Good ‘ol Whitefish, MT

 By: Jacob 

    The hospitality of Whitefish, MT helps restore one’s virtuous sense of humanity.  One of the most beautiful railroad towns I’ve ever encountered, coupled with a healthy reverence for the outdoors (not to mention some amazing coffee) gives this place a very welcoming character. 

     SealLine was kind enough to send me new dry bags to an outdoor store called The White Room.  Kyle & Tim held my attention for a while as we talked about adventures, etc.  Ran into a girl named Hillary, who was lively and exciting, bursting with conversation. I ran into her an hour or so later at the local coffee store where she claimed that I wasn’t going to have to pay for anything while I was there.  As a token of truth, I was handed a giant chocolate cookie and ushered to fill up my cup. 

       Goat and Sean arrived, saw the smile on my face and gave me a look of concern, as if they were worried I had drank too much coffee. Hillary stepped over and invited us to stay at her house and drew up directions, then tried to influence us to take her car, hang out on her couches, take showers, and come back later for the music.  We attempted to decipher her comment in regards to the shower.  We did not want to drive to her house, nor did we want to ride for 30 minutes to take a shower and ride back.  All of us knew we needed to take a shower, but were quite unsure of the specific urgency. After being kicked out of an Ecafe in Banff because we smelled bad, we were more sensitive to our social presence.  And so…the conclusion was that she was just being kind and understanding of travellin’ folk and we did not rush to take a shower. 

     After a late night of beating Sean at pool (Truth be told: I am HORRIBLE at the game, but always manage to win when Sean scratches on the 8 ball) and listening to some good ol’ twangy soft rock cover music. We made our journey to Hillary’s distant house, arriving long after she had gone to bed.  A note welcomed us to make the home our own, and mentioned that she would not be there when we woke up. 

     We enjoyed the luxuries of having running water and a full selection of cooking utensils.  We lounged on the couch and listened to music and we took the well-needed shower. Her presence in the house seemed impossible, incongruous at best.  It was one of the creepiest residences I’ve ever encountered. 

       Out in the middle of back roads Montana.  A two bedroom house overwhelmed by an unkempt lawn and chain link fence sat sourly, like a cow pie drying in the tall grass.  Paint past peeling on walls scoured by the elements draped loosely over the structure.  Door frames were unaligned and despite being a beautifully sunny day, very little light found its way inside.  To sum things up, it looked like a nice quaint little house for a chainsaw massacre.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to believe that our young 5’ tall benefactor had it in her.  And we got the feeling that she rarely spent much time there as we biked back into town. 

      We met Annie, who had bike-toured across the states and invited us to stay at her place on the lake.  She checked in with her housemate and sent us to her humble abode.  We arrived to find a humungous St. Bernard bellowing a most disheartening bark worthy of a creature its size.  “I hope you’ve eaten already, little puppy.� I said cautiously, easing myself behind my bike to possibly delay the pain the dog was ready to inflict. 

   “Oh don’t worry about him, he’s all bark.� The owner claimed.  I noticed that his head was bigger than my waist and the owner did not answer my question.  A tint of fear remained that maybe he was tired of spending so much money on dog food and considered couchsurfers worthy supper for his little pooch. 

           A bike traveler learns to fear those beasts that can appear out of nowhere.  You might be idling along admiring a quaint country cottage until you hear a soft pitter patter of pawsteps quickly engage into a fierce roar as it begins the chase, defending its property.  Even rather small dogs are able to jump out in such a way to cause a good amount of fright. 

     Our bikes found a suitable parking place and we entered a beautiful 3 story house overlooking a nearby golf course and lake.  A dozen people were hanging out, eager to hear about our trip and ensure that we had something to drink.  Before we could even finish our first, we felt like we were at home, in the company of old friends.  The kindness of the people we met that evening was nothing short of magical. 

    The girl Annie who originally invited us over was not even there.  During our stay, we saw her a few times, for very brief moments.  After we got our bikes fixed up we hung around for the rest of the day, with the entire house to ourselves. The only two people living there were busy working, all day and out all night.  We conspired to take over their house, reside in the bottom floor just to see how long we could before they even noticed.  

     We planned to depart on Monday, but a few last minute bike repairs kept us in town until quite late.  We put downhill tires on our bikes for better traction.  My drivetrain was blown after the first 3300 miles and needed a new cassette and gears.  Somehow Sean and Goat managed to get off with just a new chain and cassette.  Our monster tires were too wide and rubbed against the chain. Goat tinkered away with it, took away a gear and offset the cassette enough to barely allow it clearance. I was now riding a mean, 7 speed downhill machine…across the country? 

      I wish I could say the tuned up bike felt like a million bucks, but with the new knobby downhill tires, it felt like an exercise bike set to the tune of Jazzercise 8.  Even on smooth, flat pavement it required an overwhelming amount of force to get the wheels turning. I would estimate that on a surface I normally would go 15 mph easy, I was struggling to reach 9 or 10.  

     After re-supplying at the grocery store we were considering whether we should get as far out of town as possible, or wait until morning.  Our decision was easy after James enticed us to camp out on his property.  The man oozed kindness from his every being. He lived in a small cabin and taught PE to elementary kids a few days a week and worked on authoring a book the rest of the time.  Beautiful drawings were hanging around the room intended for his story.  

     “You guys need anything for your trip?� He asked gently. 

     “Actually, the one thing that we’ve needed has been a spatula.� I replied, somewhat lost in my thoughts. 

      Without hesitation he gave us a beautifully handcrafted spatula that he had made out of beech wood. 

      After chatting late into the night, we set up our campsite under a beautiful star-filled sky. 

      As the sun was making it’s appearance, so were the neighborhood dogs, who insisted on barking until we got up, as if we were sleeping on the exact place they wanted to lay among the 15 acres of property they owned.  We enjoyed making a meal on a real stove, with cast-iron pans.  Graciously received the pile of books he left for us on his table and hit the trail. 

        Towns like Whitefish are real difficult to leave. The generosity and hospitality of everybody we met was far above any reasonable expectation.  It’s incredible what a difference a little kindness can make in a traveler’s world.  We’ve been blessed countless times by folks who go out of their way to help us out.  If we were to mention kind gestures of the folks we meet along the way, there would be no room in the travelogue for anything else.  I go to sleep at night, thinking that my day was just like the movie Waking Life, where the main character meets people who all live by a different philosophy of life.  Everybody has some amazing stories and experiences to share, you just have to be in a position to actually listen to what they say.  It is amazing to have the opportunity to listen.