Portland (after a visit to Crosscut Hardwoods for the first board) and found seven foot black walnut board that was about 1×7. I ended up building 2 racks (an upper and a lower) each measuring about 32 inches long but to start, I cut 2 pieces off of the board and made a model based on the Family Handyman (FH from here on out) dimensions, which worked great.

3) After using my table saw to get a precise 7″ tall board and cutting out two 35″ segments, I started cutting the individual pieces. The FH blog post has a nice graphic that shows how to use a crosscut sled (not yet in my arsenal) and a 1″ spacer but I opted instead to first cut a bunch of ~3″ pieces and then individually cut out the 1″ pieces, which I think is less movement overall. Either way, I need to make a sled.

4) The two blog posts then diverge… the Instructables post has you go directly to cutting the angle pieces where the FH post instead has you drill the holes for the dowel. I followed the Instructables post but in hindsight, it would be have been easier / more accurate to first cut the holes for the dowel on every piece.

5) For the drill holes, I clamped (didn’t build) a jig to my drill press and drilled a 3/8″ hole with a Forstner bit through each piece. The job would have been tighter if I had built a jig.

6) Cutting the angles on the pieces was easy… for the 45° angle at least… I had a hard time figuring out how to do the 60° angle with my mitre saw until I rotated the piece 90° and then clamped a jig to the mitre saw to make that cut repeatable. I’m still not sure if I did that right though. FWIW, the Instructables blog post has no information about how to create those cuts.

7) Another divergence in the plan… the Instructables post has you sand and stain your pieces… and then build them up on the dowel. The FH post has you sand, then build, then stain. I ended up sanding and then staining, which I think slightly expanded the wood, and then trying to insert the dowel, which didn’t work at all, even after applying wax. I ended up having to sand the dowel across the entire length multiple times to get the pieces to slide on.

8) Like both posts, I used keyhole hangers (first freehand routing out the hanger shape, then the hanger hole) to hang my rack on the wall… and after watching a great YouTube video on the subject, landed on these EZ-Core Drywall Toggle Anchors, which after one or two misfires, worked very nicely. I’ll never buy a different kind of drywall anchors, those are bomb proof.

Woodworking: Modern Coat Rack

Overall, a fun and very practical (we have lots of hats and hooded jackets / sweatshirts here in Oregon) project, it’d be fun to do again with a different type of wood and stain.

2021 Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho Road Trip: Part II

Part 1 is here.

June 19th, Saturday, Day 7

We packed up the truck, said goodbye to new friend Atlas The Dog, and headed out for another long drive, this time to Billings, Montana. We stopped in Helena for lunch at the Staggering Ox for their famous patented “Clubfoot” sandwich, drove through Carroll College (trying to show Beck as many college / university campuses as possible so that he has a feel for what’s out there), and then after a long day, arrived at our first hotel with a swimming pool! We swam for a bit and then wanted to head out for a quick dinner…. only to find out that the truck had flat tire. Argh. Took a bit to get the full size spare on (bike rack on the back made it difficult to get the spare off), but got that done and headed out to the Montana Brewing company in downtown Billings. Fried enchilada bites and the giant pretzel

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disappeared very quickly.

June 20th, Sunday, Day 8

Up early to get the tire looked at, only tire place open on Sunday was Walmart Auto Center and the guys there were great. They plugged my tire, checked the torque on the spare, and had me on my way very quickly. A couple hours later we made it to our first historical spot, Pompeys Pillar National Monument:

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which had a new visitor center and a really nice walk / hike out to the rock that William Clark (of Lewis and Clark) etched his name into back in 1806. Definitely worth the stop, especially if you’ve got young kids studying American history.

A couple hours of driving later and we made it to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which is also well done.

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Lots of parking, lots of people, great visitor center, nice walk / hike around the facility. I later picked up a book (haven’t started yet) by Stephen Ambrose called “Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors” that I should have finished before visiting but you should read it if you’re planning this trip.

An hour later and we were in Wyoming… 3 hours later we arrived at Devils Tower National Monument:

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which we walked around on a nice 2 mile hike, toured the visitor center, and dreamed about climbing someday.

Another 2 hours later and we arrived in South Dakota and a short while after that, at our hotel in Rapid City, where we stayed for the next 3 nights. The pictures and website for this particular hotel made it look like a great spot… big waterslide, kids pool, decent looking rooms, but I would not recommend staying there. It was understaffed (probably as a result of Covid-19), poorly maintained, and hot, but then we didn’t drive all the way here to stay at a hotel.

June 21st, Monday, Day 9

One of the reasons we drove to South Dakota was to see Mount Rushmore:

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which was really well done given the volume of people that visit on a daily basis. We parked quickly, took the short hike around the base of the monument, took some pictures, and were back on the road by noon.

We stopped on a whim at climbing trail head just a couple miles north of Mount Rushmore called Wrinkled Rock, which is part of a larger rock climbing area called “Needles Of Rushmore”.

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Tons of spots for sport / trad / top rope / bouldering, I wished that I had packed the climbing gear, I had no idea that they had rock climbing here. We walked a short trail to Bull Rock and scoped out the bolts and dreamed about climbing. Next time.

Shortly after that we arrived at the Crazy Horse Memorial, which had a nice museum and some great views:

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The day wasn’t over though… about an hour away is a great archeological museum called The Mammoth Site. Definitely worth a visit if you have small kids:

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and interesting for adults who like science and history.

June 22nd, Tuesday, Day 10

Back on the road… I had hoped to make a big day of visiting Badlands National Park, the Minuteman Missile Site, and the South Dakota Air and Space Museum… but it turned out that the Missile site is closed on Monday and Tuesday… the two days we were around the park. Boo… and the Air museum closed at 4pm, so we missed that as well because we spent most of the day driving through Badlands National Park:

and hiking on the trails:

which was really fun. It was really hot, but we saw bighorn sheep, a single bison (at the entrance), pronghorn antelope, and not a single rattlesnake (which was a good thing). Pro-tip: buy lunch or pack a picnic outside the park so that no one gets hangry while Mom and Dad enjoy the drive and want to go on short hikes.

After the drive, we stopped back at Wall Drug, which is hard to miss, for ice cream… and then back to Rapid City for some bookstore time at Books-A-Million (midwest Barnes & Noble?), and pool time.

June 23rd, Wednesday, Day 11

We’ve mostly run out of things to visit and the plan originally was to drive to a trailhead in Wyoming to do a backpacking loop in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, but weather, injuries, and snow kept us in the car for a couple long days back to Oregon.

We visited Fort Laramie Historic Site early in the afternoon, which was really hot, very remote, and not remarkable… and then drove the rest of the way to our hotel for the night in Casper.

June 24th, Thursday, Day 12

Three fun things to mention on what was mostly a long day of driving. Mom had wanted to stop at Independence Rock in Wyoming, but my initial mapping efforts made it look out of the way… but as we were driving, I saw a big rock outcropping with a visitor center… that turned out to be Independence Rock!

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Beck and I climbed to the top and around the back:

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and everyone got to stretch their legs.

Second… after driving for a couple hours and literally not seeing a single gas station, I started to get worried because we only had about 100 miles of gas left. Google Maps took us on Route 287 and it’s remote… I don’t think I’ve ever driven so far without seeing a gas station. Make sure to fill up if you’re driving through Wyoming and not using the interstate.

Last, we finally made it to Twin Falls, Idaho… our second time here (last was on the way back from Yellowstone in May of 2016), and the last time had a great dining experience at The Twin Falls Sandwich Co, but it was closed by the time we got into town. Instead, we visited Koto Brewing Company, and had a great dinner… including smoked pulled pork nachos, which were very good. Extra points for the pickled Fresno red peppers.

June 25th, Friday, Day 13

Long drive home to very hot weather, but everyone was excited to sleep in their own beds.

I’d definitely do the trip again, but if possible, I’d find a way to do more things on the way home to break up the drive.

2021 Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho Road Trip: Part I

The last big road trip we took was way back in 2015 (part 1, part 2) and 2020 was basically a wash as far as vacations go (the fires were great) so I planned a big road trip to Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, back to Wyoming, Idaho, and back home… and here are the pictures and notes for anyone that wants to do something similar in the future.

I used Roadtrippers (great value for the $) to find interesting places to stop along the way, you can see the trip that I planned here:

Summer 2021 Road / Backpacking Trip on Roadtrippers

and I had hoped to be able to get in a backpacking trip in Wyoming (Cirque of the Towers) or Idaho (Alice Lake) but for a variety of reasons (injuries, weather) that part of the trip didn’t materialize.

June 13th, Sunday, Day 1

We live in Portland, Oregon and booked an AirBnb in Whitefish, MT for about a week as a base camp for our explorations around Glacier National Park. We left about 8:30am PDT in the rain and arrived a little more than 11 hours later (the first of a number of days of just grinding it out driving) surrounded by more green trees than I’ve ever seen in Oregon. Most of the drive was desert and hot but once we got into Montana it seemed to change to a green that Oregon might have had 30 years ago. We made a 2 minute time lapse video of the drive for fun:

Everyone was hangry when we arrived so I quickly drove to the Safeway in Whitefish (about 5 miles from our Airbnb, easy drive) and got the goods for a quick dinner (deviled eggs, sweet peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus, tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole) while the boys played on the trampoline and the zip line.

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The boys got their energy out and we hit the hay pretty late but with an eye towards an early start on Monday.

June 14th, Monday, Day 2

And by early start, I mean 4:30am. Annual national park visitors in the US are up by more than 30% (as compared to May 2019) in some parks and Glacier National Park is no different except for one thing: the road through the park is extremely narrow and parking is even more limited. As a result, the park (like a number of other national parks) instituted a ticketing system for visitors that requires anyone driving into the park on the Going-to-the-Sun Road to have a ticket between the hours of 6am and 5pm. Karen and I tried to get a ticket at 7am on the recreation.gov website a couple days before but there were thousands of other people trying to do the same thing… for 145 tickets per day. So we got up at 4:30am, hit the road by 5am, got through the West Glacier entrance gate by 5:40am (no ticket required before 6am), and arrived at our first destination (Avalanche Lake trailhead) at about 6:15am. One note: the Going-to-the-Sun Road wasn’t fully open so Avalanche lake was the farthest east you could travel on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which combined with the fact that Avalanche Lake is one of the easier / more popular hikes, meant that this was an extremely busy place. Luckily, the campground wasn’t yet open for camping so all of us early risers were able to park in spots that normally would have been used for camping. We scored a parking spot (stressful!) and then broke out our Jetboil stoves, made some breakfast backpacking meals, coffee, and hot chocolate:

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and let everyone else crowd the trail before we started at the trailhead.

The trail to Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the parks, because it’s relatively easy (about 5 miles if you stretch it out) and picturesque:

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We got to the lake in a little less than an hour, ate some snacks, took some pictures:

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and headed back down to the car. On the way back we took the Trail of the Cedars tour, saw some deer, identified trees, and tried not to find bears. Our little boys claimed to be tired after the 5 mile hike but I was really excited about the possibility of biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road as far east as my legs / my teenage son would accompany me. As mentioned above, the road wasn’t yet open all the way through the park, but they let you bike on the closed part of the road all the way from Avalanche Lake to Logan Pass, which is about 16 miles one way. My oldest and I ended up biking 8 miles in to what’s called The Loop:

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and then back to down to the Avalanche Lake trailhead, which was one of the highlights of the entire trip for me. We could have made it all the way to Logan pass but that part of the ride was another 2400′ feet of elevation gain over just 8 miles (and then back) and we had Mom and the little boys back at camp. If you plan your trip before the road is fully open, I can’t recommend riding your bike on the road highly enough. It was quiet, relatively easy (at least for the 8 miles in that we did), and had stunning views. Also, if you have the $ and a bike rack, rent an electric bike and you’ll make it up and down in no time.

We arrived back at our parking spot, packed up the car, and drove back, stopping at the Lake McDonald Lodge (packed with people, could have taken a boat ride but everyone was exhausted), and then driving back to our cabin in Whitefish to play on the trampoline and relax.

June 15th, Tuesday, Day 3

Another early start but later than 4:30am this time. Our boys have shown an interest in fishing but we’ve only ever done spin fishing. Montana is widely known as one of the best places in the world to fly fish and I found a guiding company that had a half-day “Intro to Fly Fishing” course just outside of the park. We arrived at the Glacier Outdoor Center at 8:30am and shortly after did a short hike up to a covered picnic area with our guides for the day, Manuel and Ted, who were both full of great stories, patience, and years of experience.

We spent most of the morning learning about knots, fly line vs. leader line, flies

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the different methods of casting (including some actual casting practice on the lawn), conservation, and then at the end of the session, we walked up to a stocked trout pond and the boys each “caught” a fish.

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Our dudes might have been a little bit young for the course, but I think everyone learned something and we have an activity to try for real next time we visit. If you’ve ever thought that fly fishing might be something you’d enjoy, I’d highly recommend taking the short course and then doing a river float the day after.

And the day was just getting started. As I mentioned above, the road that criss crosses Glacier National Park wasn’t entirely open and we wanted to get to the east side of the park to see the Many Glacier area. It’s about a 3 hour drive if you go through park because the road is so narrow…. but it’s about the same length in time if you drive south on US-2, and then north up to the east entrance. Since we didn’t want to do two 3 hour drives in one day, I booked a single night at Great Bear Lodge, which is part of the St. Mary Village complex and we took the afternoon to slowly drive over to the east side. On the way, we stopped at Two Medicine Lake and did a short hike to a waterfall called Running Eagle Falls, both of which were beautiful.

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The rain started almost immediately after we arrived at the hotel and everyone was starving and we ended up having to work hard for dinner. The restaurant inside of the hotel said they were out of food… so we drove 2 minutes north to a taco stand that was right next to a pizza joint, both of which looked like they had a 45 to 60 minute wait. As a last resort, we drove back to the hotel thinking we could just make a cold dinner at the local grocery store (St Mary Grocery), but I’ve never seen a grocery store with less fresh food. It was barren. Moral of the story: stock up on supplies before you hit St. Mary Village, at least in June. There are tons of people and either it was early in the season and the local town wasn’t expecting a surge of people… or it’s just remote enough that it’s hard to keep anything in stock… or more likely, some combination of both.

June 16th, Wednesday, Day 4

High hopes for a nice breakfast at the hotel were smashed early because it was a 40 minute wait for a seat in the restaurant. The coffee shop (Glacier Perk) was a better option so we loaded up on yogurts, scones, coffee, and hot chocolate and drove to the east entrance to Glacier hoping to tour the visitor center.

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Apparently you can’t even park in the visitor center unless you have a Going-to-the-Sun Road timed entry permit (see above), which IMHO was ridiculous… instead they have you park 1/2 mile away and walk to the visitor center (which we did), only to find out that the visitor center had been mostly closed down except for the gift shop. Boo. At least the views were amazing, the wind was brisk, and the sun was warm.

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We rallied the troops and drove north to our ultimate destination, Many Glacier and a hike up up as far as we could go on the Grinnell Glacier trail. The drive in was ploddingly slow because they were in the process of paving the road and there was a not insignificant amount of traffic… and a bear crossing.

The road ends at a small inn (Swiftcurrent Motor Inn) and campground (Many Glacier Campground) and is surrounded by peaks that are impossible for pictures to appropriately capture. Scoring a camping spot here would have been awesome.

We finally made it to the Grinnell Glacier trailhead parking lot but it was full, I’m guessing a common story. Lucky for us, there’s a parking lot and a connecting trail (the Continental Divide Trail no less!) just a short drive east that had maybe 30 spots…and only one parked car. We parked there, loaded up the backpacks, broke out our bear spray, and headed out. The trail heads south / south east with views of both Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine and then climbs up parallel to Grinnell Creek. Our smaller dudes cut out around mile 2 and so Beck and I continued up as far and as fast as we could get before the trail closed (still had snow and ice on the last part of the hike). At a couple points the trail was blocked by some bighorn sheep and even though we couldn’t get all the way up to Upper Grinnell Lake, the views at the top were stunning.

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Beck and I walked / ran back to meet up with Karen and the boys and then we drove to the Many Glacier Hotel and had lunch on the porch, looking out over the lake. The views there were just as jaw dropping, and the breeze, warm sun, and full stomachs made for a wonderful break.

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After lunch, a lot of pictures, and a quick hike back to the car, we were off to drive back to the west side of the park. Food / restaurants are pretty scarce on the drive but we made it all the way back to West Glacier and dinner at a fantastic little restaurant right off the highway called Belton Chalet. We had a great dinner and then drove the rest of the way back to our cabin in Whitefish.

June 17th, Thursday, Day 5

The fun train rolls on. We have an 11:15am start time with Glacier Guides for a half day white water rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. We were a little bit late (suppposed to arrive 30 minutes early) but got outfitted with wetsuits, helmets, and splash jackets, hopped on the bus and were on the water before we knew it. Our guide, Carla, was from Maine, and had just moved to Glacier with her husband about a month earlier. We had an awesome float, the little boys and I had a couple quick swims (water was really really cold), and no one fell out of the boat! Success!

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After drying off, and on the recommendation of the guides, we jumped across the street and had lunch at La Casita, which is inside of a tourist looking place called Crown of the Continent Discovery Center. Two thumbs up for lunch if you’re in the area.

June 18th, Friday, Day 6

Everyone needed a break at this point so we took it easy. I’ve heard great things about the ski resort in Whitefish so we drove up the mountain later in the morning for fun, and then got lunch at one of the more popular places in downtown called Buffalo Cafe, but not before scoring a couple of books at Bookworks. One of the books I got turned out to be an awesome read for anyone who a) is doing a road trip in / around where we went, and b) likes history:

Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West

Not only did George have a significant hand in the conservation of Yellowstone National Park, he also was instrumental in saving the American bison from extinction, and played a key part in the establishment of Glacier National Park, hence Grinnell Glacier (see above). Pick it up before you go or better yet, buy it at a local bookstore like Bookworks and then enjoy it on the drive.

After lunch we packed up our swimming gear and found a parking spot a block or so away from Whitefish City Beach. It was hot on Friday but the water was… very refreshing as our host said, which is to say that it was really really cold. Karen and I swam a couple laps to and from the buoys, the boys played in the sand, and Beck read a book. If we had brought our paddle boards, it would have been great to have put them in here. Great beach, I bet it gets really crowded on hot days.

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We made dinner that night at our Airbnb and then got packed up for the second part of the trip, which is here.

Links: 5-21-2021

  • Mads Mikkelsen, In Conversation
    Quote: "Is there a life philosophy that you feel has carried you through your career? My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important."
    (categories: life philosophy work focus )

  • Embrace the Grind – Jacob Kaplan-Moss
    Quote: "Sometimes, programming feels like magic: you chant some arcane incantation and a fleet of robots do your bidding. But sometimes, magic is mundane. If you’re willing to embrace the grind, you can pull off the impossible."
    (categories: work programming career focus )

Links: 4-5-2021

Links: 2-3-2021

  • What complexity science says about what makes a winning team | Aeon Essays
    Quote: "These issues – the importance of synergistic interactions, how strategies and individual attributes combine to produce team performance, how individuals coordinate in space and time to become mesmerising as a whole, and what role the leadership and larger organisational and cultural environment play in bringing out our best – are not just questions for basketball analysts and sociologists studying the Manhattan Project. They are in fact key questions for all biological systems, as all biological systems – whether groups of neurons or animal societies – are composed of interacting parts that collectively discover solutions to environmental or internal challenges. And complexity science, replete with nuanced concepts and rigorous methods, offers a quantitative lens through which to study them." That quote and the McNamara fallacy and the reference to Jerry Muller’s book.
    (categories: performance metrics productivity team management culture )