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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

August 22nd, 2005  · stk

Day 8 - Glacier N.P. to Whitefish, MT (37.2 Miles)

3h 3m ride time – 12.1 mph avg - 32.3 mph max

August 20, 2005

Rachel wakes just after six o’clock. Scott and Alex are still fast asleep. She wants to go back to sleep, but can’t. Maybe it’s the anticipation of completing the ride and returning home? Maybe it’s because Scott’s snoring? Either way, she’s unable to doze and instead, lies there, waiting for the two sleeping beauties to wake up. When her internal clock chimes seven o’clock, Alex stirs and Scott wakes few minutes after that. Our day has begun.

It’s a much warmer morning, partly because we’re 1500 feet lower in elevation than we were yesterday, at the Saint Mary campground. We don’t need to layer up when we step out of the tent and prepare our usual hot oatmeal breakfast. Alex immediately resumes playing around the camp, pushing her doll in the "found" plastic highchair. Meanwhile, we take down the tent and pack our gear, for the last time of the tour. Jeannette and Garrit do the same, but are ready to depart a quarter of an hour before we are. We ask the neighboring campers to take a group photo of us, before they continue on their adventure. We are jealous, as we watch them cycle down the road.

We are finally ready to go at 9 AM and cycle the remaining 10 miles or so out of Glacier National Park. It’s a chilly ride, because the sun is still hidden behind Snyder Ridge, not yet high enough in the sky to penetrate the tall trees and warm the landscape. We ride along at about 15 mile per hour and experience a dichotomy between sweating muscles and cool morning air.

We keep a good pace, as we follow along the shore of the lake, with Scott drafting behind Rachel. He’s enjoying the easy cycling, compliments of her efforts. We arrive in West Glacier, which is not far outside the Park gates, just before ten o’clock. We stop long enough to stretch out our muscles and then we continue on. We have two route options: follow the more scenic and hilly route, as identified on the Adventure Cycling map; or keep take a more direct route, along Montana Highway 2. We opt for the direct route, as we notice that there’s a 4.5-mile section of the scenic route that’s on a gravel road.

As we pull away from West Glacier and turn onto Highway 2, we experience culture shock. Most of our trip has been along back roads and highways with few amenities. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in the midst of a tourist strip. On either side of the often 4-lane highway, are commercial businesses selling chainsaw wood carvings, helicopter tours, a Grizzly bear adventure park, huckleberry milkshakes and dozens of RV parks that crowd the sides of the highway. We ride past them, marveling that so many stay in business, and wonder who might patronize them, rather than simply bypassing them for the relative tranquility of the Glacier National Park.

We make our way along the highway, frustrated again by sections that have a narrow gap between the edge of the shoulder and the rumble strip, which are too narrow to accommodate the buggy. This forces Scott to ride in the highway lane, rather than on the shoulder. Traffic is moderate and speeding along at 70 miles per hour. It’s an unpleasant ride and now that the sun is up, a warm one. We pass through Coram and Hungry Horse, before finding ourselves on an extremely dangerous 2-mile section of two-lane highway that skirts along the south bank of the Flathead River. The shoulder is nonexistent and the speed limit is still set at 70 miles per hour, which is far too dangerous for this section. We’re beginning to think that the other route might have been better, gravel road or not. Rachel’s in front and we pedal as fast as we can go. It’s a white-knuckle section because cars, trucks and RV’s stack up behind us, frustrated by our slow pace and stymied from passing, by the scads of oncoming cars. As the road widens, nearing Columbia Falls, a motorist yells out the window, "Ride on the f--king sidewalks." (Which are nonexistent, by the way).

What a stark contrast to the polite and considerate motorists we saw, while in Glacier National Park.

In Columbia falls, both the amount of traffic and the debris strewn on the shoulder increases. We make our way through town, dodging storm drains and traffic, thankful to be pulling into a Burger King for an early lunch. It’s just after 11 AM and spurred by horrid riding conditions, have ridden 30 miles already. We’re now facing only 10 miles or so, till we’re back at our starting point. We stay at the Burger King for nearly an hour, enjoying our lunch in safety, while Alex explores the Play palace with some other kids. Too soon, it’s time to load her up again and head out. Alex has been so busy playing, that she hasn’t stopped to eat. We put her fries and bits of burger in a small box, so she can eat them in her buggy.

The traffic dies down a bit, at the Kalispell turn off, as we continue straight on, toward Whitefish. The cars are still screaming along at 70+ miles per hour, but now there’s a wide (though debris-covered) shoulder, which gives us a more comfortable margin of safety. Still, it’s a warm day and we’re just ready to be done.

We arrive at the car just before one in the afternoon. We’ve done it. We’re finished!

As with the completion of every adventure, we’re glad to be done and eager to be home … and yet, part of us wants to continue and never stop. We load up the car, change into street clothes and began our eight-hour drive, back to Edmonton. We opt to drive through Glacier National Park (the straightest route) and as we pass places we remember seeing from our bicycles, we comment on them. It’s much easier to converse, sitting next to each other in the car, than it has been, cycling with one in front and the other (sometimes) quite far behind. The climb over Logan’s Pass, from West-to-East is impressive. "I’m glad we did it in the direction we did," Rachel says.

Scott agrees.

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