It's a pleasant ride for about 9 miles, with wonderful ranches nearby and beautiful log homes. Then we hit a patch of over-sized gravel which had just been laid. Everybody grumps, but I decide it's worth a shot. I start out with just the right amount of momentum to keep moving, but not so much that I lose control. It is very difficult to navigate, but the others follow with reasonable success.
At an intersection, we come upon the trucks laying the gravel - and sensibly head the other way towards the main road, Route 93. Unfortunately, it's the morning rush hour, the shoulder is poor and there are lots of logging trucks and other huge vehicles for the 35 miles to Whitefish. Not much fun. We continued on Route 93 for a bit longer, then take a break and share our snack food (Photo 6-21 - From left to right - Doug, Roger, Brad and Buck)
The others decide to continue on Route 93, and I detour onto back roads following the longer but more scenic recommended route on the maps (Photos 6-22, 6-23, 6-24). I follow a white-tailed deer for about half a mile along a fence (Photo 6-25) fronting an amazing ranch (doesn't Ted Turner have a place up here somewhere?)
I catch up with Roger on the way in, and we arrive in downtown Whitefish about noon. We find our buddies, and manage to misunderstand their directions to the hotel and head about a mile too far down the road, until we figure it out and return. We all check into the Downtowner Hotel (Photo 6-26) with Jacuzzi, health club and Internet access. I shower, check my email, and then have lunch at the Bulldog Bar and Grill. The bartender, Carla, gives me a free beer because it is my birthday, and I have a steak for lunch. I spend some time talking with people and read the national paper. I am interviewed for the local paper, The Whitefish Pilot - who want my views on Amtrak - while I watch the World Cup. I am there for about three hours (or about five beers).
I wander up the street, feeling no pain. I visit the optometrist to get my sprained glasses straightened. I buy some good bread at a bread mill, and get a free birthday cookie. I go back to the Bulldog Bar and Grill, where Brad, Doug and Buck catch up with me and buy me more beers. We then go off and have sushi together for dinner - not exactly high carbohydrate but tasty all the same. I go back to the Bulldog again and catch up with Ed and Roger (and more beer). Ed was planning to play guitar at an open mike night at another bar downtown, so we head over for the event. Ed plays well (Photo 6-27) and we drink more beer and listen to wonderful music until late in the evening. Stumble home around 11:30. Whitefish is a place I could live in, particularly if every day was my birthday.
Day 11 - 26 June 2002 Wednesday
A missed turn, but grand views - Whitefish to Apgar, Montana - 43 miles
The plan today is to ride with the others - Doug, Buck and Brad, the guys from Salem, Oregon, and Ed and Roger, the guys from Columbus, Ohio - from Whitefish to West Glacier, Montana.
We have a slow morning, starting with a good breakfast at the Buffalo Café. We're waiting for Bucks' bike to get fixed at the Whitefish Cyclery. It's a small town but has a world-class bike shop, with a lot of experience working on touring bikes. They know the piece that I need to stop my chain from falling off when I switch from middle to low front sprocket, but sadly don't have it. They do give me the piece specifications and tell me that the shop in Minot, North Dakota (a mere 700 miles away) will have it. Buck's bike was fixed by 11:00, and during the interim, I tried to send an updated itinerary to Pat via email. I left my family a detailed itinerary of where I expect to be and when, but I haven't been right once - always overshoot or undershoot. The email system keeps crashing, and I can't send anything - so I head out to the cyclery and look around instead.
We finally head out of Whitefish around 11:00 A.M. and take back roads from Whitefish to Columbia Falls (Photos 7-01, 7-02). The route from Columbia Falls to West Glacier heads along the north fork of the Flathead River, and is very scenic. The weather is beautiful, with temperatures in the 80s. With all of the snowmelt, the river's really rushing (Photos 7-03, 7-04) and the kayakers and the rafters are out. The roads are empty. At lunchtime, we stop and walk down a small culvert down to the river, and exchange lunch/snack preparations.
Further down the road, we hit a combination of bad gravel, dirt roads and potholes. To continue, we have to go < 5 miles an hour to ensure our panniers stay on (Photos 7-05, 7-06). We miss the turn for West Glacier and just continue north on route 46, and in so doing, we add about 9 miles to our route on that slow gravel.
Doug was going a bit too fast on a stretch of road and went over the handlebars. He gives us a scare, but he's just torn up a bit with bruised ribs, but otherwise okay. Since his bike is also okay, we can keep going.
The benefit of this detour is that we have a magnificent view of Glacier National Park:
I also manage to see the back end of a black bear that scampers across the road in front of a tour bus in front of me. We arrive at the Apgar campground (Photo 7-13) on the edge of Glacier National Park at around 3:00 pm. We set up tents on a double site. We walk over to Lake Macdonald and enjoy the spectacular views (Photos 7-14, 7-15, 7-16). We have dinner at the only restaurant in the campground and spend some time talking in the evening. We see deer in the woods between our site and the restaurant, but no bears recently.
Day 12 - 27 June 2002 Thursday
Apgar to Avalanche - Waiting for the Pass to Open - 16 miles
All six of us have breakfast together at the restaurant in the campground. We get a lot of attention since there are two or three heaping plates per person and you can barely see the table underneath. Bicycle tourers relish being able to eat everything in sight - and still burn it all off.
We get some news. We learn that they plan to open Logan Pass, the highest point of the trip in Glacier National Park, a bit earlier than we had anticipated - Friday at noon. When we leave breakfast, my colleagues head out to look around. I decide go back and break camp early because I want to move to a closer campground named Avalanche about 16 miles up the road. On my way out, I bid them farewell and figure we'll probably catch up later.
It's an easy route up to Avalanche campground, very scenic along Lake Macdonald (Photos 7-17, 7-18). The ride is a gradual incline. I make camp by around 1:00 pm and then, just for fun, decide to unload all my stuff off the bike and ride up to see how far I can get up the road to the pass. Since the pass is still closed today, there is no vehicular traffic and I have lots of opportunities for photos (Photos 7-19, 7-20, 7-21, 7-22, 7-23, 7-24, 7-25, 7-26, 7-27, 7-28). It's a beautiful day, just a few high clouds. I climb to about 2100' on the road named the "Going to the Sun" highway, but it's an easy ride because I'm now in shape and I'm carrying no gear on the bike. I don't even need to downshift to the small rear sprocket. At the 12-mile mark, I come to a barricade beyond which they're still doing snow removal.
Along the way, I encounter a few other mountain bikers and cyclists on the road, like me just enjoying the scenery without vehicular traffic to worry about since there is no shoulder to speak of. I have a chat with a German couple who are touring around the country, and who take a couple of photos of me. I take about 40 photos in total - incomparable scenery; glaciers, mountains, ravines. There are snowmelt waterfalls just cascading everywhere. Whenever you bicycle by these waterfalls, the temperature drops from 80 degrees to 50 degrees. It doesn't get any better than this(Photos 8-1, 8-2, 8-3, 8-4, 8-5, 8-6, 8-7, 8-8, 8-9, 8-10, 8-11, 8-12, 8-13, 8-14, 8-15, 8-16, 8-17, 8-18, 8-19, 8-20).
After the barricade, I begin the descent back to camp which I reach at 4:00 pm. I'm still energized and decide to go on a 5-mile return hike on one of the trails, up Avalanche Creek to Avalanche Lake. At the lake, I watch snowmelt waterfalls feeding a crater lake (Photos 8-21, 8-22, 8-23, 8-24, 8-25).
On the walk back, I meet Earl who is a fisherman, who didn't catch much. He's 70 years old and he's just cruising along like there's no tomorrow. So we walk back together at a good rate, passing everyone on the trail and we talk about life. He's on his way to Alaska with his wife in a VW camper. I mention to him that I didn't bring enough food for dinner. Back at the campsite, next thing I know, he's brought over a can of beans, tuna fish, some rice and some other essentials. Sadly, I'd need cooking equipment to prepare it, which I don't have.
I thank him and walk over to a next-"site" neighbor campfire and ask if I can use their cooking apparatus to make some food. They say "Sure," and the next thing I know, they've got a plate of spaghetti for me. So I share a plate of spaghetti with them, learning about Pat Warrick who is from Indiana, with her sons Joe (10?) and David (15?). Pat's a widow; her husband was a professor and died a couple of years ago. The boys have just finished their school year and the family is out for a tour of the west, visiting some family along the way. I leave most of the supplies from Earle in return, but help with dishes. Then we play a game of Racko together and have a wonderful campfire. We talk about life.
Day 13 - 28 June 2002 Friday
Through Logan Pass and Beyond - Avalanche to Chief Mtn - 55 miles
Break camp at Avalanche, have some sandwiches and out by 9:00 - after a phone call to the park service to confirm that the pass is over. It is dark and drizzly to start the day and then it just becomes cool and cloudy - but this doesn't stop me from taking more photos (Photos 9-01, 9-02, 9-03, 9-04, 9-05). Once I bicycle past the point of yesterday's ride, I can see why it took so long for Logan Pass to open. There's lots of snow on the sides of the roads, and some pretty tough headwinds, for the last three miles up to the pass (Photos 9-06, 9-07, 9-08, 9-09, 9-10). Fortunately there is no vehicular traffic until I get near the pass, which I reach at about 12 noon. The pass is at 6,664 feet, which is the high point of my journey.
Have a wonderful descent (Photos 9-11, 9-12, 9-13, 9-14, 9-15) down the mountain to Rising Sun, a little community here at the base of the Rockies. Here there were some fierce winds from the northwest, so I am glad I am going east. I stop for some sandwiches and Gatorade at a lovely park facility, and read the paper at the general store. A daily reading of the newspaper is one of the few links to my normal day-to-day existence that I'm enjoying on this ride.
When I pass the restaurants in the tourist hub of St. Mary's, my biking buddies Roger and Ed call out. It's a shame I didn't get a photo because I'll not soon forget turning around on the road and seeing Roger waving from a restaurant deck in the distance - it's the one time on the whole ride someone called out, recognizing me. They left Apgar this morning and made the pass before me, but will spend the night in St. Mary's and then go straight south to Browning tomorrow. They say they got up to the Pass before it was open, so had to pitch their tents and climb into their sleeping bags to avoid hypothermia! Evidently Buck, Doug and Brad decided not to do the pass; instead to go south on to the Marias Alternate (as described in our Adventure Cycling Association maps).
I bike for 10 more miles and take a few more photos (Photos 9-16, 9-17, 9-18). I'm now on the high plains at the junction of Route 17 and 89. I come to a little community - Chief Mountain - not really even a community, just a hotel (sort of), gas station with mini-food stop/restaurant (Photo 9-19). The map indicates that the route goes 14 miles northwest along 17 to the Canada, and into the wind. So I decided instead to check into the hotel. In fact, I checked into the only room that was not vandalized, but felt quite safe. I did my laundry in the bathtub. While hanging my laundry on the clothesline out back, I was struck by the vista of the Rockies in Glacier National Park, specifically Chief Mountain (Photo 9-20). There are also a few free-range cattle just wandering around. I go inside and clean up and the little kids of the families living here decide to play with my laundry and knock it to the ground. In spite of this local entertainment, the laundry still dries because of the winds.
I wander into the Chief Mountain General Store and meet Gary, the owner. I tell him my story, while paying for some macaroni at the register. I pull a can of tuna fish out of my pocket and he agrees when I ask him if I can use his stove to cook up some macaroni and tuna. I have a beer and a mini-pizza for dessert. I enjoy the conversation with Gary and the local Blackfoot Indians, since this is a reservation. I have a particularly interesting conversation with Rick. He's about my age and introduces me to his grandkids scampering around. He's never been more than 200 miles away, but points to the vistas and said he probably couldn't find anyplace more beautiful. I can't disagree. I promise to send him a postcard from NYC.
I re-check the maps and my plans and ultimately decide not to go to Canada, which will cut about 150 miles from the journey. I've lost time over the last few days because the Pass was closed, and I have a feeling the winds may be a challenge in the coming days. And there's particularly tight security at the Canadian border because of the Economic conference (Bush and other key figures) up in Alberta right now, and I stupidly left my passport home.
Day 14 - 29 June 2002 Saturday
Wind, friend and foe - Chief Mountain to Shelby - 100 miles
I walk out the hotel door at Chief Mountain at about 6:30 and am greeted immediately by a number of free-range beef cattle, who evidently hang around the hotel very early in the morning. Maybe it's a windbreak? I start the day with a photo or two during the early morning zigzag ride ride along 89S and 464S to Browning (Photos 9-21, 9-22, 9-23). On the way, I pass Duck Lake (good fishing, the sign says) as I wind my way through the Blackfoot Indian Reservation (Photo 9-24). It's 44 miles from Chief Mountain to Browning. The wind is at my back for the first 15 miles heading west (Photo 9-25). But the next 30 of them were due SSE against a wind so hard that I am nearly knocked off my bike at times (Photo 9-26).
I say farewell to the magnificent vistas of Glacier National Park Rockies and see a rainbow as a legacy of the early morning drizzle. As I approach the town of Browning, I see Rick (one of the Blackfoot Indians that I had met last night) driving in the other direction. He waves and seems astonished that I have made it this far. I have lunch at a Subway in Browning and finally find a phone to call home. Pat isn't pleased that I haven't called for almost 48 hours, but public phones and cell phone reception just don't exist out here.
From Browning, I continue along Route 2 to the town of Cut Bank. It's about 30 miles total and I cover it in just over an hour because of an incredible tail wind. It is like flying. I stop in a gas station at Cut Bank and learn that one of the patrons had seen Buck, Doug and Brad, about 50 miles ahead struggling through mud on Route 2. Evidently there was some road construction, and a recent heavy rain left the dirt track in awful shape. [I later learn that they ended up hitchhiking and getting picked up by a pick-up to get through it all.]
So I continue due west on Route 2 for the next 20 or so miles to the town of Shelby (Photos 10-01, 10-02, 10-03, 10-04) and first stopped by the sheriff's office to get more details about road construction. In fact, there are 9 miles of dirt road about 30 miles ahead of Cut Bank, just before the town of Chester. The sheriff suggested I not even think about trying it today, but spend the night in Shelby. C'est la vie. Just my luck - I get road construction to stop me on a day with phenomenal tailwinds, going downhill. I probably could have made another 50 miles easy.
I head down the main street, see a sign and check into O'Meira's Hotel. I get myself cleaned up, and notice that the World Cup soccer semifinal was on TV. I wander out, looking for a bar where I could watch the match. I soon discover the Alibi Inn, where I watch the South Korea versus Turkey match over a couple of beers. Of course, I get to know the bartender, the owner of the bar, his father and some of the local patrons. I learn Shelby's claim to fame - it was the site of a boxing heavyweight match many years ago. Unfortunately, the day of the event was a terrible snowstorm and almost no one could get here. Much money was lost. We have beers for the rest of the evening, and "dad" ends up buying me a couple. Chinese food is next door fortunately. About 10 PM, after many shared stories, I stagger back to my room, having consumed more beer than I should have. This was a lot of fun.
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