The hardest part of our journey out to Montana began towards the end of June 2019. It was hard to say goodbye to our friends and family, with many tears shed. We packed up all our belongings and started making our trek from Oakland, CA to Whitefish, MT. After 17 years living in the Bay Area, we decided to leave our well established careers, our adorable (although undersized) home and head back to where we had both started, in the country. Ryan (my husband) was raised in Maine and New Hampshire. I (Sara) was mostly raised in Northern Michigan and Ohio. Although Montana is going to be quite different in many ways, it will feel more like where we grew up with seasons and especially snow. Although we loved living in San Francisco and Oakland, which is full of amazing restaurants, art, music, culture and etc., we had two young boys to think about and it seemed the Bay Area was becoming too difficult to keep it together. Although hard, we knew this move was necessary.
~ THE JOURNEY TO MONTANA ~
DAY ONE: Our 20’ trailer was fully loaded and ready to go. Our truck driver would be meeting us in Whitefish in about 5-7 days. All we needed to worry about was our two dogs and two kids who would ride with me in our Subaru Outback and the other “precious cargo” (stereo equipment and bikes) would ride in the Eurovan that Ryan was driving out separately. We traveled about 5 hours total through Northern California to Mount Shasta, our first stop.
We stayed at the Lake Shasta KOA. For those of you who do not know what a KOA is (like me before this trip), it is a super easy way to travel when camping. You pull into your designated camping spot, which includes potable water and typically a fire pit, a picnic table and room enough for your sleep set up and vehicles. You can car camp, bring an RV or set up a tent. For this trip, we are using a large tent that is big enough for the two of us, plus two Siberian Huskies, a 6 year old and a Pack ‘n Play for our two year old.
Other amenities that KOA’s typically include: a bathroom with showers, a laundry facility, a pool, a dog run area, and other fun things like one had a petting farm and a game rooms. Most offer a general store and fun novelty bikes to use. KOA’s are great for families, it’s like no hassle camping. They aren’t terribly rustic but each are unique in there own special way and can offer a lot of fun for the kids.
The Mt Shasta KOI was set deep into the woods. Our campsite was down towards the back of the grounds and even when pulling in (way past the kid’s bedtime) we knew this was a special place. The pine trees were enormous and dense.
I would like to say we slept like kings but I was super cold. They were experiencing cold and rainy weather not terribly typical at this time of year, but it meant that I needed a new sleeping bag. I ended up purchasing a new sleeping bag and it was the best investment I could make. I slept so much better for the rest of our 3 months of camping.
DAY TWO: We said goodbye to California and hello to beautiful Oregon. Our goal was to make it to Redmond, OR in about 6 hours. The kids started to get antsy and thank god for Dylan’s video games. It distracted him enough to leave Caleb alone enough to nap and enjoy the views. Without it, they fought like cats and dogs.
I probably heard the words, “COW!” and “CHOO CHOO TRAIN!” about a million times. Each time cuter than the last. We made a few stops along the way to ease the tension. Funny thing was Ryan was driving by himself, so he was relaxed and chill when we stopped. Me on the other hand, wanted to murder someone at each stop. It wasn’t easy, but I loved being part of the kids journey even with all the chaos. Eventually we landed at the KOA in Redmond, OR. I will say this one was quite different than the one back in Shasta. Our site was very open with not too many trees. There were lot’s of RV’s and a ridiculously loud train that rode past us just feet away with a loud blowing horn that kept us up all night.
A mother and daughter team camping next to us came by the next morning to chat. They said they couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculously loud it was. It is funny to look back on this moment now, because in the coming weeks the midnight horns coming from this train was nothing compared to what was to come later while on our trip.
DAY THREE: We head out of Oregon, which overall was a beautiful drive. I lived in Corvallis 18 years prior and remembered how stunning the scenery. But the eastern part of the state was not the part I was familiar with, so it was a feast for my tired eyes. It was a quick drive through and soon we were entering Washington. I knew we were at least getting close to the border because we were crossing the Columbia River. I don’t have any photos which probably means either my kids were driving me crazy or because the scenery distracted me. Either way, I would recommend seeing this place. It’s GORGEous!!
I remembered visiting Portland, OR many years ago and the familiarity of the high winds, large gorge, kite surfers brought me right back. The enormous split between the two states is really fun to travel over and this was my favorite part of driving through Washington.
We drove about 5-6 total hours when we landed in Spokane, WA KOA. This site was similar to the last. I don’t know if we would camp here again. The kids enjoyed the pool after so many days sitting in the car. But the kid’s playground was full of this charcoal type mulch and it was really hard to keep the kids clean. Not that I expect them to be clean while camping, but this stuff was on another level. Luckily there were hot showers and no loud trains keeping us up at night. I took it as a win! Nothing is more important as a good night’s sleep while camping.
DAY FOUR: We are on our way to Montana. It was finally setting in that I am about to see Whitefish for the very first time. This will be my new home and I couldn’t handle the anticipation. We only drove through Idaho briefly, maybe a half hour or something. But I can say it was over the top stunning. I have heard Idaho might be the most beautiful state of them all. I will have to go back and do more exploring to find out.
As we enter Montana, all of sudden the trees get taller and fuller. At one point, I am seeing a sea of trees. I have never seen this many trees in all of my life. Not in one place. We were lucky enough to drive through the town of Flathead Lake before entering Whitefish. It reminded me of some towns in the Bay Area like Sausalito or Larkspur. It was absolutely stunning but without all the people and without so much development.
As we are driving, all I am thinking is wow, this place is really beautiful. There are ranches, horses, farms, mountains……we are completely surrounded by mountain peaks. There are lakes, rivers, and a bazillion trees. One of the most incredible things about where we drove through was the “big sky.” They don’t use this term for nothing. The skies seem to float above our heads for days. The clouds and sky are huge!! Around 2pm, we finally arrive to Whitefish. This is the place we hope to call home forever….well, maybe not forever but at least for a while as we master the many skills of inn keeping. The first thing I see as we pull in is the enormous ski mountain once called “Big Mountain”. I think many locals are in agreement that the name was fitting and are sad to see it go. The newest owner’s are calling it Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Currently it is end of June, so the mountain is covered in lush greenery. All I can think is that this mountain looks very serious with several steep runs pointing to the top of what must be the top of Whitefish Mountain. I am told you can ski all 360 degrees of the terrain. The only thought that runs through my head is I cannot wait to see it up close and with it covered in snow. At this moment, I am so happy to be calling this my new home.
to be continued…..