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Monday, September 28, 2009


Friday, July 24
St. Mary to West Glacier via Going to the Sun Road

Note: there are 27 pictures in this post, so I chose the "small" format. You can click on a picture and open it in full size.

Have you ever done anything epic? You know, as in heroic; majestic; impressively great. That definition sets the bar pretty high. A less grandiose picture of something epic is surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size. Looked at this way, epic may actually be within reach. Come to think about it, I have been called “out of the ordinary” more than once. But that’s another story altogether.

At the Thursday night meeting in St. Mary, Greg said getting over Going to the Sun Road would be an epic ride. It was certainly going to be different from the riding we had behind us. We would climb about 2,100 feet over 12 miles then descend almost 3,000 feet in the next 12 miles. But epic? We would have to make the ride and see.

After breakfast, we packed a lunch and clothing suitable for hiking. These would be carried up to Logan Pass, the designated picnic stop. There is a restriction in riding a seven mile stretch of Going to the Sun Road. One of our choices was to start early and ride hard to get into the section before the restriction started at 11:00 a.m. As the section in question was at the bottom of the descent, some 41 miles into the ride, this was only theoretically a choice as far as I was concerned. Besides, it would turn the ride into a race; I prefer a tour. So, it was the second option that we all (as far as I know) chose: ride to Logan Pass, have lunch, change clothes, enjoy some of the hiking opportunities then continue the ride at a time that would bring us to the restricted stretch after 4 p.m.

Remember the paragraph that described weather for the day’s ride? The one in the second paragraph of the Happy Wanderer post? The one that was to apply to every day, unless otherwise noted? Good. You do remember. Consider yourself otherwise noted.

Bikes are ready - just waiting for the riders

As we coasted down the hill from the campground into St. Mary, we could see the mountains up ahead. The forecast was for a chance of rain and thunder storms; low clouds draped over the rocky slopes made the “a chance of” condition seem decidedly optimistic. But it is of little consequence. I have been captured again by the enjoyment of being in such a spectacular place and by the anticipation of the climb.

Entrance to the park and Going the Sun Road

It was a short jaunt to the park entrance, followed by a very nice ride on the lower part of the road – we were not officially climbing yet. Right from the start, the views were impressive. The twisting road presented new vistas at every turn. Rocky slopes cascaded down from the right, their course briefly interrupted by the level road surface before continuing down on our left. I pull off at an overlook. The lake below is surrounded by towering mountains; there is a small island in the middle. While admiring the view, it starts to rain in a way that lets you know it’s only going to get worse. A few miles farther and we start the “gradual climb.” A waterfall cascades down from the slopes on my right. And the rain gets more serious, encouraged, it seems, by the thunder that rattles around the lower reaches of the road. I get on my helmet cover, don my light rain jacket and head up.

For a while, the intensity of the rain increases with altitude. The thunder does not last long though, a good thing as the road soon gets up and onto the side of the mountain where we riders are quite exposed. I stop at the first big switchback and wring out what water I can, snap a picture, and continue on. The rain soon lets up and the wind, quite brisk at this point, is at my back. I make seriously good time going up a section that my computer rates at 7 to 9%.

The skies alternately cleared (in a relative sense) then dropped a damp, foggy mist during the remainder of the climb to Logan Pass. I’ve been wetter. I’ve been colder. And on rides on roads not nearly as impressive. No rain would have been OK. But the weather did not dampen what counted. That would happen soon, however. Here are pictures from the ride up:

As soon as I parked the bike, I realized it was COLD. I was damp. The air was damp. The wind was fierce. After stopping at the van to pick up my lunch, I headed for the visitors’ center. Ignoring the sign on the door that said No Food or Drink in Visitor Center, I joined several of the group eating lunch and trying to dry out and warm up. This morning, Bill had suggested a hike to Hidden Lake. That sounded like a great idea. Now, it was cold. Shivering cold. Hiking did NOT seem to be a good idea. I had dry socks, a wind-stop base layer shirt, leg warmers and an extra pair of tights. I changed into the drier, warmer clothes, but my jersey was damp and it was still cold. We decided to start the descent to get out of the weather; we could wait out the cycling restriction at Lake McDonald. Down we went.

It was an interesting descent. Going down, the road is steeper with considerably more twists and turns. And the surface was not all that great. In fact, one section was pretty much just loose gravel. But the views down into the valley below were breathtaking. And, the weather improved dramatically. It warmed up right away, the mist lifted and the rain was gone. For good. I stopped several times to take in the views and capture them, imperfectly, with my little camera. Here are the pictures from the trip down:

The restaurant at the Lake McDonald lodge offered up a pretty special buffalo burger, accompanied by a locally brewed Huckleberry Lager. Ice cream, jam, beer – that huckleberry is one versatile fruit! The lake was nice but, in the end, the wait for the restriction to lift got a little long. After a few hours of sightseeing, sitting by the lake, watching one of the riders fix another’s flat, we rode to the sign and waited for the big hand to crawl past 12.

It was a fairly easy 12 mile ride into West Glacier and the Highland Glacier Hotel. Luggage was carefully unpacked:

And we found a physician-approved recovery beverage:

Up and over Going to the Sun Road made for a great ride. But epic? I do not think I’d go that far. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park; riding from Ulrichen to Bergun in Switzerland. Epic rides in my book. But let me repeat, Going to the Sun was a great ride. One I’ll remember for a long, long time. Along with all of the others. It might not be a collection of epics, but it is an epic collection, to be sure.

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
54.3 miles           366.7 miles
2967 feet            16817 feet

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