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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

Filed in:Cycling

Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

August 22nd, 2005  · stk

Day 1 - Whitefish, MT to Olney, MT (35.5 Miles)

3h 19m ride time – 10.6 mph avg - 34.8 mph max

August 13, 2005

The Oopers wakes us at 7 AM, right on the nose. Her internal clock is accurate, because we could almost set our watches by it. We lounge in our sleeping bags for 15-20 minutes, as Alex crawls on top of us and plays with everything she can get her hands on. We are enjoying her excitement for the new day. When we get up and moving, it's before we can head over to the KOA's restaurant "Buffalo Bob's", for the complimentary breakfast, which opens at eight o’clock.

There are only two real campground options in Whitefish; the Whitefish Lake State Park or the Whitefish KOA. The State Park is less expensive, but it’s right next to the railroad tracks and doesn’t offer a vehicle parking option. The complimentary breakfast at the KOA sealed our decision.

We're the second group to arrive at "Buffalo Bob's" and we head directly to the food table. It's laid out with a fine assortment of food: Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, toast, English muffins, biscuits with gravy, and a tray of scrambled eggs. Each of us loads up our plate and sits down to enjoy this hearty breakfast. It's a good thing we're a tad early, because just as we sit down, a crowd of campers arrive and the line-up is long. We devour our meals and then go back for a bowl of cereal. After that, it's time to go back for another scoop of scrambled eggs! (Gotta stoke our hearty cyclist appetites for the day ahead). We remark that the breakfast makes us feel a whole lot better about paying $31(USD) for a tent site, which is $23 (plus $8 for an extra person).

We're now stuffed and it's back to the campsite to dismantle the tents and pack the bicycles. Dave's "Xtracycle" is packed and loaded up in record time. Dave is certain that we’re jealous of his bike, because of this special add-on. We spend time sorting, reorganizing, packing, corralling the Oop, changing Alex’s diaper and then finally, after an hour or more, we're ready to check the tire pressure and begin the journey.

The quarter-mile campground entrance road leads us to Highway 93, but it's a steep, gravely route. We're out of breath by the time we reach the Highway with our heavily laden bikes. The "off-the-couch-and-onto-the-bike" training regime is already starting to haunt us.

On the highway, we have a fast ride, down a hill, into Whitefish. As we approach our first intersection, we're reminded of how precarious our safety can be. Scott clears the intersection, but as Rachel enters it, a driver, who doesn't see Rachel, makes a left-hand turn right in front of her. Rachel slams on her brakes and turns to the left, in an attempt to avoid the car. Finally, the driver spots Rachel, slams on his brakes, and Rachel narrowly avoids an early accident. Whew!

We ride into town and head over to the bike shop to pick up a couple items. (We have about seven, brand new packs of "Super Patches" at home, but we forget to pack any!) Fortunately, Glacier Cyclery has some and we buy a kit, to compliment the few we have with us. Rachel also buys a rear-view mirror that we had looked at yesterday. Rachel's plastic mirror snapped in the cold morning air and she needs a replacement. Scott tries to mount the thing to his existing helmet mirror's stick-on pad and he’s successful (though it's a bit of a MacGyver job). So we end up purchasing two of these mirrors (and they end up working wonderfully for the whole trip – they’re great mirrors.)

We spend the better part of an hour at the bike store. When we pulled in, there were two cycle-tourists in the courtyard. They’re the couple that we saw yesterday, in Glacier National Park, at the base of the Logan’s Pass, having just completed the long downhill run. We chat with them for a while, as they relate their story of yesterday's climb, in the bad weather and then the woman’s nerve-wracking descent. She said, "I was gripping the brakes the whole way." (One of the items they needed at the cycle shop were new brake pads, because they had worn through theirs descending the pass). Barbara and Irv, in their 60's, are nearing the end of a 'Northern Tier' cycle tour, from Maine to Seattle. Very impressive and inspirational. Visit their website

We also meet a guy who’s completed a majority of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and has ridden over, from Seattle, to finish off the Montana section and then ride up to Banff National Park, in Alberta. He’s telling us about his experiences on the Great Divide Route and how very little of it is single-track. Mostly, the route follows dirt roads. It’s inspirational to hear his tales and it’s a trip we add to our dream list.

We have our own 'wow' stories, talking about our cycle trip from Vancouver to San Francisco and traveling the Icefield Parkway with Alex. We answer a lot of questions about touring with a toddler and one of the bike mechanics, who has a 2-year-old, comes out of the store and chats with us about his desire to take his kid cycle-touring.

At last, it’s time to pull out and hit the road. We’re now back on Highway 93, heading out of town. In less than a mile, we’re already facing a couple of small climbs and we’re wishing we were in better shape. The highway has little to no shoulder and there’s a fair bit of traffic zipping past us, at highway speeds. A couple of miles out of town, we pull off the highway and cycle on Twin Bridges road, following the Adventure Cycling route map. This keeps us off the highway for about 10 miles and takes us through beautiful, open fields and past large ranch properties. We spot several dream properties, complete with fancy log homes, but we’re afraid to ponder the price tags they might have, if they were for sale. They’d probably fetch a price well out of our comfort zone.

Eleven miles into our day, we stop for lunch in a farmer's alfalfa field. The Oop is happy to get out of her buggy. She stands in the bright, warm sunshine, looking at the large, green John Deere tractor and matter-of-factly says, "Big truck."

We finish lunch, finish the rest of the pleasant cycle along the secondary roads, and rejoin Highway 93. We’re happy to noticed that the traffic is much lighter now, but it’s still far from optimal, as cars and trucks occasionally zoom past us. We begin a gentle climb, up toward the town of Olney, where we pull off for an afternoon break. It’s a small railroad town, comprised of a collection of houses, a volunteer Fire Department and a combination gas station/store. We park our bikes on the side of the store, in the shade, and venture inside, to get out of the warm sun. Scott and Dave stay inside for a while and outside, Rachel asks a local about the campground 7 miles away. He’s a chatty fellow, who knows about the Forest Service campground. The map indicates there’s no water there, but he says we’ll be able to get drinkable water from the creek that runs through it. When Dave and Scott return, everyone sits down, including our chatty friend, who talks non-stop for the next half hour, about growing up in Olney, about the Montana back country and just about everything else. We’d like to hop on our bikes and get going again, but we’re hot and not all that eager to resume cycling. Finally, we conclude that cycling in the warm sun is easier than listing to this guy, so we move along.

The ride from Olney to Spring Creek campground is tough and seems longer than it should be, typical for the end of a first day's ride. We haven’t done much mileage, but our out-of-shape bodies are telling us that we’re close to the end of our capabilities.

"The first day is always the hardest," Scott says.

We're hoping that’s right.

We struggle up a gentle climb, which is alleviated by too few, but enjoyable down hill runs, as brief as they are. Shortly after mile marker 153, we finally come across a turnoff for the campground. We ride down the gravel road and across a small wooden bridge. We see two tents pitched in one of the four camping sites, but the now rutted, dirt road continues, so we follow it, hoping to find a more secluded spot to camp. As we cycle on, legs tired from day’s effort and sweating in the sun, the dirt road deteriorates and heads down a steep and rocky hill. Eventually, it peters out. There are no more designated camping spots, so we turn around and head back up. Dave, with his lower-geared mountain bike, is able to ride up the rocky path, but we both have to get off our bikes and push them - panniers, buggy, Alex and all - up the hill. Scott’s legs begin to cramp up and he knows that he’s at his bonking point.

Back in the campground proper, we pick the best of the three remaining camping sites and unload our gear. Dave is distressed to discover a lack of cell phone reception, so he keeps suggesting that he ride 7 miles back to Olney, to buy beer and try to call his wife of 8 months, Karen. We’re amazed that he has the stamina for a 14-mile ride, but after looking at the map, we realize there’s a restaurant a mile or so, up the road. Off he goes, returning 10 minutes later with a cold six-pack of beer. Unfortunately, we wasn’t able to telephone Karen.

We crack open a beer, Scott has a quick and chilly rinse in the melt-water stream, after which, he cooks up a spaghetti dinner. Rachel is journaling, Dave is working on his bike and Alex is doing what she does best – exploring and getting dirty. The dinner tastes great, as do the beers. Everyone is relaxed and happy to be out of the saddle. Alex is the only one of us that isn’t tired. Sitting in the buggy requires much less energy than towing the buggy. However, when we put her into the tent at eight o’clock (her normal bedtime), she barely makes a peep and within minutes, all is quiet. (Thankfully, her bedtime is a less rambunctious experience compared to last night).

A while later ... the light is fading and it’s time that we too, retire to bed. Snores are already coming from Dave's tent and soon, we will be adding to the symphony. Tomorrow is another day of riding, much of it on secondary roads, so we’re looking forward to a pleasant day of cycling. We’re hoping our legs can carry us past Roosville and into Canada.

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