I left Vermont on June 3rd, 2020 heading toward Seattle, Washington. A new adventure in the PNW, new places to see, new experiences to be had. Due to the current state of affairs in the US, mainly the COVID pandemic, I was making the drive alone and I quickly realized that driving across the country is quite the undertaking, so naturally I decided to drive more than I had originally planned. The result was arriving to my temporary destination, Whitefish, Montana, 24 hours earlier than expected.
Driving across the US during the COVID pandemic was a different experience to say the least. Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania were all fairly "shutdown" and not many passenger cars were on I90, plenty of truckers were out though. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota were slightly more busy, with the most traffic through Chicago, which was somewhat expected as it was the biggest city I was going to be passing through. South Dakota and Montana were seemingly unscathed at this point, things were functioning per usual as their lockdowns were effectively lifted shortly before I drove through. Signs for keeping six feet apart and wearing a mask, if you were showing symptoms, were still posted in entrances to all stores. I was able to get a pizza at a bar in Mitchell, South Dakota, which was refreshing considering I had been living off what I packed in my cooler for the prior two days. It was the first time I had gotten food at a restaurant since my vacation to Seattle and Portland in March.
In the five years since driving across the country to work at Three Rivers Ranch in 2015, I had forgotten how unbelievably flat the midwest was. Shockingly flat. So much farm land. The land is gorgeous. Plains for as far as the eye can see in all directions. With that being said, I would never live there myself. The most exciting sights were the three wind farms on I90; there should honestly be more of them. I think if we put windmills along all of I90, they could easily produce enough electricity to power a good percentage of the country.
Just off I90 to the west of Mitchell, South Dakota
The last day of travel was 16+ hours from Mitchell, South Dakota, to Whitefish, Montana, which I decided to do because I was losing my mind from the lack of person-to-person contact since leaving Vermont three days before; another side effect of driving alone.
Reaching the Flathead Valley was a relief and the valley greeted me with an incredible thunderstorm and lightning show as I entered the valley. Electrical pulses were flashing and spidering overhead, occasionally striking down to the earth with great intensity.
View from the south side of Flathead Lake
After a day of acclimating to timezones and catching up on sleep, I took the pony (Transition Patrol) up Whitefish to see how good the mountain biking was. I had heard great things about Whitefish's vast offering of trails, both flowy and technical, but I needed to experience it for myself.
The Summit Trail was the best option to go up (lifts open June 13th) and it was certainly not ready for heavy summer traffic. The lower part of the climb was only roughed in, where walking the bike was easier than trying to pedal on the recently excavated and wet dirt. Along with that, some blowdowns were scattered about and down in the trail making it interesting, and somewhat ominous, to keep trekking upward. It was a little spooky being alone on the mountain knowing that bears are always present in the summer at Whitefish and I really wasn't 100% sure where I was going. I knew I was in their territory and I was fully prepared to ditch my bike if I encountered one of our furry woodland friends. Luckily, didn't have anything surprise me this time around.
View of the Flathead Valley from the Summit Trail
Fog hanging around Chair 2
A light sprinkle of rain was rolling up and down the mountain with the upper half being consistently veiled with a layer of fog.
I made it to the top of Chair 2 and opted to go down from there. With help of some pre-ride research, Kashmir was the pick for downhill. Everything I had read said it was very flowy and smooth. Everything I read was spot on. Even with the recent rain and cold cycle in the valley, Kashmir was prime real estate for flowy riding. Hero dirt; tacky, firm, and fast. On top of that the berms were well crafted, pristine for ample speed. The only real comparison I can make to the East Coast is Kitchel at Kingdom Trails or S'mores at Perry Hill, both of which are substantially shorter and contain fewer features than Kashmir.
Summit Trail with snow and a blowdown near the top of Chair 2
One of the drop features on Kashmir
As good as it was, it wasn't "perfect". There were some surprises of spiciness. A couple of blowdowns crossing the trail on blind corners, combined with some left over greasiness of the recently melted snowpack, kept me very alert on the way down.
With another five days to spend in the Flathead Valley, one of my goals is to do the climb to the top of Whitefish and ride all of Kashmir from start to finish. I can only imagine that it is as good on the top half as it is on the bottom half.
To any of my mtb friends back East reading this; you need to get out here at least once. It's good, definitely worth it.