This blog follows the journey of Sarah and Greg as they made their film. To see a trailer, read more, learn about the progress of the film or share your story visit AMERICANBEARFILM.COM

60 days. 25 States. 5 Bears.

Sarah and Greg are setting out on an adventure exploring American trust and fear through hospitality. Armed with their charm, courage, and a camera, they will rely on the kindness of strangers for a home each night, and if they're lucky, a few meals along the way.

The story began in summer 2009 when Greg exclaimed in his sleep, "We have to go to Bear, Colorado!" Unfortunately, no Bear actually exists in Colorado. However, there are five Bears in America, fortuitously located in a perfect a 'U' around the continental U.S. - in Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, and Delaware. Following the trail of the Bears, Sarah and Greg will travel through 25 states of all different cultures, demographics, populations, and Americans.

Through conversations with locals, we will explore our themes on a personal level and embrace the stories that turn strangers into neighbors. Our discussions with scholars and professionals will dig into the philosophy and nature of a core aspect of what makes us human. We will understand why (or if) we let people into our hearts and our homes.

Check us out at:


Days 19 and 20: Hungry Horse, Montana and Bonners Ferry, Idaho

We left Kay's house early to find some internet access at a restaurant. But no one in town had wireless - the Perkins in town center was attached to a hotel that had wireless, so after trying from our table we ended up crouched at the end of the stairs in the back portion of the hotel, writing emails and working.

We made our way to Hungry Horse through Glacier National Park. I grew up around mountains, but these mountains were bigger and greener and covered in snow - a sight to see. The air changed quickly - I noticed it first when we pulled into a little diner for my first slice of huckleberry pie. It was crisp and flowery.

We were officially in huckleberry country - every where we stopped from that point on had something made from huckleberries and even now (we are in Northern Idaho) huckleberries are an option with every sweet thing. We even had them on our waffles for breakfast this morning. But I am getting ahead of myself.

After our first piece of huckleberry pie ever, Greg and I decided a hike was necessary. We have been confined to the car for so long - eating junk food and exercising only when we walk from place to place to meet new people - that my body was in shock for the first leg of our trek.

But once my lungs got used to it and I regained feeling in my feet and legs, it felt amazing. The air smelled great and we noticed bear poop every hundred yards or so along the trail.

The trail ended at an big teal lake. Nestled safely between a couple of the largest mountains I have ever seen - snow decorating the fringes of the tallest one - big pine trees sweet from the rain that we'd just missed- was this little cool clean lake. And it was my favorite color.


Hungry Horse, in the order we toured it, was a strange town. Our first stop was a late lunch, early diner at the Elkhorn Grill where I tried an Elk burger for the first time. I told Greg it was somewhere between lamb and hamburger, but more towards the burger side. I also had my (so far) best piece of pie - a too tart raspberry and rhubarb with home made crust -- rating: 8.

Our second stop was the local bar - recommended by both the firework stand operators and our waitress. They said it was colorful, and I imagined a lot of strange people - but mostly it was a lot of drunk people. A couple less drunk people and a couple very drunk people. And they were all still colorful.

We interviewed a few people, asked them for suggestions - no one knew where we could stay and a few even refused to be on camera (understandably, really). At this point it was almost 10pm - and we were starting to get worried.

Eventually we went into a big huckleberry shop - where everything was purple and huckleberry flavored. We spoke to one of the girls behind the counter, when the manager, Lori got a little worried. She spoke with us, making sure we werent asking questions about huckleberries - and then let us tell her all about the project. When we finished she picked up her cell phone, with in minutes we had a place to stay - Amanda, her daughter put us up in their old cabin, and while I wrapped a wedding present for her friend, she did an interview with Greg.

This made us really learn to keep on pushing. Sometimes, when it starts to get dark and we've talked to a lot of people it becomes very discouraging. We sort of want to throw our hands up and drive to the nearest camp ground. And that's sort of what it felt like staying with Kay - not that she wasnt kind or helpful - but we sort of gave up too early - because we were discouraged. But if we can just brave through that we can usually find someone amazing.

And Amanda was great. She had the most wonderful and beautifuly articulated things to say about why we need to help people. She was close to our age, we'd guess. And she wore a hoody and her hair back. But she sounded like she was giving a speech at a graduation - a really good speech about something Greg and I both believe in very much.


We left the cabin to drive to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Stopping only once at a hiking trail and water fall for a quick walk and glance at the river. On our way out we met some strangers who offered to let us stay in their six room tree house. The idea was exciting, but we didn't end up with them - they never called but we also decided it was just a little too easy, and not the right town at all. After much discussion, we decided Bonner's Ferry was where we needed to be.

Again, our first stop was food - At the Panhandle Cafe. Our waitress, Julie, was the funniest, most enthusiastic woman we'd met in a long time. She was super friendly and smilely and very real - every ounce of her hospitality was natural and comfortable - when we sat down she said "It's packed in here - so, I am not gonna lie, you probably wont be getting the best service." Then she laughed a big full laugh and took our orders. Later, when we were eating we heard to tell the table behind us, "Well its not as crazy anymore, so if things stay this way you should get some reasonable good service."

We decided we had to talk to her (maybe stay with her) - but with the craziness of the restaurant and her being the only waitress - we asked her when we should come back and headed towards the town. Our first stop was the Safeway parking lot. We talked to a few people - no takers. Someone recommended the sheriffs office. No help there, not an ounce of hospitality or advice - but then we pushed a little and we were told to try a church. For the first time on our trip we decided that trying a church might be fun, but maybe we should interview some more people at safeway.

It was there that we ran into Judy and Verle Smith, who told us all about the chips the government had placed in Judy's body - many in her brain and arms - to cause her tons of different pains. Verle took responsibility, he spent some time in jail and now this for his work on bullet specs. Judy was wearing what Verle told us as $3000 worth of magnets. She said they helped the pain. Verle told us about the Farraday room he'd set up in their house for Judy - how it no longer worked. We were all set to stay with them and investigate further when two things happened 1- they told us about the government men who followed anyone who visit them home and 2- they told us about the electronic cloud that covered their house making it impossible for any technology to work, and even short-circuiting many cell phones, cameras etc.

So we headed for the church. But on our way we ended up at the Fairgrounds - it was the fourth of July after all and we had been told to go there over and over. We said in the car for all of three minutes when I said, "Let's go talk to Julie again." So we headed back to the diner, where Greg met Wade and Brenda.

They told us about their 8 kids, their full house, their own adventures and help from the kindness of strangers. I thought, these people are so friendly and awesome, I'd love to stay with them, but they have a full house - on top of them they were housing Papa and a cousin. But we told them our story anyway, and without hesitation they invited us over. The one rule they said, is we would have to go see fireworks with them later, and also we would probably need to do some marshmallow roasting.

The rest of the night was a blast - we wrestled with children, ran through tunnels screaming with children, rolled down hills with children, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows with children. We met them all when we walked in the door - Aaron (15) greeted us at the car - he told me my name meant princess in Latin. Cheyenne (10), Sammie (9), James (8), Lexi (7) and Hunter(6) - Wade and Brenda's recently adopted children - grinned at us from the porch and all had something to show us instantly. Tylor (10), also had things to show us, including how easily he could tease his mother into a playful battle. They loved the camera and the sound recorder, they took pictures and whispered and shouted at the microphones. About twenty minutes later, Anthony (19) came home and helped Tylor start the fire.

Wade and Brenda had warned us that in their house play was a serious thing - water fights in the house were not uncommon and at this time of year, firecracker fights happened more than occasionally. And we were not disappointed. We even roasted marshmallows in the rain.
The night was great. I haven't felt so playful in a really long time. So much positive energy.

Eventually we all piled onto the couches for a movie and I fell asleep way too easily. With Greg at my side, Lexi on my lap, Hunter on his, it was warm and comfortable... and I was almost snoring.

A house is never too full for company. Especially if company is need of a place to stay. Of course, it's all about comfort level, but if Wade and Brenda can fit 14 people in a 2 bedroom house, then anyone can take home a couple of extra guests if they aren't afraid. We deal with the fear of strangers a lot, but there are other fears that come up too. There is also a fear of looking bad - a fear that the house is too messy or too small, that the kids wont behave or that these strangers might pass judgement on you. And there is a fear of having your possessions taken. And a fear that you might be manipulated, but personally and in editing. But these two are not afraid of any of those things. Their house is well-lived in, not messy, says Brenda. And the nice tv is of no concern. And the camera is cool and interesting and sometimes even blends in - its not something to be afraid of.

This town takes care of each other - everyone says so- and everyone has stories to prove it. There is a total lack of selfishness here. The kids still want attention and the food still goes fast, but if you need help, people will help you. The first half of our day we just weren't finding the right people - or maybe Julie and Wade and Brenda really are themselves, the selfless ones.

Wade and Brenda have taught us a lot about what's important. Family. And play. And love. We probably knew that already, but they are the embodiment of that - and seeing it only reinforces values that we already understand and believe in. And it makes us feel less guilty about our feelings that "I would, but...." are really just excuses. Maybe those excuses are not just created for us, maybe they are how we ease our own consciences, but when it comes down to it, there is always room and never a mess. Beggars cant be choosers after all. And when those excuses leave, all that's left is fear.

1 comment:

  1. Everyone understands the need to save face by making an excuse like "I would love to, but...", however perhaps the people that use those excuses have just had bad experiences in the past to prevent them from doing what they actually want to do. It seems like some of them (if not most, deep down inside) really want to take you in... but they always seem to have some kind of instinct inside themselves telling them that they can't, whether because of a past experience or because they've heard of something bad happening or even because they consider their own safety and well-being above that of strangers.

    Really really interesting. I'm actually a bit surprised you don't hear more people unequivocally saying "I'm sorry, but I don't trust strangers." I would have figured that Americans are more straightforward, but I guess that's also because I'm from New Jersey.

    Awesome post, sounds like you guys had a great 4th :)