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…..)

The Moving Truck Victory that Overcometh!

After a few days, our moving truck finally arrived.  Ryan had been stressing about the truck’s arrival because it was packed to the brim with all our stuff.  He had no idea how we were going to unload the whole thing and move everything into a storage unit.  And this was not a typical U-Haul truck either.  It was a full on 28-foot trailer with probably a 10-foot ceiling.  It had this steep and dangerous ramp down the tail end, that went about 5 feet up to the edge of the back of the trailer.  I tried bringing one load down the ramp using the hand cart (by myself) and almost died.  The weight of the cart came screaming down the ramp towards me and it almost ran me over.  Ryan came running to my rescue and saved me…. it was scary. 

One of the locals (actually a few now that I think of it) offered to help us with unloading the stuff.  That’s just how the locals are here.  They are so genuinely friendly offering up things like that.  But they weren’t available until the next day and Ryan felt a lot of pressure to get this trailer emptied and removed off property as soon as possible.  So believe it or not, Ryan unloaded that whole thing by himself!  He started around 7am and was finished by 4pm.  It was a very hot day, which added up to 9 incredibly long hours. 

I knew the work had taken everything out of him because at around 3:45pm (with only 4 small boxes left to unload) this guy in a truck shows up to open his storage unit right next to us.  As he is opening it up, I could see Ryan’s face make this weird expression. I don’t really know how to describe it.  Basically, it looked like he was about to fall to his knees and cry.  This lucky guy had a storage unit that could only be described as a man cave on steroids.  It was so incredibly organized with kayaks, canoes, camping gear, bikes and etc.  You name it, it was all there.  Everything in pristine condition, all in perfect order by size, color and shape.  He was headed out on an epic kayaking adventure with his buddies.  “Just a quick one after work,” he said, like it was no big deal.    

Meanwhile, our storage unit was just crammed to death with every last ridiculous thing we had ever held onto a broom here, an extra car seat there, a throw pillow that we literally threw into a small crack found in the way back. The stroller that we would never ever use again (come to find out), was right on top of our 8 million dollar stereo speakers, once known to be more precious to Ryan than his own life.  Hey, at least we wrapped them in leftover cardboard that we found last minute, right? 

The two storage units’ side by side could not have been a better description of just how different our two worlds were at that very moment.  That lucky guy was living the dream, about to have the time of his life.  Ryan on the other hand, well, I could feel his agony.  He was dying and desperate for a break.  And he would get one, but only after “third lunch”, walking the dogs, making dinner and getting the rascals off to bed. 

He hung in there for a few more hours, like a champ and eventually got to rest on his inflatable mattress (which decided to deflate a little that night).  He was pretty dang proud of himself for doing all the heavy lifting on his own and I was too. It was impressive and he never ceases to amaze me with his strength and determination. 

(to be continued…..)

Finding our Rhythm……

Now that we were officially living in Whitefish, well camping to be more accurate, we needed to find our rhythm.  Camping with two dogs and two young boys is difficult.  But it is especially hard when you are homeless.  Maybe I am exaggerating here a bit.  I mean, we had a tent and all the camping gear necessary for survival, so it wasn’t dire.  What we didn’t have were campsite reservations needed to span over the next two months while we waited to close on the B&B.  We tried renting a house or condo last minute, but that was not going to be possible. Whitefish is one of those towns that you need to reserve your lodging well in advance during the summer season, if you want to have a guarantee.  Glacier National Park is only minutes away, a major destination for people from all over the world.  Everything is booked out from end of June through August, which means all the campsites are booked too.  Before our trip started, we were only successful in booking sites at the KOA and Tally Lake campground for a few nights each.  After that, we had no idea where we were going or how difficult we would find our situation. 

Here is how the first few days at the KOA went:

I’ve mentioned before (in previous blog posts) that KOA’s are an easy way to camp with kids.  The KOA in Whitefish is no different and does not disappoint when it comes to keeping your little ones happy.  They have a petting farm with two donkeys, three ponies, a calf, and two llamas.  They also have a pool, arcade, outdoor games like chess and connect four and even a little golf putt-putt green with 9 holes.  They also had a small pool where you could float on boats with a very small waterfall.  Go cart-style bikes are available for all to use, which were super convenient to take down to the end of the road to feed the animals. 

My kids absolutely loved it here.  We were lucky enough to stay here for a few days while we anxiously waited for our moving truck to arrive.  It was nice to have somewhat of a routine each day.  We would wake up each morning, always way earlier than all the other campers.  Caleb is not the “sleep in” type.  Which meant we would start our “first breakfast” at our campsite and then about an hour later, head down to “second breakfast” that the KOA.  For those of you who do not have children who eat several meals at a time, let me explain.  My children have tape worms the size of Sasquatch and nothing can calm them.  Unless of course, we are sitting down to a full buffet about every other hour from sunrise to about 5pm.  It is not fun, not convenient, but it is my life. 

Although the KOA breakfast is not glamorous, it suited my kids just fine.  After all, there was plenty of syrup and french toast sticks.  In my case (and Ryan’s as well) it was hardly edible.  But it meant that we could hang indoors where it was warm, and the kids liked playing the old ‘80’s style arcade machines.  There were like 30 of them, mostly all working surprisingly.  It allowed my crazy kids to blow off steam while waiting for the other camping families to wake up from a long night’s slumber (uh, so lucky!).    After second breakfast and the games, we would head outside to the playground or putt-putt.  Then we would ride the bikes down to see the animals.  Caleb would usually ask “a cow?”  That’s his way of asking to see the animals.  We would usually spend an hour or more petting them.  It was quite therapeutic.  Dylan’s favorites were the two llamas and Caleb’s favorite was of course, the calf.  She was only three years old and she was so incredibly sweet. 

After visiting with the animals, we would head back to our camp for our first lunch and then Caleb would nap.  After he awoke, we would have second lunch and head out to explore Whitefish for the day.  That was the routine and it seemed to work for the most part.  Ryan could go out for bike rides while we did the two breakfast thing, and sometimes I would get a workout in at the local gym called The Wave.  It was pretty great.

Now I must mention The Wave here.  It is just too cool not to.  We decided to go ahead and purchase the $80 per month family membership.  We did this mainly, so we had a backup plan to use their showers, if we fell on hard times.  But it had so much more than that.  The place is unreal!  It has a humongous gym with every piece of equipment you could imagine.  They have a spin bike room with the surround stereo and pull-down screen with virtual rides you can select at any time of the day.  There are several studios, each with different themes.  One has a virtual group instructor that you can join.  One has this pulley looking equipment in it, and after three months, I still have no idea what you do in there.  This are three pools:  one kiddo pool with a water slide and toddler splash zone, a lap pool and the other is for physical therapy needs or classes. They have a huge physical therapy wing and I’ve heard stories from people who travel hours to get to this place for their therapy sessions or massage.  They just rave about it.  They also have basketball courts, racket ball courts, several types of changing rooms like for small kids and families or just the regular type for men’s and women.  They also have a lounge with WIFI (where I spent many hours conducting business), 2 juice bars and a daycare facility.  Seriously, we feel like we have died and gone to absolute parental heaven.  It was a life-saver! One of the greatest things is that our Bed and Breakfast offers the guests day passes for use.  What a huge perk for our guests!!

And this is pretty much how we spent those days. It was the simple life and we were becoming more familiar with our town. We were however, growing nervous that our moving truck had not yet arrived. Our next phase of adventure was about to start and we were worried that if our truck was late, we didn’t have a back up plan. A year prior we booked flights to Traverse City, Michigan. My family lives there still and we planned a family reunion to see my mom, sister and her family and my brother and his family. We rented a four bedroom house right on Lake Michigan, for the 4th of July weekend.

With no news from our truck, we were getting nervous that it was going to be late and had no idea what we would do if that happened. All we could do was hold our breath and wait patiently.

(to be continued…..)

Welcome to Whitefish, our new home!

After arriving to Whitefish, Montana, the very first thing we did was drive down highway 93. I wanted a chance to take it all in upon arrival. Ryan drove ahead of us and led the way from the south end of town. As we drove through, I noticed several picturesque horse ranches and farms. Of course every time we passed one, I heard, “cow!” coming from the backseat of the car. Caleb was more than obsessed with cows, horses and trains from our journey thus far.

We eventually ended up driving through the charming historic downtown with several breweries, art studios, coffee, gear and gift shops. At the edge of downtown is a train depot with a large rail yard, all right next to the park where the town hosts a weekly farmer’s market. This area is stunning because you also have this great view of the Whitefish Mountains in the background.  

As we drove on, Ryan put his arm out his driver side window indicating to look out our right hand side.  My eyes widened and I was thrilled to see that it was our Bed and Breakfast, Good Medicine Lodge! This was the first time I had ever seen it in real life. It took everything I had not to pull in and be nosy.

I was surprised by how much more charming it was in person.  I thought it was going to be in some sparse country road, but it was actually nestled in this lush tree lined street with bikers riding along a bike path and a hip brewery right next door. Bonsai Brewery Project was hopping and had a yard full of beer enthusiasts. There were several other neighboring businesses that all looked to be converted from old houses.  One of them was a sandwich shop, another was a BBQ joint, and another was an artist’s studio. There was quite a buzz in our quaint little neighborhood. A couple of doors down is the local hockey arena called Stumptown Ice Den.  Ice skating was one of my favorite sports growing up and now here it was only steps away for our boys to enjoy whenever they wanted.  I was very excited to learn that this location was prime! As we drove past our B&B, it felt as though we were entering a tighter woodsier landscape. I could see we were getting closer to the mountain and what a perfect scenic route it was heading towards the resort.  It had started to sprinkle out and there was fog.  So it was easy for me to imagine the snowy scenery.  What a perfect setting for our little rustic business.   I could already picture the roaring lit fire and all the gooey hot chocolate we would serve to our guests.

We made a quick pit stop at the city beach at Whitefish Lake, which to my surprise again was only minutes away. There we saw several deer carefully grazing the tall grass, which the kids were so excited about.  Ryan was anxious to head to the KOI, which was our next destination to set up camp. But I had other plans.  I was not going to spend another minute in Whitefish without heading up to the ski mountain for a closer look.  I knew we were pushing our luck with the two kids in the back seat, who had been in the car for several hours over a three day stretch. However, I just had to see it. We had come all this way and there it was so close. 

So we drove the 15 minutes up the steep windy drive but it was so worth it.  The village is made up of the typical large condo style lodges that you see at a ski resort.  The layout was tastefully done. Some of the lodges have this Bavarian style exterior look to them, which is quite appealing and magical.   For a moment, it almost felt like I was in northern Europe, like Switzerland or some place. I have heard from the locals that skiers hardly have to wait for a chair lift, the lines are short. It is hard to believe that but after seeing only a slight infrastructure at the base, I actually think it might be true.   I was eager to explore more but with my boys in the background antsy and unruly, we quickly hightailed it back towards the KOA just south of town to set up our camp site.

Once we settled in, I started to feel a little more easy knowing that we were finally here in Whitefish. I had just seen the Bed and Breakfast we would be purchasing and the charming little town I would call home. This place felt right. I didn’t need to stress anymore about whether I would like it or not and I could relax knowing that we made the right decision to come here. I am sure Ryan was awaiting anxiously to hear what I thought of the place. I told him my thoughts and basically that I loved everything I had seen so far. It seemed like a really unique mountain town. He seemed relieved and so was I. So to celebrate, we lit a campfire and with a couple of local brews in hand we toasted in honor of our new home.

to be continued………

GOODBYE CALIFORNIA!

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…..

To B&B or not to B&B?

After the let down that was Steamboat Springs, CO. (see previous post). I jumped right back to work and life with two wild kids. In my minimal downtime, I decided to keep frantically searching for the next new and improved B&B.  There was no time to waste and even though I was pretty let down about Steamboat, I knew something else would come our way. There were several properties we pondered over. Some were ridiculously expensive or within reason on price, but were not located close to anywhere we wanted to be. 

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Ryan had found one while I was away in Steamboat. It was called Good Medicine Lodge. He sent me the price tag and some details. It seemed like a long shot. So I didn’t really take it seriously at first. The price was way over our budget at $2.1 Million.  It had 9 rooms, three of which were suites, a great room, a cozy dining room, commercial kitchen, ski boot drying room, 6 fireplaces and so much more.  I looked at the listing over and over, not convinced we could ever afford a place like this.   What was odd was that it wasn’t on the typical websites where we found Inns for sale.  (This might have been the only reason we had luck on our side for this one). Also, I didn’t know anything about the area. 

Once I dug into it more, I realized this place was incredible. I learned there was an amazing ski resort just minutes away from the B&B called Whitefish Mountain Resort (aka Big Mountain). There was a ski shuttle that stopped at this particular B&B daily, in fact. I was intrigued! We had been mostly looking at states like Colorado, Oregon, Idaho and Vermont up to this point, so Montana was a bit of a surprise to me.  As far as inventory, there only seemed to be one other B&B for sale in Montana at the time and I wasn’t so sure we could make money there. I realize now how ridiculous that sounds. I just didn’t know anything about Montana. I assumed it was a desolate place like Alaska, very remote and you know, “off the grid?”  But to my surprise, this B&B was situated in a good sized quaint ski town called Whitefish. Apparently, it was sort of a hidden secret hot spot. I saw a lot of online buzz through YouTube videos, moslty of people’s ski trips, but still….this place looked cool and worth checking out. There were articles that popped up describing it as having a well-established food scene, several cool local bars and a lot of lakes, rivers, and activities.  The biggest crowd pleaser of course: Glacier National Park, which is only minutes away. But most of what I researched was the skiing. 

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The information shocked me.  Several videos I watched described the deep snow and the immense terrain that covered over 3000 skiable acres. You could ski 360 degrees around the mountain and they had these things called snow ghosts.  People mistake these snow ghosts for large dense snow covered trees along the ski runs. But they are actually these cloud formations that freeze and form these hauntingly fascinating snow formations. I soon learned that Whitefish Mountain Resort was recently ranked one of the top ten ski resorts in the country by SKI magazine.  I wondered how I had never heard of this place before! 

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After digging into this town a lot more and after receiving additional photos of the B&B, we decided to take the next step and move forward on this place.  It’s owner’s quarters (which is where our family would live), had two bedrooms, two bathrooms and had a living, kitchen and dining area all in open format.  It was still larger than our house back in Oakland, offering around 2000 square feet.  It was quite beautiful with exposed beamed ceilings, huge windows and a lot of hard wood craftsmanship.  At this point, we did not have other properties insight, so this was more of an attempt at throwing something, anything at the wall in hopes that it would stick!  This was all taking place in February or March 2019, but we originally started this search back in November 2018 and perhaps mentally even sooner.  So we were feeling like we needed to push something forward.  The summer was lurking around the corner and once June hit we knew game would be on to find something.  It typically takes 3 months for the overall process, so if we didn’t find something by June chances were our next option would be a much more difficult route. Dylan (our 6 year old) would be starting up school again.  We didn’t want to have to pull him out midyear, if at all possible. 

We spoke with Eben about this property and wanted to determine if we could even afford this place. It was beyond our initial budget but once we understood the typical down payment and reserves needed to have the SBA and bank approve us, it looked as though we had a real shot.  We had what it took in terms of assets and future profitability to make a go at this.  As long as the seller’s would take us up on our lesser offer.  So Eben and Ryan want out to visit and they had a blast.  They loved the lodge and couldn’t stop bragging about how well maintained the facility was.  Every inch of the place looked as though tedious care was taken over the years by the current innkeepers.   Not only that but there was an impressive backyard with edible garden, several private balconies that our guests could enjoy, beautiful local artwork was installed throughout and the rooms were really comfortable. 

Not long after they returned from their trip, we made a solid offer. The seller’s countered, adding $100K and we accepted the deal. I could hardly believe it!! We were one step closer to owning our very own B&B!

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There was one major hurdle during all of this, that is worth mentioning because the moment I realized we had a problem, my heart sank.  The funny part about this story is that I was having my blood pressure tested just moment’s after finding out about this heart dropping issue. It was one of those at-home blood draw tests for a new life insurance policy.  Literally, as the nurse is walking up our driveway, I am talking with my 401K planner when I just learn that my 401K plan is not available to me until January/February of the following year (2020.) This was a huge problem!!! No 401K rollover, meant no B&B or at the very least, we would need to lean on the seller’s for a large loan. It didn’t sound promising.

Ryan had researched this option to finance your Bed & Breakfast with this 401K ROBS program that only specialists in this type of financing really know about.  It was a program rolled out by the government in the seventies. The funds you take from your 401K would be rolled over into a bank account that basically became a profit sharing corporation, that I could invest my 401K monies into. This type of rollover can only happen in rare business ventures, the Bed and Breakfast industry being one of them.  I had already initiated a group called Guidant, who was helping me along with the process. This program has several gray areas, so having a specialist who can keep you out of legal trouble with the IRS, is essential.  The crazy thing was that the senior level rep I was working with at the time, said that he had only heard of this rare case before one time in all his years.  But need not worry. I took a deep breath and the nurse said to me, “your blood pressure is totally normal.” Well, I do work well under pressure, so if there is a will there is a way!!!

Plan B set in, Eben knew just what to do.  He communicated that we would be required to ask for some owner financing regardless of our 401K situation.  Since I couldn’t use about $235K to finance it on my own, the owner’s would now be asked to help.  To say we were nervous about the reply would be a total understatement.  We spent countless hours waiting on pins and needles wondering what would happen next.  Would the seller’s bow out, would they simply just say no, or would they agree?  We had to wait.  But something really great was about to happen and just in the knick of time.  My old employer had caught wind of my 401K situation and decided he would work with his account reps to allow me to pull the total amount of my 401K out of the account, as soon as August 2019.  This was perfect timing for the funds to come through, just before we needed to lock in the financial terms.  I was so relieved!!!  I mean this could’ve potentially been the end of this B&B for us.  And it is key to point out, that at this point of the venture we had already given notices to our employers, committed to put our house on the market and were packing our bags. The stakes were high! Now I would be able to pay the 401K funds towards the loan per original plan and we would only need to ask for the $100K, which seemed a reasonable amount to ask the seller’s to help us with.  So we moved forward with the purchase and it was time to pack up to head out in search of Good Medicine in beautiful northern Montana!!

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