The best vacation ever

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

For the first time in what feels like years — and probably is years — I came to work on Monday feeling relaxed and rested. Optimistic. Enthusiastic, even. This is not my normal state; or, at least hasn’t been since sometime in late 2019 and definitely not since spring 2020. You see, I took a vacation.

I’ve gone places since 2019, of course, but they’ve been obligated by family or holiday events. We all know those are never vacations; they’re “trips,” after which you need a vacation more than ever. 

This time, my wife, two kids and I got away to a place where we swam in an indoor pool and luxuriated in a jacuzzi, sipping drinks and reading books in deck chairs. We sampled exotic local cuisine, hiked through unfamiliar countryside to take in its natural beauty and even won enough at the casino to (almost) pay for the whole trip. We topped off this adventure with some shopping for delicacies that are hard to find — or even afford — locally, and returned home feeling refreshed and happy.

I guess that’s the social media version of what we did. The reality is that we drove an hour and a half to Libby, Mont., to stay less than 24 hours at the Venture Motor Inn — billed as the home of “Libby’s only indoor pool and hot tub.” The scenic hike was a 0.8-mile walk from a parking lot on the side of Highway 2 through the snow to look at Kootenai Falls, which really is worth seeing if you haven’t. 

The “exotic local cuisine” was breaded chicken gizzards dipped in ranch dressing at the Sidewinder Restaurant and Lounge — next door to the Venture Motor Inn — where we also won a little under $400 at the “casino,” which was really just a few banks of video slots behind a half wall to keep out the under-18 crowd.

Our shopping excursion was to the Grocery Outlet in Bonners Ferry, where we realized just how much we’ve been spending on just about anything anywhere else. No joke: We found jars of Vlasic pickles for 97 cents, clarified duck fat for about $3, ghee butter for under $5, a 12-pack of Nori seaweed snacks for $6 and Wagyu ground beef for $4 a pound. The wine selection alone would have been worth the trip, with bottles that would retail for $25 to $50 anywhere in Sandpoint selling for between $9 and $18.

When we checked out, the cashier told us that we’d saved almost as much as we’d spent, and we’d spent enough to meet our whole week’s grocery needs.

It’s embarrassing to say how overjoyed we were walking the aisles, marveling at how little we were paying for milk, eggs, bread and cheese — so much so that my 7-year-old daughter kept saying we should move to Bonners. Needless to say, I shushed her — the last thing anybody wants in any community around here is more people moving there to exploit its lower cost of living.

So I’m not exaggerating when I say this was the best vacation my family has undertaken, maybe ever, which is both funny and sad. How mundane have our lives become when hot-tubbing and eating chicken gizzards in Libby ends up being the highlight of the past 30 months? How stressed and strapped and hemmed in by unrelenting social, political and economic grimness have we been that we felt joy and relief that we could buy groceries without constantly comparing price-to-weight ratios?

I’m aware that I shouldn’t feel this good after a mere 24 hours in the Mountain Time Zone. I’m grateful that I do, but it serves as a wakeup call that we really need to get out more often.

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