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Overcoming Obstacles to Enjoy the View

Like a prehistoric behemoth reaching mud-stained claws to snatch errant hikers and shove them into its gaping maw, the uprooted tree made a menacing obstacle.

Who knew when it had toppled? Its exposed roots jutted toward the branch-strewn trail, and drying mud made the ground soft beneath our feet.

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“I think we can get around it, just watch your step,” my husband said.

Edging forward, I said, “I’m sure glad I took that selfie before we started this hike.”

Derek paused and dropped the branch he’d been holding out of my way.

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“You took a selfie? But I took a photo of you next to the sign at the trailhead.”

He’d told me to smile, but feeling contrary and eager to start the hike, I’d squinched my eyes shut and bared my teeth at him.

I shuddered.

“Just think if we don’t make it out, that would have been the last photo our kids would have of their mom!”

I was teasing. Mostly. Our situation wasn’t dire, just a bit more challenging than we’d anticipated.

After 24 hours of luxuriating in the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs and eating sumptuous food at the resort’s restaurant, Harwood House, we were ready to burn some calories and take in some Montana scenery that didn’t involve questionable choices in swimwear.

The sprawling Lolo National Forest offers plenty of hiking opportunities, including Iron Mountain Trail No. 242, just a few miles from Quinn’s.

It’s deemed a moderate trail, and we’re moderate hikers. The initial grade proved a bit steep, and there wasn’t much of a view at first – just lots of greenery and pretty wildflowers neither of us could identify.

“Uh oh!” Derek muttered.

We’d turned a bend and found the trail littered with rocks. Carefully, we picked our way across the shifting stones.

Little rocks are more treacherous to footing than giant boulders. No one wants a romantic getaway to end with a sprained ankle or a trip to the emergency room.

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Some enterprising individual had taken creative license with nature and stacked a small cairn near the overlook.

Onward and upward we pressed, and now the fallen tree and its detritus offered another possible roadblock.

“We could go back,” I said, doubtfully.

Derek surveyed the carnage.

“Nah, let’s at least try to get to the first viewpoint.”

So I carefully picked a path and he followed.

Minutes later, we reached the viewpoint and gazed down at the churning brownish waters of the Clark Fork River. Surrounded by mountains and pines, we wondered how our intrepid forebears had traversed the “road” with loaded wagons drawn by teams of horses or mules, hauling silver ore from the mine to the river far below.

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Iron Mountain Road was in use until 1910, and must have originally been much wider than the trail we’d just traversed.

We could hear the distant hum of traffic on the highway hidden somewhere below us as we watched the river, swollen by recent rains, rolling in the distance. Pine branches danced in the slight breeze. A hawk wheeled silently in the sky above.

It felt good to take a break from watching our feet and watch Mother Nature instead.

The hike reminded me that it’s not always big obstacles that cause the most harm. Sometimes it’s the pesky little annoyances that trip me up and rob me of my equilibrium.

Because I work in a deadline-driven industry, I’m often guilty of keeping my head down, eyes on the project in front of me, only occasionally peering up to see what new task is around the bend.

That’s why it’s so important to sometimes simply stop. To rest. To take a deep breath, look up and enjoy the marvelous view.

 

Columns

Montana, Milestones and Wascally Wabbits

When several Facebook friends posted about their fabulous experiences at Quinn’s Hot Springs in Montana, I knew I’d found the destination for our anniversary getaway. Especially since a hot springs visit meant I could actually wear the swimsuit I’d purchased last year to wear on Hawaiian beaches. The suit that arrived shortly after our plane took off for Oahu.

I booked the “Cabin Fever” special for two nights, and on March 21, our 31st anniversary, we hit the road. Less than three hours later we were greeted by a friendly front desk clerk.

Our room keys were attached to tiny flashlights.

“Press once to turn on the flashlight,” the clerk explained. “Press twice to scare away any bears. Press three times to attract a bear. Nobody’s survived pressing it four times.”

You have to love a Montana welcome – and Montana scenery. The resort, located on the Clark Fork River in the Lolo National Forest, is tucked in a hollow and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

We briefly explored the grounds, checked out the hot springs temps (106 degrees in the warmest pool!) and headed to the historic Harwood House for dinner.

Built in 1948, the log restaurant features the original fireplace and offers a menu comparable to any big city fine dining establishment.

After we let our prime rib dinner settle, we donned our suits and robes and headed out for a late-night soak.

It took a certain amount of bravery to take off my robe when the outside temperature hovered at 50 degrees and a light misty rain was falling, but by golly, I had my Miracle Suit on, so off went the robe and in went Cindy.

The glorious heat of 100-degree mineral waters quickly quelled my shivers. Though there are six pools for soaking and swimming, we braved only the three warmest pools that first night. The faint smell of sulfur proved a small price to pay for the delicious luxury of sinking chilled shoulders into warm water that left our skin feeling silky soft.

The steam from the pools wafted upward into the moonlit sky, adding an otherworldly air to our scenic vista.

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, we hiked along the banks of the Clark Fork. So far we hadn’t seen any wildlife other than the elk head in the dining room and the moose head in the lodge.

A flicker of movement caught Derek’s eye.

“Look!” he said. “It’s Peter Cottontail!”

Indeed, just a few yards away, a rabbit sat munching on something he’d found in the tall grass.

“Oh, he’s so cute!” I exclaimed. “I want to pet him! Can we keep him?”

“If you can catch him, you can keep him,” Derek said.

Now, regular readers know my husband has issued an edict that we are a two-cat household. No matter how many sons move out, I’ve been forbidden to continue replacing them with kittens. It’s the price I pay to stay married to a pretty great guy, but with son No. 3 exiting the nest at the end of the month, my nurturing instincts are in overdrive.

So, imagine my joy – my exultation, when I was this close to getting a pet bunny. THIS CLOSE!

Unfortunately, my rabbit-stalking skills leave much to be desired.

I figured a direct approach was out, so I carefully inched sideways across the grass, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

“Um. What are you doing?” Derek asked.

“Shh! I’m catching a rabbit,” I hissed.

But his question distracted me, causing me to look up and meet the wary black eyes of my prey. In a flash, he bounded off.

“You did that on purpose!” I said.

Shoulders shaking with laughter, Derek said, “I have never, ever seen anyone hunt a rabbit like that!”

My annoyance dissipated a short while later, as I sipped a fizzy, fruity drink while lounging in the pool. It wasn’t a mai tai, but when the sun came out, I closed my eyes and soaked in the rays and the mineral water and didn’t miss Hawaii a bit.

Then Derek decided to visit the polar plunge pool.

Lots of bad ideas begin with the words, “Hold my beer,” but I didn’t try to dissuade him. Gamely, he swung his legs over the edge and into the 55-degree water of the cold pool, lowering his body into the chill.

Boy! I haven’t seen my husband move that quickly in a long time. He was back in the soaking pool before I had time to sample his beverage.

“I think my heart just stopped!” he said.

Later, on our way to dinner, we decided to visit the casino inside Quinn’s Tavern. Apparently, in Montana a few gaming machines make a casino.

We’re not much for gambling, but Derek recently took a trip to Laughlin, Nevada, with a buddy and wanted to show me his newfound knowledge.

I picked a slot machine and slid in $2, while he explained about lines and bets and a lot of other stuff I didn’t pay attention to. When our $2 had more than doubled, I was ready to take our $8 winnings and head to the restaurant.

“No,” he said. “We gotta keep playing. This machine is hot!”

I let him take over pushing the buttons and watched the $8 dwindle down to $1, and then the tide began to turn. In ten minutes, with our winnings at $101.52, we decided to take the money and run.

The next morning, flush with victory and hot springs water, we returned to Spokane.

Our sons were eager to hear about our adventures and wanted to know what we meant by “sulfur smell.”

“It smells like the fart bombs Santa used to put in your Christmas stockings,” Derek explained. “Next time you guys should come with us!”

They smiled and quickly left the room.

It’s a pity, because I feel like with their help, next time I could actually catch a bunny.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval