B&B vs. Hotel

Now that my husband and I have been official Inn Keepers for over two months here at Good Medicine Lodge in Whitefish, Montana, we have noticed many differences between what a typical hotel can offer you compared to a Bed and Breakfast.

For starters, a Bed and Breakfast is also a home to an Inn Keeper. He or she or in our case the couple takes care of the premises like it is their home (because it is) instead of just a business.

A hotel lobby might have a warm lit fire to welcome you, but everything from the stale hallways to the bland room you end up in is a far cry from a B&B. Instead, a B&B will provide you with very personal touches you will feel throughout your stay. You are greeted by a welcoming smile and perhaps someone who is also offering to help you with your bags (with no expectation of a tip at the door.) Then you are given a brief tour of the facility, how to work certain things and what is available for you to use. In many cases, it feels a lot like staying at a close friend or family member’s home. Maybe a little awkward at first but once you get the hang of where things are and that you are most very welcome, you start to feel like being in your home away from home.

I should warn you here that of course, not all B&B’s are created equally. Some might generally fit my description in this write up and some are pretty different than the one we run. But hopefully by reading this you are open to trying a B&B out the next time you decide to travel, because I would be very confident in saying that most B&B’s will offer you the majority of what I describe.

Some Bed and Breakfasts are your stereotypical 5 bedroom home that perhaps offer shared bathrooms and maybe a shared dining table at breakfast. This type might deter some guests from booking because maybe there is some pressure to “fit in” with the owners or they might feel like they couldn’t relax being so close in proximity to other strangers. But I would say that if you are up for a new experience you might find that you meet some very interesting people who provide you with a sense of community and you could end up with long lasting friends.

Many modern B&B’s these days offer private bathrooms to go along with the larger sized bedrooms. This is a really great option for people who want the privacy that a hotel can offer but also gives you the many offerings that comes with a B&B and not with a hotel. This would be the case for our B&B. We have ten rooms all with private bathrooms and a couple of them are suites, which are really great if you can afford to splurge a little. Two of our rooms have fireplaces in them and there is a large 22 person dining room with a fireplace. But you can check those details out here: https://goodmedicinelodge.com.

Some B&B’s have a lot of history to share. For example, they might be set in an old Victorian home with antiques and historical references for guests to enjoy. Perhaps maybe an ex-President had stayed there once before or maybe the home belonged to someone of historical importance.

Many B&B’s these days offer a pool or hot tub, cable television, WIFI, laundry facilities and shuttle services. Many of them outdo their hotel competitors by offering luxury linens and toiletries, gym memberships, in room fireplaces and many “hang out spots” with a cozy chair by the fire with complimentary hot chocolate.

Best of all, B&B’s all offer amazing breakfast! This is by far my most favorite thing about a Bed and Breakfast. The breakfast can be anything from a continental-style breakfast with some bonus items all the way up to a decadent “best meal of your life” made by an in-house chef. Our particular B&B offers a two to three meal option where you sign up the day before with your selection. We typically offer something savory or sweet and something healthy or rich but filling in either case. Some guests stay for longer periods of time, which is what gave us the idea to offer something a little less heavy. We also serve fresh baked pastries every morning that pairs nicely with our local and organic coffee by Black Coffee Roasting Co.

Bed and Breakfasts are typically very good at doing both the bed and the breakfast. I mean, it is their namesake. And when you are in search for a place to sleep you should be very careful not to just look for the cheapest room. After all, you are most likely spending quite a lot of money already on your trip as well as using your very precious vacation time to splurge on what might possibly be your one and only vacation that year. So why not opt to spend just a little more money and effort finding that perfect place? (And if it is during a slow season, you might find it is even cheaper than a hotel.) Not to mention, once you add in the cost of breakfast, in most cases you have ended up breaking even.

Still not convinced? Here is where B&B’s can really outshine their competitors when it comes to special requests. Most B&B’s offer prearranged romance packages and other exciting specials and deals that can help your stay more relaxing than you can imagine. Items like champagne and chocolates can be set up in your room or bikes and ski equipment can be prearranged for drop off before you arrive. B&B’s are also much more accommodating when it comes to celebrating a loved ones birthday or anniversary because most times when guests are visiting they are celebrating something like that. So it is expected and well executed. Most hotels do not go out of their way to help make your room special in this way. And if they do, they are probably charging you an arm and a leg to handle it for you. This is not to say that B&B’s do not charge extra. They sometimes do and really need to to help cover their bottom line, but it just comes so much easier to them than to a large hotel.

Have you forgotten an item at home? No problem. A B&B has you covered. And in some cases, so do hotels (possibly for a fee) but chances are the B&B will have quite the supply hidden in their back room full of toothpaste, razors, SPF, and just about anything you can imagine. At our Inn, we have a bin full of miscellaneous items like sewing kits, reading glasses, bathing suits and even bear spray. Yes, we actually lend out bear spray for our guests to take with them when they head out on the trails. This is Northwestern Montana after all.

Many B&B’s go way above and beyond what any hotel would do for their guests. For example, at our Bed and Breakfast we offer fresh baked cookies every single day. We even do a Gluten Free variety, which has become some of our most favored by everyone including our non-Gluten Free guests. We also have French Press, a self serve Nespresso machine, microwaves, mini fridges, an ice machine, ironing board and iron, loose tea, a full library, games and several other novelties available to you 24/7.

Inn Keepers have a genuine sense of wanting to please and in doing so can provide you with local concierge services. Since owning this B&B in Whitefish Montana, we have had several other local businesses reach out to ask us to promote their business. Small businesses all depend on each other and when they reach out like this, we all know who is going to be able to provide you with what you need and what you want. A larger hotel will never be able to outshine us in this way. The front desk is likely ran by someone who is just there to collect a paycheck and does not care where you rent your kayak or which tour guide is going to provide you with the best service. And if the front desk clerk happens to be a caring local who wants to help you they are likely not going to have the time to spend with you as a small Inn Keeper would because Inn Keepers know that it is crucial to the success of their business that they take care of their guest to the very best of their ability.

If you need a blanket because you are feeling chilly – done! If you prefer a down pillow because the synthetic one gives you neck pain – done! Oh, the hot tub is just a few degrees too hot for your liking – done! If you ask you are so much more likely to receive at a B&B than a hotel.

Now that I have provided you with all this new insight on the Bed and Breakfast world vs. hotels. I would encourage you to visit a B&B or two during your next vacation. And if the first one you visit isn’t your cup of tea, please try it again. I promise you will find one that just blows your mind. And please always book direct with the B&B’s official website or call them directly. You are going to get a better rate than with an Online Travel Agency (OTA). If you don’t, try calling them for a better rate. They will accommodate you because the OTA’s (booking.com, hotels.com, travelocity.com, etc..) are all charging them a huge commission to book through them.

My New Life as an Innkeeper

Before we moved into our newly purchased Bed and Breakfast, I was worried because I knew that the first few weeks would be beyond hectic. We had two young kids in school, two crazy dogs, a ridiculous amount of things needing to be moved into our new place. There were plenty of things needing to be cleaned out and organized, not to mention the millions of other tasks tied to starting a new business. I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep and that my body would be put through the ringer. But like most things in life, you let the adrenaline and excitement help guide your way item by item, step by step.

We scheduled a team of movers to help us unload our furniture and boxes. When they were finished bringing them up stairs to our owner’s unit, I was in total overwhelm as I scanned our huge space that now felt so small packed with towering boxes. How did all of this fit in our tiny little house back in Oakland?

It felt so ludicrous unpacking that first inconsequential box. I had to start somewhere but pulling out random items like a candle or a decorative pillow gave me so much anxiety. Do I put them on the floor and possibly trip over them for the next several weeks? Do I leave them on the kitchen counter leaving us no space to create a meal? Should I just put it back in the box and save it for another day?

Each box that I opened was filled with items like this. Looking around my house now, these items finally did make their way to carefully arranged shelves which I love and are what give our place that cozy feeling. But when you first start climbing that mountain, it can be so very daunting.

Lucky for me, on the other side of the wall inside the B&B, everything was already organized. It was a completely different world where all items had a rightful place, a label and was just so utterly wonderful to see. We even had guest rooms to choose from where beds were already made up with fresh linens, soap and shampoo in the bathrooms, clean towels hung and we didn’t need to do a thing. We didn’t even need to worry about locating the cutlery or dinnerware from our boxes upstairs. Those items and so much more was already in place in our beautiful commercial kitchen so that we could whip up a meal with total ease. Having all of that made our lives so much easier.

All I needed to do was find the balance between spending part of the day for new business development while also slowly chipping away at the tedious chore of unpacking. Then, when the kids were back from school, we could prepare dinner and sleep in a guest room and actually get some good rest. The luxury linens and comfortable mattresses helped out a lot. Having all of that was really the only way we could’ve worked through those first few crazy weeks so easily. It didn’t really feel like work. I guess that was what I had hoped for. My wish was to find work in something that didn’t feel like work. And for me, it was all very fun and exciting.

During the second week, I decided that we needed to start gearing up for first guests. I wanted everything to be perfect so I spent more hours in the day working on having new systems in place, building a menu of breakfast options and making sure we had all the ingredients necessary. When our first guests arrived I was so excited. It was a young couple from Canada who drove down just for a couple of nights. I served them appetizers and a couple of drinks. We chatted for a bit and then they were off to dinner.

I couldn’t wait to serve them breakfast and see what they thought of the place. But we never got the chance to ask them because the husband ended up getting food poisoning from the restaurant they ate at that night. They ended up leaving to head back to Canada that next morning and had to cut their stay short. I felt bad for them and was disappointed. That wasn’t really what I had imagined for my first guest experience in my very first B&B.

Another couple came to stay just one day later and I anxiously awaited for their check in. Upon arrival I greeted them, gave them a quick tour and then served appetizers and drinks. We had a nice twenty minute chat and they said they needed to head out to check on a house they were building in town.

They came down for breakfast the next day and ate every bite. They seemed like the best guests an innkeeper could ask for. They were pleasant and gracious. They seemed to love everything. I had trouble with one of our tricky fireplaces getting it started and it took me like an hour and still I couldn’t get it lit. The guests tried to help me out and acted like it was no big deal. They spent a few days at our B&B and it was just really great! We thought that if this is inn keeping then we were in heaven! It really is that much fun cooking and getting to know people. When the guests are really nice, you just get the warm and fuzzies throughout your body.

By the next week, I decided we needed to spend the next couple of slow weeks on some of the rooms that desperately needed some help. We were about to rent out the entire nine room Inn to a family who would be staying for eight nights. I knew they had children and I thought if they ended up in some of the rooms that hadn’t been given much attention in a while, that they might be a little disappointed. So the staff and I worked really hard for several days changing out shower curtains, swapping furniture, adding artwork, throw blankets and pillows. One room was missing a bed so we splurged and bought a beautiful rustic wood bed along with a dresser and some other items. The room instantly looked upscale. Ryan, my husband, even took on the job of handyman and installed seven bathrooms with new towel bars, robe hooks, toilet paper holders and bathroom shelving. We repainted walls that needed patching which was a little unexpected and extended our timelines to longer than I would’ve liked. But in the end, the rooms looked warm, inviting and just a little more up to date than they had looked. I was thrilled!

When the family came to stay they each had a decent room to sleep in and I felt so amazing knowing that we could not only provide a warm comfortable lodge to serve them amazing breakfast in but that such care and detail went into their unique experience. Being on vacation is such a special time in one’s life. Its usually some of our best memories. I want our B&B to be one of the most magical places a person can stay. Good Medicine Lodge was already an amazing place before we arrived, but with our little touches here and there we hope to exceed all expectations.

Our B&B is a big rustic canvas with so much potential and I have been given an amazing opportunity to create. I am the luckiest person in the world! I often feel like I need to pinch myself and wake up.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Have you ever had that feeling that you are about to lose everything? One minute you are elated. You’re walking on water. You are floating and untouchable and just before you are about to clink your champagne glasses to celebrate the last hurdle, BOOM! It all falls apart.

It was nearly October and just when we thought our SBA loan was nearly to a close, we had a peculiar incident take place. The seller’s of the Bed and Breakfast we were trying to purchase asked for a last minute meeting with us. They didn’t give us a reason and our realtor didn’t know anything about it. At this phase in the deal, I would be lying if I said that I thought nothing of it. I was worried. There were a million thoughts running through my mind. My worst thought was that they were backing out.

We were three months into the process of closing on a Bed and Breakfast. At the moment we had nowhere yet to call home. Our lease was running out in just two weeks. My two young children were feeling a bit nervous about starting at their new schools. All of our belongings were still in storage and it was starting to snow. All we had to lean on was our summer camping gear. We were pretty desperate to start moving into our new B&B and start living our lives. We couldn’t afford to hear any news except for major progress at this point. I kept my fingers crossed.

Ryan reluctantly attended the meeting. I had to pick up our kids from school, so I anxiously waited for his call at home to hear the details. Ryan sounded pretty happy when he finally called to share the news. The seller’s wanted to offer us 100% owner financing. At the surface, it sounded like a great opportunity.

They offered a low fixed rate for twenty years with an affordable down payment. We didn’t know all of the details but it had the five major bullet points in writing. We would have to wait a few days to receive more information back from their lawyer to read through the terms. When our lawyer received the amendments, he gave us a call and warned us against this arrangement. The reason being was that it was a Contract for Deed. This means that we wouldn’t hold the title, the seller’s would. We spent a week trying to dig into this detail because without the title that meant we wouldn’t be able to get another loan down the road if we needed one for capital improvements. We wouldn’t even be able to get a small line of credit. If for any reason we couldn’t make a mortgage payment, we could be kicked out and the sellers could take the B&B back with very short notice. We could potentially lose everything. And by everything, I mean all of our 401K investment, all of our Roth IRA contributions and all of our savings. Everything.

We hesitated against the offer. We tried to explain why to the sellers and we asked for different terms. We thought that we were stuck and it was this or nothing. We were able to negotiate the ability to refinance after three years, in hopes of getting out of the arrangement and extended another month onto the default period. We would just have to pray that we could refinance down the road if we needed some additional cash. So we decided against our better judgement and shook on the deal.

Just when we thought things were rolling again, two more hiccups hit us unexpectedly. One was that our SBA adviser was beyond upset that we were not going with the SBA financing. So much had gone into this effort. Our adviser was the one after all who helped us with our complicated business plan and very detailed projections. She navigated us through whether or not we could actually pull this off. Because of her, we knew we could. I felt terrible! We were in a situation we could not get out of. She seemed to realize this and took some pity on us, but I still didn’t feel good about it. We did end up with a pretty hefty and unexpected bill for services.

The other terrible thing that took place was about a week into this new plan, we realized that the seller’s were unaware of $100K in cash that we needed from them to help carry us through the slow months. This is a pretty complex part of the story and I am not sure I can really explain it well without completely losing you, so I will just simplify it by saying that originally in the SBA loan, the seller’s (maybe unknowingly) were going to be providing us with $100K in seller financing. However, this new deal did not include this part. Without it we couldn’t make this new offer work and we spent the next three weeks renegotiating terms with them. It was painful and very stressful.

We thought the deal was never going to happen. At one point we were thinking of worst case scenarios. One being that we would lose everything that we had spent thus far getting the business rolling and we would need to reinvent ourselves in a town where we hardly knew anyone, didn’t have a house and worst of all didn’t have jobs. It was terrifying and devastating. I had worked so hard getting to this point. And there was a good chance it would be for nothing.

Towards the end of all of this we felt broken. I was crushed and Ryan had completely lost himself. We had hit rock bottom and wanted to quit the fight. Our nerves and stress took a major toll on our bodies. We weren’t eating or sleeping and I can remember an entire day where my body couldn’t even move. I was frozen in place. My brain was so overly exhausted. All I wanted to do was watch movies in my pajamas. Depression had set in.

Our positive thinking realtor told us to keep holding on but we didn’t think there was anything left to hold onto. I kept thinking about how I would have to report back to all of our friends and loved ones that we lost. Our beautiful website would never be published. I would have to undo so many tasks that had been done. The dream was over. It was the very worst feeling.

But then, just when we had nothing left, the phone rang. It was our realtor. He had incredible news that surprisingly the seller’s were agreeable to our new terms after all and we would be closing in just a few short days. All we had to do was hang tight until the papers were drawn up.

I still shake my head at the thought of all of this. It’s pretty unbelievable to follow the twists and turns of the overall process. I would say that I would probably do it all over again, but only if I knew the result was a positive one. But that’s just it. You don’t know what the ending will be and it is completely terrifying.

Next Chapter…….Our new life as Inn Keepers!

(stay tuned…..)

FALLing in love with Whitefish

Buying a Bed and Breakfast is a lot like having a baby. There is the long build up of months filled with patience, preparation and even a lot of pain and suffering, (especially towards the end). It is an emotional roller coaster for the whole family and at times it feels like you are the happiest you will ever be and at other times, you find yourself in a lonely and dark place. Everyone is thrilled for you and cannot wait to see it! You spend hours shopping and visualizing what it’s going to be like.

And like a baby, the moment you own your first B&B, you are stunned and overcome with incredible joy. Then slowly that joy turns into an overwhelming amount of work and hardship.

Maybe some B&B transactions aren’t quite like that. And maybe for some, births aren’t that way either. For me however, both of my kids came into the world like that and now my third baby, Good Medicine Lodge, is feeling the same way.

Ryan worked hard while we stayed at Whitefish Mountain Resort, finding us a long term rental. We were thinking we would only need it for one month, which is what the owner’s agreed to. We had been told that our SBA loan’s thirty day window had begun and we could now count down the days to our closing. It was the beginning of September and in thirty days we had so much to accomplish. Now that we were in the condo and our kids in school, we put our head down and got started. We were working with a CPA team to set up accounts, our lawyer on all sorts of stuff, endless SBA paperwork, certifications, licenses, permits, a new front sign, business cards, marketing consultations, 401K administration, employee packets, insurance policies, inspections, and so much more….We especially had big ideas on our new website. It had to be the best out there. We couldn’t take any shortcuts. It had to come across powerful but also well-balanced with high visuals and a quick download time.

Luckily, one of Ryan’s college friends happened to be a website designer. We interviewed him for our project and he said everything we wanted to hear. We had a few marketing teams try to talk us out of going with a friend, especially one that isn’t only specialized in hotel booking sites. But I had a good feeling about our partnership with him. There was just something that told me he could do anything we asked of him and that he was a very good listener. It didn’t hurt that he was also incredibly easy to talk to and just an all around nice guy.

Barry Costa, from Costa Designs, delivered so much more than I could imagine. When I received the first edition of the site, I was beyond thrilled. It was exactly what I was after. I had a vision and he totally nailed it! We of course had to do some tweaking on content and some of the layout but overall it had everything!! We worked endlessly getting it just perfect. I will need to capture new photos of the B&B as we move in and are able to make updates to the rooms and spaces but all in all, it totally exceeded my expectations.

With everything heading towards the right direction, we were pretty anxious to work shifts at the B&B. We really wanted to see the place but also had a lot to learn. Technically, the current owner’s would need to train us for about a week or so as that was part of our contract. We decided to work a few half day shifts to understand the day to day operations, the maintenance and cleaning schedules. It was approaching the slow season, so this arrangement seemed to work out great. It was so much fun!

I watched the employees make the famous cookies that the current owner’s have made into a staple at the Inn. I helped put some fruit plates together as the other two ladies working in the kitchen put the main courses together. They were making a strawberry and brie pressed breakfast sandwich along with a baked ham cup with egg for the guests that morning. There were also fresh muffins that were baked that morning.

The kitchen is pretty incredible. It is a commercial grade kitchen that is of pretty good size. They have a couple ovens, a huge stove, cork flooring and a beautiful view of the backyard. I could easily get used to starting my day in this warm setting with fresh baked goods and incredible coffee smells surrounding me.

Speaking of which, Ryan is a huge fan of coffee. He has like five things in this world that are everything to him. Bikes (of course), music, fitness, food and coffee. (Oh and probably his family too, so six things). Before we moved out to Montana, he was constantly out in the garage roasting his own coffee beans and pouring impressive golden creme espresso shots from his fancy little machine. One of his biggest priorities for this new venture is to find the very best coffee to serve our guests. The only catch is that it has to be local.

He has tried all sorts of companies. At one point, just before we moved we had about 9 bags of coffee from three different vendors and we were making two to three batches at a time. It was fun to try them out and compare.

He finally settled on this one company, Black Coffee Roasting Co. They are out of Missoula, about 2-3 hours from Whitefish. There are a couple of other roasters closer to us, but this one just had it all. They use organic beans, they believe in Fair Trade, they are environmentally conscience but what he loved most of all was their dedication to good roasting practices and freshness. Those are two things that surprisingly are hard to find if you can believe that. I loved their hip packaging and brilliant marketing, so it was a no brainer for me. And they are willing to let us sell to our guests who might want to take some home with them.

While chipping away at our to do lists and school activities for the kids, we were also able to squeeze in quite a lot of Whitefish Fall fun, well, for the most part.

My favorite season is Fall. It’s one of those things that I truly missed when I lived in California. Oakland gets a mini version of it, but it’s typically an Indian Summer with high temperatures, high winds and some dry leaves and foliage. There is a slight change in the air that sort of resembles Fall but just misses the mark. There is nothing like a beautiful quintessential Fall day in a place like where I grew up in Ohio, Michigan and now I can say Montana. The beginnings of that cold fresh air, the brilliant colors of the leaves changing, the gentle mix of cold and rainy one day to breezy and sunny the next. I love it all. For seventeen years, I thought about how much I missed it when pumpkins started to make their way to the markets. But to live it for the first time after so long, was just an incredibly magical moment for me. Especially living in this wild vast landscape with huge skies, enormous mountains facing us from every direction. There are rustic barns resting against the gold and green landscapes. The colorful reflections off the lakes and rivers. The hiking and biking this time of year is just so rejuvenating.

I missed wearing sweaters and hiking boots!! Not to mention, our adorable dogs rolling in the piles of crackling leaves. It really doesn’t get better than this!

Well, maybe I shouldn’t get too crazy at this point in the story because there was a little downside to this season. Our whole family did end up getting incredibly sick. First it started with Caleb, our two year old. Of course, he just started at a new preschool and brought home some kind of super bug. He was sick for a total of five weeks! We even took him to the doctor wondering if there was anything they could do. But they couldn’t. It was just this nasty never-ending cold. Ryan and I ended up with the same thing, just an adult version of it, meaning we felt like we were dying. Typically my colds last seven days but this one weeks! Both of us had it for three or four in total, yikes! Dylan had a much smaller version of it, maybe a week tops. It was a rough stretch for us all. Caleb didn’t sleep, but he usually doesn’t so I guess that’s not really worth mentioning. He was a little more cranky than his normal. We tried not to push ourselves too much but we definitely missed many incredible bike days. So there were a lot of walks and hikes, instead.

Just when we were recovering and on the mend, we ended up with a freak snow storm. About a week earlier, Canada reported record breaking weather that was on it’s way down to us. Our site appraisal had been postponed a week due to the flights being cancelled. The snow didn’t actually hit our town but it was reported that it hit Glacier National Park’s east side with a whopping 4 feet of new snow. Things calmed down for a few days. Weather started to heat back up a little. And just when I was enjoying a perfect Fall day, this crazy storm blew through and all of a sudden snow was falling. When I picked up the kids from school they were elated. They ran all around picking it up and throwing it, making snowballs and smashing them. Their hands were ice cold but they didn’t care. They were the happiest kids in the world. It was a moment I had envisioned for many years for my kids, especially Dylan who had asked for snow every single year since he could talk.

(to be continued……..)

The Long Road Ahead

After our traumatic dog fight situation at the Whitefish KOA, we were desperate to head back to Hungry Horse Reservoir, to the perfect campsite on the water where we stayed before. It was approaching mid to late August by this point, so we knew that our chances of getting our last spot was probably pretty slim. However, it was a Tuesday and typically midweek was a good time to try. When we pulled down the dirt road that now was almost unrecognizable covered in deep puddles from the recent rains, we knew we were okay. No one was there. This summer’s weather in Whitefish was thought to be pretty far off from what was normal, apparently. We didn’t know what was typical being from out of town. To us the overcast and cooler weather was a welcome change from the constant hot temperatures we were used to back in Oakland, California. We think the weather deterred tourists from moving into our spot. This was great news for us!

When we arrived, we quickly settled right back into our routine. We knew where everything needed to go and what worked best as far as our camp gear and layout. It was a quick set up and within less than an hour, there we were back in paradise and living one with nature again.

We only had a few days until camping was officially over for us. It had been over two months in total and to be honest, I was pretty excited to call it quits. Mostly because our two year old really struggled with the sleep situation. He was amazing in the daytime and his naps were probably some of the best ever. But at night, when the cold temperatures set in and we had to bundle him in several layers including his down coat, I could just tell he was not as comfortable as could be. He also was outgrowing his Pack n Play, which does not have the most comfortable padding.

So after a few days, we said goodbye to Hungry Horse and to camping all together. It was bittersweet.

We didn’t know how much longer we had to close on the Bed and Breakfast, but we knew it was at least a few weeks out. School was starting for the boys and we needed to have some place to live even if it was temporary so they could sleep in actual beds and bath tubs to bathe in. When I signed them up for school, the school gave me a special form to sign that basically called us homeless. We didn’t have an actual address, so the office administrator said we needed to fill it out. I didn’t think too much about it because we did have a home, just not one we had closed on quite yet. But I did start to wonder what our seven year old must be thinking as we move from place to place. Here he is about to start first grade in a new place where he knows no one. He is young enough to mold easily to situations but he is also an incredibly sensitive soul. He still talks about this friend he had back in preschool when he was four years old like they see each other everyday. They haven’t spoken or seen each other in three years. On the one hand, I know that this is a good experience for him but on the other, I just worry that his anxious little self will internalize everything he is going through and I won’t recognize that he is struggling. I am so afraid that I might miss the signs that he isn’t doing well. He isn’t loud or outspoken like our two year old, so it just isn’t as obvious with Dylan when things aren’t great.

We decided to rent a condo at Whitefish Mountain Resort for a couple of days so that the kid’s had a fresh start for their first days of school. It was small but very cute and so convenient right on the mountain. I loved being able to take the kids on the chair lifts up and down the mountain during the daytime.

Dylan and I rode the Alpine Slides a few times. He was just a wee bit too little to ride the sled by himself without issues. They are designed to go at a little faster speed, which requires someone a little older than Dylan, but he had fun anyways.

I think the strangest part of staying at the condo was that even though it was definitely more convenient in terms of bathing and laundry, it really didn’t feel more relaxing. Camping is a ton of work, no doubt but there is just something very rewarding about the whole process of camping. Living in a furnished condo is strange because you just don’t feel like you are at home or that you can really relax. At least I can’t. There is so much clutter and you are sacrificing things that you wouldn’t from your actual home. Like kitchen utensils or your favorite bed linens or maybe the shower pressure. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, so I found it pretty depressing. But with young kids, you are definitely better off especially with colder weather setting in. We couldn’t push our kids to wake up in the crazy early mornings, fresh out of the tent, to snap to in like 40 degree weather. Not to mention the usual getting ready for school routine is so difficult as is, that doing it while camping just seemed so daunting.

Dylans’ first day at Muldown Elementary was perfect. He had everything he needed and his family was there by his side at drop off. We gave him long hugs until his teacher lead the class into school for the day. Funny enough, Ryan recognized one of the other parents, who’s kid just happened to be one of Dylan’s buddies that he quickly latched onto. Turned out, his friend’s mom went to school in Italy with Ryan back in 2000 or somewhere in that time frame. She didn’t recognize him at first but then she did and we all couldn’t believe the chances of this encounter years later! We have been close friends with them ever since. It’s pretty funny how life works out like that sometimes. Out of seven first grade classes, what are the chances that our two boys end up in the same class together? They too were recent transplants and their story was pretty incredible as well. Originally both from California, her and her husband moved to Nicaragua. With the country’s recent warfare, they ended up leaving everything behind after several years to move to Whitefish, Montana. A place totally foreign to them as well. I don’t think it was coincidental that our kids connected so quickly. Whatever the case, it’s nice that they did.

We needed to work on getting some long term housing in order because things were slowly moving on the B&B front. There were several vacations that took place from both the seller’s side and ours. We kept feeding the SBA and bank all the documents they had asked for but it sounded like the seller’s were reluctant or slow getting information back to them for whatever reason. All we could do is hang tight and wait for our thirty days (that the SBA needed to process and close on our loan) to begin. We knew it was close but didn’t have that confirmation quite yet.

I was spending my days trying to get things off the ground for the business. We needed to commit completely to this Bed and Breakfast because come day one, we needed to have an amazing and updated website, killer marketing and basically everything modernized and running to get our occupancy up as quickly as possible. We were projecting a move in date of around mid September or possibly end of September, so we didn’t have a lot of time. That meant spending a lot of our money to get things going, creating accounts, building a brand and logo, networking and lining up our permits, licenses and certifications. There was so much to do and with only a month or so before opening, we needed to jump on these things now. Well before we knew if this deal would even go through.

With the kids now in school, we had more free time to get on it. I completed a ridiculous amount of work each day. But I had passion behind what I was doing and I completely loved every second of it.

About two weeks into Dylan’s new school, we learned that he was locked out just after drop off. His school had a lock down policy where parents need to sign in to the office before heading out to the playground with the kids. Dylan had successfully gotten himself to the back of the school where the first graders enter the school, so I thought nothing of it when I dropped him off at the front gate and told him to find his way to class. Like all the other kids, I thought he would run to the back where they line up and enter. Apparently, the second bell had already rung and by the time he ran back to the first grade entrance, they shut and locked the doors. He is a new student and so he didn’t know what to do. He just stood there waiting for god knows how long until a police officer or guard of some sort let him in.

It was a very traumatic event for him because for several weeks after we had to calm him down before each day of school. He would usually freak out and cry worried that he would be locked out. It took us about a week to figure out that we needed to once again walk him to class each day. But we got him back on track. It didn’t help that not only did his teacher quit after two weeks, but two of his best friends also ended up being transferred out of his classroom to another. I felt so bad for Dylan.

This was not the way we wanted him to start his new school. It’s been a few months now, and he seems to be doing well. This was just another thing we really didn’t need with all the crazy going on with the B&B and the unknown timeline to closing.

(to be continued……)

Bank Delays and a Dog Fight

After fourteen blissful days at Hungry Horse, we were sad to pack up our camping gear once again to head out. We thought twice about leaving because once you find paradise, why leave? After all, this campground had everything we needed and there didn’t seem to be a forest ranger enforcing the fourteen day maximum rule. A couple days earlier we called the Whitefish Bike Retreat to see if they by chance had any open reservations. We were just in luck. They happened to have one site available for three nights. Ryan really wanted to check this place out and we knew it was hard to get in during the busy summer. We had to jump on our chance.

The Whitefish Bike Retreat is a campground designed specifically with mountain bikers in mind. They have showers, bike stands and bike washing stations. Best of all, it has trails surrounding the entire property including a major section of the Whitefish Legacy Trail System. This bike trail system has over 36 miles of trail that are in amazing condition that spread out throughout Whitefish. It’s a great way to explore the area, but it’s most convenient to bike right out of your campsite into this incredible trail network.

The first night, the kids had a blast riding their bikes on the pump track and in the skills area. We also took Dylan through this one small loop called “Lego Land”. It is a fun zippy little trail, perfect for kids. It’s named after the owner’s dog, Lego, who you can find lounging around the retreat at all hours. He is so cute and loves to receive belly rubs. Dylan probably rode Lego Land twenty times that first night, before we decided to call it for the evening. The next day a family from Canada pulled in to the site across from us. They had two adorable daughters who were around Dylan’s age. The boys loved playing with these two girls.

They spent a lot of time biking together but also playing and hanging out. And we really got along with their parents too. One night in particular, we stayed up together talking like old friends about everything over wine and beer into the wee hours. You gotta love moments like that.

The Bike Retreat is a special place where you can easily make connections with others, because it submerges you in the trails. It offers easy family riding but also direct access to some harder terrain. It allows you to share your passion for biking with your kids and be with other families or riders who share the same passion and lifestyle.

While we were staying here, our house sale was underway. There wasn’t as good cell coverage as I had hoped, so I needed to drive into town just a few miles every so often. We were really pushing to close on the house because our goal was to have the funds ready to go for the purchase of our new Bed and Breakfast by end of August, which was slowly turning into September. The house sale seemed to be moving along as planned. Unfortunately, the SBA bank approval process was not.

We knew that the approval process would take about thirty days, but what wasn’t clear was when that thirty day clock would actually begin to tick. It turned out that it had not yet begun. The SBA team had our business plan and I had given them all the hundreds of documents they requested. The seller’s were not providing the bank with all the necessary financial documents that were being requested from them, at least not in a timely manner. The SBA is tough and they want to guarantee the legitimacy of the transactions. What we did not realize was that it is as important for us to have a solid plan as it is for the seller. If they are asking for top dollar from us, then their business needs to be performing or the SBA may not go for it.

The current seller’s had successfully ran the B&B for 17 years and toward the end were doing okay, but not amazing. Overall, the facility was in incredible shape but the business was only running at 45% occupancy with virtually no marketing and an outdated website. The average occupancy rate in the Whitefish lodging industry is something like 65%. Because this B&B’s rate was not great, it meant that the SBA would need to approve our loan based on projections. They typically do not do this, so our loan was considered quite risky.

All we could do was keep pushing, provide them with as much assurance that we could offer. We knew that we were the right people for this deal. If anyone was going to achieve the goals to make this business succeed, it was us!

All we could do was patiently wait. Luckily we had saved enough money to float us for about two to three months while we did so. We didn’t have a place to live but the camping was working out so far.

A couple of months earlier, we stayed at the Whitefish KOA. Now that our time was up at the Whitefish Bike Retreat, we decided to head back to the KOA one last time. Our kids never stopped talking about the KOA and the farm animals there. It had been the highlight of their summer so far. We reluctantly said yes to going back, but only for one night or two, tops.

We really wanted to keep this next stay short because we were hoping to see if we could go back to Hungry Horse and snag that perfect campsite right on the water. So we promised two nights at the KOA and then we would be off again. When we pulled into our site, we realized that we were getting the left overs. Our site was awful. It was this tiny dirt platform that looked more like an after thought than most of the other sites. It didn’t even have room for our Eurovan to pull into and hardly enough room for our tent. The neighbors were only five feet away from us. With our rambunctious crew, I knew this would not work.

We went back to the front desk and asked if they had anything else available. They only had this fancy yurt style tent meant for “glamping.” I had never stayed in one before, so I was pretty intrigued. It was way over our budget per night, but we were stuck in a situation. It was either the yurt or squeeze into that awful site. Otherwise, they were fully booked! We had to go for the yurt, or else be miserable and quite possibly ruin our neighbors night as well.

The yurt was very comfortable. It had double canvas walls, a queen bed, bunk beds, table, chairs, deck with outdoor furniture and even showers down the road. We were living large!! We had been camping at this point for almost two months, so glamping like this was a huge break for us. Also, it began to rain pretty hard that first night. It felt good to be able to put the kids to bed like normal living again.

A couple of Ryan’s buddies asked him to go on a long mountain bike ride. This happened to fall on our last day at the KOA. He wasn’t sure how long he would be gone for, which meant it would take them anywhere from 3 to 7 hours. To say that I was nervous that Ryan would leave me for possibly an entire day with our crazy crew would’ve been an understatement. Caleb is in his terrible two’s phase and he is a total handful. The whole summer had been quite the challenge but especially hard when I was left by myself. But I knew this was important to him and for his sanity. He left early that morning.

I have mentioned many of the difficulties faced along our journey camping, waiting to purchase our B&B. Not surprisingly, our two dogs have played a part in those hardships. Charley and Frankie are very mischievous. They are Siberian Husky. This breed is known to be incredibly smart and can really get into a lot of trouble if you are not careful. Also, Frankie, our younger male, is very scared of everything, like loud sounds, smoke, heat off a grill or oven. Also he does not like other dogs. He gets jealous easily and is protective when other dogs come near. He is nine years old and has been this way his whole life. We have never had an incident with Frankie before. We were always so careful to make sure he stayed on leash and we warned other dog owners, if they came close that he wasn’t friendly. So for nine years, we did an incredible job with no issues. Until now…..

Our two boys were begging to go swimming. I had done all that I could with them bringing the dogs along with us. We played at the park, saw the farm animals, played lawn games and even gave Caleb a nap. But after he woke up, the kids really couldn’t stand it anymore. They had to go swimming or else! So I made the horrible mistake of thinking I could leave our two dogs in our yurt by themselves. I don’t know why I did this. It was so incredibly dumb of me. The yurt had double canvas walls and the only seam or opening to it was at the front zipper. It was a three way zipper with buckles to secure it closed. I thought it would be sturdy enough to keep them in. But I was wrong.

After about a half hour at the pool swimming with the kids, I see our dogs running down toward us. I was in shock and terrified! How would I juggle getting my two kids out of the water, wrangle my two dogs and try to pull them (without leashes) and the kids back up to our campsite? Somehow I managed to do it all, but Caleb fought me pretty hard along the way. He did not want to leave the pool and he definitely did not want to walk way up the hill back to the campsite. It probably took about forty minutes total to get there.

Once we got back, I sighed in relief because I thought that it really could’ve been a disaster if something had gone wrong with our dogs getting out. I was so grateful that they came directly to us to be captured and all went as good as can be expected getting them back here. But my relief quickly evaporated when I saw this car driving towards our campsite. A man rolled down his window and just started screaming. He was so angry. He said that our dogs came up to his campsite and got into a brawl with his dog. His four year old daughter got caught up in it and her face was bit in the process!

I about died!!! This is seriously the very worst of situations that I could find myself in. All I could do was apologize profusely. He threatened to shoot our dogs three times during the five minute conversation. I told him that I didn’t blame him and just how sorry I was.

It looked to me like his daughter’s face had been scratched not bitten, but honestly what does it matter. It was awful and it was totally my fault. Our dogs of course, figured out the zipper. So I put the dogs in our van (why I didn’t do that earlier that day instead of the yurt, is beyond me). While I tried calling Ryan like thirty times, I also sent him urgent text messages. I desperately wanted him home to help me through this very stressful situation.

After about two hours, he finally came back. It was one of the worst days of my life. I just felt so guilty and responsible. We spoke with the KOA hosts who said that the little girl was fine. She ended up with a small scratch but mostly it was just a scary situation for the family. I could not imagine!!! I was still not fine after a few hours and I really couldn’t wait to get out of there.

The next morning, we packed up as fast as we could and decided to head back to our little paradise in Hungry Horse. We needed to put this horrible incident behind us and find some peace again. What we really needed was some sort of idea on when our loan was going to be approved, so we could start our life in the Bed and Breakfast. Anxiety was starting to build in more ways than one.

(to be continued……)

Finding Paradise in Hungry Horse

After our two weeks were up at Whitefish State Park Campground, we headed out towards Swan Lake and Big Fork. Both are towns near Whitefish and are known for incredible camping, rafting and the like. We found ourselves right smack dab in the middle of summer, which is heavy tourist season. We didn’t have any reservations. As we pulled into campground after campground, talking with the host at the gate asking if anything was open, we started to realize that our options were thinning.

We had both kids, two dogs, our van and car packed tight with clothing, gear, food and water driving in tandem. Hours went by and our window to finding a site was closing.

It was approaching 4pm, which is the latest we would normally shoot to set up camp. The kids would start getting tired soon and hungry! So we decided we needed to switch gears and head back towards Whitefish over towards Glacier National Park to a place also know for epic camping, Hungry Horse Reservoir.

As we drove along we realized we were heading somewhere very special. We crossed this incredible dam. It’s one of the top ten tallest in the U.S. at an impressive 564 feet. We saw an enormous Osprey’s nest with the huge bird perched inside of it overlooking the beautiful and expansive view of the lake.

We stopped into a few campgrounds along the way. Of course, they were completely full. We thought we should find a place along the road to pitch our tent in hopes of finding a better spot in the morning.

We pulled our cars down this heavily rutted dirt road that appeared to lead us into the woods to nowhere.

As we drove slowly through the entrance, we realized that there was a small campsite vacant right next to the river. We pulled in and plopped out gear down, relieved we had something. Then, decided to check the rest of the area out. We started walking down the dirt road towards the end to see what else was there. After a few minutes, the area opened wide with the most incredible view of the water and mountains I had ever seen. We saw a few tents pitched next to the beach and saw someone sitting there in the water drinking a beer. As we walked up to him, he turned his head with this beaming smile. With his arms raised, he exclaimed, “isn’t this paradise?”

Ryan and I were wide eyed and just in aw over this place we found. We could only respond dumbfounded and in shock saying something like, “oh my god!! We cannot believe you have this all to yourself!”

He replied, “I know!! There are only two other guys staying down here and we have had this private oasis with the most beautiful weather. It’s unreal!!”

Then he said, “we are all leaving tomorrow. If you want to take our spot right here on the beach, it’s all yours.”

We were giddy to say the least. Let me put it this way, you know that movie with Leonardo Di Caprio, The Beach? This place was just like that private island in the movie. It’s this perfect lagoon cut into the mountains with the most calming water that went out for miles and the best part is you could kayak for hours and not see another person. This rushing river ran through our site towards the opening providing us with a breathtaking view and fresh clean water to wash in and even drink! Yes, locals actually drink straight from this source without filtering!

After the guys all left, we quickly set up our camp and we immediately went into super psyched vacation mode. Luckily, we brought a really nice inflatable kayak and paddles with us. The guys left us some large flotation devices too. They said they couldn’t take them back with on their flights. Score!!!

Over the next fourteen days, the maximum we were allowed to stay, we kayaked, cooked right on the beach, swam, fished, lounged and enjoyed this magical place. I had never felt so free and one with nature as I did in these two weeks.

We saw beaver, bear, deer and lots of fish. There were two bald eagles that nested right near us and everyday we watched them soaring the area. One night I even caught one of them chasing after another large bird for a long time. They flew in circles in the sky for about fifteen minutes, screaming at each other. Both were so incredibly exhausted that eventually the eagle gave up and flew back to it’s nest. I watched bats swooping down in broad daylight to drink up some lake water. I saw Dylan learn to paddle board on his very first try. He loved it!

Caleb often walked around without clothes on. The boys threw rocks endlessly in the water and played with sticks and mud. They woke up with the water and fell asleep to the sounds of it crashing around us. It was a dream. Even our two huskies had the chance to run free off leash with no other dogs around to bother them. Frankie hates other dogs, so he has never really been able to do this. It was total bliss.

One evening there was a huge storm. For two days, we had received warnings about flash floods and lightening storms that threatened the area. Lucky for us, a couple of locals staying in RV’s ended up camping just up the road. It was the first time we had people close by in a while and we were pretty happy to have their company. Besides the fact that they knew about this storm coming, they were so incredibly nice and thoughtful. They suggested that we stay with them inside their RV while the storm passed. Caleb was already asleep in the tent and to wake him now would mean none of us were going to get any sleep for the night. Plus, we had our two dogs who could not be left alone in the tent. We decided to risk it and stay put. The rain was intense, the lightening was booming just above us and winds were howling at like 30-40 miles per hour. It was scary! Caleb did end up waking up and the kids seemed pretty frightened. Honestly, so were we.

We heard someone calling to us just outside our tent. It was our friendly neighbors. They were begging us to come back to their RV. They had just seen really big pine trees falling over around us. We definitely considered it and we probably should have. The only reason I can come up with for why we didn’t was that we just couldn’t see how we could bring our wet and muddy dogs and kids into their RV and make it work. Who didn’t know how long the storm would last. We didn’t know how long our tent and gear would either. But we waited it out some more.

Eventually things calmed down, after a couple of hours. In the morning, we could see the fallen trees, the higher water level and that our gear was pretty soaked. I pulled everything out to dry it in the overcast sky. Fingers crossed that it would work.

I thought I should go bike a few miles up the road to check my cell phone for any messages. It had been days since any news on our B&B business plan or our house sale. When I finally reached the area where I knew there was signal, I pulled over checked my phone and there was a message from one of our realtors. She said we had an offer on the house back in Oakland. It was a great offer in fact. Overly excited but also relieved for a number of reasons, I headed back down to our little slice of paradise and gave Ryan the good news. Things were starting to move along!!

(to be continued…..)

Freight Trains…..choo choo!!!

With Glacier National Park behind us and the sale of our house just around the corner, we needed to try to find a campsite closer to downtown. Up until now, we struggled with not having a computer but more importantly no cell phone signal. We decided to try our luck at the closest campground to Whitefish. The Whitefish State Park.  We had stopped there once before hoping to get lucky and snag a campsite. However we were told that they were full and were probably going to remain that way all summer, but to check back in about a week just in case.  So this time, we popped in to ask about any openings not really expecting that we would get lucky, only to find out they had one that was available.  Because this site was not one you could reserve, we were able to grab it and stay there for the maximum, fourteen days.

Throughout all the Montana parks, they allow eighty percent of the sites to be reserved leaving approximately twenty percent open for walk-ins. This is pretty great for people like us who need to stumble in last minute.

Having never stepped foot in Whitefish State Park Campground or read any Yelp reviews, we were surprised when we pulled into our site that it wasn’t quite as nice as we had hoped.  It had beach access and showers though and we didn’t need to stress about being homeless for two weeks. That was enough for us.

I don’t recall exactly how many trains we encountered that first day. But when the first one drove through, Ryan and I raised our eyebrows at each other acknowledging this “problem”. It carted through so loudly, you couldn’t even hear the person next to you speaking. I wondered how bad it would be when we slept or if trains even ran through the night. My naive mind thought that surely the neighboring houses wouldn’t live this close to the train if that was the case. Surprisingly, I was wrong.

That first night in campsite #17, was terrifying.  I believe there were a number of these over sized gigantic double decker freight trains. Although I cannot remember the exact number. Maybe four or five.  They didn’t blow their horns.  They just rumbled. The ground underneath us shook violently and somehow the alarming sound of the engines and screeching of the rails echoed twice as loud inside our tent causing my six year old to roll over to me and grab on scared out of his wits. 

And that was apparently a good night.  One particularly rough night, and I will always remember this one well, there would be eleven trains passing through.  Eleven!!!! Needless to say, none of us slept a wink including our two year old son.

There is one funny story to come out of this experience. If you have been following this blog, by now you know that my 2 year old has this intense fascination with trains.  So each time he would hear one coming he would yell out “choo choo!”  Now, even in the middle of the night he would yell,” choo choo!!!”  Normally I would freak out if he yelled like this in the campground. But here, I guess the positive was that the trains were so loud, that no one could hear a damn thing.  So I didn’t have to worry about waking the neighbors. I just let that boy yell without a care in the world.

There were a couple of other positives of staying at the campground. One was being able to work in the downtown library. There had been a little progress on the Bed and Breakfast front. We were waiting for our house back in Oakland to sell. In the meantime, we were feeding information to our Inn Adviser and our SBA Account Representative who were both helping us build our 40 page business plan. (It really is shocking to see what all goes into these things).

We were also working on a purchase agreement with our lawyer so that we could start pushing for a closing date.

The contract signing process struggled with a few delays, which included people taking vacations and financial documents needed by the seller that were not easily attained.  Finally, by mid August we had a signed contract and a signed addendum for an additional $100K in owner financing.  These additional funds would be our cushion for capital improvements and to carry us through our slow seasons for the first year or so. All we needed to do now was sit back and wait for the SBA backed bank to grant us the loan.  This type of loan has a 30 day waiting period.  We were looking at possibly owning our very first Bed and Breakfast by September 15th or if we were lucky, even earlier.  

What eventually made our stay at Whitefish State Park an enjoyable one, despite the trains, were the encounters we had with people we met while camping. This is really why I love camping. It’s so fun to meet people from all over the world. People who are typically like-minded. Just there to have a great time in the woods.

There was this one couple from Tennessee who were biking their way from Banff National Park through Whitefish to Glacier National Park. They were bike packers. They rode with small tents and the essentials right on their bikes. The idea is you bike long miles slowly, taking in the sights with plenty of stops along the way. Their plan was pretty successful except that the wife found out that she was pregnant only days before leaving. She was feeling really tired and couldn’t make it up to Glacier National Park, so they decided to call it quits after reaching the state park. She felt terrible that she couldn’t finish the leg. Her husband of course, totally understood. But he was hoping to get out one last day to put a few more miles in. Luckily for Ryan, it just so happened to work out that they could ride that last stretch up to Glacier together. It was a seven hour day, 107 miles. Shockingly, this was Ryan’s first time ever riding this many miles (if you can believe that).

We met a few other travelers who all had cool stories too. One guy brought with him his two teenage sons and their mountain bikes. They take these amazing trips all over the country every year together. They were visiting from Berkeley, CA. Just a few minutes from our old house! We shared beers, stories and enjoyed the campfire under Montana’s big sky…..oh and not to forget we also endured the annoying and never ending sounds of the freight train blowing by together (chuckle).

(to be continued….)

Glacier National Park

After camping in Tally Lake (and my first bear encounter), we decided to head out to Glacier National Park.  The majestic park is located only twenty four minutes from Whitefish.  We had never been and we were really excited to check it out.  It is the number one tourist attraction here in northwest Montana and I would say that we had high expectations. We spent a lot of time backpacking through Yosemite and Ansel Adams Wilderness back in California mostly in our late twenties. We absolutely loved spending time in nature hiking and exploring the sometimes overgrown terrain, roughing the elements.  This time around would be different in our current situation, but very cool to see nonetheless. As we approached Glacier, there were several small charming towns advertising huckleberry pies, bundles of wood, ice and local goods for sale. 

Many of the stores we entered were really cute with all the basics you would need, plus cool stickers for your car, mugs with funny slogans, trucker hats and t-shirts.  We ended up staying at one of the only available campsites we could find last minute.  I would not recommend trying to visit Glacier National Park during the busy summer season without having advanced reservations.  Although, we didn’t have reservations and brought our two dogs and two kids and we still managed.  But we did stress about it and could’ve easily found ourselves out of luck.  Had it been maybe July or August, that would’ve been a definite. There are some really awesome sites that we saw and if we had been able to reserve ahead of time, it wouldn’t been really nice to stay at one of those better sites. We ended up staying on one of the last remaining spots, located right next to the restroom and far from lake access. But our site was cute and convenient, so we were stoked. 

Ryan decided he wanted to bike up to the top of Going to the Sun Road.  This is by far, the most popular thing to do while visiting Glacier.  Well, actually what I mean to say is that driving up to the top is the most popular thing to do while visiting.  Many people do bike up to the top, which is also popular, but just much more difficult and not recommended when the road opens up to car traffic. Going to the Sun Road tops out at six thousand six hundred and forty six feet. You travel up this incredibly narrow windy road with the most amazing views up to the top where you stop at the visitor’s center.  There are a few deaths per year on this treacherous road.  It is incredibly dangerous but so worth the risk.

After Ryan came back from this incredible bike ride up to the top, he didn’t really provide much detail at the time. Well, he did say that it was ridiculously cold and he didn’t wear enough clothing so asked random people if they had any newspapers. He used what he could gather up to insulate himself for the icy cold ride back down the road. Besides that, all he really said was that we needed to take the family up to see it for ourselves. And he was so right!

We had heard that this drive up can take hours depending on landslides, weather, traffic jams and the very possible scenario of an accident.  Luckily for us there was hardly any traffic.  It was late June and quite cold and rainy.  I don’t know if we just hadn’t hit the full blown summer tourists yet or if we were picking a crappy weather day to go. It was probably the combination of the two. Luckily, it only took us about an hour total to slowly drive up. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  In the distance we could see patches of snow here and there.  I think we saw part of a glacier but I knew that to see more of them, we would have to ditch the kids and dogs and hike much further out.  This wasn’t going to happen on this trip, so we just had to settle for this drive. The sights all the way up to the top were just so mind blowing. The Weeping Wall, the beautiful beargrass and other wild vegetation, and of course the enormous mountain peaks covered in snow patches or greenery.

All I could do was imagine planning our next backpacking trip to see more.  The road was quite scary for me.  I am terrified of heights, especially while stuck in a car that someone else is driving.  I tried hard to not let it bother me, but there was one small stretch of road that I couldn’t contain myself. I had to close my eyes and hold on tight until it was over.  I know, I am totally lame. My six year old got a huge kick out of seeing my freaking out.  Soon it was over and we were closer to the top.  It was so green, wet and mossy.  There were waterfalls pouring out of enormous dark rocky mountains.   I had hoped we would catch a glimpse of the mountain goats that Glacier is famous for, but we didn’t.  I know that some of the trails that you hike into provide a definite sighting of the goats. 

The views were stunning, even through the tremendous fog.  When we got to the top, I could swear it had dropped down to 30 degrees or less.  I saw tourists dressed for every weather situation.  Some of the more prepared people were dressed in down coats, hats and gloves. Others less fortunate, were still in there shorts and t-shirts from the much higher temperatures that we experienced in the lower elevation.  Being in a car helped shelter you from the elements, but at the top you feel the need to get out and see the visitor’s center. I don’t necessarily think it is a must. But if you choose to park and visit, let’s just say it is a very cold run into the center. The winds were howling, the rain was so fierce and cold. We at least had our sweatshirts, sweatpants and rain gear.  It wasn’t the best, but it was okay.  After visiting the visitor’s center, we headed back down the windy treacherous road. I didn’t realize it on the way up because we must not have seen a large vehicle, but on the way down we did encounter a large truck that forced us to squeeze through the very narrow road.  It was pretty nerve wracking but again, it feels like another world up there. One I have never experienced. You just have to forget the fear and go for it, I guess.

When we approached the lower elevations, I was relieved that we were safe but was also sad to leave such an overwhelmingly place.  I actually teared up when I reached one point of the drive, it just overcame me. I will definitely go back to see the glacier’s in the very near future. Well, I would be a fool not to considering how close we live to it. Hopefully Ryan and I can arrange a sitter for a day and do an awesome hike in to see those famous goats!

Back at our campsite, we decided to see if we could swap sites after a couple of days. We were in luck and the park ranger gave us a site that was a little more secluded. We pulled in to set up and found that our new neighbors had a pet falcon just hanging out secured to this metal stand.  Ryan took our kids over to talk to them about their bird and they said they were rehabilitating it and were there to give a talk that evening at the campground educating others about the Falcon.  Pretty cool! We didn’t make it because our kids go to bed so early, but I am sure it would have been very interesting.

We basically had one day left before heading out of Glacier. I think I struggled with a little altitude sickness because I was growing very restless and really wanted to leave for some unexplainable reason. We spent the afternoon checking out the incredible beach at Lake McDonald and just wrapping up our incredible visit.

 I decided that I couldn’t really leave Glacier without at least one bike ride, so I decided to bike down this dirt road towards Pole Bridge. Ryan recommended it to me and it was an easy road to access from our site. Up until now I had hiked and biked quite a bit on my own through very dense woods, so the threat of a bear encounter was now my new normal.  My eyes were used to constantly scanning the surroundings almost causing me to feel motion sickness from the shakiness of doing that while trying to concentrate on the path as well.  The only time I could relax biking was after I was completely exhausted and my fear of crashing outweighed the fear of running into a bear attack.

So here I was strolling down this dirt road only a few miles in, when I scan over to see this black mama bear and her cub walking along next to her. They were only about 50 yards away up this hill.  Far enough that whatever they decided to do wouldn’t be instant, but close enough that my heart was thumping and adrenaline was racing.  I started biking full force ahead until they were no longer in sight.  I didn’t sense that the bear was going to chase me but the mama bear did look very surprised as her head perked up at the sight of me.  When I had a minute to stop and catch my breath, all I could think about was how they were travelling in the direction I needed to go to get back to the campsite.  At this point, I had only been riding for about forty minutes, so heading back was kind of lame but I really didn’t know what else to do.  After seeing the bear, my appetite to keep biking by myself in the woods was totally gone.  So I turned my bike around, decided to test fate and get back to our campsite.

Later, a local would tell me that Glacier National Park hosts about 800 bears.  I have no idea how real that number is, but from my short trip in Montana so far, the numbers sound about right. After having had two bear encounters in just two weeks, I really was starting to think that biking here was either going to toughen me up or cause me to quit riding. I guess only time would tell.

(to be continued…..)

My First Bear Encounter

With the moving truck behind us, we could now focus on our next event.  About a year ago, I reserved a five-bedroom house in Northern Michigan in a town called Sturgeon Bay.  It was located in a remote part of the state right on Lake Michigan.  We thought it would be a great 4th of July treat for my kids and my sister and brother’s families to spend some time together.  We had decided on this trip so long ago, prior to even thinking about moving to Montana or the Bed and Breakfast venture.  It was a little chaotic trying to pack for the beach house with our storage unit the way it was and having to pack up our camping gear.  Just before we were about to head to the airport, our eleven year old dog, Charley, tears her ACL. 

Charley trying to make herself comfortable in Dylan’s car seat.

Now, if you know our Charley, then you know she is a trouble maker!  Her vet bill binder is three inches thick! So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that this happened just before our trip.

She tore it while having too much fun running at the dog park. Silly old girl!!

We decided after talking it over with the vet to hold off on surgery.  She is eleven after all, and there was no way to do surgery while we were away.  The vet said it could wait for our return to Whitefish.  Thank goodness the kennel had no problems watching her with a torn ACL.  Incidentally, the vet said it might actually be better for her to lounge around for her recovery, something she would not get if we stayed back and camped, that is for sure.  The kennel would provide her with the comforts she needed, so we were off! 

Northern Michigan once was home to me.  I grew up there from the time I was about 9 years old through my college years.  If you have never been, I would highly recommend it.  The sunsets are the best in the world.  I have not seen sunsets like these anywhere except for maybe in Prague on a Fall day.  The skies are these deep pink, orange and purple hues.  

The trip went very well with a lot of laughs (mostly at our goofy kids).  We were able to spend a lot of much needed time with our family and the boys were able to play with their cousins.  We even had a real bed for six nights.  Caleb who never sleeps, was so exhausted from all those restless nights camping, that actually rested on this trip.  Hallelujah!!  The trip felt short mostly due to our crazy toddler.  It’s not possible to fully enjoy vacation with him in tow, but we made the best of it.  Soon enough we found ourselves back on a plane to Montana. 

When we arrived, Montana still didn’t quite feel like “home” to me.  Without having an actual house and still living out of a storage unit and suitcases, it started to feel like being on a forever vacation.  It was awesome at times, but with camping there is also so much work!   We were always having to reorganize clothing and food bins, constantly thinking about how to get some food, store our food, rotating it and keeping the ice from melting in the coolers. We had to worry about bears and other creatures trying to break into our food.  There was this constant shift of coolers from inside the van to outside the van, from one shady spot to another shady spot as the sun shifted throughout the day.  Garbage was another concern, storing it and getting rid of it…sometimes after several days.   Water was sometimes not easily found, so in those cases making sure we filled up at every stop was critical.  Then there was the never ending drying out of clothing and gear.  On a few occasions our gear was damp inside the tent, which is never a good thing.  If you wanted to get any sleep at all, you had to pull that stuff out and air them.  The hardest times by far though, were when we needed to move to a new camping spot.  Unpacking one site and then setting up a new one hours later is intense.  Especially with a two year old who is exhausted all the time.  Having our tent set up and ready with his crib by 12:30-1pm for his nap, was not especially easy to do.  But we did it and we rolled with the punches.  But then sometimes, those bumps in the road are unavoidable and just outright scary.   

The first campsite we stayed at after our Michigan trip was Tally Lake Campground.  It was a forty-minute drive from Whitefish.  The views were stunning with several horse ranches along the way and beautiful fields full of yellow flowers.  Every turn around the bend looked like a postcard.  Tally Lake Campground is one of the local favorites.  It has a public beach with a boat launch.  They have a couple prime campsites but those are usually taken right away.  All in all, we loved this place and would come back even though the mosquitos were quite awful. 

For the first couple of days, it seemed like we were just trying to find our camp rhythm again.  We needed to drive into Whitefish more times than I would like to admit for checking important business emails about our Bed and Breakfast or to check on phone messages.  Our realtors had been working on getting our house remodeled and ready for sale back in Oakland, CA.  It consisted of mostly fresh paint and some new light fixtures.  But we needed to be somewhat available to answer the many questions bound to pop up.  This was really hard with our daily schedule and the fact that Whitefish was a long drive to make on the daily.  But we made it work. 

It was July 14th,  a full week after our trip to Michigan.  I was finally able to hang back at the campground for the day.  Ryan decided to go on a two and a half hour bike ride just after breakfast.  That left me with the two kids and dogs to handle on my own.  Caleb woke up too early that morning, so I decided to try to put him back for a nap.  As I was doing so, I asked Dylan (our six year old) if he wanted to read stories with us inside the tent.  He said he did, so there we all were getting ready to read a book when I hear both our dogs howling.  If you have ever been around Siberian Huskies, then you know that they typically howl for various reasons.  My huskies howl whenever we leave them for a single second, so I didn’t think anything of it.  The howling won’t end until I go to the dogs, so I hauled both the kids back outside with me to check on the dogs and settled them down.  I decided it wasn’t going to work to put Caleb down at this point especially with Frankie acting particularly more psycho than usual.  So we switched gears and instead walked the dogs to help calm Frankie down.  Alternatively, Charley was pretty calm because not only did she still have her torn ACL, she also had kennel cough that she contracted while we were away in Michigan (sigh). 

The kids put their helmets on, grabbed their bikes and off we went for a brief walk through the campground.  Now here is where I need to back this story up and say that in the days leading up to this instance, Ryan and I have had several discussions about what we should do when sighting a bear.  This part of Montana experiences a very high volume of bear sightings. I started out thinking bear spray was ridiculous to fight off a bear, but then changed my mind and started taking it with me on my bike rides just because.  Ryan’s last statement to me on the subject was that “there were too many people around for bears to want to come close.”  Well, wouldn’t you know that only a few minutes into our dog walk, another neighboring camper stops to warn me that a young grizzly had just passed through the very spot we were standing only 5 minutes ago.  He had a photo on his phone and showed it to me.  It was small and had the reddish-brown fur that grizzlies are so well known.  I have no idea if it was a grizzly, as I am told young black bears can also have the same coloring. It freaked me out, nonetheless.  I had my hands full with the two boys and the dogs, but I had no choice and needed to turn this caravan around.  Of course, two minutes after telling Dylan that I needed him to stick to me like glue (due to Grizzly bear sighting) he speeds off on his bike back to our campground.  I could have killed him!  The bear had just wondered through our site moments ago, which explains why the dogs were freaking out more than their usual.  I grabbed the crew and ran towards Dylan to make sure he wasn’t riding into the arms of a bear.  Thankfully, when we arrived at our site, I found Dylan and there were no bears around.  Phew!  After another hour or so, Ryan returned, and I shared our first bear encounter story with him.  He didn’t have too much to say about it, but I wondered if he would start bringing bear spray with him on his adventures. 

(to be continued…..)