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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

Filed in:Cycling

Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

August 22nd, 2005  · stk

Day 7 - Going to the Sun Road (40.7 Miles)

4h 25m ride time – 9.2 mph avg - 35.4 mph max

August 19, 2005

It’s nice to wake up, knowing that we don’t have to get up and moving anytime soon, because it’s a "rest day". Still, we wake at 7:30 AM and as we lay there in bed, we can hear Dave, up and about, packing his gear. We’re sad that he’s leaving, but respect his reasons for doing so.

We decide to get up, so that we can make him coffee and hot oatmeal to fuel his ride up Logan’s Pass. Emerging from the tent, we notice that it’s a cold morning in St. Mary’s campground. There’s frost on the bike seats, the picnic table, and other items left out overnight. We put on an extra layer of clothing, spark up the stove and put some nourishment into our bodies.

The nice thing about good friends: they accept each other for their differences. It’s because Dave is such a good friend that there’s no ill will about our parting of ways. With hugs all around, we say our goodbyes and watch him ride off, out of sight, around the campground loop at 8:30 AM. Five minutes later, however, he’s returned. Has he changed his mind? Nope. "I forgot my helmet and gloves," he says, relaying how he didn’t notice till he was out on the highway and went to look in his rearview mirror and – it wasn’t there. So, we say goodbye again and, this time, he’s off for good.

Our tent is really wet, so we decide to let it dry out, while we return to the Glacier Park Visitor Center. Before we go, however, we wash a few clothes, hanging them out to dry in the morning sun. We putter around camp, time slowly passing by and finally, by the time we we’re ready to ride the mile or so, back to the visitor’s center, it’s about ten o’clock. "Gee, maybe we better pack up everything and go with loaded bikes," says Rachel, "so we're not pressured to return before the eleven o’clock checkout."

So, we collapse the tent and hurriedly pack our gear, loaded Alex into the buggy and then we’re off. As we’re riding out of the campground we notice what a beautiful day it is. The sun is beginning to warm things, but there’s a pleasant, cooling breeze. It’s perfect cycling weather. Scott says, "Maybe we should tackle the pass today, because the weather’s great for a long climb and tomorrow will be the weekend, with much more traffic?"

We confer, bemoaning the fact that Dave’s already gone on and if we don’t take the day off, it would be a shame. After a brief discussion, we decide to cycle toward the Rising Sun campground and see how we feel about things there. We’re not certain if there are bicycling restrictions, so we ask the woman in the campground booth. She can’t give us a definitive answer, but agrees that the park brochure indicates only an eastbound restriction, so we should be clear to go. We decide to cycle and if we’re questioned, we’ll deal with it then. (Two park rangers drive by, while we’re on the road, but neither of them stops, so we figure there isn’t a westbound cycling restriction.)

It’s just before eleven o’clock when we pull out of the campground and begin making our way to Rising Sun. The first six miles, along the north bank of Saint Mary Lake, is picturesque - rolling grasslands to the blue water and snow-covered peaks beyond. The whole way, however, we’re tackling a stiff headwind. Rachel takes the lead, to block the wind for Scott, who’s towing the trailer. "Whew, I’m tired," she pants, "and to think we haven’t even started the climb to the summit! I don’t know if I have it in me to climb the pass with this wind."

Scott assures Rachel that the wind will abate by the time we reach the climb. "Besides," he says, "we’ll be going slow enough that the wind won’t retard our progress and it’ll be welcome … helping to cool us down on the hot climb."

We’re at the Rising Sun complex (restaurant, motel, etc), where we pull off and Rachel quickly changes out of her camp clothes and into her cycling gear. We’re then off and ready to tackle the climb. The road still follows the shoreline, undulating up and down gently rolling hills. We stop a couple of times, enjoying the scenery, taking pictures, and we notice that (so far) we’re keeping pace with the autos (we see the same ones at each pullout). We make our way along and we’re wondering, "When is the real climb going to begin?"

Scott says, "It would be nice to know that all these little hills count for something. Are we making vertical progress to the pass?"

Soon enough, we reached Sun Point and then Sunrift Gorge, where the climbing – quite obviously - begins in earnest.

We’re in our granny gears and Rachel tucks in behind Scott, to follow his steady and even pace up the hill. We’re making slow, consistent progress, traveling a whopping four miles per hour. As we climb, we can hear Alex chattering away in toddler babble, keeping us entertained. Occasionally, she strings her noises and few intelligible words together with a melody. She spurs us on with her "singing".

As we slowly make our way up the hill, we have plenty of time to admire the wildflowers that adorn the side of the road - Indian Paintbrush, Alpine Fireweed, Pasque Flower, Lupine, and Senecio (a flower that looks similar to the Brown Eyed Susan, but when it loses it’s petals the remaining pistil looks like a red ball atop a slender stem).

The road is narrow, but fortunately, the traffic is light. We’re rarely faced with cars traveling in both directions at the same time. When we are, however, the oncoming traffic often slows, or stops, which allows cars behind us, ample room in which to pass. We’re given plenty of space by passing motorist and with the light traffic, we feel safe, which helps to make the ride more pleasant.

We round the Jackson Glacier Overlook and we can see the road ahead, where it switch backs at Siyeh Bend (about three and a half miles below the summit). Looking at the hillside and seeing where we would be traveling is both rewarding and intimidating. As we near Siyeh bend, we’re beginning to feel tired, so we pull in at the turnout for our first uphill break. We let Alex out of the buggy for a few minutes, change her diaper and then it’s back on the road again. The next mile is easy and the traffic is light enough that we can cross the road and admire the stunning views, back along the valley we’ve just climbed out of. As we round a curve, our objective – the Logan Pass Visitor Center – can be seen. Only a couple of miles and we’ll be there! We near the tunnel, a mile below the pass and we’re cycling under a steep alpine meadow. Looking up, we spot two Big Horn Sheep, lounging in the tall grasses. Only their heads and horns are visible from the road. They’re so close – only 50 yards away – yet they’re very well camouflaged and inconspicuous. How much wildlife have we cycled by – unseen - on this trip?

During the last quarter mile to the pass, tourists cheer us on. "You’re almost there," they shout, from their cars, "Way to go!" Finally, we pull into the crowded parking lot at the Visitor’s Center and we’re thankful that we don’t have to spend twenty minutes circling around, waiting for a parking spot. We head over to the sidewalk and leaned our bikes against the set of empty bike racks, which are close to the parking lot entrance. We let Alex out of her buggy and as we rest, take off our helmets and prepare for a walk up to the Visitor Center, she stands there, waving at everyone pulling in. "Hi," she says, cheerfully – she's the unofficial Logan’s Pass greeter!

Because we don’t have Alex’s backpack carrier, we’re unable to enjoy any of the hiking trails that strike out from the summit (one of which climbs up a meadow to Hidden lake, and another is chiseled into the side of the mountain, traversing along the "Garden Wall", which lies immediately above the "Going to the Sun" Road on the western side of the pass). We venture into the Visitor’s Center and have a look around. It’s crowded, however, so we don’t stay long. Our stomachs are rumbling, after our strenuous climb. Because there’s no food service at the pass, we decide to continue on, down the road, setting our sights to Lake McDonald Lodge and a gastronomical reward for our efforts.

The light, cooling wind that accompanied us during the climb is blowing strongly and cold at the pass. We put on our rain gear to keep us warm for our 12-mile speedy descent. We stop for a family photo at the Logan’s Pass Continental Divide sign and then we’re off down the mountain. From the top, you can see the road for miles, cutting into the side of the mountain. It’s a thrill, knowing that our climbing efforts are about to be rewarded with a fast, downhill ride. Frustratingly, however, all those cars for whom we were in the way – going up – will now be in our way - going down. We have to really ride our brakes, to keep distance with the cars ahead of us. They can’t take the sharp turns nearly as fast as we can.

They’re doing repair work to the road in two spots. The road is single-lane and traffic is stopped, for a time, while oncoming traffic is allowed through the one-way portion. The first stop is only a couple of miles off the summit and we patiently wait our turn, behind the automobiles. At the second stop, just below the single, hairpin turn, we finally get smart and ride to the front of the line, asking the flag person to let us go first, so we don’t have to brake all the time for cars. For the remainder of the downhill, we can go as fast as we like and it’s a relief for the tired forearms, which were getting quite a workout from squeezing the brakes so hard.

The road is rough and from the summit, traveling downhill at about 30-35 miles per hour, the buggy is bouncing about, as we make tight turns and hit several potholes, rocks, asphalt patches and other obstructions. Looking back in the buggy, Scott notices that Alex isn’t perturbed at all by the speedy descent. Nope. Not one bit. What is she doing? Sleeping! Her head is drooped over, lolling about with the bouncing buggy, fast asleep.

We cross over Logan Creek, heralding the bottom of the descent. We’re now pedaling again, but moving along at a good clip. Our legs are still tired from the climb and they complain, as we make our way closer to Lake McDonald. We’re riding next to McDonald Creek, a clear-running stream that’s very pretty. In about five miles, we arrive at Avalanche Creek, where we pull into a parking lot. The area is crowded and busy with tourists. Most are hikers, returning from the nearby Nature Trail and other trails that take off from this point. We briefly consider camping here, but after a quick look at the map, we decided to continue to Lake McDonald Lodge, where there’s a restaurant. We’ll camp at nearby Sprague Creek Campground.

We pull into Lake McDonald Lodge approximately 20 minutes later, riding straight to the restaurant. We’ve done about forty miles, not bad for a "rest day"! Inside, we devour a "Gear Grinder" Sandwich and a huge basket of French fries. As a treat, we order Alex a bowl of chocolate "i-beam" (ice cream), which she loves and she smears all over her face (even managing to get some into her mouth). After another diaper change, we walk over to the nearby General Store, to pick up some items. Along the way, we pass a row of special Ford-built Glacier tourist wagons, where we stop to take a picture. We’re then back on our bikes, riding only a half mile to the Sprague Creek Campground.

We pull into camp and soon, we’re joined by Jeannette and Garrit (two cyclists we met yesterday, on our way into Glacier). This Dutch couple is on a two-year tour from Alaska to Argentina. What an adventure! They started in Anchorage a couple of months ago and have a website of their adventure. Some tourists alerted us to the fact they were on the pass, ahead of us, but we’d not seen them and were surprised when they pulled in behind us (they went for a hike at the pass). We chatted with them for a few minutes, before we got busy putting up our tents in the two Hiker/Biker sites. After the tent is up, we venture down an embankment, to the shores of Lake McDonald, where Scott goes for a chilly swim, Alex has fun throwing rocks into the water and Rachel relaxes in the warm afternoon sun - watching her loved ones play.

An hour later, we return to the campsite, to feed Alex some dinner. She’s not hungry, however, because she’s busy playing with an 8-year-old girl (Tatiana), from the next campsite, while we chat with her parents. A half hour after her bedtime, we put a very tired little Alex into the tent and she falls immediately asleep. We spend another hour, talking with Jeannette and Garrit about our cycling adventures and future adventure plans.

It’s been a good day. We tackled the highlight of the tour, climbing up and over Logan’s Pass. We’re sorry that Dave wasn’t with us to enjoy it and we wonder where he is now. Did he make it all the way to Whitefish or is he fast asleep in another campground between here and there?

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