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GDMBR Chapter 16

Whitefish, MT, to Glacier National Park, MT


Wingin' it

At the Whitefish Lake campground, I had the tiniest bit of 4G.


I awoke to a string of messages from Jens outlining potential alternatives to our plan to meet back up. Because of the poor connection, the messages arrived out of order and I couldn't quite make out which ones belonged together, but I managed to send a reply that I later realized was equally ambiguous.


Essentially, Jens, who was at least a day ahead of me, suggested the following options:

  • Meet at Polebridge, MT (our original plan)

  • Skip Polebridge, which, unfortunately has turned into a bit of a tourist trap, and instead meet at a dispersed campsite on route, just north of the Polebridge turnoff. He would pick up some homemade bearclaw pastries, which are the main draw to the Polebridge Mercantile (#priorities). And from there, we'd continue on to the Canadian border.

  • Meet at the Quartz Creek campground in Glacier National Park. We'd camp there then make our way deeper into the park with the goal of cycling all the way up Going to the Sun Road on Saturday, July 9—the very first day the road would open in 2022 to its highest point: Logan Pass.

Despite adding over a hundred extra miles and a couple extra days onto the trip, the last option seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime.


I just hoped I had understood him correctly and hoped my response made sense.


Holy canola

Leaving Whitefish, I again went off piste in search of more rural, gravel roads. They took me through bright yellow canola fields and eventually to Red Meadow Creek Road that was also still closed to vehicle traffic.



There were signs everywhere warning visitors they were entering grizzly country.


I took the clip off my bear spray and made sure it was positioned correctly in its handlebar holster.



The rain, which had dissipated came back around. I did the dance of putting my rain jacket on, then getting sweaty and taking it off, then getting cold and putting it back on again.


Ultimately, I kept the jacket off as I was climbing. I figured I was getting just as wet with it on from all the sweat I was generating from the climb... I'd be wet either way.


As long as I was working hard to power up that mountain it actually felt quite nice. But when I stopped for snacks etc, that's when I got the chills.



At the beginning of the Red Meadow Creek Road stretch, near Whitefish, two women passed me on their mountain bikes out on a day ride.


We chatted for a bit and they were just radiating good vibes and enthusiasm and support and it no doubt carried me through much of the day!


Further the sky

The Gabe Dixon Band has a song called Further the Sky. Besides being a beautiful song (and album), I took a more literal meaning to the namesake lyric as I climbed. And climbed. And climbed up Red Meadow Pass.


In addition to the false summits and steep grades, the rain clouds went away and the sun came out. It got so hot. And humid from all the rain. My hair was soaked with sweat—it looked like I had just stepped out of the shower. Sweat was dripping from my chin to my knees, and from the backs of my knees into my socks.


I must have stopped at least five times to dunk in trailside creeks and waterfalls. I didn't even bother to wring my hair or clothes... I simply hopped back on my bike sopping wet.


Better the frigid snowmelt than my warm, salty sweat.


Every time I looked up, the top seemed further and further away.


It sure was beautiful though.



The prize was Red Meadow Lake itself; crystal clear water with a turquoise hue on the bottom, flanked by just the tops of mountains that were still pocked with snow from the recent blizzard.


As I rode past, there were film trucks and crew crawling all over with cameras, cables and light-diffusing screens. They were apparently filming a commercial for Coleman outdoor products.


Polebridge mercantile

Finally, I made it to Polebridge! One of the points of confusion from the earlier text messages was that Jens misspelled the name of the campground he suggested we meet at. It was one letter off from a campground in Glacier—but also one letter off from the name of a campground on the Great Divide route about ten miles north of the Polebridge turnoff.


Not sure which option it was connected to, I had to make some assumptions and I was hoping to get Wi-Fi at the mercantile to see if there were any new messages.



Literally as I was taking the picture above, Jens was waving and walking toward me... what a relief! I had already cycled something like sixty miles and climbed over 5,000 ft.


We picked up food and sat on the big log in front of the store, sharing crazy stories from our previous few days riding solo and talking with a group of young Pentecostals who were curious about my bike.


At one point a man walked up and asked if I was on an e-bike. Jens quickly responded by pointing to my left leg and saying, "Yeah; there's one battery," then pointing to my right leg, "...and there's another battery."


Good one, Jens. I'm going to use that from now on.


Where are all the peoples?


From there, we rode about five more miles to Quartz Creek campground, within Glacier National Park.


We were in a national park—in July. Where were the hoards of tourists!? There was only one other camper at the whole campground. Perhaps it was because the park's main draw, Going to the Sun Road, was still closed to traffic due to damage and lasting spring snow?


Whatever the cause, I'll take it! We got a spot right on the water and I washed my gross clothes in the creek before going to bed early.


Wrong direction


I felt myself twitching a little when I turned right (south) toward Polebridge instead of turning left (north) toward Canada... and the next day as we continued south toward Lake McDonald, I had to fight the alarm bells ringing in my head saying, "Wrong way!"


But alas, the rugged old dirt logging road, North Fork, was also still closed to traffic because of recent washouts. It was a super fun but challenging ride! We eventually made it to Apgar where we feasted on burgers, fries, beer and ice cream before illegally (oopsie) cycling along the lake to Sprague Creek campground.


Dumb rules

In addition to the lack of cycling-friendly infrastructure within Glacier, there are nonsensical rules that dictate when cycling can and can't take place on certain roads, in the name of, "safety."


They do offer shuttles but most only have room for two bikes, which meant one day when we got caught in the "no ride" time zone, Jens and I had to wait over an hour for a shuttle that could take both of us... and the driver insisted I remove all of my bike bags. All of them. Do you know how much a pain in the ass—and completely unnecessary that is!?!?!?


It ended-up taking nearly an hour and a half for what could have been a lovely thirty-minute bike ride.


Preparing to go to the sun

Sprague Creek campground is a small tent-only campground on the southern shore of Lake McDonald. It's only about seven miles from Avalanche, where the road becomes closed to vehicles.



This makes it the perfect launching place to cycle the twenty or so miles up the famous road that climbs over 4,000 ft to Logan Pass.


Jens had talked about doing this iconic ride almost from the day we met. It was first and foremost his dream. And it was quite serendipitous that it was opening—for the first time that year—to bikes at the same time he happened to be passing the park.


A couple weeks before, when I talked about kayaking Flathead Lake, he politely declined an invite citing that it was my dream.


That night while eating dinner at camp, I told him we could start together but that it was important for him to do the ride on his own, in his own way and on his own time.


Going to the sun

We woke at 5:00a, ate breakfast, guzzled down coffee and anxiously waited for 6:00a, when we could "legally" ride the seven miles to Avalanche.



Apparently my coffee didn't kick in right away, because I managed to ride nearly a quarter mile with my front hand break fully engaged (via a rubber band I use to pull the break lever to prevent fast theft and to keep it steady while it's parked).


I remember wondering how Jens was riding so fast, and that—my God—my legs were incredibly sore.


Doh!


Okay, once I figured that out, we parted ways and I let him get a long head start to begin his epic ride.


The day could not have been more beautiful. Partially cloudy, cool temps (it was probably around 50F when we started), slight breeze and no cars; just a few other equally-ecstatic cyclists.


I can't express how fun that was! There were old people, young people, big people, little people, groups and solo riders. Some on road bikes, fat bikes, commuter bikes, various adaptive bikes and e-bikes. Everyone was soaking up the sunshine, smelling the cedars and stopping frequently to appreciate the exquisite scenery and abundant wildlife.


Wowsa

I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking here...


Use the arrow on the right side of the image to scroll through


The header image for this post is also from the GTTS road on a section called the weeping wall. It's usually a gentle trickle, but was gushing with water from the heavy spring snow!


Jens passed me on his way back down, but still near the top, so he rode back up with me for an encore summit of Logan Pass.



Funny enough, there was a small group of women who had cycled up together and two of them recognized me; it was the two super positive women from Whitefish I met at the south end of Red Meadow Pass!


With plenty of stops to enjoy the vistas, snacks, water, chat with others etc, it took nearly three and a half hours to ascend... it took something like only twenty five or thirty minutes to descend...



Finally, rest! Ahhhh...

As soon as we made it back to camp, we changed and headed back to Apgar for round deux of burgers, fries and beer.


Back—back at camp, I swam and then took time to sit an paint... something I hadn't done in a while...



The next morning we'd head back out of the park and onward toward Canada...


Video dispatches from the trail:



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