Montana – Learning to MUSH

It’s official. The first of the 12 bucket list adventures in the 12 Adventures film series, MUSH,  is complete and up there on for all to see.

How cool is that~

The thing about short films though is there’s not a lot of room to cram in all of the (many) cool moments and lessons learned or even the much needed how to’s so others can easily follow suit. That’s where these blogs come in. Here is where I can break down the where’s and how to’s.


Dog sledding/Learn to Mush


We decided on Bigfork, Montana because it was closer to home (San Diego, CA), which made it more affordable and less of a pain to get to. It also happens to be the state my beloved Pop was from and he passed away the year we tried to film this, so there’s a great sentiment attached to the location.

Things to love about Bigfork? It’s less touristy (yeah, so if you go there, you have to promise to be a good guest and not an obnoxious, demanding tourist, because they’re proud of their authenticity and want to stay small enough to keep it real).

The people are incredibly genuine and friendly, neighborly and the restaurants are chock full of fresh ingredients and picture perfect presentations and most with low to mid-range pricing.


Because there’s something magic about putting your life in the paws of 6 semi-wild dogs as they pull you along the snow driven, wintery landscape. Plus, I grew up in Seattle. We didn’t get a lot of snowy winters growing up, so that’s an added curiosity for me.


For details watch our film (well, yeah), but the gist of it is this; book it, show up in proper dress (they’ll guide you), follow instructions, then get onto or into the sled, hold on tight and prepare for the ride of your life. The adventure itself can take anywhere between 2 hours to overnight depending on how in-depth you want the experience to be.


There are a couple of different dog sledding outfits in the area and all with great reviews, but I was particularly drawn to Base Camp Bigfork.  I liked the voice of the owner (Mark Schurke) when I called. Talking to him just really put me at ease. I also really like that his dogs were unique to me. They weren’t the typical huskies one would associate with dog sledding.  They’re called Inuit and were near extinction in the 70’s, so he got points for helping to ensure their survival. the more we talked, the more I knew this was where I wanted to go. I also liked the fact that his outfit was year round. Not just dogs, but all kinds of outdoor adventures. Plus, he has one of the few outfits that lets you actually stand at the helm. Most only let you ride along in the sled while they mush. I assume for the risk of all that could go wrong and that’s cool, but my bucket list wish dream was to drive a team of sled dogs, not go for a ride in a sled, so Base Camp Bigork, it is~


Everyone has their obstacles.  For me, after 40-something cycles of chemo over the last few years, my body is in less than ideal shape. I’m overweight, got a gut hernia and my joints ache (which make bending a problem) and I have really limited flexibility all around (especially in my neck). My brain doesn’t learn new things very well either, which can be dangerous when attempting adventures where you need to remember when to pull a cord or to hold onto a safety bar, etc. Y’know, that kind of thing.

After several years of on again, off again treatment and a pretty big loss of income I’m also well, broke-ish.  I can afford to live simply as I chip away at the pile of debt incurred, but pocket rich holidays are a thing of the past for the foreseeable future (never give up, never surrender).  These adventures need to come in at under 3K per year in order to keep my head above water and most people are in the same boat I’ve found, so I’m all the happier to be able to shed light on deals I’ve found, making these once in a lifetime experiences actually do-able in the here and now.


What surprised me the most about this adventure was that getting there was the most expensive part. I’m still baffled by this, but winter is considered their low season for tourism in Bigfork, so prices are way below market, e.g. hotel rooms for under $100/night and a solid 3 hour Mushing experience for less than $200 per person. They’re hopping busy in the summers because of their gorgeous lake and the activities that go with it, but it’s yet to catch on that this place is a winter wonderland on par with the likes (cooler/better than, I’d say) Whistler BC or Whitefish, MT.  Excellent restaurants, art n culture, excursions and they even have their own distillery.

The whole trip can easily be done for under a grande (depending on where you’re traveling from) and the season is from November to Mid March (depending on the weather).


There are two airports near Bigfork. Glacier International [FCA] in Kalispell (not to be confused with Kalispell city airport) is the closest and the next is Missoula International Airport [MSO] is just under 2 hours south.  Both have rental cars onsite and you’ll need one to get around unless you plan to just cab it there and stay put. If you do rent a car, trust me, go for the all wheel drive SUV. The last thing you want is to get stuck in the snow or spinning your wheels on that terrain. This is a once in a lifetime, let’s do it right.


Trip Advisor will tell you, there are lots of charming places to stay, but I’d been eyeing this one place in particular for a couple years prior, ever since my sister and I thought up the idea of a road trip back to our Pop’s home town of Havre, MT. We have a semi-annual tradition of jumping in a lake and Bigfork has a great, big one, so it’s been on my radar.  There are several good options in the area. Marina Cay Resort was the place we chose to stay and it didn’t disappoint.  It sits right on the lake, practically guarantees a wild deer encounter, has a laid back bar and restaurant with an inventive menu and is owned/staffed by some of the most down to earth, coolest people you’ll ever meet. And their rates are great. I’m still shaking my head over how reasonable it all was (in the end they opted to become sponsors (they so rock) of the film, but we’d chosen Marina Cay long before and can’t wait to go back).


Okay, I know this isn’t dining per-say, but in town near the grocers they have a Dairy Queen and I haven’t been to one since I was young, so a double dipped soft cone just had to happen. For finer dining, there are so many really good restaurants to choose from though. Here’s where I ate and all of ’em were stellar:

Marina Cay Resort | Raven Pub | Grill 459 | When in Rome | Saketome Sushi

From start to finish this was an amazing adventure. Not just the mushing, but the people I met were just plain beautiful inside and out. I fell in love with the country…


If you haven’t yet, go watch the film (click on your area amazon link below), then start planning it today. It’s never too early to plan for it. And when you book your dog sledding adventure with Base Camp Bigfork and your stay at Marina Cay, be sure to tell ’em Ali from 12 Adventures says hi and, (sniff) and I hope to see ’em one day again soon~ |  |