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Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

Filed in:Cycling

Glacier & Waterton Lakes Cycle Tour

August 22nd, 2005  · stk

Day 6 - Twin Butte, AB to St. Mary, MT (55.5 Miles)

5h 58m ride time – 9.2 mph avg - 39.6 mph max

August 18, 2005

All night the rain pounds on the roof of the log cabin. When any of us wakes, we listen to it and dread the prospect of another wet cycling day. After drying all our wet gear, is it just going to end up getting wet all over again?

The sky is just starting to lighten and thankfully, so is the sound of rain on the roof. Is the storm behind us?

We sleep in till about 7:30. Is it because none of us wants to face the day and the prospect of getting wet? Is it because we’re snuggled in clean, soft beds? Regardless, we’re slower about rising. Once we do, it’s nice to put the kettle on a gas stove, rather than fire up and hunch over the MSR Whisper-lite backpacking stove.

Our belongings are strewn all over the tiny cabin in an attempt to get them dry. Because we’re completely out of our routine and in unfamiliar settings, we’re disorganized and it takes much longer to sort through our gear, pack it and get ready to go. It’s 9:30 before we load up and begin pedaling.

The sky is still overcast and while we packed, it unloaded a few heavy and swollen drops, but as we pull onto the road, it appears the lighter patches will prevail. Perhaps Dave’s positive premonition will come true today and the sun will show itself.

Some things remain the same, as the rolling hills we encountered yesterday, continue. We labor up each climb and enjoy an all-too-brief descent that never gives us enough momentum to get over the next one. As we approach Waterton Lakes National Park, thankfully, the terrain becomes a steady descent. We fly along, as the clouds scatter and we stay dry. It’s a chilly morning, especially coasting down the grade, into the Waterton area.

We enter the National Park without going through a tollbooth and before we know it, we’re at the turnoff to the Waterton Village. It still relatively early in the morning and we have lots more mileage ahead of us, so we ride past the turnoff, not eager to add a 12-mile round trip to our day.

About a mile after the village turnoff, we’re faced with a climb. Scott spotted it, from a distance, as we were descending and could tell that it was going to be a substantial. However, from the bottom of the hill, one has no idea of the magnitude of the climb ahead. You can only see about three-quarters of a mile up the road and then, it turns and is lost in the trees. Beyond that bend lies another couple miles of steep climbing. So steep, that Rachel is off her bike for the last mile or so. Dave, who normally assumes a ‘sweep’ position, riding behind whomever is the slowest, is up ahead, pacing himself to complete the long climb.

At the start of the climb, two cyclists (without panniers and participating in a supported "Woman's Only Tour") come up from behind and overtake us. A little ways further, at the first bend in the road, their support vehicle pulls up, because one of the two riders is opting to ride in the SAG wagon. As we climb further, three more cyclists come up behind us, but they all stop to take a breather a leveling off portion of the climb. Scott and Dave pass by them. Scott keeps a steady pace to the Waterton Valley Overlook, at the summit and is the first to arrive. Dave is next, followed by a couple tour cyclists and then Rachel.

We’re overlooking the beautiful Waterton Valley, resting our legs, eating a chocolate bar and relaxing. More tour cyclists filter into the turnoff and we discover that there’s about 15 cyclists in the group. Auto tourists are amazed that Scott’s towing the Oop up these steep hills and all the women on the tour think she’s the cutest thing and impressed that she’s camping with us. (We sort of figure that she hasn’t much of an option).

After the lookout and back on the road, we enjoy some nice cycling, with some descents, before we reach our second substantial climb of the day, which will take us to the border. It’s another grinding, slow hill and as we round what we think is the summit, we see the "Woman's-Only Tour" SAG wagon, pulled into a turnout and hosting a lunch for the riders. We’re low on water and our map doesn’t indicate any towns, campsites or amenities for another 14 miles. Playing the toddler sympathy card, we ask them if they have any water to spare. They graciously offer us water (how can you refuse Alex’s big brown eyes?) and also invite us to share some lunch. Not wanting to interject males into their all-female contingency, we - using all our gastronomical willpower - decline.

Another half mile up the hill and we’re at the international border crossing. You’d think they’d put the place on flat land, but we have to cycle up to it and continue uphill on the other side. We arrive, sweaty and hot. We wait in line with the cars (there’s always a line – you know what I mean?). When it’s our turn, we hand the officer our three passports and Alex's birth certificate. He looks at our documents, counts them, looks at us and asks, "Is someone missing here?" We point to Alex, in the buggy and it dawns on him that the fourth person is inside. We answer the routine questions: How long? Where did you come from? What are you carrying? What is the reason for your visit? … and so on. He questions both Americans (Dave and Scott) and starts to question Rachel about her status in America, when he discovers that she lives in Edmonton, with Scott. Once he hears this, he stops this line of questioning and waves us on.

"Have a safe trip and enjoy your stay," he says, as we pedal off.

We ride about 100 yards, up the hill, to a pullout, where we have lunch. As we arrive, a couple of muddy backpackers emerge from a nearby trail. They’ve just finished their 4-day trek from Logan’s Pass. They tell us about yesterday’s rain and about their hike. It stirs a bug in us to be out hiking again.

After lunch, we’re looking at another 14-mile ride to the junction of Montana Highways 17 and 89. The elevation profile on our map indicates that we’ve already done the worst of the climbing, but that’s not to say it’s over. Sure enough, we’re facing a number of long rollers that seem to be more up, than down. We’re beginning to feel the day's ride, but still have a ways to go. We don’t place much stock in the elevation profile, ever since our second day and the missing climb out of Roosville, still, we’re hoping that the descent into the junction and nearby town of Babb is accurately depicted. Sure enough, it is. We finally round a climb and find ourselves at a viewpoint overlooking the Saint Mary River Basin. We now have a well-deserved cruise into the junction, with spectacular scenery all around us.

We’re speeding down the hill and we cross over a patch of very wet pavement. By only minutes, we’ve missed a heavy cloudburst. We get to the bottom and one of the "Women's-Only Tour" cyclists tells us about being caught by a short, heavy rainstorm, one in which she could hear hailstones hitting her helmet. It’s difficult to believe, because we’re standing in warm, beautiful sunshine, but the wet pavement is proof.

We linger at the junction store for almost an hour, chatting with the young boy whose grandparents own it. We decide to ride into Babb for a few groceries, because the junction store doesn’t have much, and then to find camp. Scott and Rachel start out, ahead of Dave, who’s changing his tire because of a slow leak (this is the only flat of the trip and it’s not really a flat, just a valve stem leak). The ride into Babb is pretty and relatively flat, but we’re pushing into a slight breeze. The highway isn’t too busy, but the few cars that pass us are traveling at 70 mph, which is a sharp contrast to the roads we’ve just come off of. We’re about halfway to Babb, when Scott spies a small, plastic highchair on wheels in the roadside ditch. He thinks that Alex will enjoy playing with it, in camp, despite the broken handle. ( Good call, Scott! When we eventually make it to camp, Scott removes the broken handle, which shortens the chair a bit, but it’s a perfect height for tiny Alex. She puts her doll in the chair and gives her "Dolly" the tour of our camping site, the neighboring site and the whole area. She plays with it till bedtime.)

We stop in Babb, pick up instant oatmeal and some bananas. Just as we’re pulling out of town, Dave catches up. It’s late in the day and there is dissention within the group. We’ve ridden 45 miles so far and we’re tired after lots of climbing. The Rising Sun campground, in Glacier National Park, is still 16 miles away. Scott wants to stop at the first campground, then ride to Rising Sun the next day, so that we can tackle Logan's Pass from the base, with fresh legs. Rachel’s not particularly keen to take a day and cycle only 14 miles, especially knowing that Dave is eager to be done and head home to his newly wed wife. Also, putting the pass off a day will mean that we’ll be climbing on a Saturday, with potentially more traffic. Scott is sympathetic to this argument, but comments that the whole trip has been too rushed. We’ve not stopped to enjoy any of the sights and interesting things along the way, to which, he is correct. We’ve passed by places like the Bellevue underground coalmine tour, the Frank Slide interpretive center, Waterton Lakes and Many Glacier.

Tired and grumpy, we cycle on, past all the private campgrounds on the way to St. Mary, finally stopping six miles shy of Rising Sun campground, at the St. Mary campground, also inside Glacier National Park. It’s about 7 PM, when we pull in. We’re tired, hungry and upset with each other. After some discussion, we decide to take a rest day tomorrow and if Dave needs to do the last 80 miles without us, well that’s his decision to make. When we informed Dave of our plan, he says he’ll be going on without us. It’s a sad moment, splitting up the group, but it’s probably what’s best, given the situation.

Light fades shortly after we arrive in camp. A family camped near to us, stops by for a visit, while we’re setting up our tents. The father is an avid cyclist and offers to drive us to Rising Sun campground, so that we might have a shower. We thank him for his kind gesture, but opt to remain in camp, choosing food over cleanliness. We quickly prepare a hot meal, in the fading light, take a sponge bath in our tents, and go to bed shortly after we put Oop to sleep. It’s been a long day and we’re all dog tired.

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