Two Views, Two Worlds, One Gigantic Climb
We left Missoula eager to get to the mountains. Nature has a way of signaling you like the internal clock of a morning roosters crow. As the city faded south we cycled deeper into the wheat fields of Montana. Glacier National Park was 130 miles due North, 130 miles until my 26th birthday. The open scenery with the occasional farm silo was surrounded by creamed colored hills rolling seamlessly into the horizon. At the end of a full days ride we were met with what looked like a “small” climb so we decided to hold camp and venture on. As we slowly banked around the curve of the road it became clear, this…was no small climb. The cars appeared like micro machines towards the top. The only visible part of the car besides the glob of pigment on the horizon were the beams of light bouncing off the windshields. As the cars grew larger we consummated the summit and what we saw was nothing short of amazing. Vertical rock mounds cut high through the skyline like lightening launching horizontally thousands of feet above the valley floor. Both of us could feel a literal flood of gratitude flowing through our bodies at the sight. These mountains which have seen thousands upon thousands of years have stood there, waiting, for this very moment.
The valley of Saint Ignatius was a mirror image of the valley of Salt Lake City if Salt Lake was in its infancy. Booming mountains pierced the skyline to the east as they traveled north as far as the eye could see. The vertical expanse accompanied with the dense green overcoat created an image that’s burned into my retinas. The morning pack was pleasant for all three of us. Avenue was off once again pouncing away at holes she had found the night prior and Melissa and I were loading on our layers for the chilling decent into the valley. The pavement slowly graded and our speedometers climbed on our way towards Flat Head Lake.
It’s a funny thing Melissa and I do when we arrive to a grocery store. Of course we go in and shop around like any normal person except we go in our sweaty spandex, clickity-clanking our way around the store in our biking shoes looking for something which excites our Pavlovian responses. We pay then gallop out, groceries in hand and dump them near our bikes in a huge radius I would like to call “the kitchen table.” From the cookware to the random amenities we add to our food, we basically explode all over the cement in what may, given the sight, give Chef Ramsay a heart attack. Cans opened, pots on, fire a-blazi’n, baby wipes littered with food debris, panniers spewed everywhere, and all tastefully decorated with plastic wrappings from all the opened snacks I usually buy.With lunch behind us we came to a fork in the road. Our instincts tell us to take the route less traveled so east we went and east was hell. Up to date on this trip we have not had too many troubles with cars, that is unless you are driving a minivan or you happen to be from Utah. If you are both and have passed us on the road then we are lucky to be alive. I give credit to this luck about cars to the “comfortable” shoulders we have experienced for most of the trip. However, the road engineers of this particular stretch of highway skirting the lake had a small brain fart…bikes. To say there was pavement to the right of the white line would be a euphemism because I would not consider a few centimeters of chip seal a shoulder when you have 18 wheelers passing you at 60MPH.
We took two breaks along the way that made the scary ride completely worth it. First pitstop: shower time! The beautiful crystal clear water of Flathead lake was calling us and our dirty bodies. Trust me when i say we could definitely benefit from a shower when given a chance. Avenue, as always, is the first to go in. She is our water tester, our life guard if you will. Melissa and I followed and damn! Cold showers really wake up the soul not to mention your mental state. Clear cold water creates a clear clean brain. Our second stop was near a restaurant where a bearded fellow sitting in the bed of a truck shouted, “HEY! Ya’ll gotta try ’em here cherries!” My first instinct in these random cat calls is to avoid, avoid, avoid, but since Melissa was already headed his way, I thought, what could a few cherries hurt? Melissa and I pedaled toward the shouting man to have a taste of “these here cherries.” In short, we couldn’t stop ourselves after the first bite. These were the “end of season cherries” and I would be surprised to taste any better in my lifetime. While stuffing ourself with cherries we learned that he too lived on the road most of the year only to return to Flathead during cherry pickin season. As we said our goodbyes he insisted that we each fill a gigantic bag with cherries for the road. Who knows, we may run into this fellow again somewhere in Arizona or along the way as he hitches down south for winter.This brings us up to the point of a small town called Big Fork, Montana where we, once again, debate about our eating destination. With all this eating going on you may be wondering, “didn’t they already eat?” The answer was of course YES! yet we were hungry again. I have not looked into how much we are “supposed” to be consuming calorie wise, but I have been told it’s somewhere up in the high 8,000’s. So eat we must and eat we will 🙂
After checking out all of our options we decided on Brookies Cookies, a cute little eatery that is a bakery by day and an outdoor bar by night. We made friends with the friendly young lady behind the counter who pointed out her “home” through the window which was slung up in the tree in front of the local bike shop next door. She explained she was dating the owner of the bike shop living out of her car for the summer season. Big Fork, like Jackson Hole, WY, is a place where young travelers are drawn during tourist season to make a bit of cash to support their travels the rest of the year. Brookies Cookies inspired Melissa to adopt some aspects of their outdoor area complete with a live stage, river-front tables, and cozy backyard feel to her future plans of a small health conscious eatery lounge. I utilized the outdoor space as my office for the day and in between staring glazed-eyed at my computer screen I caught glimpses of Melissa on stage Hula-Hooping around. The life of a moving office never disappoints.Roughly 10 miles outside the west entrance of Glacier National Park are two helicopter companies…spontaneity took the best of us. So after droppin’ the dough, we tied Avenue up and kissed her off as we ran towards the helicopter. I somehow scored the window seat and as the voice over the headphones came on the engine fired up. The rumble began below our asses and the blades spun into a blur. Then, as easy as looking out a car window, we were off watching the ground become smaller, smaller, smaller. The ride flew us over some of the most breath taking views I have ever seen. It was like being a spaceman looking back the earth’s greatest creation. Huge turquoise lakes but dots against the span of lush forests climbing up to the timberline. Glaciers of grey frosted with white snow pack blending into the summer cumulus sky. Toothpick trails dashed and curved the highlands and crests of the open expanse of truly rocky terrain. Altered points of view is humbling to say the least.Our second view of Glacier National Park was after a days ride meandering towards Road to the Sun highway. As we rode east we caught sight of a historically harsh, fire ridden landscape across Lake McDonald. The pictures on the information plaques displayed an aftermath blackened with timber twigs standing alone in defeat. Other images were of the raging fire itself leaping hundreds of feet into the atmosphere. Below the burnt timber standing erect were reflections of the new growth gleaming out onto the mirror of Lake McDonald. This sight paralleled us 10 miles until we arrived at camp.
The eight-o-clock hour dawned fast. We had to be up to the top by 11:00am because the rules of the highway were no bikes between 11:00am to 4:00pm on the accent. Along we chugged and chugged as the grade slowly increased. Not even two miles in to the ride, Melissa and I were separated by a construction traffic signal, and me, being the ass I can be sometimes, didn’t wait. Melissa is usually faster on the ups than I due to the weight of towing Avenue so ahead I cranked. Mile after mile I kept thinking of the time limit so eventually I pulled Avenue off the trailer, carabinered her to my leather belt and sent her loose on the mountain asphalt. Her first couple miles were a dead sprint. As we carried along she wore herself out to the point of a jog which we maintained all the way to the top.The road to the top of the gigantic pass came with rolling winds sweeping down the steep slopes of the mountain face. Sheets of rain one second, clear sky the next. Mountain weather is, as I have heard in the past, unpredictable. I wondered how Melissa was handling the weather and my only communication tether with her was the occasional shout from the passing motorcyclist “She’s about two miles back!”. Located at the top of the summit is a small gift shop overlooking the green glacial valley. The view at the top was, with out a doubt, is one of the most epic views I have seen to date. The grand scale of the road can only be appreciated when looking back…12 miles to the bottom. Tours of people climbing off red shuttles waddled their way up to the cabin to purchase the trinkets plastered around the store. After I purchased my “Going to the Sun Highway” patch, I waited outside for Melissa to arrive. Before I knew it there she was, bundled up in her rain layers with her red cold nose poking out into the elements. She informed me she was not too happy with me for leaving her but lucky for me I was easily forgiven due to the fact that she was on such a natural high from the epic feat she had just completed. She couldn’t hide her smile that was beaming from ear to ear . We had summited Road to the Sun Highway, and of course it was now time to eat. Climbing such massive heights drains your body of calories but leaves you feeling intensely alive. Endurance has a way of cleansing the body in more ways than I can count. Rest comes easier, food taste greater, and views look sweeter. Spear-heading the grand and finishing with a smile we sat back and took in the expanse of highway carved into the mountain thinking to ourselves, “We just kicked that mountains ass!”
AS ALWAYS—YOU CAN FOLLOW THESE ADVENTURES ON INSTAGRAM