Day 22: West Glacier, MT

Sunday, September 20

Earlier today (on the day of this writing) I was reading the AAA New York Car and Travel (C&T) magazine, a perk, if you could call it that, of AAA membership. It is of course not a good magazine, though it’s surprisingly not as bad as you’d think, either. Did you know Jim Perdue’s first car had a three-gear shift “on the column,” and that you’re supposed to put “on the column” in quotes?

Anyway, I read C&T because I feel an obligation to give cursory attention to all publications that enter my home before I recycle them, just in case they contain some secret life-changing information or life-changing gadget. The magazine featured, in addition to the Jim Perdue revelations, an article about an Alaskan cruise. A sneaky ad for Holland America Line, it mostly described the enticing smells of food cooking on the ship and the pleasure of nightcaps while watching sunsets. It all sounded very fancy and cozy and it made me want to take an Alaskan cruise.

It also made me realize that I don’t do a good job of making people want to be in the moment of any given moment on my trip. I haven’t been trying to do it, and I’m not going to start with this entry. But it’s maybe worth considering how I can make you wish you were here, or at least feel more like you’re with me.

These are just some thoughts for the future book.

The future book will almost certainly not include anything that happened on Sunday, September 20th. But for my own records and amusement I want to capture every day, even days where nothing of obvious entertainment value happened. It’s all valuable to me.

I will distill Sunday into three episodes.

Episode 1: Coffee, Coughy

I woke up. I felt cruddy and dehydrated, still in the throes of cough mania, regretting the previous night’s third beer for drying me out. But drinking liquid of any sort kept the cough at bay, so at the time it seemed like a good idea.

I put clothes on and looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Huh, you don’t look that sick,” which actually made me feel a little less sick. I walked downstairs to suss out the coffee station. The hotel didn’t offer breakfast, but my ample stash of granola bars would power me through the morning.

I briefly locked eyes with a man in the lobby who seemed to be looking at me for longer than people normally look at each other. “You probably wish I’d been at that wedding, don’t you,” I thought, to the tune of “You’re So Vain.”

Coffee was in the basement, in two large metal canisters. Both canisters were empty. No staff was around. A pleasant-looking woman was on the case. She had discovered a full canister in the kitchen next door. She tried to replace an empty canister with the full one, but the lid from the old canister didn’t fit, so there was no way of delivering the coffee. She looked around for the appropriate lid. I hung back and made sympathetic nonsense sounds as I followed her effort. There was another woman there and also a man. I couldn’t tell who knew each other. Together the man and the woman got the coffee to work. Someone might have said, “Teamwork!” and it might have been me.

On my way up to the room I noticed that there were pastries out for the wedding guests. I didn’t take one.

I sat back in bed with the coffee and wished I’d taken a pastry. I contemplated what to do with the day.

Episode 2: The Room

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I don’t think I can explain why this room was so wonderful. It was spare and small, a little dorm-like, a little European. It had a soothing yellow glow. It felt like interesting people had stayed there, having arrived from a long train journey, and had written novels on typewriters. It felt both insulated from and part of the landscape outside. Being in it gave me a good feeling, and I wanted to keep being in it.

Sunday was my only full day at Glacier National Park, and I’d really been looking forward to being there. The day was sunny and temperate, in the low 70s, perfect for just about anything.

I evaluated my illness level to see what I could handle: Am I too sick to go outside? Not really. Am I too sick to go on a long walk? Yes. To drive? No. To drive on a scary mountain with lots of switchbacks and drop-offs?

A major highlight of Glacier National Park is Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow, twisting, two-lane mountain road that crosses through the park, dotted with overlooks and trail entrances. It’s the road you see in the opening credits of The Shining. From where I was, I’d need to take it to get anywhere else within the park.

Googling “going-to-the-sun road deaths” actually brings up some interesting non-car-related incidents, such as the newlywed who pushed her husband off a cliff and did a very bad job pretending it was an accident and the kid who disappeared from an overlook one night. I couldn’t really find anything about traffic accidents in non-snowy conditions. But I was trying to rationalize not driving it or come up with a very convincing reason to drive it, so I kept searching. I hit the jackpot on TripAdvisor, with lots of people recommending to avoid it if you’re going from west to east, as I would be, because the majority of the drive would be on the outer edge, and often there’s no guard rail. Could I have handled it? Technically. Would I have enjoyed it? I didn’t think I would.

In my research I learned that the park offers guided tours in refurbished buses from the 1920s. I could totally handle an old-fashioned bus tour. I went to the website to make a reservation for a four-hour afternoon excursion.

It was too late. “Tours must be booked 24 hours in advance.”

So I spent the day in bed. I read. I worked. I blogged. I rested. I felt vaguely lame, but this was pretty much what I’d wanted since I’d first seen the room, and I was doing it.

Episode 3: Soup

By five o’clock I was quite hungry, having only eaten two granola bars during my bed rest. I ambled down to the tavern and requested to be seated at a table so that I wouldn’t have to explain my lack of activity to any friendly and inquisitive bartenders.

The food at Belton Chalet is top notch. One takeaway from this trip is that America is in the middle of a food renaissance. You can find at least one very good restaurant in almost every city or tourist town. Let’s keep it up, everybody.

Normally I choose salad as a first-course dish, but tonight it would be soup. My sore throat was gonna love that soup.

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The soup was perfect—mildly spicy, just zingy enough to feel like it had healing power—and my tongue and throat both loved it. I gobbled it down and moved on to the main course, pork chop with corn and flowers.

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At the table next to mine a couple in their 60s (as usual) had just received their first course. They’d both gotten the soup. After a couple of spoonfuls the woman said to her husband, “It pushes you to the edge, doesn’t it?”

The spice level was equivalent to that of mild salsa.

“I like it,” he said, “but you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.” They flagged the waiter down. The woman tried to get the waiter to agree that the soup was really very spicy, and he talked around it, saying yes, some people find it “difficult,” i.e., “It’s hardly spicy at all and you are the only person who has ever complained.” She traded it in for the salad.

In my notebook I have written, “and 15 mins later is still talking about it”

and then

“people don’t know what to talk about”

and then

“‘God Only Knows’ playing”

Hotel Art of the Day

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22-art-2A Day at the Farm
Joseph (Illegible)
Wood engraving, ~6″x5″
Belton Chalet, West Glacier, MT

Hotel Art Score

7/10. This is a less refined companion to yesterday’s piece, but it’s folksy and charming. If you blur your eyes it can sort of look like a goofy smiley face.

Art Art Score

5/10.

11 Comments

  • Chris

    Regarding spicy food: This is one of the reasons why I really want to get mom to try Indian.

    • Beth

      Because you think she’ll like it or because you want to see her overreact to how it’s not very spicy?

      • Chris

        Either or! I mean, it’s my favorite type of food and I’m convinced it’d be more popular among baby boomers if more of them tried it. Mom’s completely unwilling, which I find frustrating. I’m convinced she’ll either like it, love it, or overreact at its spiciness, which would hopefully be funny enough to mitigate my disappointment.

        • Beth

          She won’t love it. But I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t like Chicken Korma, at least (as long as she doesn’t realize there’s garlic in it). When we were in Epcot in 2006 I was really impressed that she had lunch in “Mexico.”

  • Brian

    I loved your description of the guy looking at you a bit longer than usual, with the lyrics “You probably wished I was at that wedding” sung to the tune of “You’re so vain.” And your day in 3 episodes was also very entertaining!

    • Beth

      Thanks, Dad. I really appreciate that you comment on every post (but no pressure to always do it)!

  • Emma B

    I don’t think you need to change anything about your entries to make it so that we “want to be there” more. At least for me, I already DO want to be there!

    That pork chop dish looks delicious.

    • Beth

      Thanks, Em. I still don’t feel like I’m writing about the trip as well as I could be, but that’s my own thing to deal with. It makes me happy to think you’re “there” with me! And soon enough you will be!

      The pork chop dish really was delicious, and seeing the picture of it made me want one, so I just tried to find a place that would deliver a pork chop to me right now. I found one that would—for $28—and decided not to do it.

  • MRB

    I feel I AM there with you, represented by the inevitable appearance of “a couple in their 60s” at a nearby table. I manifest in many forms, but always in sensible shoes.

    I also love what I can see of your room at this inn–I can easily fantasize that tap-tap-tapping out a novel would just be a natural consequence of inhabiting that space for any length of time.

    • Beth

      Ha! Maybe it has been you nearby all along!

  • Don

    Hi Beth. Sorry I haven’t commented in awhile. Just now binge-read and caught up. All wonderful and delightful. Makes me want to visit where you’ve been and eat what you’ve eaten.
    And I, too, always feel I must be like your dining couples in their 60s, even though I am actually MUCH younger….

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