Well, I’m home now (and happy new year!), but since I still haven’t finished writing about my trip, I’ll keep it up until I’ve gotten through all of my adventures!
Montana: so beautiful! After an overnight ride in from Portland, I was glad to get off the train first thing in the morning. Essex, MT has a year-round population of 40 and the only thing in the town is the Izaak Walton Inn, an old train stop that pre-WWII was designated to become the South entrance to Glacier National Park, but never became a real entrance because construction was stopped during the war and never resumed afterwards. The train “station” in Essex is literally just a platform that the inn’s shuttle can drive right on to, to pick up passengers to bring back to the inn- and apparently, the platform is only ~3 years old- before that, the train would just stop on the tracks to let people off!
Luckily, I was able to check into my hotel room right away (they don’t guarantee being able to check in until 3 pm, but my train got in at 9 am). I quickly dumped my bags on the floor and promptly crawled into bed to go back to sleep (i.e. get a few hours of real sleep in a bed) before needing to get ready for my 1:00 snowshoeing tour. The bed was actually pretty uncomfortable, but not as bad as the train…at least I could lay down!
After I woke up, it was after noon and I was ready to go snowshoeing. After lugging around ski pants and snow boots for the previous week and a half, I was glad to put them to use!
The inn backs up to Glacier National Park, so that’s where we (me and my guide, Mark) went for the tour. There’s not even a real entrance to the park at the in- there’s a ranger’s station, but it’s closed for the season- but we parked the van in the ranger’s station driveway and just went walking! There are mountains on all sides, and along the way Mark pointed out the names of the different peaks we could see and sites of prior avalanches and of a fire that happened earlier this year.
Snowshoeing is a strange activity. People describe snowshoes as tennis rackets strapped to your feet, but they’re not as small nor as inflexible as that. It’s more like strapping a giant, hinged metal oval to the ball of your foot, that helps scoop the snow up from around your shoe so you can lift your legs more easily. And it takes a bit of time to get used to- in my case, that meant walking fine for a few steps, and then all of a sudden, falling over and needing to figure out how to get up with feet a foot longer than usual, in 2+ feet of powdery snow. But in spite of getting covered in snow a few times, I was able to enjoy amazing views of Glacier National Park- freshly fallen snow, evergreen trees, and mountains rising and falling. The only people in that area of the park were me and Mark, and when we weren’t chatting we were instead able to experience the most profound quiet I have ever heard in my entire life. When people say “deafening silence”, this must be what they mean. Mark walked ahead of me to clear a trail, and when he was out of sight I was able to follow his path but stop to take pictures or enjoy the scenery and the quiet at my own pace.
By the end of the snowshoeing excursion I was ready to head back to the inn, where I enjoyed brunch in the ‘dining car’ (their name for the dining room)- because it was Christmas, they had set up a buffet where I ate eggs benedict made with sirloin steak (perfectly juicy) and a cherry scone. Then I headed back to my room to rest some more, read, and blog.
Dinner the first night was another special meal because of Christmas: a 3-course dinner at which I ate grilled caesar salad, tea-crusted duck breast with cherry compote (one of the best preparations of duck I have ever eaten! So moist and chewy.), and cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. I’m sad that I didn’t take a picture of any of this, but I didn’t bring my camera to either meal the first day.
Finally, Mark had me convinced by the end of our snowshoeing excursion that I should try skiing the next day, so I registered for that and then headed off to bed because my skiing lesson was set for 10 a.m. the next day. (Train travel is exhausting…because it’s so difficult to sleep on the train!)