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Dashing up the North Fork
Karin Craver drives up and down the North Fork, delivering holiday joy
Karin Craver delivers mail to a line of mailboxes outside the Polebridge Mercantile in Polebridge on Dec. 10. Craver, a contractor with the United States Postal Service, makes the 130-mile round-trip drive to deliver the mail up the North Fork. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
POLEBRIDGE – The United States Postal Service estimates it will deliver 18 billion cards, letters and packages this holiday season. A few of those parcels will pass through the hands of Karin Craver.

Twice a week, Craver, 38, drives 130 miles up and down the North Fork Road, delivering mail to the hearty souls that call the remote area home. In these parts, holiday joy doesn’t come in a red sleigh, but rather a road- and weather-beaten Mitsubishi Montero.

Craver has been a contracted delivery person since 2005. Originally from Bigfork, she splits her time between Evergreen and a cabin north of Polebridge, where she has lived for 18 winters.

“Real North Forkers up here go by how many winters they’ve been here, not years,” she said. “(They) say you haven’t been up here until you’ve stayed a winter.”

Winter adds many new challenges to an already challenging route. On the North Fork, the snow is deep and the weather harsh, but Craver said that is part of the attraction to some. About 100 people live in the North Fork year round, situated on the northeast border of Glacier National Park, just south of Canada. At the heart of the region is the tiny village of Polebridge, 36 miles north of Columbia Falls.

Last week, it was a snow-covered ghost town as Craver pulled up to fill a handful of mailboxes across the street from the legendary Polebridge Mercantile. Craver’s day usually starts around 8 a.m. in Columbia Falls, where she sorts and loads up the mail. Even if there are fewer mailboxes to fill this time of year, she says the holidays are busy, with many large packages and holiday cards. Sometimes customers will let Craver know if they have left for the year, but other times she just notes their snow-covered mailbox.

“The mailboxes just go away,” she said. “I love those people because I know they’re gone for the season.”

There are about 220 boxes on Craver’s route and the vast majority are just north of Columbia Falls, along Blankenship Road. Five days a week, she delivers mail to that area and on Tuesday and Friday makes the trek north, all the way to the border.

Karin Craver drives the snow-covered North Fork Road while delivering mail up the North Fork of the Flathead. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

On most winter days, like last Tuesday, it’s a lonely ride. North of where the road changes from asphalt to dirt – where the “real” North Fork begins, Craver says – she only passes one or two vehicles. On trips like that, Craver usually just listens to audiobooks and enjoys the company of her 10-year-old pet wolf hybrid, Matohota. Craver has raised four wolf hybrids and has had Matohota, which means grizzly bear in Lakota, since he was just eight days old. She jokes that a wolf may not be standard on most mail carriers, but adds that he is a good form of protection in the remote area.

It’s not uncommon to see wolves, bears, deer, moose and elk throughout the North Fork of the Flathead River valley. The wildlife and scenery are part of why Craver lovers her job, especially after spending a few years as an office secretary in Columbia Falls.

“I tried an office job and I just can’t stand being inside,” she said, peering out the window. “Some of these mountains are so beautiful, you think they’re fake. I never get tired of it.”

But there are a few downsides to the gig, most notably the beating her car takes on the rutted road. Every year, Craver’s vehicle logs 36,000 miles on the North Fork Road. This year alone, she has spent $4,000 of her own money to maintain the vehicle.

Driving up the road, the vehicle rattles and roars and Craver said she knows what each little sound is, be it a shaky backdoor or a loose bolt. Listening to the car makes it a lot easier to explain what’s wrong when it comes time to see the mechanic.

Karin Craver gets a smooch from Mato, an enormous gray wolf, before heading out on the second leg of her mail delivery rout up the North Fork. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“This road eats vehicles,” she said. “(But) I know every pothole and where it’s going to show up.”

But Craver knew what she was getting into when taking the job seven years ago. This time of year, it’s a lonely drive, but she almost likes it better because there’s a lot less traffic on the road, especially around Polebridge. More time to take in the scenery and start another audiobook.

“This job is about perfect,” she said, driving away from Polebridge. “Once I started the job, I realized I’m not going to stop doing it until they make me.”
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