I can still remember the first time I laid eyes on her beauty. It was within reach yet so far and I was getting impatient with the border patrol, who felt that since my companion and I had been in British Columbia for a week we had brought back tons of its famous marijuana. We hadn’t of course, but when the border patrol station is located about 75 miles from the nearest store or intersection of any type, you gotta figure they will search all 5 cars a day that pass through there. Man imagine an 80 mile commute through utter desolation. This Alberta border crossing into
Montana was only open 9am-5pm. They were opening up all my maps now, I have tons of them. On this trip especially since it was over a month long, I had to find out the locations of Chabbad houses and kosher restaurants whenever we hit civilization. These were also the days before I figured out how to cook on my engine making tuna and chips the meal of choice. “Man you sure do have a lot of maps” the agent said, he wouldn’t understand why I had the metro area maps for Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary, and a bunch of others. “I’m a map junky, bathroom reading material for me” I responded heartily. These agents were very friendly at least compared to the ones back east by the
Ontario – NY border, they were really assholes if you don’t mind my saying.
They brought out the dogs now to search for drugs, nothing was found and they continued the basic “we are bored and you Yankees from back east provide interesting conversation”. The agents looked like Native American but I couldn’t figure it out if they were. “Ok guys you can be on your way now” We hopped in my 95 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon. Grey with a roof rack containing two mean looking downhill bikes, the rear bumper contained a sticker that said Kahane Was Right in Hebrew. I figured if by some chance we saw a Jew he would wave us down and some good conversation would ensue. My rule was no AC unless it goes above 95 degrees, a few weeks back while wandering around Utah we had needed it pretty frequently, but now it was rather cool as we cruised 75 miles per hour down the road to Kalispell Montana, home to Glacier National Park- which for one reason or another we decided to forgo and it wouldn’t be till a few years later that I would feast my eyes on some of the most beautiful terrain in N. America. Passing the glacier capped peaks of the park, and sculpted valleys filled with wildflowers I wondered if the place we were headed would as breathtaking.
This trip was taking place in the summer of 02, after my first year of college. I was 19 and my friend who was the only frum serious outdoorsman I knew was Yosef from Monsey whom I had spent the past few years in yeshiva with and who had surpassed my skills as an extreme mountain biker, by willing to jump 20 foot gaps and off garages and various other large drops. Yosef’s father, now a shochet and farmer in Bethel NY, hitchhike to Montana in the 1970’s to experience the only real untracked wilderness left in the lower 48. This man whom I will call Rabbi F.(if you think you know whom I am talking about- it’s probably him) anyway Rabbi F. went to school and worked for the State while there doing something with wildlife study, he built his own cabin near the Jewel Basin area of the Bob Marshall wilderness. We actually visited the cabin and visited with his old neighbor who was completely shocked and said he hadn’t heard from Rabbi F. in 20 years. So that is why my friend Yosef and his brother Eliezer are extreme woodsmen and know how to ride their bikes down gnarly trails, ski the steeps and hike for days without complaining.
So after 3 weeks on the road here we were our last stop on this way too short, survey trip of the great hiking and biking of the west. Having never been to the west it was love at first site for me, entering Colorado from the Kansas border and coming through Colorado Springs I just couldn’t believe how massive everything was, the flatness of Kansas to the abrupt rise of the Rockies. The pictures did no justice I thought to myself, as I summitted an unknown peak in Pike National forest near Fairplay, having never been close to even 5 thousand feet, my lungs were crying at the thin oxygen but my eyes begged for more. And more I got, one place after another I was constantly amazed at the beauty of the wilderness and the kindness and similar personalities of the people I met. I felt like I had come home, no longer must I explain why I love to be outside in solitude, no more must I conquer all these feats alone. Here I had found thousands of similar folks who at the whim of notice were willing to hike, kayak, climb, ski or do anything that involved getting sweaty, dirty and pursuing the beauty of the G-d’s creations. If only I could move out here I thought the whole trip, and to this day I still do. Utah brought me the red and orange sandstone canyons where I rode some of the most amazing trails in beauty and in flow, the natural skate park that we call Moab was phenomenal and provided beauty as far as the eye can see, the sandy smooth single track of Sun Valley Idaho and the Sawtooth mountains was so smooth it could have been ridden fast without any suspension at all. The Volcanic mayhem of Crater Lake and Mt. St. Helens, and the insanity of the Canadian Rockies. Oh let us not forget the greatest mountain biking in the world of the North Shore of Vancouver, Whistler and Kamloops. Seeing the lines and drops that all the most riders do in the videos and getting to ride them albeit shakily was something one must not forget. Though my DH bike was sold for something a little more ride able, riding the dual slalom course at whistler and the smooth drops is something branded in my memory.
The allure of Montana cannot be described to a normal person who does not long for, solitude, for those nights shivering in your tent, aching and hungry from the days 25 mile trek, fearfully waiting for the choir of wolves to strike up the next chorus and holding is your pee till the morning light. Folks who do not wish to sleep on a thin piece of Styrofoam for 4 weeks on end, while eating tuna and chips every night, having to take showers in icy rivers of snowmelt and having to endure screaming at the top of your longs to make the grizzlies aware of your presence, these people cannot know the allure of the great untracked wilderness and low population density of the only state that at one point had no speed limit(its 75 pretty much every where now). For the others the obviousness is there, all the other “western states” save for Wyoming, have large population centers and border states with large ones. The bordering states of Montana have nothing but wilderness. The Dakota’s Wyoming and
Idaho, are void of large urban centers, expressways are unheard of, and most towns are merely a stop sign and a general store.
From the vast plains resembling Kansas in the east near Glasgow and the famed Fort Peck Dam, to the abrupt rise in the landscape near Whitefish and Kalispell, and to the gold and copper mining centers of Butte and Anaconda, Montana contains the most amazing diversity of land in the lower 48. The largest downside to this means that Chabbad is non-existent in this area and the closest Chabbad house is in
Boise, which was only made after my initial trip there. The preceding Shabbos to us coming to this land was spent at some very nice Lubavitchers in Calgary. Erev Shabbos was spent riding the downhill skate park course at the Pink-Bike mountain bike park.
Calgary is also home to one of the largest skate parks but there was no time for that.
The first ridge climbing through the spruce and pine brought us into a wildflower meadow, with a flowing clear blue brook cutting it in half, it was just like in the magazines and postcards only better, we were here and it was amazing. Not a hard hike just an amazing one. Meadow after meadow of flowers snowcapped ridges and clear mountain streams and lakes greeted us throughout my first hike I Montana. Besides passing some teenagers going fishing, we were alone; it was a G-d send. This hike would be followed by many more Montana Memories.
Little did I know that this one survey trip would make into a junky for wilderness, solitude and the west? Not a year goes by that I don’t find some way whether I have a week or a month to venture west, whether solo or with someone, whether as a driving tour, backpacking trip, or biking trip, I fiend for it, like it runs in my veins.