When we announced that we would be hitting the USA during winter, we were recompensed with more than just a few frowns. Most of our friends laughed.
“Do you realise how cold it gets in North America?” we heard from at least a handful of individuals. Well, yes, in theory we did. Practice however, is something entirely different!
We were rewarded for our winter travels with a -36 degree temperature as we arrived in Montana. This is without a doubt the very coldest we have ever been! 8 hours inland from Seattle and what a vastly different climate awaits you.
What an underrated, beautiful State! I can’t say enough good things about Montana. The people are wonderful, the towns are beautiful and the mountains outstanding, not to mention the incredible skiing and Glacier National Park. There is such a community atmosphere about the small towns, and tourists are welcomed and treated like gold. Chocolate tasting evenings, winter parades and freshly baked cookies are just a small idea of what to expect from these old gems.
Our intention in this winter wonderland of a State was to go and see Glacier National Park. Unfortunately for us, most of the roads are closed in winter due to avalanches, extreme snowfall and ice. We did manage to see a small section of the Park and it was truly magnificent. The day we ventured out was freezing, and even that sounds warm in its description. The temperature reached a high of -21 degrees. It is a strange thing to be standing in the full sun, but so bitterly cold on any area of your body exposed to the elements, that you get freezer burn simply standing outside. There was a moment I thought my cornea were freezing over and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a complete pansy about it! It’s hard to comprehend what you need to wear to remain outdoors for any length of time at that temperature, suffice it to say we had about 4 pairs of pants on (each!), 4 thermal tops plus jersey plus ski jacket, beanie, balaclava, at least 2 socks, winter boots and gloves. After about 5 minutes Lincoln required being wrapped in a blanket. After about 7 minutes I required being wrapped in a blanket. Lola was too busy eating snow to notice the cold and Shaun was testing the ice on the river to see if a ‘crossing’ was in order. It was decided that we ought to remain safely on land, which we did, although I managed to land on my backside twice in as many minutes just walking down the road.
On our second day in Kalispell, Montana… it snowed! Our very first, ever, really real snow. And it snowed, and it snowed, and it snowed. And we went skiing. I must be honest here and say it was not my idea. I would have been happy to sit inside watching the beautiful snowflakes fall, sipping hot chocolate and roasting my feet by the fire. But I married Shaun. It seems my spawn are a little more like their father than I expected in this regard, and I was outvoted 3 to 1. So out we went. Despite the immense cold, there is something incredible about being able to head up the slopes as a family. The kids are so adept now we are able to head straight to the chair lift and cruise up the mountain. I really can’t explain how special, and fun, this is. This is not to say we journey down without incident, there are many cold and cuddly moments with the snow, and yes, tears when it goes in their gloves and on their faces (the kids not Shauns), but it is so much fun and so much more than I expected they would want to do. Given the cold though, we only managed to ski a couple of runs before the kids and I had to head into the lodge to defrost our toes and find some high density calories to warm us up. Shaun, the ski junky, managed another 2 hours before returning all smiles, and giddy with joy.
We stayed 3 days more than we had planned in Kalispell, before packing a large portion of snow, along with our suitcases, into our SUV and heading South to Yellowstone National Park. Driving through a winter wonderland is less fun than one would imagine. Beautiful snowy roads become slippery, visibility becomes something of an intermittent treat, and stopping is something the car would prefer not to do if at all possible, not the best way to cover 600 km’s. But we did it, with much concentration, prayer, and thankfully well-behaved children in the back.
Yellowstone National Park is in much the same condition as Glacier National Park – far too snowy to drive in. So we opted for something better… snowmobiles! Just when we thought we had done almost all there is to do, what an absolutely awesome way to experience a national park! We signed up for a tour which had everyone on their own snowmobile, replete with 70 layers of clothing and a toasty warm helmet. Shaun and I had one child each, in front of us (buffering us from the wind of course), and off we set to the geysers of Yellowstone. It Was Such Awesome Fun!! We stopped to check out bison, elk and coyote, and had fantastic views of the exploding sulphur pits and geysers. In a land covered entirely by snow, it is incredible to watch steam billowing up from the ground, and pools boiling away with crystal clear water.
Being on the bikes was exhilarating and freeing, I caught myself laughing as we threw ourselves over bumps and chased down our fearless liege who thought fit to drive her snowmobile at around 60 miles per hour! Passing through open planes left us with ice-cream headaches as the cold wind that pummels you is enough to cut through balaclavas, beanies and helmets. The seats have warmers and so do the handle bars, but nothing is enough to defrost fingers in those temperatures, and all the seat warmers do is give you swamp butt when you get off them, leaving you with a soggy ass and moist pants. After driving the bikes for most of the day, I decided the handlebars were really more for cosmetic reasons, and to give you the illusion of being in control. A snowmobile is going to go where a snowmobile is going to go and you don’t have a whole lot of say in the matter! What complicates things is when your children fall asleep on the bike and you are left trying to hold their heads up whilst steering a machine that is intent on showing you who is boss. Lola and Lincoln (rather dangerously I might add) passed out from sheer exhaustion to the point where we couldn’t actually wake Lincoln up. There was prodding, calling, wobbling, but all to no avail. Eventually we had people taking pictures of me trying to wake the poor guy up, it proved comic relief for many. What was most amusing was when he fell asleep and flopped his heavy helmeted head over the handlebars, pushing the emergency button to stop the thing, causing the 2 of us to come to a very sudden halt in the middle of the road. It was awfully perplexing until I realised what he was lying on!
Needless to say, there were times we had to drive more carefully given our slumbering cargo, but other than that we had an absolute ball playing in the snow, chasing each other on bikes and generally behaving like children. I can’t rate that kind of silly, frivolous activity highly enough! It is what has kept us sane on our adventure and something we fully intend to carry on doing until we are too old to move… even when the time comes when our children hide from sheer embarrassment! Long may the fun last 🙂 Xxx