We might have not ventured all the way to “Grandmother’s House,” but we sure went “Over the River and Through the Woods” on our latest grand adventure. Yes, there were mountains. Yes, there were trails. Yes, there were UTVs, Trucks, and camp spots involved. What more could you ask for?! That was a question I was asking myself as I started to plan one of the most adventurous driving trips of my life.
Allow me to paint the picture here. Polaris invited us to their 2017 model year press launch in the great state of Montana. Yes, we could have just taken the flight up there and made a quick, 3-day trip out of it, but where is the fun in that? While that’s still fun, we wanted some more adventure mixed into the trip. In the middle of summer, Montana and the surrounding Northern states are absolutely gorgeous.
I began looking for events that took place during the month of August that could possibly coincide with the Polaris intro. Wouldn’t you know it that the UTV Invasion just happened to be taking place in St Anthony, Idaho a week and a half later. Could it be fate that this “epic trip” idea would actually work out in real life, and not just in my mind?
Some things just have a way of working out. However, I still had a few questions. One: The all-important question of, “Can my dog go?” came up. Two: Where would I go in between the Polaris event and the UTV Invasion? And, three: Would I take anyone with me on this trip for extra company? (The preliminary maps had me driving at least 3,000 miles. A co-dawg who isn’t always a dog, literally, is good to accompany you.)
Well, my first question was taken care of early. The awesome people at Polaris made special arrangements for Nala (aka my furry partner in crime) to come along for the adventure and stay in a cabin at the press intro ride site, located near Great Falls, Montana. I owe a HUGE “Thank You” to the people at Polaris for making this happen! Oh, and Nala gives her paw-print seal of approval on that arrangement, too. She had quite the awesome time sitting-in on the machine overviews and smelling all of the Montana scents — including the ranch cattle, deer, and birds.
As for the second question, this turned out to be an easy one to answer. I knew Glacier National Park was near Great Falls, and I’ve always wanted to venture up to Glacier. Now was my opportunity.
Last, but certainly not least, would Nala turn out to be my only cohort on the trip? Turns out, every moment in your life has a significance, and realizing and taking advantage of each precious moment is a gift that I hope you all take advantage of every day. I was on a Kawasaki trip to New Hampshire a few weeks prior to this trip. Unannounced to me, another journalist was joining Jon and I on the trip. “Awesome!” I thought to myself, when I learned another journalist was joining us in Boston. The industry is super small and I always enjoy seeing fellow journalists on these types of adventures.
Well, it turns out that I had never met this journalist from Canada before — her name is Jessica. She is a world traveler, accomplished business owner, all-around groovy person to be with, and has a knack for finding adventures and taking the road less traveled in life. After four days on the Kawasaki trip, I threw out the comment, “I’m going on a wacky adventure in a few weeks to Montana, want to join me?” Needless to say, I was totally floored when she took me up on the offer and booked her flight to Montana.
With all three of my questions answered, a shiny new Toyota Tacoma on loan from Toyota to drive on the adventure, and a whiz-ball idea that this was actually a good idea in the first place, Nala and I set off on our adventure to Montana, starting all the way in Southern California.
Remind me, who thought driving 15 hours on the first day was a good idea?! Oh yeah, that was me! Actually, it wasn’t bad at all. Nala and I enjoyed the empty roads, long stretches of Interstate 15, open trailer behind us, and some great tunes in the Taco. Not bad at all, actually.
You should know that I am quite adventurous when it comes to camping — I pack a tent and all the necessities, and I like to “wing it” when it comes to actually finding a spot to camp. Sometimes this goes in my favor, sometimes not. Remember, it’s all about the adventure…
After the 15 hours of driving, we pull up to St Anthony sand dunes — a slight 40 minute detour off our main path, but totally worth it. Nala and I pitch our tent for the night, crickets singing and deer doing their thing in Egin Lake. Nala and I sleep comfortably and have a short 6-hour jaunt to the Polaris intro in the morning. Again, everything is going great.
Once we arrive at the Polaris intro location, we are greeted by all of our industry friends — some of who are meeting Nala for the first time and are super surprised to see her at a press intro (she might just be the first dog to ever attend an intro, breaking the mold, way to go girl!). We proceed to spend the next two days sleeping in a cabin, riding some of the new 2017 Polaris machines, dressing up and actually going in a pool as a mermaid (See pictures for proof… and, yes, I would totally do that again! Look up the “Sip N Dip” Lounge in Great Falls; you won’t regret it…). We were only passing time doing what we journalists love to do. Yes, those were great times, but our adventure was just getting started! So, we loaded up our new demo Ranger XP 1000 on our empty trailer (Bye, 17 miles per gallon! Hello, frequent fueling flyer miles…) and said “Later!” to this place. We had some Glaciers calling our names.
Picture this; Harley Foley, another editor in the industry and one of my great writing buddies, says to me, “Hey, let’s go to Glacier together! I’ll show you around, we’ll snap some awesome photos, and we’ll sleep in the cars if we can’t find last minute hotels that accept dogs. No big deal.” Sounds like a great set of ideas to me! Not so much with the “sleeping in our cars,” especially since the Taco was more than full at this point with all the camping supplies, clothes, and everything else you can imagine, including the new Ranger on the back now. But, I was more than up for the adventure. He tells me that sunrise is awesome at Logan Pass in Glacier. “Sweet! I’m all in!” I do a few Internet searches to find out that sunrise is at about 5am and we are 3 hours away. No problem. “Nala, you ready for an early morning?” She obliges with a tail wag, we set the alarm for 1:30am, and we proceed to get a few hours of sleep.
With the wind pushing us up the interstate at a good pace, we make it to Logan Pass just in time to hike up the trail and get some Epic shots of the sunrise! So worth it if you get the chance to go, which you should absolutely, definitely do one day! We start at Logan Pass and then adventure for the next day and a half while Harlen is with me. Yes, we did sleep in our vehicles for a night after getting kicked out of the park by the Rangers — they obviously didn’t like the fact that I had a trailer and an off-road vehicle with me. After some great adventures, including some close encounters with mountain goats, deer, amazing views, crystal clear water, and the most picturesque mountains I had ever seen in my life, I knew that this trip was well worth it. And, luckily, it was just getting started…
Remember how I said that Jessica, aka Jess, surprised me and booked her flight to meet me in Glacier? Yes, this is where she comes into the story…
It was Thursday morning and Jess and I finally meet at the small Glacier International Airport. We were both extremely excited for an adventure, especially after eating our first lunch in the area and swapping stories about my previous two days of adventure with Harlen. She was excited, we both had full bellies, and, whoops, we needed to find a place to stay! Find a place we did — a nice cabin near the park that was owned by the nicest family in the world. Dogs and kids welcome — just the way we like it. Oh, and it was 10 minutes from the park, perfect!
After a good first night sleep in a bed (remember, Toyota Tacoma’s are comfortable trucks, but they definitely don’t compare to a real bed. My 6’3” frame needs some stretching room), we were ready for adventure! During Jess and I’s three days in Glacier, we managed to do all sorts of touristy and not-so-touristy things. It was the National Park System’s 100 anniversary while we were there, so we ended up finding a celebration at the visitor’s center that included some of the world’s best photographers. So awesome! We decided to go white-water rafting on a whim — great suggestion, Jess! Oh, and we were able to unhook the trailer and actually test the “off-road” package on the Taco. Boy-o-boy, that sure was fun! After an adventure to a far-out lake (named Bowman Lake for those taking notes) in the middle of the forest on dirt roads, we were able to find a hometown pie-maker, family-owned restaurant, and the best organic farm this side of the Mississippi. Did I say that you should go to Glacier, yet??
After three more days in Glacier, many hikes, and all the aforementioned adventures, it was time to work our way down to more places that I have always wanted to visit — namely Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and the National Forests sitting dead center in the middle of Idaho.
Here was a key element of the drive. Before the trip even began, I made a promise to myself that I would avoid all freeways whenever possible (that I-15 always gets in the way…), and I would eat at as many “mom-and-pop” diners as humanly possible if I couldn’t cook a meal. As I like to say, “Challenge Accepted.”
The back roads through Idaho are some of the most scenic and picturesque in the entire country. We ventured down from the beautiful area of Coeur d’Alene through the mountains and happened to stop in the beautiful town of McCall, Idaho. I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but this little town has a certain charm about it that drew me in from the instant we saw the “Welcome” sign. Watch out, McCall, Jess, Nala, and I are coming back for you, and I hope you have some snow for us to enjoy next time!
For those wondering, and I know you were just about to ask, there are some great Hot Springs near McCall. If you’re lucky like us, you might even catch “Senior Day” there. We all had a blast, especially Jess, who was lucky enough to get out of there unscathed. Seniors of the male variety have some wandering eyes, eh?
Venturing south from McCall, we hit the mountainous roads on our way to Boise. In Boise, we stopped at the Interstate Trailers facility to say hello to our good friends there. For those of you who have been reading Sand Sports Magazine, we did a year-long review on one of their trailers. It was great to catch up with the Interstate family, but it was also time to fire the Taco back up and get to the last event on our list; the UTV Invasion!
To top the trip off, the UTV Invasion takes place at one of my personal favorite riding areas in the country — the St. Anthony Sand Dunes. If you like sand and you like to ride anything with a motor and wheels, this sand heaven needs to be on your list! We showed up with our Taco and Ranger (quite an odd couple for the dunes if I’m being honest), but totally doable and a challenge I am good with accepting. We pitched the tent in our spot and were ready for the weekend. And what a weekend it turned out to be.
We rode the Ranger a lot. More than a lot! If you’re thinking to yourself, “How in the world could a Ranger be fun in the dunes?” think again. Yes, this was the all-new XP1000 version, so the power was there to tackle more dunes than ever before in a Ranger. And, to top it off, it was Jess’s first time in the dunes! So, we had to christen her in style.
With the three musketeers strapped into the Ranger — yes, Nala loves sitting in the middle with her harness on — we ventured out into the wind-blown dunes to figure out what the UTV Invasion was all about. The dunes were smooth, the Ranger tires were aired down, and the lights were not adjusted at all. Yikes! So, needless to say, Jess’s first ride in the Ranger was an adventurous one during the evening hours. Whoops! Nothing like being scared on your first ride in the dunes and being brave enough to go out again the next day and rock it — great job girl!
Ahhhh shucks, she was a trooper. By the middle of the next day, she was behind the wheel learning the ways of the sand. Our “little Ranger that could” ventured up some steep dunes, with plenty of power for the small-to-medium size stuff. St. Anthony is lacking in the small-medium size dunes, though, there is a reason why Idaho Dunes RV Parks’ motto is, “Don’t Let the Big Dunes Scare You.” We took it to heart and tried our best to break in the Ranger nicely, along with Jess’s stomach. Good thing she is a tough cookie and has ridden snowmobiles in the past on mountainous terrain. I’d say she had a great time, but we’ll have to let her tell you all one of these days. I’m sure her version of this story would be a little different. However, we did get to drive the new Maverick X3 in the dunes for a bit, and what a ride it turned out to be. That machine is like none other in the dunes, and we both enjoyed the opportunity to drive it.
At the end of our last day in St. Anthony, we enjoyed the perfect sunset ride that capped off the trip with an “I don’t want it to be over” feeling. With the flight and the long drive home looming for both of us, we headed back to our camping spot, got a great night’s sleep, and packed everything up the next morning.
The significance of this trip is two-fold. I want YOU to take a trip like this! You know the saying — Work hard, Play hard. Make it happen, and if you ever want to see where Jess, Nala, and I ventured to, don’t hesitate to reach out. The second thing I want you all to take away from this is that life is way too short to be strapped down and not excited about LIFE. There is a reason my personal saying is, “Livin’ it up.” Yes, I work hard for what I have, but I also know that taking trips like this and exploring the world allows you to make memories that aren’t possible when you’re sitting in front of the TV, or reading this article in front of your computer. Plan it, book it, and go enjoy the “Ultimate Adventure” of your life!
And, in case anyone is wondering, no, I couldn’t have asked for anything else out of this trip. Memories were made, great times were had, and I had the BEST company that I could have ever asked for on this “Ultimate Adventure”! Here’s to the next one!
P.S. We want to send a HUGE “Thank You” to Toyota and Polaris for the hospitality and trip essentials! Check out the latest Toyota Tacoma pickups at your local Toyota dealer, and you can also see your latest Polaris 2017 models on showroom floors now.