Thursday, June 22, 1995
Leave Chez Monardo. We are much grieved at leaving this fine mansion, but our despair is tempered by the knowledge that we will have to return before finally getting out of town, as Anna has conveniently forgotten to bring her travellers cheques with us. And also she wanted to check her mail.
Anna on her porch
3:05 EDT (that's what the computer's clock says; it's 12:06 Spokane time on the car clock--there's a 3:02 difference due to the earth's magnetic field)
Anna's hometown, Spokane
After an hour of driving around Spokane, collecting food, sandwiches and money, we return to the Monardo residence to bid our final goodbyes. So far, we've gone 3 miles. We consider calling it a day and renting a tape, but then on second thought decide to make a go of it after all, even though a double issue of the New Yorker has arrived. The rain seems to have stopped. We're on the road.
Enter I-90, heading toward the wilds of the East. We are due to diverge from the AAA-recommended route in a couple of hours to follow Doug's brother's recommended route:
Fifty bucks a day,
Anna observes that we never did make the banana bread.
We are almost to Moscow. Also close to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. We're just now taking the turnoff north on 95 to Sandpoint, where we're going to diverge from the route the AAA recommended, in favor of the "scenic" route instead. Mileage 36 (on the trip-o-meter).
Sandpoint, Idaho. We stop for lunch at the marina. This is where we need to turn off on the 200, but we're hungry, so we'll eat before we find it.
We are done with lunch now, and headed for the 200. We saw a pie shop on the way into town, but there's a one-way street between us and it, and it's too complicated, so Anna runs into "Cafe Adagio" for coffee instead, leaving Doug parked precariously in a towaway zone. The intrepid Doug gets out to see if the guy watching the towaway lot knows how to find the 200, but the guy is nowhere to be found.
On Route 200. Doug is driving through Montana, which we entered at approximately 5:00 p.m. EDT. Driving through a repetitive landscape of majestic mountains, lush stands of evergreens and the passing perfume of trucks loaded with freshly cut logs, Doug perked up considerably when "The Girl From Ipanema" popped out of the tape player. He's bopping along in the driver's seat, two hands on the wheel, smiling and nodding with the beat. Incongruous scene, the girl from Ipanema here in the wilderness of Montana, but there you have it.
6:01 PDT (We're in Montana now--Mountain time!) 253 miles on trip-o-meter
Ronan, Montana. Exxon/Karl's Mission Mart. We stop to fill our tank with gas, and along the way somehow end up with frozen Snickers and Three Musketeers bars in our hands. We've been through a couple of Injun reservations now (whoop-di-do), plus we drove by a bison range. We are now driving due north on the 93, after coming down through the Clark Fork valley (a.k.a. the Dave Clark Five), which got better and better along the way. We thought that was pretty good, but then when we hit the 93, almost immediately we headed over the crest of a hill and were pointed straight at . . .
. . . a breathtaking vista of huge, dark mountains looming over a broad, flat valley floor dotted with farms and fields. The mountains are brushed with snow and topped with big, cottony clouds. Until then we'd been driving through green and light colors; the dark mountains were, as Anna put it, "like coming to the end of North Carolina and suddenly finding Switzerland"--a whole different flavor. These are proper Rocky Mountains.
We're several miles south of Flathead Lake, which we're supposed to steer around on the east side, according to Franklin's instructions. So far, his guidance has been pretty good. We go through the park after that, then up the east side for a few miles and back into the park, where our hotel is. We've decided to hold dinner till then.
Every time we pass one of the many kitsch stands along the side of the road, we point and say, "BDD would stop there," And every time we pass one of the many antique shops we point and say, "Barbara Collier." A few days later, in Canada, we will pass the Fay Wray Memorial sculpture (a gorilla) and Fountain and afterward deeply regret not stopping to take photos. But at that point we will be new to Canada and still so busy saying Eh that we just don't get the cameras out in time. And Doug's motto is, Don't turn back.
Polson (a.k.a. Poison), Montana. We turn left on 35, to head north around the east side of Flathead Lake. We're going to skirt right along the feet of the dark mountains to do this. Flathead Lake is a pretty attractive view; you can tell that in the light it would be even nicer. Mileage around 266.
Flathead Lake, Montana
9:49 EDT (275.9 miles)
Finley Point, Montana. We have just deprived the Montana State Parks commission of $3. We kept seeing these great views of the sun going down into the lake and not stopping for Doug to take pictures of them, so Doug told Anna to drive down a road that went toward the water with a sign saying "Finley Point, 4 miles." We had put in the Joe Cocker tape back at the gas station. WOW! Tiny little one-lane road through Christmas-tree farms and vineyards, with the lake off to one side, blasting "With a Little Help From My Friends" with the mountains right behind us. WOW! We both agree that at this juncture we are as happy as we want to be.
Anna at Flathead Lake
We drive down to the end of the road and find a little park with a $3 entry fee, which you are supposed to drop voluntarily into the box. Yeah, right. But we squeeze off some pictures that might come out decently later on.
Doug at Flathead Lake
Anna says to mention the little purple flowers all along the side of the road. She is also firmly convinced there is marijuana growing around here somewhere, probably in those tires in that guy's front garden. Hey, is he a movie star?
Windows down; mountain air getting crisper as we drive further north. We both noticed how nobody came out of any of the trailers by the lake or the classy houses in amongst the trees to offer us any food.
10:58 EDT (319.8 miles)
We pull onto Highway 206, whose number is not written on our map anywhere. This is the shortcut to Glacier at the top of Flathead Lake instead of taking Route 2. As Anna says, "It keeps being beautiful."
Monday 26 June 1995
12:53 a.m. EDT (980 miles or so)
It happened. We let the log go for several days and now we must catch up with ourselves before it all disappears. What has happened since Thursday? Well. It was the longest day of the year, so we thought we had so much time, and it seemed to Anna that at any minute we'd be pulling into the hotel. Doug must have suspected, because several times he said, "Anna, you know how you get when you're hungry--are you sure you don't want to stop for dinner before we get to the hotel?" But it was too late. Restaurants had already closed by the time we got the news from the forest ranger at the gates of Glacier Park that the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the transverse road we had planned to take through the park, was closed and we had a 3-hour drive ahead of us. It was already close to 10 p.m. Light in the sky, but no food in the car.
Doug to Anna: "Are you thoroughly disgusted?"
Anna to Doug: "Yes."
Anna fumed a bit while Doug waited for sandwiches to be made at the last living deli in the vicinity of Glacier Park (a few hours later Anna would find that these sandwiches were delicious, best sandwiches she's had since she left New York, but they didn't know that at this point).
[Doug: What Doug hadn't realized until now was that Anna's welcome willingness to poke along on the road, stopping here and there to look at things and take pictures, didn't signal any similar eagerness to drive by dark. "We don't do that in my family," Anna said. It was an interesting time to learn about this perfectly legitimate preference. But since we already had paid for our rooms--megabucks--and since we were separated from them by three hours, there wasn't much anyone could do. In other circumstances we could have stopped at a hotel near the west side of Glacier Park, but as it was we felt compelled, even in the increasing twilight, to head all the way around the south end of the park and more than halfway up its east side to get to our hotel. It was clear, however, that in the future it would be a Bad Idea to get stuck in this position again. We will have to plan excruciatingly carefully to avoid being out on the road again at night. Fortunately, that isn't difficult to do.]
The Continental Divide After Dark
We drove. Now we had hit the interesting, challenging part of our drive. [Doug: part of this involved crossing the Continental Divide--in the dark of course.] The road climbed and turned and dipped up and around mountains. Occasionally we passed another car. Convicted felons, we assumed. No one else would be on these mountain roads at this time. We passed a hitchhiker. Doug laughed. Anna wasn't laughing yet. Spectacular views on all sides of us. We saw none of it. It was getting darker. Can I explain how abandoned this road felt? How nonsensical it seemed that there was any sign of life up ahead. And yet Doug insisted that there was a hotel, a grand old hotel where his brother worked. Was there really a hotel? Was there really a brother? At this point I'd given up. We were beyond hope. There was nothing to do but pop the Henry Mancini tape into the cassette player and as soon as we got to the theme song to Two for the Road, I hit the repeat button and tortured Doug with that sad, tragic song over and over.
Doug: "This is from a movie? What's it about?"
Anna: "Two people who meet each other on the road and start traveling together and keep traveling and torturing each other for years and years and years. They're always on the road."
Doug: "How appropriate."
We drove. It got darker. At a certain point we rode up over the top of a hill and there before us, splendid, were at least half a dozen cream-colored horses covering the road. They were haunting and beautiful and scary almost, made me feel like an intruder. They were long-legged and walking casually as the prostitutes you see on 57th Street in the middle of the night.
[Doug: It was night driving away from civilization, like a bad--or good--Jim Morrison dream. Figures flitted through the headlights in, as Anna put it, a Dantean vision, and then they'd be gone, leaving you to wonder whether you'd really seen them or they were just figments. There's not much in this area but the park, and there's almost nothing to do in the park by night, so most people in this area were in bed by now, and we had the road pretty much to ourselves. It would startle us whenever we'd see headlights coming around the bend. Having Irish singers playing Motown songs loud in the car of course made it even more surreal. (Somewhere in there we'd put in the music from The Commitments.)
[We were so far north that it took a long time for the sky to really get black, but from the point where we were told we had another three hours ahead of us, which was probably around 9:30 (or 8:30 in the time zone we were coming from), it was definitely dark enough to drive with headlights. Anna drove carefully on the mountain roads, worrying that we might come upon deer in the road, as we eventually came upon the horses, mystic in their proportions. (Found out later they belonged to the Blackfeet Nation and were supposed to stay on the other side of the fence that runs along this road, but usually find their way through.) We drove for quite a while through darkness and hills, then came over a rise and saw spread out before us the lights of a little, sleeping town, Browning. There we turned north into the darkness again, and it was after that that we saw the horses. (The hitchhiker came before that. The soul of optimism, believing that out there, 15 miles from anywhere in particular, on a deserted mountain road at night, he was going to get picked up.) Finally--finally--we got to Babb, a town that consisted of a shed and a half, where we headed down the last 15 miles to the park, a twisting, two-lane mountain pavement that periodically gave way to gravel. By now it was pitch, pitch black outside the car.]
We continued driving. We traded Mancini for The Commitments, which we played loud, as we later played James Brown. There were stars now, but not enough, and we considered asking for our money back. Clearly, though, things had got as bad as they were going to get, so it could only get better. And it did. While we were stopped at a red light at the entrance to a one-lane bridge (of course no other cars would be coming through, but when you see a red light in the wilderness you stop; no questions asked).
Anna: "Well, we're stopped here. This might be a good time to break out those sandwiches."
This is probably what saved the vacation. Anna's was a very good sandwich, ham and cheese, but not just any old ham and cheese. Even after the light turned green Anna kept us there a few minutes to enjoy this sandwich. We traveled on. The Commitments played. Alongside the road Anna (who was still driving) saw two shiny-marble-like eyes, then in the darkness she saw a darker darkness, and it was moving, and it was a bear. A low-crawling mama bear, probably looking for food. Thank God she'd already eaten most of the sandwich. [Doug: Actually, we saw the bear before we hit the red light where we stopped and broke out the long-overdue sandwiches. Since bears at Yosemite love people food, and since we turned the light on in the car to eat the sandwiches, there was concern on at least one person's part over exactly how far back up the road the bear scrounging for food really was. As it turns out, the bear in Glacier haven't been allowed to learn so much about eating human food. Anyhow, the bear was probably still a mile or so behind us.] Anna thought about locking the doors, but she was stunned and thrilled by this sight.
We sang "Mustang Sally." We got to the hotel. There was a hotel. It was grand. It was one o'clock. A big fine old lodge.
Day Two: Friday, June 23
Many Glacier Lodge
The next morning Anna saw that there was in fact a brother. Franklin.
Good guy. Very cute. [Doug: Anna seemed to emphasize how cute Doug's brother was. To the exclusion of mentioning the cuteness of the guy who'd kept her on the road till all hours the night before. Just an observation.] He'd arranged for us to have rooms with screen doors that opened right out onto a lake. Gorgeous, green-watered Swiftcurrent Lake. Right now, as I write this, it is late and I'm tired. At some other point I'll go on about how beautiful this place was. For now I'll just say that the days we were there we felt we were being held in the palm of God. We were surrounded by the tallest most never-ending mountains, and spread before us was this jade-like lake. And there was an excellent restaurant. Anna got the grilled pork chops. Doug and Franklin had fresh seafood. Doug took a hike with Franklin. Anna sat in the sun and read old magazines. In the morning we had breakfast with Franklin before we took off.
[Doug: Imagine the effect, after having driven halfway through the night, with no idea what lay beyond the pool of light in front of the car, of waking up and looking out into the morning light and seeing that you were by a lake, in a little valley surrounded by craggy, snow-covered peaks thousands of feet above you. Clear mountain air. It was wonderful. The only thing I'll add to any description Anna gives is that the really amazing thing, after how perfect Many Glacier Valley was, was that from there on north all the scenery kept getting better and better--with the possible exception of the plains of Alberta.
Out Our Windows
[Incidentally, the hike Franklin and I took was a stroll up to Iceberg Lake, six miles each way, terrific hike. We saw mountain goats along the way, which rather thoughtfully consented to pose for photos. Also it seemed that every mountain wildflower there is was starting to bloom.]