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Related Photos The USA Border to Missoula, MT Stage (via Highways 17, 89, Going-to-the-Sun Rd, 35, 83 and 200) Back


July 17, 2004

Oh, it was good to be back in the USA! After crossing the border, we pedaled 3.5 miles across the northeast corner of Glacier National Park. Completing the brief jaunt through the park, Highway 17 then entered the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. The climbing continued with occasional descents mixed in for 12 miles. The view was incredible as we weaved through the rugged mountains. Among the most notable was Chief Mountain (which the highway is named after). A non-touring cyclist passed us along the way as we struggled up a hill. We reached a cattle guard crossing which we walked the tandem across.

After several miles of up and down, our fuel tanks were nearly on empty so we stopped to munch on some food bars. Tired from all of the climbing, we finally got relief as we descended (800 ft drop in elevation) into the valley. Racing down into the valley, we had to alertly turn right onto Highway 87 for a four mile jog to Babb, MT. It was near noon when we reached Babb and the day was already very warm in the 80s. A restaurant stop in Babb was just what we needed. It was apparent that we were still very close to Canada as the restaurant had sweetened iced tea. However, the tea came from a pitcher instead of a can or bottle and the waitress gave us lots of refills.

After putting on some sunscreen, we continued into the valley, biking along Lower Saint Mary Lake. We followed this lake all the way into the town of Saint Mary. At a convenience store stop, we met two motorcyclists from Ohio. They had also started from the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway, but it had taken them only one week to get to the same point as us! They were so impressed with our trip that they gave us a “Harley Davidson of Chillicothe, OH” pin to put on our bike bag.

With the temperature rising and the afternoon peaking, we knew it was too late to start biking to Logan Pass, a very appreciable climb. Plus, the 44 miles we had traveled so far today felt like 100 miles of effort. We contemplated the best place to stop for the night. Since there was no availability in the motel located six miles into the park, we opted to stay in a motel in Saint Mary just outside of Glacier National Park. This would allow for an early start the next day in an attempt to beat the heat and the rush of tourist vehicles.

Large RVs and trucks are not allowed on the Going-to-the-Sun Road (the highway going through Glacier Park) as it is steep and narrow. However, there can be plenty of traffic as the road is so scenic. There is also a small section of the road beyond the pass and descent which is closed to southbound bicyclists (like us) between 11 AM and 4 PM. It was imperative that we get to this restricted zone before 11 or we would lose up to 5 hours. For those cyclists going to Logan Pass from the south, the climb is more winding and precarious, so even more sections have time restrictions. We ate an early dinner and then checked the weather forecast before heading to bed. The forecast predicted light rain in the morning. Were we making the right decision?

Miles cycled – 28.4 miles (south of the border) 44.4 (total)

July 18, 2004

We looked outside at 4 AM to find no rain. Rechecking the internet forecast, it was now saying that there would be no rain until the afternoon. How convenient! We get the cooler weather without the wet rain. Leaving Saint Mary at 5 AM, there was not a lot of light. The front bike light was shining but it is more useful for being seen then it is for actually seeing in the dark. At the edge of town, four cars in a row passed us. Wow, there were other early birds out there beside us. We passed through the Glacier National Park gate just west of town and stopped to get an information brochure. At last, we were on the highly promoted, Going-to-the-Sun Road. A little ways down the highway, we stopped to walk over a cattle guard. That Randall could actually see the cattle guard with his bike light was encouraging.

As with our past experience, biking early in the morning has one particular bonus. More critters are out along the road. After two miles, an elk was seen on the right side. Just a half mile later, we saw what looked like a large, yellowish-orange ball on the left side of the road. As we got within 100 ft of this large profile, there was enough natural lighting for us to make a positive identification. GRIZZLY BEAR! The bear was grazing along the opposite side the road and when we passed by, we were not more than 20 feet from it! He had his head down in the grass and paid no attention to us. He was probably aware of our fleeting presence. For those of you jumping to the photo section for a grizzly photo, there are none. The camera was not turned on yet as it was too dark to take pictures. A camera flash might have captured the moment but we would much rather reach Florida instead!

We biked six miles along Saint Mary Lake before passing by the lodge which was booked when we called the day before. A half mile later, we reached a point where several tourists had positioned themselves and their cameras. They were waiting for the rising sun to clear the mountains behind them and shine on the mountains in front of them. We took some pictures but could not wait there for the sun. We had some climbing to do. The road passed by the end of the lake and straightened out to one long climb with trees on either side. As we reached the end of this long, straight climb, two things came into view. We could see the road wind back to the left on the side of the mountain ahead of us and it looked very steep and very high up. Also awaiting us was a sharp, hairpin curve. We took a breather (one of many on this climb) at this sharp curve as the snow and mountain streams were just a wonderful sight to enjoy.

The clouds began to roll in which did not help our photography. We were thankful that the traffic was still fairly light (perhaps the overcast sky allowed many tourists to sleep in). Near the hairpin curve, we saw a couple in a small RV pass by and then stop to take pictures. With our occasional stops for rest and photos, we managed to keep pace with the RV. Once, when we passed them, the woman smiled and said we were brave to take on this climb. Several hours later when we stopped in West Glacier for lunch, that same couple stopped to introduce themselves. They were from Austin, TX and gave us a donation for Habitat. They were the first vehicle travelers we had met that were taking as much time as we were to really see the sights.

Continuing on from the hairpin curve, we headed up the winding road that looked so intimidating from down below. This segment of the climb wasn’t so bad after all. We were using our third lowest gear as the grade must have been about five percent. When we stopped to look down below, we were just amazed at how far we had come up. Going another half mile up, the snow and mountain streams were becoming more abundant. Thankfully, there were a number of turnouts on this narrow, mountain road. The motorists were most patient with us and gave us lots of room. One driver of a north bound vehicle paused to say “You’ve got it made!” when we were just 1.5 miles from the top.

About a mile from the top, the road passed through a narrow tunnel. The visitor center was now coming into view. We are getting close! In several places, there were snow drifts along the road. Signs pointedly warned about the snow’s instability (a danger which the tourists were ignoring). We reached the visitor center at Logan Pass (elevation 6,680 ft) at 8:30 AM, completing our sixth Continental Divide crossing. There were walking trails at the pass and one took us to within 50 ft of two large Bighorn Sheep that were resting next to a tree. They were obviously accustomed to humans which made for easy photography. Before beginning our descent, we took that important photo, standing in front of the Logan Pass sign. We had climbed up and were now ready for the adventure down.

Going south just a few hundred feet, it was apparent that the descent was steeper and narrower than the climb up. Oh boy, we are going down, down, down. A badger darted across the road in front of us. What was he doing, this high up? About a quarter of a mile beyond the visitor center was a second walking trail. There, a white, mountain goat was grazing beside the path. The animals really put on a show in Glacier!

On this side of the pass, the road hugs the rock side of the mountain with a 30″ high stone wall on the outside edge (to keep you from going over the cliff). In two places, the road was being repaired and only a single lane of traffic could pass at a time (regulated with traffic lights). The whole road needed work and we later read that Glacier National Park was lobbying for federal funds. The First Lady, Laura Bush was in a different area of the park for a vacation and probably noticed the need for repairs.

We stopped many times to let the brakes cool and to absorb the scenery. We looked over the cliff a couple of times as the heights were not for the faint at heart. At one stop, we met a biker from San Diego who was in the area for a family reunion. He had biked the pass going north the day before and was going south today. His wife was making the same trip, but in their vehicle. He said that this was one of the prettiest roads to bike anywhere and we would have to agree with him.

As we took our time going down this wonderful descent, the traffic picked up tremendously. A few more cars were passing us but the chain of cars coming up the mountain was almost continuous. Further down, we passed through a second tunnel. The road then leveled out a bit and we were surrounded by trees. The road followed McDonald Creek for several miles. What a beautiful stretch of bluish-green water this was. You could easily see the bottom of the creek which was covered with brilliantly colored rocks.

When we reached the resort village of Lake McDonald, we opted not to stop. We were at the start of the highway which banned bicycles from 11 AM to 4 PM. The time was 10:50 AM. Barb asked “Are we going?” and Randall responded, “We go!” So, in our best imitation of Lance Armstrong, we covered the restricted miles in 40 minutes. The two lane road along Lake McDonald (the lake itself) was narrow and could be very busy. Most of the traffic was heading into the park and as we raced down the road, we held up just a few cars that were leaving the park.

Before long, we were crossing the park boundary. We stopped at a restaurant in West Glacier for lunch. We quickly finished our sandwiches and then realized that we were still hungry so we ordered a second round. While observing our big appetite, the waitress smiled and said that she eats all day long and then is surprised to realize how much she has eaten. We didn’t tell her that we had just biked 50 miles and were hoping to bike another 50 before the day was out.

The first three miles leaving West Glacier were on busy Highway 2 and once again, large RVs and trucks were permitted. Despite all the traffic, a skinny black bear crossed the highway right in front of us. We had to slow down to avoid intersecting his path. When he saw us coming, he doubled his speed. Soon our route had us turning off onto Lake Five Road. A few pedal strokes further and we turned right onto Blankenship Road. Are we lost yet? On this stretch, we had a rugged three miles of gravel roads. Yuk! The road crossed the middle fork of the Flathead River where many locals were rafting and swimming. After the bridge, the road was now back to blacktop. A few miles later, we turned left onto North Fork Road, a more prominent highway.

On our way to Columbia Falls, we met an older couple out for a Sunday ride. They were riding single road bikes with very skinny tires. They obviously biked a lot and said they even tried a tandem. He claimed she was a bad, backseat driver so they were back on singles. They were familiar with the maps we were using and recommended we use the secondary roads on the route as the drivers on the highways were not always kind to bikers. Montana gets a lot of touring cyclists and for the locals, the novelty wears off quickly.

Reaching Columbia Falls, we merged onto that busy Highway 2 again. We were not on this road for long though as we turned off onto River Road. A short time later, we turned onto Columbia Falls Stage Road. Heading south for 12 miles on this rural road through the valley, we now had rolling hills and a stubborn headwind. The valley was full of crops such as wheat, alfalfa and perhaps, potatoes. After covering a difficult 12 miles, we joined Highway 35 which had a wide shoulder and rumble strips to separate us from the traffic. We stopped for long awaited cold drinks and snacks before continuing on. Five miles later, we reached Creston where we turned onto yet another back road called Riverside Road before rejoining Highway 35.

We followed Highway 35 into Bigfork. We did not make any reservations in Bigfork as one of the accommodations was listed as a hotel and RV park and there is always room for one more tent. However, once we got there, we found out that only the hotel portion was still in operation and it was full. The hotel operator suggested we go to the state campground, Wayfarers, a half a mile beyond on Highway 35. The campground was 3/4 mile off the highway, next to Flathead Lake. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that they had showers. As we set up our tent, our neighbors asked how far we had biked today. They were impressed enough to offer us cold root beers which really hit the spot.

Miles cycled – 100.2

July 19, 2004

It began to rain during the night and although it would occasionally let up, it would not actually stop until after we started biking. So we had to pack our wet tent and damp sleeping bags and get going. It was an unusually warm morning, even with the rain, as neither of us had to wear our tights to keep our legs warm.

Leaving the campground’s long driveway, we started on the wrong highway as we were confused about the location of the campground. After 1.5 miles, the details just did not match our map so we turned around and found our way to Highway 209. The skies were overcast until 9:30 AM which kept the morning temperatures mild. Along the route, some local cyclists were stopped on the opposite side of the road while their companion fixed a flat.

Reaching Ferndale, we took South Ferndale Drive to zigzag our way over to Highway 83. Because we had a sequence of right, left, right, left and right, we had to pay close attention or we would have to deal with making another wrong turn. We crossed a long, single lane bridge on foot as the wood planks were wet and slippery. A car passed us while we were crossing the bridge and it was a tight fit. Two cars coming from the opposite direction were polite and allowed us to finish crossing the bridge before advancing.

We had a bit of a climbing today as we followed Swan Lake. It was a lot of up and down. At 9:45, we stopped at a convenience store which was in a cluster of buildings known as the town of Swan Lake. There, we bought some breakfast items and warmed them up in the microwave. As we ate, a cycling couple from Holland stopped in. They were riding on single bikes made by Bike Friday which fold for travel. This particular brand seems to be better suited for shorter people which worked for her but he was over 6 feet tall. They were interested in our tandem as they had some two-seater questions. After finishing our breakfast, we caught up with them about five miles later. Perhaps the speed of our passing tandem sold them on this kind of bicycle.

After enjoying a series of rolling hills, we came upon some road construction. Fortunately, it was just an eighth of a mile of work so it did not take long to go through. As we headed further south into Montana, we noticed the prevalence of mountains, sky, cabins and elaborate fences and gates. We saw so many cabins along the way. We even observed three separate cabin building operations.

Since services and restaurants were spread out at least 30 miles apart, we stopped in Condon for a late lunch. Once the waiter found out we were biking to Florida, he made sure all of our water bottles were filled with ice water. After we had ordered lunch, a man and two women walked in for lunch. The man asked the “where from” and “where to” questions about our bike trip. It was later learned that the couple and a cousin all grew up in Michigan and that the couple now lived in nearby Seeley Lake.

Not wanting to be without lodging that evening, Barb asked the Seeley Lake couple about the accommodations listed on our map. They initially suggested one hotel on the north side of town and then they offered us the use of their 5th wheeler for the night. After growing up in Michigan, Ken and Marsha had lived all over the country as his job required moving a lot. Once they retired, they traveled in the 5th wheeler for two years to determine where they wanted to settle. They choose Seeley Lake for their home, but usually winter in the southwest. Marsha’s cousin Marie was visiting from Phoenix, taking in the sights and enjoying the relatively cool temperatures.

Having lodging established and our fuel tanks filled, we set off for Seeley Lake. Just a mile down the road, a deer was about to make a dash across the highway. We did not feel threaten by the deer but we were very amused by the theatrics of this critter. As the deer hopped onto the opposing lane ahead of us, it stopped suddenly. His ears were straight up and he stood perfectly still, intently trying to determine just what we were. There was a vehicle coming from the other direction which stopped while the startled deer stood there. The deer didn’t seem to notice the vehicle at all as he was totally concentrating on us. He finally decided we were human, turning 180 degrees and bolting back into the woods.

The afternoon had some moderate climbing with one longer climb north of Seeley Lake. There was no shoulder for much of the route. We encountered a brief mountain shower as we scrambled to put our rain gear on. Fifteen minutes later, it was dry and we were taking off our rain gear so that we did not get too warm.

We arrived in Seeley Lake and stopped for supplies at the local grocery store before heading to our host’s house. The dirt road leading to their subdivision was right off the main road, but the small cluster of houses was about 2/3 mile back through a heavily wooded area. The houses were perched on a ridge which gave them all a great view of the mountains. Marsha and Ken had us park the bike in the garage and led us to the 5th wheeler. It had a living area with a kitchen, dining table and sofa and a bedroom area with the sink, shower and toilet. After we cleaned up, we laid our camping gear out on the lawn to allow for drying. We fixed dinner in the trailer and then joined our hosts for delightful conversation and refreshments. They even offered us the use of their laundry facilities. During the evening, it began to rain. Fortunately, we had already packed the things drying outside and we were going to be inside all night!

Miles cycled – 78.4

July 20, 2004

Waking up at 6:30 AM in a queen size bed, in the loft of a 5th wheeler RV, was a different experience for us. We were savoring it so much, we snoozed until 7 AM. Life is good! We packed up our tandem which was awaiting us in our host’s garage (even our tandem got royal treatment). At 8:15, we followed the scenic driveway back to Highway 83, the only road going through the town of Seeley Lake. As we left town, more cabins could be seen and we saw one more log cabin builder along the highway. Log cabins certainly were popular around here.

After just a few miles, we reached the beautiful Salmon Lake. We stopped a few times to soak in the splendor of the lake. One island in the lake had a large log cabin building which was owned and operated by the University of Montana for their salmon studies. They used a boat to transport visitors to and from the island. After following the winding road around the lake, the road opened up to a wide open expanse. Horses and mules could be seen on the left side of the road. Reaching the junction of Highways 83 and 200, we stopped to have breakfast at the restaurant there. Before we left, we were joined by a dozen young cowboys and cowgirls. Their boots certainly made a lot of noise while walking up the wooden steps to the second story restaurant.

Leaving the restaurant, we took Montana Highway 200 east towards Missoula. We soon noticed a large gathering of animals in a field, across the road from us. Ken had told us that this area was full of elk and sure enough, it was a herd of elk! We stopped our tandem quickly as we were just stunned to see so many elk. Even though they were quite distant, we took several photos. The leader, sensing that they were being watched, started running to the northeast. The whole herd followed the leader. As they angled toward the road, we realized we could get a closer look if we were to continue to the east. We got a tad bit closer but once the leader discovered that there was a fence ahead, it led the herd to the south and down into the valley. They moved quite quickly and were fabulous to watch. While reviewing the photos later, we determined there were about 70 elk in the herd. What an awesome sight!

Soon after the elk sighting, we arrived at our biggest climb of the day. While Missoula is about 800 feet below Seeley Lake, this climb was steep enough to warrant a passing lane on the highway. In addition, we had a headwind. The prevailing winds are from the west, which is why we decided to go generally east and south. However, in this particular part of our route plan, we were traveling west to get to Missoula. Westbound, and into the wind. After the climb, we managed to pick up some speed as the road wound down between the mountains. About 10 miles out, we could see rain was just around the next mountain. We stopped to put on our rain gear, but were hit with blasts of wind and rain before we got everything on. The storm was moving fast and three miles later we were through it and ready to take the rain gear off again.

We entered the small town of Bonner which had a large lumber mill before crossing the Blackfoot River into Milltown. Here, most of the vehicle traffic joined Interstate 90, while we continued on MT 200 into East Missoula and Missoula. We had been in Missoula in July of 2000 for a five day class on bicycle touring and just loved the town. The downtown area is charming without looking too planned like Jasper or Banff. The stores seem to be thriving and many people actually live downtown. All through town, one can see people walking and biking. The headquarters of Adventure Cycling is located downtown and we stopped there first. We were greeted by Paul, their webmaster. He took our photo for their wall of visiting cyclists. They average 300 visitors a year. They had maps of Missoula that noted the important stuff like bike shops, camping supply stores and hotels. We selected a nearby hotel and settled in for our rest day. We walked to the Farmers Market for fresh baked cinnamon rolls and cookies. We then walked to a restaurant that was built over Rattlesnake Creek. There, we watched a man fly-fishing as we waited for our meal.

Miles cycled – 53.1

July 21-22, 2004

We returned to the Adventure Cycling headquarters to work in the small room they had set aside for cyclists. Barb used their computer to check for map changes while Randall used our laptop to work on the website. A biker from Florida dropped by and we chatted about our experiences. He invited us to his home in Jacksonville if we decide to deviate from our planned route of Highway 27 in October. It is always pleasant to talk to a cyclist, but we weren’t getting our website updated so we returned to our hotel room. Missoula has a “Out to Lunch” event on Wednesdays with food booths and music. We biked to the area for lunch and then continued to a local bike shop which had a cordless odometer to replace Randall’s malfunctioning one. Lastly, we biked to REI to get some cooling bandanas. These are filled with beads which soak up cold water. Then you place them around your neck for the cooling effects of evaporation. We decided to give them a try as we will have many hot days ahead of us. One more errand was done on foot as Barb walked to the post office to send a few more unneeded items to her sister. On Thursday morning, we hadn’t yet got our journal ready for publishing on the web so we opted to stay another day before continuing our adventure.

Miles cycled – 7.5

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