Written by Backroads Guest and 17-year-old high school senior, Mackensie Freeman.
I saw a moose. It was the best day of my life.
Where did I see the moose, you may ask? At Glacier National Park during my 10-mile hike to Iceberg Lake (yes, there are actual icebergs). A 10-mile hike seems pretty hard, right? Well, it was hard. At least the first 5 miles were; that was a 1,200-foot gain (a loss if you consider the fact I complained the whole time).
We were on a Backroads Family trip. Backroads is an active tour company that takes you on trips, not vacations (note the difference: on vacations, you relax, and on trips, you're active). They offer many different types of trips (multisport, biking and walking/hiking), and for all ages: families with younger kids, families with teens and younger siblings, families with older teens and 20-somethings and classic (adults).
Each of the trips has two or three leaders, who are the coolest people you will ever meet. Besides being spunky, they are incredibly caring and willing to do anything, without ever complaining.
All of the trips are rated levels 1 through 5, 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest. I've mostly gone on 1-3, but this past summer in Glacier was a 1-4, which I didn't find out until I was pedaling up a mountain. (OK. I walked my bike for a lot of it with my mom. OK. I got in the van three-fourths of the way up. Leave me alone, it was hot! And I saw a bear. OK. It was a cow.)
Let me state something: I don't camp. Even when we are spending the day getting hot and sweaty on these trips, we still end up at an inn or hotel--with a shower--each night. I am proud to say that I have never slept outside in my life. In fact, I'm not even an outdoorsy person, which is pretty funny because I've gone on four Backroads trips and next summer will be my fifth, in either Alaska or the San Juan Islands. Yet, I'm looking forward to it.
With Backroads, we've been to Maine, Yellowstone and the Tetons, Québec, and Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks. We've gone white-water rafting, kayaking and whale watching, we've made chocolate at a chocolate factory, done the polar plunge, and of course we've gone hiking and biking. Usually, I prefer the biking over the hiking because you cover more distance in the same amount of time, and therefore, get to see more. I loved the fact that we were passing by houses and some families were outside, enjoying the beautiful weather, because I had the opportunity to shout "Bonjour!" to people. And that was where the conversations began and ended, because I take Spanish.
Two summers ago, while on a hike in Yellowstone, we almost saw a moose. But then my sister had a tantrum and we had to turn around, so everyone ELSE saw the moose. Ever since, my parents have been dying to see a moose. And personally, that's why I think my parents have chosen to go to Alaska next summer: just so they can see a moose. Fortunately I saw one in Glacier because I was ahead of them on the hike.
Another great thing about Backroads is the food. In fact, some people even nickname the company "Snackroads." Each day, you make a snack bag full of M&Ms, peanuts, raisins, nuts and local treats. Each of the vans has a basket of granola bars and fruit in them. So basically, there is free food, constantly.
Another great part about the food? You don't have to worry about eating poisonous wild potato seeds like Chris McCandless in Into the Wild. (I really hope Mr. May-Beaver and Mr. Nichols are reading this.)
Since you're traveling over a vast amount of land in a short amount of time, usually six days and five nights, you constantly change hotels. I live out of my suitcase. I never unpack. And every time we need to change hotels, we need to have our bags outside our doors at a certain time and they have people who come and put them in the van trailer for us. It's so easy.
Of course, it's quite embarrassing having to live out of my suitcase because my mom tends to overpack. So this past summer in Glacier, while everyone else had a few, smaller suitcases, my family had four huge suitcases, all covered in neon duct tape (it really helps in airports!).
Since we live in Atlanta, where the summers are brutally hot, my family usually tries to go to a cooler place for our Backroads trips. So a good number of the hotels we stay at are ski lodges during the winter months, and therefore only have heat and no air conditioning, because it tends to cool down at night.
Of course, I didn't realize this. So when we were in Yellowstone and got to the hotel after a long day of activities, I was thrilled to see an air conditioning on/off button and timer. Immediately, I turned it on high and showered and went out to dinner. When we got back a few hours later, the room was SO HOT. Apparently, I had turned the heat on high, not the air conditioning. Needless to say, my sister, who I was sharing a room with, was not happy with me.
Oh yeah, I should probably tell you about the moose: IT WAS SO COOL. It was a male, and had those huge, awesome antlers. It was about 30 feet away from me, just standing there, eating something off the bushes. Then, after about three to four minutes, it went back into the bushes. And just like that it was gone. I still miss it.
I won't have to wait 11 months to go on another hiking trip, though. In 9 months, I will embark on a week-long journey that all juniors dread: JOE. I don't know how I am going to survive it. It's nothing like Backroads. You actually have to carry your own bags and sleep outside. But hey, maybe this will be the year they upgrade us to hotels.