Once in a while on a long journey, a traveller comes across a real gem of a find. A sublime spot that strikes a resonant chord with the soul: an idyllic setting, a place to rest for the night, and perhaps most importantly for the roaming cyclist, a fine bakery, filling the air with anticipation and temptation.
Polebridge is such a place, and when I cycled down its dusty lane – hot, sweaty and exhausted – I was filled with the warm glow of having arrived. Greeted by the sight of the old Mercantile store, dating back to 1914 and contrasted intently against the burnt blue Montana sky, I leant up my bike, took a few steps back, and soaked it all in.
A few rusty pickups were parked up, and some young but strikingly grizzled Mountain People had converged around the one, rustic cafe, home to local artwork and an old uptight piano. Who knows from what rocks or forest they had emerged from; they might have come straight from the pages of Into the Wild.
Old wooden cabins dotted the parched earth amongst the swaying, sandy toned grasses, set to a peak-lined backdrop of Glacier National Park. Past the public phone booth (a wooden beer barrel sliced in two), I stepped through the rickety door of the settlement’s one store, to be welcomed in by ex-Detroit-based Annie. There, I was confronted by a cabinet crammed with freshly made produce, bathed in the particle-filled golden light of the afternoon. Cinnamon rolls wrapped around huckleberries, bears claws doused in icing and plump blueberry muffins all vied for my undivided attention.
Suitably satiated, I headed over to the traveller-renowned North Fork Hostel, run by cycle-tourer Oliver, where I pitched my tent in the garden.
I soon made myself at home in this most characterful of abodes, unearthing its strange and wonderful quirks – I leant the secrets of lighting its propane lamps and delighted when the old fashioned pressure dials flickered to life, like a mad scientist’s experiment, on the kitchen tap. The main building was once a dude ranch, transplanted from Glacier National Park and floated across the river.
That evening, Oliver invited me to some of the venison from the deer he’d hunted the precious winter, dished up alongside the salad he grows in his bountiful greenhouse, and washed down with a glass of wine and some great conversation.
Yes, I’d found a home away from home…