Montana road trip – day 6

The Kootenai Falls were an amazing find, an unexpected highlight of the road trip.

Another night under canvas. We’d managed to avoid caterpillar infestation, which given the amount of caterpillars dropping on to my head and shoulders from the trees was a minor miracle. Ah, the delights of nature.

Day 6 saw us leave the little island paradise and start the journey home. The route back was once again through Montana, Idaho and Washington, but a more northerly road was to be travelled. With day 1 still firmly etched in to my memory, the first task was to find somewhere to stay for the night. Highway 2 would take us through Bonners Ferry, Idaho and our new best friend, yelp delivered the goods. A room at the independent Log Inn was duly reserved.

A real serendipitous moment was in store along the highway. Lesley spotted a sign for the Koonenai Falls and the parking area wasn’t crowded. Time to pull over and explore. The Kootenai Falls were an amazing find, an unexpected highlight of the road trip. With temperatures in the mid thirties, Lesley and I set off for the bridge, not knowing what ‘the bridge’ would be. Turns out it was a single track, wooden swing bridge strung across the Kootenai River. Now I’m not a great one for heights, but this was something not to be missed. I did have second thoughts though. A couple with dogs were crossing before us.

The dogs, Rottweilers, reached the stage where terror cut in, backsides went down and front legs were stiffened. So, if I was to cross this bridge I had to be harder than your average Rottweiler. Something I’d not considered myself to be, I have to admit. Lesley in the meantime had decided that she’d take refuge in the shade whilst I risked life and limb for that one great pic. With the deepest of deep breaths I set out. Boy, was it worth while.

The river was flowing fast, the bridge anything but stable and the views, well, I simply wouldn’t have missed the experience. What made it even better was that it didn’t cost a penny. Plus, no safety guy around.
It was at my risk.

The crossing back was a little more fraught as I met another family half way across. Making out way past each other on a 3 board wide bridge was interesting, but personal space was not compromised and without a whiff of fear emanating from my nether regions, I was back with Lesley. We continued to explore the area and I found that it was possible to get down to the waters’s edge, close to the actual falls. What an experience, no safety precautions included,  just me deciding how close I wanted to go.

The Kootenai Falls were an amazing find, an unexpected highlight of the road trip.

After the exhilaration of the falls, it was back on the road to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Another glimpse of small town USA, a very homely room for the night, and an enormous meal at a local restaurant. Probably more calories in one meal than I’d had in the previous two days combined. And a very well deserved beer.

After 6 days on the road, this foray in to the USA had provided some absolute gems of experiences. There was more to come as day seven beckoned.

Montana road trip – Flag retirement

I’d never really appreciated just how much the Stars and Stripes meant to Americans. After the retirement ceremony I was left in no doubt of its importance.

I’d spent an afternoon sailing around Melita Island on Flathead Lake. Lesley and I were passengers, the skipper a US Navy veteran. The temperature was in the mid 30’s, the lake a mill pond, beautiful weather and jaw dropping scenery. This was quite a road trip. One of the aims for the trip was to relax and I think I was probably an 8 or 9 out of 10 on the relaxed scale. Virtually horizontal.

Ward was spot on with his description of Camp Melita, it was certainly somewhere close to paradise. However, Ward was also spot on with his description of the cuisine. Scout food in portions for small people. But, for a short visit, that really didn’t matter. I can certainly sympathize with Ward and his need to escape for a meal every weekend.

I was informed by Ward that there would be a flag retirement ceremony in the evening. I was intrigued. In a former life I spent 8 years in the Royal Air Force and had never come across a retirement ceremony for the Union Flag or the RAF standard.  What was a retirement ceremony? There was more. Forces veterans would also be honoured during the ceremony. Now, I’d never thought of myself as a forces veteran. Does one have to serve a certain number of years to qualify? I’d no idea, but today having served in the RAF,  I was also a ‘vet’.

So, evening arrived and the camp gathered together. Scouts marched in with a large Stars and Stripes, which was to be retirement due to a flaw in the fabric. One of the preferred methods of retirement is burning. My mind understandably started to play images from news channels of the US flag burning in very different circumstances. Curiosity grew, what was I about to witness.

I’d never really appreciated just how much the Stars and Stripes meant to Americans. After the retirement ceremony I was left in no doubt of its importance. The evening will live long in my memory.

The reason for the stars and stripes was explained, confederation and states. Stories of honour and sacrifice. Pride in the country, pride in the flag and what the flag represented. When outsiders peer in to the US and see what appears to be over the top patriotism, this has to be where some of that emotion comes from.

The flag was gradually cut up, first stripes, then the stars. Each piece consigned to the brazier. A length of flag was retained, cut in to smaller pieces with those pieces handed to all in attendance.

We were asked to acknowledge and remember the contribution of fallen service men and women, consider their sacrifice to secure our freedom. Very powerful. And there was more to come. Forces ‘vets were invited to line up and despite my reticence, Ward beckoned me forward to join the others. What a humbling moment. In those few moments I was given more recognition for the 8 years I gave to HM Forces than I’d ever received before.

The ceremony closed with everyone filing past the brazier to add their piece of flag to the fire and finally saluting the flag. Now this is where respect for others and remaining English had to be addressed. The line was drawn for me and there was no saluting the Stars and Stripes. Despite the relocation, I’m still English. Even if I get Canadian citizenship, I’m still English. I’m certainly not American.

The US Navy ‘vet that had skippered the sailboat earlier in the day approached me. With tears in his eyes he thanked me for participating. He was absolutely sincere. I’d respected his country’s tradition and the guy was very, very grateful.

The following morning, Lesley and I would bid Ward farewell and leave Camp Melita. But what a final evening. Maidstone and the UK seemed a very distant memory. Relocation had brought with it unexpected and poignant moments.

Montana road trip – day 4 and 5

There are times that I have to pinch myself. This is now part of my life and accessible more than once in a lifetime. This is what the relocation was about, quality of life and adventure.

It was time to head to the meeting point and meet up with Ward. Ward the skipperI’d met Ward during my ETNO sustainability working group days back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. The slightly surreal thing here was that I was meeting a guy from Belgium at a Scout camp on a lake in north west Montana, USA

A quick couple of quotes from the old Camp Melita Island site. Firstly Flathead Lake

Tucked in the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana, Flathead Lake sits next to the rugged grandeur of Glacier National Park and the western edge of several million acres of designated wilderness.

And Melita Island itself. Uninhabited, undeveloped, and completely surrounded by water, Melita Island is just as it was in the late 1940’s when the Scouts first began participating in summer camps there.

These snippets tell it as it is. A tiny paradise in the sun with stunning views, Melita Island.

Although only on the island for a couple days, it was simply a wonderful wind down and chill time (once we’d ejected the plague of caterpillars from our tent). Treated to a sail boat and speed boat ride, walking around the island, sitting down and just gazing at the lake. Wonderful, this was truly what the relocation was about.

It would soon be time to hit the road again, but there was one surprise to come, a Flag Retirement Ceremony.

Montana road trip – day 3

It was the sheer scale of the pass that was so impressive. This was the start of the Rockies.

A good nights sleep in a real bed and it was time to explore the area. Today the Logan pass beckoned. Logan Pass cuts through the Glacier National Park in north west Montana. Straddling the continental divide, Logan Pass is at the start the mountain range that heads north in to Canada, the range we call the Rockies.

Having lived in BC for around 4 years, what would I make of our destination?  After all, BC is a beautiful place, the mountains here in (almost) daily view, the provincial and national parks stunning. Would Glacier National Park measure up?

After an hour’s drive we arrived at the park entrance and headed towards the pass. A glimpse of what was to come came around every curve, the park gradually opening up before us. The ascent to some 7000 feet began. The climb was steady, never steep and the higher we got the greater the view. It was the sheer scale of the pass that was so impressive. This was indeed the start of the Rockies. To be honest, it’s really not worth trying to describe was unfolded, this place has to be seen to be appreciated. Even the camera cannot truly capture the vastness. Let’s just say that it was a snapshot of this awesome natural environment.

The unfortunate thing was that as the pass was do busy with visitors we didn’t get a chance to stop at the summit to explore more. It was still worth the trip though, just to experience the vastness and beauty of the pass.

Changing subjects, one app became a must use on this trip – Yelp. When WiFi was available, Yelp and the iPad helped find somewhere to eat and somewhere to sleep. Invaluable.

Day 3 came to a close. Day 4 would see us going under canvas for a couple of nights on an Island on Flathead Lake.

Montana road trip – day 2

I’d never been so close to a Bison and to be honest, I’d happily not be so close to a bison ever again.

Day 2 began a lot earlier than I’d hoped for. Having parked up in a rest area facing south, around 5.30am the sun announced that the new day was definitely open for business.

Even though it was somewhat of a rude awakening, it was also a wonderful sight. Sunrise was the kind of thing last experienced as teen returning home after a night out. I think age has mellowed me and allowed me to accept the experience as a thing of beauty rather than a sorry reminder of the time of day.

Breakfast was sorely needed, but where? The nearest city was Spokane and at 8am on a Sunday morning, not much is happening. Having failed to locate anything open I tried the ‘burbs and found a coffee shop ready to accept weary visitors in need of caffeine and cake. Not only was the food and coffee excellent, there was WiFi available and I’d soon booked a room for 2 nights in Polson, our staging post before venturing on to Melita Island.

Refreshed, rinsed and caffeinated it was back on to the road, travelling in to Idaho, heading for Montana.
Stops for fuel provided welcome breaks and running across places like the small, historic mining town Wallace added to the sense of adventure and discovery.  Here’s how the Wallace tourist site describes the town’s origins

A true, old west, mining town that still prospers today; the town of Wallace traces its roots back to 1884 when Colonel Wallace (not a real Colonel) purchased 80 acres of land and built his cabin in the area that became the site of the present city.

The  idea of ‘Colonel, but not a real Colonel’ is interesting and maybe adds to a sense of false importance that places like Wallace seem to exude. Often statements such as ‘world famous’ or ‘in the world’ would pop up and there’s a real ownership of those statements too. Maybe I’m not well enough travelled, but I’d never heard of Wallace before. I know it now, and the tourist info office folks were very friendly, so I’m happy to accept that Wallace is indeed one of the most important silver mining town’s in the world.

Idaho became Montana and as the day’s destination neared, I came across a Bison reserve. Having time to spare and a room waiting in Polson, a trip to the reserve was another great diversion.

And it was quite a diversion. These beasts are huge, and despite their lumbering appearance, once up to speed can apparently gallop at horse speeds. Driving the reserve was a fascinating experience. It was a mini ‘safari’ with some pretty steep climbs that were not expected. I’m not driving an SUV or 4 wheeled drive car, it’s a Mazda 5. But it coped admirably. In fact, the only concern was when we managed to get between a mother and calf. Mrs Bison was visibly disgruntled and started to head my way. Fortunately the track was clear and when the calf was back in sight, Mrs Bison’s movement became munching.
I’d never been so close to a Bison and to be honest, I’d happily not be so close to a bison ever again.

What a sight, appearing from nowhere at the other end of the road, the Rockies. Glacier National Park would be a ‘must do’ visit, but that would be on day 3.

Polson, at the south end of Flathead Lake was the end point for day 2. A lakeside view from the room, showers and a good meal closed off a far better day.