Friday, August 16, 2019

Uff da!

When I first moved to Minnesota in 1995 I promised myself I was never going to use the seemingly popular phrase "Uff da". Well, through the years daughter #3 has used the phrase more times then I can count. Since it's pretty cute when she says it I guess it finally grew on me. I don't say it often and I always find myself laughing after it escapes my lips. For those of you who are not familiar with this upper midwestern slang, here is one definition:
Uff da: A multi use exclamation that came from Scandinavian immigrants during the early part of the 20th century. If you're surprised you say "Uff da", if you're disgusted you say "Uff da", over worked? "Uff da"

So right now I'm saying "Uff da" as I jump back in to blogging. I've had so many amazing adventures since I last posted and even more so over the last year. Let's jump right in, shall we?

I've now officially been on 3 mission trips; Austria in 2017, Bulgaria in 2018, and India in 2019. Each trip has been absolutely amazing in such different ways. All of the people whom I've met have changed my life in some way or another. I will go deeper into each trip on a future post.

Last August for my big 4-0 I was hoping to do something really cool to celebrate. Daughter #2 scheduled both of us for a tandem skydive in Superior, WI. Now that was definitely something cool and unforgettable! Although she couldn't quite make it out of the plane I had no problem plummeting to the earth. I'm not saying I wasn't nervous, because once that plane door opened and the cold wind hit my face there was some fear. The free fall was the most intense but once the chute opened we just drifted quietly through the air. It was amazing! Trying to capture it all in my mind, in what seemed to be a very short amount of time, was nearly impossible. I guess I'll just have to skydive again.

He let me control the chute briefly

This year for my birthday I planned a 5 day trip to Glacier National Park in Montana! I had never been to GNP but I had seen many photos and knew it was a place I had to visit. A former manager of mine had been several times so he recommended a few chalets but I really wanted to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. That meant camping in a tent! If you're not familiar with how to secure a campsite in Glacier I'll give you a quick rundown. Most campgrounds in the park are by reservation only. These sites fill in March almost immediately after the website starts accepting reservations. For backcountry campsites an application needs to be filled out in addition to paying a $40 fee. This would need to be done months in advance, again preferably in March. However, each campground has sites that are strictly for walk-in campers on a first-come first-serve basis. We found Glacier's Campground Status page to be super helpful once we arrived. So basically the plan was just to wing it.

I decided to take the Amtrak train since it conveniently went right to East Glacier just outside the park. That way I didn't need to worry about my vehicle breaking down, getting a flat tire, fueling, stopping to use the bathroom a billion times, etc. Plus the train was cheaper than flying and I had never traveled anywhere by train. So, the only thing left to do was find a travel buddy. I mentioned my very loose plans to my friend Alicia and ultimately she agreed to go. She wasn't super excited about not knowing where we were going to sleep at night but she was a good sport. In all honesty we both thought it was pretty cool not having any set plans. It always works out in the end, right?

Day 1
Based on the scheduled arrival of the train into East Glacier I booked our first night at Sears Motel which was within walking distance of the train station. The plan was to get up super early the next morning and walk or shuttle to the closest campground hoping for a walk-in site. Well I didn't realize the entrance to the park was a little too far for us to quickly walk to and there weren't any shuttles available in that area. We spoke with the woman who owned the motel and she offered to possibly give us a ride to the nearest campground. She also offered us her backyard to camp in but that was a little sketch at that point. She totally reminded me of Cheyenne from the TV show Superstore. She told us we could try renting a vehicle at the Dollar rental just up the street. We had 15 minutes before the place closed so we had to hurry. We left our bags, hoping the woman was honest and trustworthy, and headed up the street. Now this is where we met one of the coolest chicks I think I've ever crossed paths with. We named her Hippie Emily but her real name is Emily! We told her about our lack of plans and our park transportation knowledge. Unfortunately she didn't have a vehicle for us to rent but she did offer to call us when something became available AND she offered to bring us to the Two Medicine campground early the next morning. Yahtzee! Emily told us she had a yellow bus that was just down the road in the campground where she was living and she'd pick us up at 7. She said it didn't go fast but it'd get us there eventually. We were stoked to ride with a cool chick in her hippie van!
The motel room was small and smelled of PineSol, the windows were all painted shut, and the shower didn't work, but we didn't see any bed bugs so we considered that a win.

Day 2
We slept fairly decent and woke early the next morning to get coffee and huckleberry bear paws at a little store called Brownie's that was across the street from the motel. Huckleberries are all the rage at Glacier! Emily arrived with her van so we hopped in and headed to Two Medicine in hopes of finding a campsite.

Emily's awesome van

She was kind enough to drive us through the campground so we didn't have to walk around with our heavy packs. This campground was self register, which meant if we found an empty site we could claim it by filling out a self registration envelope. We took the first site we saw open which was Loop A #30.

Our camp site with a mountain view at Two Medicine
We put the $20 nightly fee in the envelope and dropped it in the box for a ranger to collect. If we wanted to stay any more nights we would have to fill out another envelope and have it in the box before 10:30 AM. A few days later I learned there were spots available for people without cars (walkers and bikers) for $10 a night. However, we wouldn't have met all the people we did if we hadn't stayed at site 30.

We set up camp and headed out for our first hike. We checked some maps and decided to head to Aster Falls. After Aster Falls we followed signs to scenic point which took us to Aster Park Overlook.

Aster Park Overlook has a 360° view

It was a bit of a climb

After we hiked back down we asked a ranger about getting to Running Eagle Falls (a suggested hike Emily had made). It was a 2-2.5 mile walk down the main road which wasn't the safest route. So we asked about hitch hiking. It's not illegal so we figured we'd give it a whirl. I should say Alicia gave it a whirl because I just can't handle rejection. We hadn't walked very far when two ladies stopped and were more than willing to drop us off on their way back to East Glacier. The driver felt bad for us and said we looked tired. She was from Montana and had visited the park several times so she knew right where we needed to go. It was only a .3 mile hike to the falls.

Getting back was a little trickier. It was later in the afternoon and everyone seemed to be driving in the opposite direction from where we were going. Alicia and I were tired and whining a little as a few cars drove right by us. I think it was the third or fourth car that drove by so I threw my hands up in defeat and the car stopped. I started running and yelling for Alicia to hurry. We hopped in the back of a married couples car and found out they were staying in the same campground as us. Perfect! We told them we were almost out of water. The woman announced that they were drinking wine as the man flew up the road. She handed Alicia a water bottle and Alicia asked if it was wine. The woman laughed and said, "Oh no that's all gone." They seemed like a fun couple and we definitely appreciated the ride, but yikes.

Then we met Jim and Robin Berzowski, an adorable retired couple from Wisconsin (Packer fans). We started chatting with them about their GO camper. Coolest little camper I've ever seen. I would describe it as a cross between a tent and a pop-up camper. It's lightweight and durable. It can be converted into a utility trailer and Jim had to tell us about the add on tent. Guess what it's called? A GOzeebo. Jim laughed a lot, mostly at his own jokes, but it was great and so contagious. He was such a fun story teller as he has already collected memories for a lifetime. Jim and Robin have traveled all over the world and shared a few stories with us as well as fun facts they've learned. Do you know what a group of porcupines is called? A prickle of porcupines.
Jim offered to make Alicia and I coffee in the morning so we jumped at that opportunity. He told us it would be $5 a cup and more if we wanted milk in it. Such a silly guy!

To end the day Alicia and I grabbed our camp chairs and headed down to the lake to watch the sunset.  We soaked our feet in the cold water and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. What a beautiful place to be!

Day 3
We woke up around 8, which was a little later than we wanted. Night temps dropped to mid 40's but during the day it warmed up quickly into the 80's. We wanted to avoid the heat as much as possible. We enjoyed our coffee with the Berzowski's who were planning their day. They wanted to ride the shuttle boat across Two Medicine Lake and hike back. Since Alicia and I couldn't go too far without a vehicle we decided we would do the same. The boat going out at 10 and 11 were full so we decided to hike to the other end of the lake and get the boat back. Our back up plan was to hike the entire lake loop which wouldn't have been too tough. I kind of wish we had hiked the whole loop.

Fun fact: Alicia talks to everyone! I'm not saying that's a bad thing but I'm just not that outgoing. She'd stop on the trail and just talk to anyone about anything. I finally told her that I had the bear spray and she'd have to stop talking if I kept walking. Yep I'm a jerk! She was also afraid of everything. Especially being eaten by a bear. If I pointed at something she would jump as if I was pointing to a bear. She got nervous when the hearty squirrels (could be a bear) rustled through the brush. The only reason I mention this is because without all her chatting we wouldn't have met the people we did. Everything that happened after this point just doesn't really make sense and maybe it never will.

We caught up with a couple that was stopped on the trail to take a break. I said hello as I walked around them but Alicia stopped and started chatting with them. We'll call him W and her E. Once we started walking again I told Alicia jokingly to stop talking to people, but now I'm glad she took the time for them. They both looked like they were enjoying their time hiking together as they continually smiled. They spoke some English but W seemed to speak and understand it better than E could. We were excited when we caught up to Jim and Robin on the trail but they had just encountered a bear.

Jim pointing at the 7,000 pound bear he just wrestled. 

They were both holding their bear spray and making noise. Jim said if we hiked together in a group we'd look bigger and be more likely to scare the bear away. We told Robin there was another couple behind us so we could have them join us too. As W and E approached Alicia started to warn them that there was a bear ahead and told them they should come hike with us. E started running towards us so we immediately told her to stop and not to run. She didn't quite understand what Alicia was saying. When they were finally with us we asked if they had bear spray and they said no. At that moment I thought "These people are oblivious! She barely understands what we're saying and they're hiking alone without bear spray." We suggested that they should stay with us for the remainder of the hike.
Once we made it to Twin Falls W and E had decided to head right to the boat launch while we enjoyed a snack at the falls.

One of the falls

The line for the boat was long but the park staff assured us they'd send the boat right back after dropping off the first group. The wait was about 30 minutes so we chatted with Jim and Robin, walked in the water, and I showed W some photos I took at the falls. W and I chatted very briefly as we continued to wait for the boat.

View from the boat

While we were getting on the boat a moose emerged from the trees and made her way to the water. It was a cow but still really cool to see as we made our way back across the lake. When we arrived back Alicia had a text from Emily saying she had a rental for us. We had very limited service in the park but luckily Alicia's was a little better than mine. Of course moms on vacation would get stuck with a minivan but we had no other options. Emily said she would arrive around 4 but we needed to give her a ride back. No problem. We decided we would just relax at our campsite while we waited for Emily. I was journaling in my chair, Jim and Robin headed out in their car, and the guy across from us came over to chat about our day. As we were talking W walked by with his little white Maltese dog. He looked surprised to see that we were staying in the same campground as him and his wife. He smiled, waved, and said hello as he kept walking.

About 10-15 minutes went by and I was fully engaged in my journal. That's when I heard the screams. A woman was yelling "HELP ME!" I looked up from my journal and asked Alicia what I was hearing. It was bone chilling and not far away. We both listened carefully to make sure we were hearing it correct. Alicia told me to grab the bear spray and we ran towards the screams. I wish I understood what was going on right away. I wish I had jumped in the water sooner. Oh how I wish I could've done more.

To be continued...

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