Bear in Mind

Late May/Early June

We spend three nights in Port Angeles with a couple named Dean and Michele, who make us feel welcome. She has gone deaf over the last 10 years, resulting from, they (and the doctors) believe, a case of the mumps twice – first as a small child, then again as a middle aged woman. She has recently acquired a hearing dog, a two-year old lab. Their 19 year-old cat is not happy. 

They are Democrats and atheists, both unusual in this part of the state.

Driving along Highway 20 East in Washington we pass a sign: May your life be as perfect as it appears to be in the Book of Faces. 

The scenery along Highway 20 between is spectacular. The Cascade divide between east and west becomes obvious almost immediately, with alpine forest giving way to high desert.

Campgrounds along Highway 20 in Washington: 

— Grandy Lake Campground, just before the town of Concrete. Lovely. There is only one other site taken out of about ten. Ours is large with a flat spot for the tent, with a picnic table and fire ring. Porta-potty toilets. $12/night. Very few mosquitoes and the birds sing all evening.

— The “Stampede Grounds” in the town of Omak. $20/night. Fairly popular place, very open campsites with no privacy, a few trees and each site has a picnic table and water. Flush toilets on site, with pay showers. We speak to a few couples in passing, each from British Columbia.

— Little Twin Lakes campground, outside Colville. USFS, free. The mosquitoes are demonic, making a possible second night’s stay out of the question. We hang our food from a tree after dinner, as all the signs warn us this is “bear country.”

Passing through the tiny town of Troy, Montana we stop for gas ($2.83 at the Exxon) and coffee at Main Street Perk, where there are antiques throughout and we meet a young German couple driving in a camper van from Canada. Then we ride Highway 37 around Lake Kookanusa, a very scenic road, to Rexford Bench Campground, USFS. The sites are spacious and treed, many quite private, each with a picnic table and fire ring. Trash and fresh water close by and extremely nice, well-equipped bathrooms. $12/night. Great hiking trails from different locations within the campground. We spend two nights.

Finished reading Grandma Gatewood’s Walk this morning. Terrific story. 

We enter Glacier National Park from the west entrance and head straight for Fish Creek Campground in order to get a site before it fills up, believing it to be the only campground with showers (4 days and counting) and having been told it reached capacity yesterday. As we ride down the road to the campground we see a beautiful female black bear. Small and deep brown in color, she sees us and stops, then bounds back to the edge of the woods where we catch a glimpse of a little cub racing up a tree. We stay still, a fair distance away but, not taking any chances, pointing in the right direction to make a quick getaway if necessary. Momentarily she ambles out on to the road with her wee one behind her. They cross the road and scramble up the other side, disappearing quickly and completely into the trees. What a sight! My heart sings.

We set up camp at Apgar Campground ($20/night, picnic table and fire ring, close to flush toilets, fresh water, trash and bear-proof food storage boxes) because we’re told they too have showers and allow for more than one night’s stay at a time. We’re expecting to stay two nights. We get in a couple of short hikes near Lake McDonald before eating a dinner of ramen noodles, the only thing we can afford at the mercenary concessionaire’s general store. It starts raining shortly after we climb in the tent and continues all night long. In the morning I stay in the tent until my bladder is so full I can’t stand it any longer, then make a dash for the bathroom. We have coffee at the restaurant then check the forecast at the Visitor Center: rain for the next three days. The tent leaked in the night so we know that, with no chance to dry it out, we’ll be wet and miserable if we camp a second night. Disappointed but seeing no alternative, we pack up and head south. 

We ride for hours trying to find an affordable motel room. We stop at several, I go in and ask how much while Mark waits on the bike, but they are all too expensive. Riding along Highway 83 we see the words Bed Inn Breakfast in big black letters on a rock in front of a row of trees. We ride down the long curvy driveway and find a collection of several large dwellings, a barn and outbuildings. It’s a cute place, with lots of flowers, a pond, rusted antiques around, birds and ground squirrels running about the place, but no sign of anyone there. Again I get off the bike and while Mark waits, I walk around the place, knock on doors, even go inside one of the buildings where the door is unlocked, calling out “Hello!” several times. I’d like to find someone to ask about staying here as it seems to have character and charm, especially compared to the other run of the mill places we’ve passed, and it’s cold, still raining and getting late. But we can’t wait around for someone to come back, and what if they aren’t currently taking guests? But then why the sign out on the highway? I tell Mark I’m in favor of just going inside and sleeping in one of the rooms and if nobody turns up (if they went away and forgot to lock the door for instance), just leaving $50 with a note when we leave tomorrow, explaining. Mark doesn’t like the idea, claiming it makes him “highly uncomfortable.” Pansy. Begrudgingly I get back on the bike and we ride on.

An hour later we still haven’t found anything. Despite wearing five layers of clothing, I’m wet from the waist down and numb from cold, my teeth beginning to chatter. My gloves are leaking and I’ve recently discovered a slug inside my helmet. The slashing rain has all but made invisible the trees and hills surrounding us. I remind myself of how hot it was riding around India with all my gear on. I try to imagine warmth. I remind myself that I’ve been through far worse than this, both physically and mentally, that this is nothing. Nothing. Yet I can hear my heartbeat over the noise of the road, my jagged breaths steam up my visor, my thoughts plummet and darken. Tell yourself something good. I close my eyes. And I think of those bears.

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