Small and Unique in Whitefish, Montana
I guess it would’ve been easier to just go take pictures of the huge mansion-lodges up in the hills. They’re there for everyone to see (like most public displays of wealth) and the honeyed tones in their timber construction totally accentuate the architecture and grand size. You pass by many examples on your way up Big Mountain to Whitefish Mountain Resort. As cool as they are, I ain’t Robin Leach, and this blog ain’t about opulent traveling and only the best of things.
Ducked away on side streets in and around downtown Whitefish, you can find plenty of examples of an older, more-established charm. 40’s and 50’s construction, with subtle references to the town’s turn-of-the-century construction and railroad influence, these small homes have a foot both in quirky architecture and pragmatic building for handling snow loads.
My favorite attribute, of course, was seeing a chimney stack coming out of each roof.
The Empire Builder
This train, man. I’ve been on this train for as many months as I’ve been doing this blog, and I’ve yet to tire of its views. Stretching across the northwest, it connects Seattle and Portland to Chicago, taking you through some of the most mountainous and also some of the flattest land in the US. And as you can see from the photos above, you get some stupid-good views.
Not to say this train isn’t without its hardships. The oil boom in North Dakota and eastern Montana is mainly reliant on freight trains to ship oil out of the area, and coupled with the extremely cold winter (and its effects on equipment) there have been huge delays in the train’s run time. It’s a bit of a roulette, unfortunately, as these problems only sometimes affect the train’s service.
Honestly, for me it’s hard not to ignore the irony of the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation (minus bicycling, natch) being affected by out insatiable desire for oil. I’ll leave you to your own politics there. But, I don’t want to put a sour taste in your mouth about this train, because if you start worrying about time delays with the US’s trains you really do miss the forest for the trees. The delays can actually work in your favor for sightseeing, of which these pictures are only a small, small sampling.
Once you see it for yourself, it’ll be much easier to accept those little nuisances for all of this train’s beautiful attributes. See, my first time ever taking this train was back in October, when I became one of its 530,000 passengers for 2013. Despite all the things I had already seen and done in the past 13 days, leaving Portland it was easy for me to fall in love with the beautiful, remote parts of the country the Empire Builder takes you through.
This train is in it’s 85th year of running, which is pretty bad ass, and I was treated to one of Amtrak’s fancy roomettes. From reading this blog, y’all can probably figure out that I do all this traveling on an incredibly tight budget, so I’ve always been riding in coach. Coach seats are huge and comfy on their own and super easy to sleep in, but I’m not gonna lie it was nice to be spoiled a little on this trip, mainly because I got to sleep laying all the way down. Luxury.
Pulling back into Chicago, I was reunited yet again not just with my home, my friends, and my dog, but also with the satisfied feeling of having had another amazing adventure. This is such a great addiction to feed, and I’m already planning for my next fix. It’s been fun being out alone in nature, but I’m thinking somewhere a bit more densely populated, maybe back east? What do you y’all think?
Whitefish, Montana: Day Four
Every day so far has followed kind of the same schedule. Wake up before sunrise, eat an apple, walk three miles into town, spend the next ten hours outside getting lost skiing or hiking or snow shoeing or something, find dinner somewhere, walk back to where I’m staying by 9 or 10pm, edit photos, write a blog post, answer tumblr messages and email, and then by midnight I would pass out.
And I’ve loved every minute of it.
But, by the end of day 3, my legs were pretty much dead, knotted lumps of slightly-dehydrated muscle (it’s easy to forget to drink enough water when any water you carry with you is frozen in about three hours). So, when Cricket of Whiteifsh Bike Retreat picked me up for a day of fat bike riding on local trails, I had to convince myself that enough of the cycling muscles in my legs hadn’t been used quite as hard as the walking ones.
Cricket just started the retreat last year. Nestled in the hills near Lake Beaver, this place has lodging and camping facilities, a full workshop open to folks passing by on the trails or on bike tours, and (for today’s rad purposes) a nice fleet of fat bikes to rent. Her execution is flawless, and did I mention it’s near the Great Divide? Seriously, it’s an amazing premise that I hope only becomes more common in the US.
Enough with the endorsement, though. After a brief tour around the retreat, Cricket’s boyfriend Dave took me on a loop through some packed snow roads out to Beaver Lake, where we met a guy having not so great of luck with ice fishing. Back up hill, we pulled off onto some tight single track that cut through the woods and back to the retreat. After warming up with some cider we were joined by Cailin and Brad, two Canadians who had ridden the Great Divide a few months earlier. That ride, which again goes from Canada to Mexico via off-road trails, was their first bike tour so they are pretty much the raddest couple imaginable.
We went out to a multi-use trail network called Round Meadows, where a quick downhill grade really let’s you open your legs up, which I was surprised to find I didn’t need that badly. My legs were doing just fine keeping the bike going forward, and as usual the only thing keeping me from getting really gnarly was the camera hanging from my neck. The trail took us through some logging areas filled with beautiful, stoic lodgepole pine, and between the views, the company, and the long grind back up at the end, we all had a good, sweaty time.
I finally put the camera away, and began testing out the Specialized Fatboy’s wheelie and stoppy capability. I’m really used to the kind of first generation fat bikes that, while you can still shred on them, they are definitely a much less lively ride. The fat bikes at the retreat ride like regular mountain bikes! But, everyone started to get cold and we headed back, where Brad and Cailin were nice enough to share their beer with me and us new friends made loose plans for them to take the train to Chicago. Hope y’all can make it out!
Once back in town, a logging truck passed by coming from where I had just spent the day, and as I finished up my errands and finally found a vegan refuge at the Whitefish Hostel, I’m not gonna lie I started to get a little bummed. It was my last night in town, my train left at 7:30am the next morning, and once again I had found a place I wasn’t ready to leave and couldn’t wait to come back to.
More photos, and sneak peaks, on instagram.
Thoughts and other nonsense on twitter.
That's all the planning I do.
Using Amtrak to travel around the western US, I started Railpass as a 15-day train trip to circle western America, explore new areas throughout the U.S., have surprising adventures, and document the experiences.
Taking only a few cameras, a bicycle, and a change of clothes, each stop on that route was a full day's worth of adventure. The train rides between destinations offered a chance to talk to other rail-travelers, recuperate, and (of course) blog here.
This blog started as a photo-journal of that trip, and continues to be updated with further adventures via train.
My name is Brent Knepper.
I'm a freelance photographer from Chicago, IL. My first Amtrak trip happened when I skipped class in high school and took my bmx bike with me from rural Virginia to New York. My parents have since forgiven me.