Race Recap: The three most important things before a race are (in order): rest, hydration and eating sensibly. Unfortunately the first was out the window (see our dilemma with Marriott below), but somehow we were in great spirits and fired up to make Montana an awesome run! Once we made it off the shuttle and to the start I think we were just ecstatic that we had made it to our 49th state. The weather was pretty much ideal – very low humidity and low 60’s. After a flurry of fireworks to signify the start, we were quickly weaving the roads around some gorgeous tree-lined parks and past some streams straight out of a painting. The running was almost second nature, we were just enjoying the journey and our surroundings. After a few miles we ran through a somewhat residential/ farm area where we were treated to a man playing a grand piano in a full tux on his front yard! What a sight! We kept the pace very consistent and broke up the miles occasionally chatting with another runner, but always staying side by side and stride for stride with each other. As we passed the 10 mile mark I began to think “this is real”, we are actually going to finish our 49th state today! The final 5k wasn’t necessarily easy, as the sun was starting to heat up the pavement bringing with it some warmer temps but we stayed focused and pressed on. The final ½ mile was pretty awesome. As we climbed the bridge to the finish it was lined with spectators shouting words of encouragement and we just looked at one another and smiled. As we hit the home stretch and poured on the pace Kristin looked at me and said you make a “9” with your hands. I quickly understood as she formed a “4’ with hers and with that our 49th state was in the bank!
Highlight: Enjoying a beautiful race side-by-side and despite a lack of quality sleep we pulled together and persevered to finish our 49th state in a very fitting time of 1:49:49 (our chip time was a few seconds faster, but who cares, look at the watch baby!)
Day 1 (Saturday):
We tuned up our axes and headed to Tagliare Delicatessen to split a monstrous sandwich named after the world famous band…Kiss! The sandwich rock and rolled all night and partied every day on our taste buds. Fantastic meats, cheeses and freshly baked bread at this deli, and the fact that the sandwiches are all named after famous rock bands is a nice touch.
Tip: The large sandwich is massive and more than enough for two to split.
We’ve been to a lot of packet pickups, so we usually don’t stick around too long at expos, but this outdoor pickup was very well organized (in an oval so it was easy to walk the whole thing) and was the perfect size to peruse for some running trinkets without being massive mousetrap maze of endless vendors.
Packets in hand we took a walking tour of downtown Missoula, loosely guided by a map of the area that highlighted top stops and provided some historical context about the buildings around us. It’s not a huge town, but it was a nice long walk in beautifully sunny and warm weather. Aside from some interesting historic spots, the hand-carved carousel at Caras Park was pretty neat and really displayed the quality of the local artists.
We decided to hydrate with a beer at the local Tamarack Brewing Company and were fortunate to find seats on the outdoor patio. After sipping some ‘suds we filled our bellies with some tasty fish and potatoes. While the fish was good, it was nowhere near as fresh and tasty as the fish in Alaska. No matter, it was quite an enjoyable evening sitting in the sun and watching the world go by.
Our dinner pipes may have been full, but there is always room for ice cream so we headed over to Big Dipper. We tried a small sample of an Indian spiced ice cream that was interesting as the flavor was as far from traditional as possible, but just not something we had a hankering for that night. So we decided to go the traditional route and sampled the locally harvested huckleberry. Kristin gave it a solid try but wasn’t a huge fan and while I managed to finish most of it, the flavor tasted more like blueberry than huckleberry (no, I’m not splitting hairs here, it was just ok).
There was still some sunlight so we decided to take a detour on the way to our hotel and found ourselves at an old train depot/ lumber mill. After wandering the grounds for a bit and checking out a bunch of old logging and milling machines we decided it was getting late so we decided to retreat to our hotel to get some shut-eye. Well….about that. To keep my tirade short, Marriott gave away our room and as the receptionist said we were “out of luck” as no hotel within 250 miles had a room. Ugh. After deciding to sleep in our car at an RV Park we made a last-ditch plea on Facebook and what do you know – Sandy Bollenbacher saved our hides and found us a bed in a friend of a friend’s house within 15 minutes! We love you Sandy!
Day 2 (Sunday - Race Day):
Apparently the early start time was to our advantage as we made it to The Shack for brunch and scored a nice table on the patio. We may have stunk a bit from the race, but it was incredibly relaxing to sip our coffee, read the Sunday paper (yes, we are that old) and decompress. I can’t for the life of me remember what we ate, but I remember it was good and the coffee was hot and plentiful.
Of all the reservations that could have been lost or cancelled, it turns out the hotel room is actually the best of a bad situation. If we didn’t have race registrations we wouldn’t have been able to run (the race was sold out) and if we didn’t have a car we wouldn’t have been able to drive all over creation to find a place to stay – so all in all I guess it worked out. After a quick shower at the RV Park – hey we paid for the showers, we figured we may as well use them – we decided to celebrate the day with a stop at the Big Sky Brewing Company. Cool tasting room and great beers, definitely worth a stop.
On the long list of things not to do immediately after running a distance race, sit in the car for an extended period of time has to be among the top. Well, so much for that, as we made our way up north to Whitefish. The drive was pretty scenic and we even found a nice little park by the water to enjoy an impromptu picnic for lunch. Apparently this area is “cherry heaven” so we stopped by a roadside cherry stand and grabbed a heaping bag of cherries for the road.
The combination of an early race, mixed with minimal sleep and several hours of driving had kind of wiped us out, so we opted to pick up a pizza from Jersey Boy’s Pizzeria. After a quick stop at the Great Northern Brewing Company (aka Black Star) to sample some local brews – which were quite good by the way – we headed back to our hotel to enjoy our piping hot pizza pie with our feet up watching the comedy Talladega Nights.
After dinner we found our second wind and headed into town in search of dessert. Our trusty iPhone pointed us to the Red Caboose for some frozen yogurt, which hit the spot as we meandered around the quaint downtown area.
Day 3 (Monday):
We may have been a little blurry-eyed and sleepy but we were both excited to get going on our whitewater rafting adventure in West Glacier. After a nice meal we made at the hotel (it was more of a condo than a hotel), we loaded the car and hit the road.
We are by no means veterans, but having rafted a few weeks earlier in Denali (Alaska) we were really excited to hit the whitewater again. Unlike Denali, the first 10-15 minutes were extremely calm and more of a float than rafting, but then we hit several sections of rapids which were a total blast. We got completed soaked (no drysuits here), but it was well worth it and a we had a ton of fun, I just wish there had been another 2-3 sets of rapids on the river. A very different experience than Denali, which was action packed start to finish, but it gave us a good chance to take in the scenery.
Our rafting guide recommended the Wandering Gringo for lunch, so we decided to give it a try. The beef tacos had just a touch of spice, but were very fresh and hit the spot after a morning of rafting. Think food truck and you’ve got the idea.
Tip: There are no restrooms here, so plan accordingly.
A short drive later we were in Glacier National Park, where we stopped at several spots along the way to stretch our legs and soak in the majestic surroundings.
Lake McDonald was extremely pretty and while we just walked around the area near the hotel, if we had an extra day we would have loved to explore this area by foot and boat. The hotel has an old world lodge feel, with a huge fireplace and just seemed very cozy.
The Trail of Cedars was very relaxing and easy to hike (mostly boardwalks for about a mile), but that didn’t detract from the impressive forestry. One of my favorite parts of the trail was looking at the roots of a tree which had fallen over, it looked like a true work of art. This was a great, relatively short and easy trail. There are several trails that tie into this trail, but most of the intriguing trails were ~6 miles and more of a day-hike adventure than we were prepared for.
We had been told by countless people that we had to get on the Going to the Sun Road early or we would just sit in traffic and not find anywhere to park. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case for us and despite some construction traffic we sailed through the park without a hitch. It’s hard to sum up the Going to the Sun Road other than to say there is a reason it is on people’s bucket list. It’s amazing. And not just the engineering feat of putting a road on the edge of cliff, but you really feel like you are part of the mountains, which was surreal. The views the entire way were uncanny.
Ok, we did find time during our brief delay in construction traffic to put away a ton of the cherries though.
Just before Logan’s Pass we stopped for a few quick pictures and were greeted by a family of mountain goats! Kristin was beyond excited as she had been hoping beyond hope that we would see these horned creatures on our trip. The rangers are constantly warning tourists not to walk towards animals, what they don’t warn you about are the stubborn mountain goats which will just stare at you until you back up! Very cool to get up close and personal with these white haired wonders.
Logan’s Pass was one of the absolute highlights of our trip to Montana. The hike was somewhat challenging because about 1/3 of the trail was covered in snow, which made trekking uphill a bit of a battle, but the views from the top of the valley and lakes below were well worth the effort.
Again, we had the feeling that we were one with nature and we just loved it! Don’t pass up a chance to hike here, this is a must do in Glacier, you will not regret it.
We made it out of the park a solid 30 minutes before the park rangers put up the gate for the night (yeah, apparently you can literally get stuck inside the park). We celebrated our timing with a few local beers and some reindeer meatloaf at St. Mary’s Lodge. The food was pretty dry as we had to cake on an extra layer of gravy to make it palatable, but the beer went down alright. As we were finishing up our waiter ensured that we weren’t staying to the South of the lodge as the staff had just chased off a grizzly bear. While we didn’t exactly want to run into a grizzly in an alley, it would have been kind of exciting to see one from a manageable distance.
With a slogan “pie for strength”, we had to make a stop at the Park Café for some desert. Sometimes you come across a restaurant that could thrive anywhere in the world and for whatever reason its located in a tiny old house seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Park Café is one of those gems. Neither of us are exactly pie aficionados, but this was easily some of the best pie a la mode we’ve ever eaten. They should call this place Going to the Pie Road, because it’s worth the trip!
Day 4 (Tuesday):
After a comical stop at the local grocery store to buy a small milk and a few bananas – where our only options were an $8 gallon of whole milk and cantaloupe (we left empty handed), we resorted to our trusty box of honey nut cheerios and convinced the barista in the St. Mary’s Lodge café to sell us a large cup of milk ($2 and 2% was a huge victory over $8 and whole). We paired our thrifty breakfast with some really tasty huckleberry cappuccinos. Quite a tasty morning pick me up.
Next on our agenda was a stop at Many Glacier for a 2-hour horseback ride through the park. The scenery was pretty awesome and this very gentle ride was a nice way to see the sights in a relaxing yet pseudo adventurous way.
The Many Glacier Lodge was nestled right in the mountains on a lake, which made the scenery from our lunch table unreal. We were both in need of some greens and the salad was very fresh and gave us that hint of vegetables our bodies were craving.
As we approached the Canadian border Kristin was overwhelmingly excited as she this was her inaugural trip into O’Canada. Shortly after crossing the border and a massive expanse of nothing we came upon the lighthouse bakery in Cardston which boasted their famous “Spudnuts”. It’s kind of like a donut, but made with potato instead of flour and is 100% awesome. First stop in Canada = raging success!
So as we relished in our baked goodness we realized a logistical error we’d made. We were now firmly in Canada, yet our smartphone plans only worked in the US. Whoops. I had looked at a map and knew it should be a straight shot to Calgary and then due West to Banff, but as life sometimes does we had a few curve-balls along the way. After a brief chat with some very nice people that we quite confused why we were looking for a map in a travel store (really, still seems logical to me) we flipped a magic switch on our phone and managed to get roaming service and at last GPS. Within a few minutes we were back on track and on a scenic drive through the Canadian Rockies to Banff. We knew there would be roaming charges when we got home, but we needed to find our route and the $15 bill wasn’t too bad in the end.
After a gorgeous drive we finally entered the quaint town of Banff. This town reminded me of a ski-city like Breckenridge, lots of upscale shops but a real lodge type mountain feel. For dinner we went to Coyote Southwestern Grill, which much like the town was a bit upscale and fairly trendy. We had a great table at the window, the margaritas were delightful and the food was excellent – I only wish the portions were a scorch bigger.
After wandering in some shops we took a short drive to check out the world famous Fairmont hotel. This hotel is just mammoth in stature and reminded us more of a castle than a hotel. As part of our self-guided tour of the grounds we headed down to the water to check out Bow Falls at night. The Falls aren’t overwhelming, but the sound of the endlessly rushing water was serene and very relaxing.
Our night cap was a stop in the Waldhaus Pub for a pint of cider. The feel of this underground pub was really European and we had a nice time sipping our drinks and watching the Tour de France.
Day 5 (Wednesday):
The Banff area is absolutely gorgeous, and we figured what better way to take it all in then a short run along the water? The majority of the run was really nice – we ran up to a viewpoint to see the Fairmont from a distance then along the water through a really nice forest. The only mistake we made was stopping for a photo of a untouched lake as we were immediately swarmed by hungry mosquitos! Luckily, once we were running again the mosquitos disappeared and a few bites were absolutely worth the views and great morning run.
After reloading our cherry supply from a local farmer’s market we showered and hit the road for the Lake Louise area. En route we spotted some wild bighorn sheep and stopped for a quick photo before the mosquitos descended upon us.
When we arrived at the trailhead for our first hike of the day at Moraine Lake the clouds were just low enough that the color of the water was an indescribable blue-green that we just stared at in awe of Mother nature. The ~2 mile roundtrip hike is very relaxed, but the views of Moraine Lake and Tower of Babel (across the lake) are spectacular. This area is crowded with hikers for a reason and is definitely worth a stop. Just as we were finishing our hike the skies opened up and the clouds which had previously made the views spectacular now muddied the water and put a bit of a damper on our hopes that the clouds were just passing over the area.
After a short drive to Lake Louise we were a bit bummed that the weather was still not cooperating so we decided to take a break for lunch at the Chateau Deli inside the Fairmont (similar in structure to the Fairmont in Banff, but nowhere near as impressive). The soup and sandwich combo was just what the doctor ordered – there’s nothing like being heated up from the inside by some hearty chili. After splitting a chocolate chip cookie we decided to brave the weather and check out Lake Louise.
To our delight the rain stopped and we were able to bask in the glory of Lake Louise (it’s truly one of the most beautiful natural spots to stand in the world). Simply gorgeous.
A few hours of driving later we arrived at the Radium Hot Springs naturally heated pool for an afternoon dip. It was kind of like a giant hot-tub. At one point in time the pool was carved directly into the rocky hillside, but over the years the springs had been “updated” to be much more concrete pool-like, which is a little disappointing. That said, it was still a nice relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
On our drive into the town of Radium Hot Springs we passed a few places where the road had literally been carved through the mountains, which made for some impressive photos. We decided to relax on the patio of our hotel with some take-out burgers and beer we picked up in nearby Invermere British Columbia, where we learned that liquor is only sold at designated liquor stores and apparently is only available cold in the non-government run, “expensive” liquor stores. Interesting. Either way, we grabbed some local brews and hit the patio to enjoy our dinner in peace as we watched the sunset.
Day 6 (Thursday):
We planned a nice run today, but when we woke up we were just beat, so we decided to skip the exercise and hit snooze. We perked up with some caffeine from Coffee Works and after a quick stop into the adjacent Bavin Glassworks to see the glassblowing demonstration we were back on the road towards our homeland.
The weather was perfect, which made the long drive a bit less painful, as the scenery was a good distraction from the hundreds of miles ahead of us. We stopped a few times along the way to stretch our legs, but thought better of jumping in an ice-cold lake we found. Canada was great, but we were happy to be waiting in line at customs and were even happier when we were once again on US soil.
It was really hot out today, but when we found an outdoor table (with umbrella) at Café Jax in Eureka we were more than happy to sit outside. Kristin opted for breakfast, although by the time they found a chicken and waited for it to lay an egg she may as well have ordered dinner! I had a hankering for a milkshake and did my best to tackle the diary behemoth. The food was so-so, nothing too great, but it was still nice to be back in the states.
A few more hours in the car and we were finally in Kalispell and psyched to stretch our legs with a hike at Lone Pine State Park. The first few miles were pretty easy and provided some great views of downtown Kalispel. The last two miles were actually pretty tough. Even though we were just walking, we were both huffing and puffing as we ascended what seemed like an unending mountain. No wonder we didn’t see any other poor souls walking the same route, it was brutal! That said, it was an enjoyable hike, but if you take the Lone Pine Trail (marked in red), plan to go clockwise unless you want to really test the condition of your heart.
We worked up an appetite and were very excited for dinner at the Flathead Brewing Company. The beers were good – we both opted for and enjoyed the highest alcohol beers on tap, go figure – and the food above average. The menu was a bit limited, but we both enjoyed our meals and split dessert.
With the sun still high in the sky we walked across the street to the lake and just hung out on the rocks for about an hour talking and skipping rocks. One of those impossible to recreate, yet awesome times you just enjoy life.
Day 6 (Friday):
Our last day in Montana was more of a travel day than anything else. Upon arriving back in Missoula we retraced a bit of the race route just to relive the experience once more and then stopped at our new favorite lunch spot - the Tagliare Delicatessen – for some food to bring on the plane (I was half thinking they might try to make us check the sandwich as it was bigger than my backpack). All too soon, we were back on the plane headed for home.
Montana Half Marathon Medals
July 14, 2013: Missoula Half Marathon