I woke up around 6am hoping to see a clear, dark sky that would be my incentive to make my way up to take pictures of huge sunrise. Instead, it was overcast. As first light came, the mountains had pulled the clouds over their heads like children (and most of the adults I know) do with blankets when they don’t want to wake up. Plan B, then. I put on enough clothes to be out in the -5° nonsense and had an ad hoc route through a lot of private property to get to Whitefish Lake in hopes of seeing Elk and crazy people.
After about twenty minutes of wading through knee-deep snow I abandoned that plan as well and started walking along the main road into town, where I could take packed snow paths to the lake. Downtown Whitfish was quiet, and the early light gave everything a blue tint. Finally though, the sun broke free and the clouds cleared away. Almost like birds, people started showing up everywhere and downtown filled with traffic. It was Saturday, and they were all headed to the opening event for the Whitefish Winter Carnival for the Penguin Plunge.
See, people were willingly going to jump into a very large hole cut in the 16” thick ice that covered the lake.Voluntarily.
So, there I was on the edge of this death-hole, watching groups of people immediately regret their decisions once their feet touched the same kind of water that killed Leonardo DiCaprio that one time. I was very relieved to see a few of the plungers later that day in warm clothes, not suffering the effects of hypothermia, as downtown swelled with spectators for the parade. For a town of only 7000, this parade was huge! I found myself looking around for places to take pictures, when little did I know I was just an Elvis wig and a pair of sunglasses away from being on one of the parade floats.
The experience was… ridiculous. But, what a perfect view of everything happening! It was a little less lip-syncing Danke Shoen and Twist and Shout to a young man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today, and a lot more hearing Viva Las Vegas on loop with an Elvis (in his heavier years) gyrating and throwing candy, I guess, but watching all the people cheering and dancing while looking up at me didn’t help subdue any kind of god complex I probably have.
The float made it past the crowds finally, and I handed back my wig and sunglasses and stepped into Great Northern Cycles, where you walk in and see an $18,000 Specialized Mclaren Venge hanging on the wall, but what really impressed me was their shelf with vintage Italian bike parts. This, mind you, is in a quaint town in Montana.
I had drooled enough in there and caught a ride up to the ski resort again. I watched just a little bit of the sunset before going inside to get my body temperature up by sitting as close as possible to a large fire, then night fell and people started to gather outside for the Torchlight Ceremony. Suddenly, from the top of a very steep slope, dozens of flares appeared and began to snake their way down the mountain. As the skiers and snowboarders, illuminated only by the orange fire in their hands and on their ski poles, made it to the bottom. Fireworks went off overhead, and I was caught between the excitement and a strong jealousy towards everyone who gets to live here.
This town, you see, is amazing. Amazing, and crazy.