Flathead Lake Friends

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If you look closely you can see remnants of my morning smoothie. Keeping it classy!

The drive from Whitefish to Polson, Montana on the Flathead Lake was a quick and beautiful drive.  I was excited to meet up with several different friends from college and their families.  As I drove into town I passed by the “Happy Hippo” which seemed to be a Montana version of the “Ride the Ducks”. I have always wanted to Ride the Ducks and so I thought that this was my perfect opportunity. When I met my friend Aimee and her husband Kevin and kids Lex and Nate at their restaurant; The Cove (http://www.covedeli.com) I proposed the ride to them and they eagerly agreed to join me.  We had a wonderful dinner at The Cove, which creates its own fresh dough every morning for their pizzas.  I know what you are thinking, pizza? It is all in moderation my friends and boy did it taste good!

The next day we payed our fee and hopped aboard the Happy Hippo.  We were all instructed to wear life jackets for the duration of the ride, both on land and on sea.  As I settled in to my seat, which was covered with brightly decorated duct tape, I immediately saw buckets full of water sticks/guns.  I was wondering how exactly we were going to get wet and I think I spied the answer.

We took a nice tour of town which included a Pirate attack at The Cove and moved on to the lake tour.  The captain instructed his First Mate to hand out the guns and placed buckets of ice cold lake water in the aisle for reloading.  There was a small child, about two years old, sitting behind me with adorable curly hair piled into a little pony tail on the top of its head.  The First Mate noticed it getting agitated and asked the mother if he was doing okay, after she answered I turned around and said, “I can’t believe she called your child a he, she is obviously a girl” I realized my mistake immediately, mama bear was not happy with me.  Dumb. Dumb. Sarah.  Fast forward ten minutes to the water fight. I was sitting in the front row, strapped into a seatbelt with no access to the water buckets, aka no ammo and no target in front of me to shoot.  The back of my head however became the perfect target for the offended mother and the rest of the passengers. I can’t say that part of the ride was my favorite, being hit with piercing cold water repeatedly for about five minutes was enough water play for me.

After a nice warm shower I said goodbye to Aimee and her family and went to meet up with my friend Rich and Susan and their son Zach.  They were traveling from Bend, Oregon to a rented home on the lake.  I thought it was a bit of a hike and was wondering if they didn’t have lakes that were closer but the second I stepped onto the property I understood the reason they chose this place, it was beautiful. We shared an amazing dinner as the sun set over the lake and even finished the evening with a quick night swim.  They invited me to stay in the extra bedroom which I didn’t hesitate in accepting.

I had such an amazing time reconnecting and enjoying this beautiful part of the country.

The Happy Hippo

The Happy Hippo

Choose your tour wisely.....

Choose your tour wisely…..

I could have stayed here all week!

One of my hosts for the evening, Susan! This house was amazing!

Afternoon on Flathead Lake

Afternoon on Flathead Lake

Sunset on Flathead Lake

Sunset on Flathead Lake

Healthy, Happy Whitefish

The only time I have spent in Whitefish was for work and I was eager to return to experience the town in a different way.  I had heard that two sisters had opened a new hostel within a few blocks of town and wanting to support women entrepreneurs I booked my room.  I hadn’t stayed in a hostel since my stay in Edinburgh Scotland two years ago.  What I remember of that hostel experience was the affordable price, uncomfortable beds and dirty showers.  The experience at the Whitefish Hostel was much different.  The sisters, Kirtlye and Lynon had stayed in many hostels around the world and made a list of what it was they enjoyed in each of the different locations.  They were able to create a very comfortable and memorable experience at a great price point; one evening on a memory foam bed in a shared room cost me $33.00.

I was able to easily walk the two blocks to the main street of Whitefish to meet up with a contact I made through Couchsurfing.org, a wonderful resource when you are new to town and looking to chat with locals or find a place to stay for the evening.  Sue graciously gave me several hours of her time to tell me about the great places to visit in Whitefish, the secret lake access that not many tourists knew about, the restaurants serving up healthy meals as well as some helpful information for my future road tripping through the North East. I really cherished this time and will definitely utilize this site again.

On my way out of town I passed by a juice bar that served organic juices and smoothies.  I hadn’t had lunch yet and I was excited for a fresh and healthy smoothie.  This place was really unique, not only did it offer fresh juices and smoothies but it also rented mopeds and had a food cart at the entrance called “The Greek Guy”.  If you are driving from Kalispell to Whitefish you should pass right by this place, I highly encourage you to stop and take a sip!

GoGo Juice Bar, Whitefish, MT

GoGo Juice Bar, Whitefish, MT

Whitefish Juice Bar

Red Ants Pants – White Sulphur Springs, MT

Red Ants Sundown

I decided when I set out on this trip that I was going to be flexible with my schedule, if something came up and I needed to diverge from my original plans I would.  That something happened early in my trip, I received an email informing me that one of my favorite songwriters was going to be the headliner at a music festival.  Robert Earl Keen (http://www.robertearlkeen.com) was playing at the Red Ants Pants Festival (http://redantspantsmusicfestival.com) in White Sulphur Springs.  Having never heard of either I quickly pulled up my map to see how far this diversion would take me.  It turned out that it was further East than I had planned to go in the first weeks of my trip but I massaged my schedule to make it work.  Without this music festival there would have been no Livingston and no Red Lodge, and that would have just been no good!

I have done a lot on my own but a music festival was not included in that list, I didn’t want to go solo, I wanted to go with a friend. It turns out, however, that when you are in the middle of nowhere Montana the friend pickings are a bit slim.  I was committed to going regardless so I packed my cooler full of fresh veggies, fruit and Bud Light. That’s right, beer.

Several years ago I was at a local Seattle bar and there was a Bud Light rep giving out visors, for some reason (too much of said beer?) I decided I NEEDED a visor so I approached his table.  He told me he would love to give me a visor but first I needed to say something to the camera.  I hadn’t even noticed the camera, but with my eye on the prize I grabbed a can of Bud Light and said “Sometimes when I am feeling lonely and missing my friends I turn to my Bud…my Bud Light” the guy thanked me and handed me my visor! It turns out that was actually a first round audition and I was given a call back for a Bud Light commercial which ended with an inch of the back of my head finding its 15 seconds of fame in a local commercial filmed at the Showbox.

My Bud

Anyway, armed with 6 of my best “Buds” I pitched my tent and headed into the music festival.  I immediately found a seat on a hay bail and within seconds a girl, Kate, sat beside me and became my new bud! We spent the rest of the day listening to music, dodging hippies and drinking beer.

The evening ended with a gorgeous sunset and some amazing music by Robert Earl Keen.  It was definitely worth the diversion and a lesson learned in the importance of flexibility.

Red Ants Pants Seating

red ants pants lineup

Red Ants Pants Canned Beer

Red Ants Teepee

REK Stage

Red Lodge, a Caring Community

Red Lodge - Wholesome Foods(Robin Taylor & Associate)

We walked up town and to the weekly summer farmer’s market to meet one of my host Cheri’s friends, Martha Brown.  Martha and her husband Marty moved to Red Lodge about four years ago and decided that they wanted to connect with people who were passionate about food in their community.  They organized a forum about local food and over 200 people showed up; obviously this was something of interest to the rest of the community as well.

They formed a group, The Red Lodge Area Food Partnership Council  (http://montanaruralhealthinitiative.info/?p=1191) whose mission is to vigorously promote a sustainable local food system that encourages a better quality of life for our citizens, improves the community’s economy and self-reliance, and preserves the land for generations to come.  This group has done a lot of interesting events to raise awareness and money around local produce and healthy eating.  They have hosted a Ceramic Art dinner at the ceramic studio and had the artists create plates that were then paired with a local chef’s creation.  They gather about once a month to view documentary films and invite a local chef to prepare food to share while they discuss the movie.  They also have seen a great interest in their farm tours, starting with 8 people they have grown to 40 people on some visits.  These farm tours give individuals an inside look at local farms, and gives them an opportunity to meet the farmers and learn how the farms are managed.

One of these farms, Wholesome Foods is located about 45 minutes outside of Red Lodge.  Martha had told me that this farm lost its farm managers un-expectantly, as in one day they were there the next morning they had vanished, leaving behind large crops that needed tending.  The owners of the farm were unable to manage the crops and were going to have to let four acres of veggies die.  When a group in Red Lodge heard they gathered together and volunteered their time and sweat equity, over 80 volunteers weeded and harvested the crops saving over 50% of the veggies that sold for around $10k.  You may be able to spot a volunteer in town, they often can be seen wearing t-shirts with “The Great Veggie Rescue 2013” on the back.

I spoke with Robin Taylor who was one of the volunteers and part of the concerned citizens in the community.  When “The Great Veggie Rescue 2013” was over Robin approached the owners of the farm and asked if she could take it over, working with interns to continue to bring both the community and school kids to the farm to interact and learn.  Robin hopes to help manage the farm and prepare it to become a viable business for the next generation, she is hoping to hand it over within the next five years.

Both Martha and Robin introduced me to Alyssa Charney of Food Corps (https://foodcorps.org/where-we-work/montana) which is a national nonprofit working on a small scale with locale and sustainable solutions.  They are focused on reducing poverty, promoting healthy communities and protecting natural resources.  Alyssa has been in the Red Lodge area for about two years and in that time has worked side by side with children, creating a local garden, working with the school cafeterias to get access to local produce as well as getting kids excited about food through the summer camp.

I was incredibly impressed with the amount of work, and un-paid volunteer work that is happening in this community around food.  They are kind-hearted people who are passionate about health and food and want to ensure that their community is being fed in the best way possible.  It is admirable.  It makes me think that if every community had champions like this that we might all be able to all have access to healthier foods and nutritional education for our youth.

Red Lodge Martha(Martha & Marty Brown)

Red Lodge - Garden Alissa(Alyssa Charney)

Bunko and Pig Racing a visit to Red Lodge

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I have heard all about Red Lodge from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Alissa, her parents live there and the drive from Livingston was less than two hours and through some beautiful terrain so I had to make the trek. I was fresh off my river experience and looking a bit worse for the wear when I pulled into their driveway.  Cheri, Alissa’s Mom greeted me at the door with open arms and almost immediately asked if I would be up for joining her in a ladies Bunko evening.  Back to my theory of being open and trying new things on this trip I agreed.  I quickly freshened up and off we headed to one of her friend’s houses for a riveting game of Bunko, which by that time I had learned is referred to as Drunko.  They weren’t messing around, one of the ladies in our carpool was sitting in the back of the truck sipping on what looked to others to be 64oz of ice water but I spied the limes and I knew the real deal, this lady came prepared. Designated driver and a roadie!  We arrived at a gorgeous home filled with wonderful women who were all excited to be gathered together to socialize and play this dice game.  I was prepared to throw some money down on the game but it turns out they don’t wager so it was all for the fun.

Not to fret I would have my chance to bet my money the very next night, as Cheri invited me to go to the Pig Races at Bear Creek Saloon (www.redlodge.com/bearcreek).  It is literally set up like a smaller, and much smellier horse track.  The pigs were all walking around prior to their race and then were led into the chute.  The start of the race was kicked off with the bugle music synonymous with horse racing and the gates flung opened.  The pigs hit the track, some pigs ran incredibly fast some meandered in their own sweet time and the whole race was over in about 20 seconds.

The pigs were all named adorable names like Sasuagewia, Arnold Shwarthzenhogger, and Mackelribs.  One of my friends cleverly suggested that one be called Lindsay Loham! Brilliant!

To bet you throw down $2.00 and choose a square, not unlike the illegal Superbowl betting we all do with our co-workers.  They somehow choose random squares and those individuals are assigned a pig.  I cleared the first Pig Racing hurdle and my name was called, I was in the race! However, my little piggy did NOT run wee wee wee all the way home quick enough and I lost.

Although I didn’t win the pig races, I didn’t feel like a loser, I had only been in Red Lodge for 24 hours and had already experienced two fun new activities.  I can’t wait to go back and see what else the town has to offer!

Red Lodge Saloon Sign Pig Races

Red Lodge Pig Race Track

red lodge pig boot vase

Red Lodge - Pigs lining up

Living Livingston, Montana

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A good friend of mine from college who currently lives in LA was back in her hometown of Livingston and it seemed like a wonderful way to experience small town Montana.  I didn’t know much about Livingston beyond the Jimmy Buffet “Livingston Saturday Night” song but after 24 hours with Karri I had my own opinions, all which were good!  She told me to meet her at the Murray (http://murrayhotel.com/) and gave me very simple instructions on how to navigate from the freeway.  Within minutes I was sitting at a bar stool awaiting her arrival.  When she walked in it was a bit like in the movies when the big city girl goes back to her hometown, there were a lot of hugs, excitement an occasional squeal of delight and a whole lot of love.

We decided to walk down to the Farmers Market in town where we enjoyed handcrafted art and jewelry, produce, live music and local beer.  We sat on a bench overlooking the Yellowstone River and caught up with one another.

We made our way back to town where we toured her old stomping grounds, I learned a lot of Livingston history, stopped at the Elks where we cocktailed with her old Home Ec teacher and then met some friends for dinner.  The rest of the evening was spent back at our meeting spot, The Murray where we were treated to live music and a few more drinks.

Prior to departing town my friend encouraged me to float the river with her and her friend Cole.  I was a bit cautious as I have had some water incidents that have left me a bit scared of moving water, Oregon coast, rip tide, Coast Guard sort of incidents.  However, I have decided that I need to expand my horizons on this trip and try things I wouldn’t normally try.  We loaded into Cole’s car and headed outside of town to drop in to the river. I was anxious. I was nervous.  What was I worried about? It was just a little float down a little river.

We pulled down onto the river rocks to unload and while Cole was at the back of the car pulling the tubes out to inflate the car somehow started driving forward.  I was just getting out of the back seat and was standing by the door when the car started its move.  The next think I know the car is rolling over my left foot (yes like the movie title) and I was thrown to the rocks.  Thankfully, Cole was quick on his feet and had the car stopped before it gained too much ground. However, speaking of ground, I was sprawled out on it in complete shock!  I lay there for a moment and could hear my friend Karri asking me if I was okay, I wiggled my foot and was met with absolutely no pain.  The only response I could provide them with was hysterical laughter, seriously, who gets their foot run over by a vehicle and walks away with only a few bruises from the fall? I guess me; I have since been called Bionic and referred to as Wonder Woman; which doesn’t upset me in the least bit.

The near death experience did not get me out of floating the river. We finished inflating the tubes and pushed off into the swift moving Yellowstone.  It was a wonderful trip, met with pockets of anxiety when my tube floated the incorrect way or really bounced me through the rapids.  I even got a workout in as I used my arms as oars for the hour and a half ride.  Towards the end of the float I had gained some confidence and was thinking I had this water fear licked.  As we hopped out of the river Karri said “Congratulations! You just successfully floated THE most dangerous river in the United States!” I almost dropped to the rocks again.  Seems I cheated death twice that day and ended up Living through my Livingston experience.

Screen shot 2013-08-01 at 2.39.44 PMMy gracious host Karri!