Montana: The Last Best Place

For anyone visiting, it certainly seems that way. I had the great fortune of spending an entire summer in Whitefish, a resort town in the northwestern part of the state. When I stepped off of the plane in Kalispell (14 miles from Whitefish), it was at first hard to believe that I was 2,400 miles from home, as I had never flown before. However, one look at the mountains told me that I definitely wasn’t in Pennsylvania anymore. The rock giants towered 7,000 to 8,000 feet or more above sea level, considerably higher than the 1,500-foot tall mountains in PA. They were breathtaking. There I was, so far from home and those I love, in a state I’d never even imagined I’d make it to, about to live on my own.

Now what was someone like me doing in a place like Montana? Just outside of town, on the shores of Whitefish Lake, a beautiful resort and spa (The Lodge at Whitefish Lake) calls to tourists from all over the country. (John Mills, the former president of PSC, spent some time fly-fishing there in the past, or so I heard.) The place has a marina, rustic lodging, a full-service restaurant, poolside tiki bar, and so much more. The restaurant would be my second home for the summer, as I was the assistant to the executive pastry chef. Two days a week I worked in the kitchen during the day to prep desserts, and on weekend nights I worked on the line plating and serving desserts and salads.

My training started, and as it went I learned many things about working in a restaurant and on a line. Serving 300-400 plus people a night means you are scrambling to keep pace, keep the station clean, and keep your wits about you. Sometimes there is no chance to take a break, and you have to work hard all night long just to stay on track. It is not a job for the faint at heart. However, the frantic pace makes the time go faster and it can be rather fun. As the guys I worked with warmed up to me, we started working together smoothly, and having fun. The hardest part was earning their respect, but once I had it I knew I could count on them. Though the hours were long and the work challenging, it was a good job, and when I wasn’t working I could explore the beauty of Montana.

Lakes, mountains, trees, flowers, and Big Sky. Hiking, biking, boating, walking, and just looking at the beauty all around. I spent my free time alternating among those activities, mostly on my bike, as I didn’t have access to a car. Exploring the little nooks and crannies of the town was so cool. I got to see things that most tourists don’t see when they just drive through, on their way to Big Mountain. Many locals spend a good bit of their time outdoors, running with their dogs or pushing kids in strollers, biking on the path through and around town, walking to the library, or just enjoying the amazing view of the mountain. Every Tuesday, local farmers and artisans get together in a park to hawk their wares at the farmer’s market, which I visited several times. I made friends that took me on adventures I could never have done alone. One day toward the end of my summer, I got to hike up a mountain that was 7,528 feet above sea level, the highest spot I’ve ever been on land. The view? Unbelievable. Stunning. Awe-inspiring.

Those words also apply to Glacier National Park. Logan Pass, which is on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, is a great spot to stop and soak up the view of the surrounding mountains. The Highline Trail is relatively flat and easy walking, yet has some of the best vistas I could ever have imagined. I found out that mountain goats are funny looking, have very long beards, and spend time on crazy-steep mountainsides. Wildfires devastated large sections of the park this year and in years past, but those spots did not diminish the area at all. They had their own beauty, which I fully appreciated. When leaving the park, be sure to stop at The Huckleberry Patch for a delicious huckleberry milkshake. Actually, eat huckleberries any way – they are amazing.

Montana is known as The Last Best Place. I know it stole my heart.

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