Tuesday, July 15, 2014

wed & thurs, july 2 & 3, 2014: glacier national park

Wednesday & Thursday, July 2 & 3, 2014: Glacier National Park

Glacier Nat'l Park is essentially a north-south mountain range with highways up either side and several roads that run up the drainages.  Here you can see I was camped at one and rode to another...and back.

Most of the same terrain on this ride...but instead went up the Many Glacier drainage, which was very pretty, by the way, and highly recommended.
A mandatory shot.

Glacier National Park.  It's still a bit of a surprise to me that I haven't been here before.  I've been to a lot of places, a lot of parks, but never here.  And I'm scared of bears.  Really.  I mean, it's the only place you hear about bear attacks.  And they have grizzlies here.  And while I know the odds of actually experiencing any sort of incident with a bear--or a grizzly bear--are super low, it's the unpredictability of these big dudes.  If we were to fight, the bear would win.  This realization makes me uneasy.

Though I'm not scared of bears when riding my bike.  On the road.  So I put in some quality road miles.  (And they don't allow off-road riding in the park anyway, so that wasn't an option.)

But let me back up a bit.  Our original plan for the westward leg of our trip was to head northwest from Minneapolis and into Canada, run west along the Trans-Canadian Highway to southern Alberta, then south into Glacier.  Thus, weeks ago, we did our due diligence and got Audrey (16) a passport (kids under 16 only need a birth certificate).  What we did not do, however, was check the parents' passports.  No problem with Valerie's, but mine had expired.  Fourteen months ago.  And we discovered this about 14 minutes before leaving Shippensburg.

We changed our plans.  We'd head west (Go West!) from Minneapolis, through North Dakota (staying a night in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a gem we discovered two summers ago), then take the northern route through Montana to Glacier, make camp, sleep the night, and then Valerie and the kids would head north to Canada for the original rendezvous with Valerie's friend and old roommate, and I'd stay another night in the park, without car, but with bikes.

So I had Wednesday to myself.  And wanted a nice long, hard ride.  I got it.

I'm told the route across the park, the only route across the park, over the Road-to-the-Sun, is a cyclist's must-do.  I'm sure the road offers spectacular views.  But June snowstorms closed the road and, from the east side, the road was only open 13 miles.  Bummed, but still anxious to get a taste of the road, I left the Two Medicine campground in the south end of the park and headed for the Road-to-the-Sun.

Well, you can see the profile...  The east-west roads in the park, those that run along the glacial lakes, are remarkably flat, pleasant affairs.  But getting from one drainage to the next requires an effort.  And from Two Medicine to the Road-to-the-Sun requires the effort of climbing over five ridge lines for nearly 3,500' of climbing.

A shot of US 89...from the side of US 89.  Super fun, twisty road.  With lots of climbing.

But what a beautiful road!  And lovely climbs!  I'm generally not keen on highway riding, but this was really nice.  In part, I think, because the roads were pretty twisty, keeping traffic going slower--slow enough on the descents for me to comfortably exceed their speed.  And of course the view to the west was full of glacier-carved (bear-infested) alpine grandeur and the view to the east wasn't too bad either.

On the Road-to-the-Sun

Park road construction.  Only 13 miles of the Road-to-the-Sun was open, I rode nine, only the first five of which was paved.  After I waited about five minutes to make it through this roadblock I just turned around and went back.

One of the things I love about the old national parks is that they are just as much a monument to the turn of the (20th) century leisure ideal as they are places of preservation.  Visiting Old Faithful I'm more in awe of the Old Faithful Lodge than I am of the geyser.  Glacier is full of this stuff.  It's lodges and hotels and "motor inns" are just awesome.

Many Glacier lodge.  I'd love to come back here and stay a few nights in the hotel.  Sans kids.
The lodge in East Glacier.  The railroad passes just below here, and the railroad company built the hotel to promote the park and thus increase rail usage.  Glacier was being called "America's Alps" in the promotional material.

On Thursday, I rode north over the same route as the day before to St. Mary, then continued north to Babb, had breakfast in a roadside diner, then rode the 12 miles up the Many Glacier drainage to the Many Glacier Lodge when I met Valerie and kids.  Then we hiked.  And sang songs.  And hoped our tuneless glee would keep the bears at bay.

Reuben, doing some very fierce hiking.  (Probably to scare the bears.)

Ride Stats:

Miles: 89.5
Time: 5:09
Elevation: 7,270'

Miles: 56.0
Time: 3:19
Elevation: 3,993'

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