Days 46-47 miles 1867-1973
On Saturday we woke up late. We had reluctantly decided to leave Missoula to continue our journey northward but also decided to do only 30 miles to soften the blow. Our wonderful warm showers hosts had invited us to come to an event at Imagine Nation Brewery the night before and we stayed up a little past our bedtime so we felt no need to rush. There was also another group of your bikers in the yard with us and I kind of felt like we were both waiting for the other one to move, if no one moved we could all just sleep. But soon Missoula told us to wake up. Car alarms blared, a train horn sounded, and the baby inside the house awakened. No matter, we should have been up an hour ago.
We were a little groggy from the day before. We had run errands all day; buying food, fixing up the ru, washing clothes. I cooked dinner for our hosts as much to say thank you as to get back into the kitchen. After that we all went to Imagination Brewing for an event to benefit the local community bike shop, Free Cycles. They are trying to buy their space and make sure they are around to serve the ever growing Missoula cyclist community for years to come. All in all it was a fantastic rest day but not very restful.
So we packed up, bid farewell to our magnanimous hosts and once again set out on the road. We muddled our way through the train yards in North Missoula with only 1 wrong turn and proceeded up the rise toward the day’s climb. We needed to mount the ridge north west of town to get through to Glacier. As we approached I heard a train horn. I rolled my head on my neck trying to see where it would emerge and was shocked to finally spot the BNSF freight train skirting along the top cone of the mountain about 400 feet up. We now knew our goal and that Missoula’s train yard was gravity fed. How sustainable.
At the top we took a much deserved break. The climb constituted half of our miles for the day so we congratulated each other on a job well done. Dropping over the other side of the pass made the climb slip to the back of my memory. We scooted along through a few small towns and into the Flathead Indian Reservation. We then entered the town of Arlee which was translated on the welcome sign as “place with large diameter aspen trees.” Ahhhh we know it well, that awkward moment when you realize you can’t write “fat aspen” on the sign. Many giggles were had.
We camped at a private campground run by a very straightforward elderly woman. She reminded me that keeping the dog on the leash was “not just our law but Montana law too.” Whether she was talking about reservation law or her own personal code, I have a strong sense for the authority of law on this trip and we kept ru on a long leash tied to the picnic table. She kept riding her John Deere next to us to check and I am glad to say we didn’t disappoint her or the legal code of any known entity.
A little later on the other couple of guys sharing our warm showers camp spot in Missoula showed up and we all passed the night chatting and swapping stories of our trips so far. Good night
Sunday day 47
We woke semi early and wanted to get going. Our campsite was so far down in a hollow the sun’s stretching morning fingers were just tickling the tips of the tent. A thick layer of dew coated everything by I was soaked on the inside too. During the night I realized I had fallen asleep on top of my water bladder hose. The bite bit had slowly but oh so steadily leaked most of its contents into the tent where my sleeping bag had obligingly sucked it all up. At the time I pulled on more fleece, plopped Ru on top of me for warmth and went back to sleep, but the morning brought the realization of the damage done. We packs up our wet tent and sleeping bags and clothes and pushed out bikes back up into the light.
Out of the hollow (Jocko hollow to be exact, say that 5 times fast) the sun shone low but strong and I knew the chill wouldn’t last. We had a biggish day ahead of us and set out into the world. The first section was downhill and speedy but the shoulder was narrow and the cars as fast as always. At this point in the trip we are no longer rattled by cars and trucks it just takes a toll on our tempers. There are days when we have to ride on busy roads and we have to take the lane and that is all well and good, but the constant whoosh of passing trucks drowns out your thoughts in such a way as to light the fuse of my impatience. As soon as I begin to form a thought, the rumble and roar of approaching trucks can blow it out of my head as I forget all but my need to feel my tire on the safety of the white line. That racket drowns out our conversations so we can be five feet apart and not spoken in hours.
The road tilted up and we started the climb to the national bison range. We created the hill and found a lovely little pull off to rest and read about the reservations efforts to help animals cross the road without harm. On our trip I have learned the smell of decaying flesh in various stages. You can always smell road kill before you can see it and the stink can last for miles. On a typical day on main country roads we can see about a dozen dead deer on the side of the road. I wouldn’t describe myself as an animal lover per se, but seeing the angles of limbs and necks and ears flung 100 yards down the road is enough to make sure you say hello and look in the eye the next deer you see. Since we entered the reservation we had seen about 60-70% less roadkill according to a study conducted by the university of my eyeballs and non-scientific opinions. This is because the powers that be in this land have made safe passage for wildlife a priority in their infrastructure. There are high wire and wood fences along the roads that funnel would be deer in the headlights into underground passages (and one majestic overhead bridge!) across the road, to safety. My nose and my heart thank them for the care.
Showing the Flathead Reservation’s further care for life and limb, there was a bike path from the range to St Ignatius! We wound around in the scrub land on the side of the road and descended into the trees. They had a Safeway in town and we made that our goal. After buying way too much weight in food (making chilli, cans are heavy)we packed up and went the last 20 miles to our campsite on the shore of Flathead Lake. Oh man do they make lakes good in Montana. Clear water, interesting rocks, multiple access points and oh so many friendly folks. We camped somewhere called Yellow Bay and took Ru down to the lake to play. He is still having NONE OF IT. He barked at me from the shore as I floated and would not budge to cool off himself. Oh well, we have more lakes in our future.
Monday, day 48
Today our goal was clear: get to Glacier! We again started early to be sure we’d have time for a little look around when we arrived. Today’s ride was a different kind of scenic. We rolled through the wooded areas surrounding he lake and up out of the forest to the farm land at the foothills of the park. We wanted to stay off the main road as long as we could so we stair stepped out way through the grid of farm roads and bumbled down gravel we were told was usually the realm of local cyclists. We didn’t discover some secret way, a farmer offered us some water and told us the out of towners usually use the road on the other side of the highway…..because it’s paved. Well, ya live ya learn. We stopped at a Mennonite church and ate lunch. There was no one around as it was Monday and Mennonites work hard but I couldn’t help but wonder if they would approve of our journey. Would the physical hardship outweigh the selfish motives and garner respect?
There were some bits of highway 2 we couldn’t figure out how to avoid and so by the time we were rolling into West Glacier we were super stoked to get off the road. We cruised through a row of outfitters, gift shops, and ice cream stands, over the bridge and into the park! We of course stopped for a photo op with the sign and a very nice woman from Hershey, PA took some well meaning but unflattering photos of us. Hard to say no when the alternative is teaching the dog to use my iPhone.
We scooted on down the road and to Apgar Village. The road between Apgar and our intended campsite is closed to bikes from 11-4. We had time to kill but we also had huckleberry ice cream to eat and a lake to wade in. After the appointed hour had passed we made the final push and rode the 7 miles to Sprague Creek campground. Roads in national parks are notoriously narrow and this winding lakeside beaut was no different. Luckily at 4:30 in the afternoon most people are on their way out so we didn’t have much difficulty going in. We reached the site and saw that ultra gratifying “campground full” sign swinging at the entrance. These signs don’t apply to designated hiker/biker sites so we waltzed in and set up camp. This place is great. The site reserved for human powered travelers was spacious with three firepits, picnic tables and tent pads. They also provided camp chairs for us! We stashed our food in the bear box, set up the tent and went down to the lake. Lake McDonald is my favorite lake. I have seen many lakes in my day but this one takes the cake. It is glacial clear with rocks of all sizes on the bottom. None of this mud silliness. The mountains rise into Logan Pass on the north side of the lake and to get the most gratifying view of both sides of the valley you have to swim out about it 25 yards. Ohhhh man this is where we needed to be.