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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hungry Horses and Spotted Bears

Saturday, July 25
West Glacier to Whitefish

As noted in this 14 Percent Ride blog post, you can only do something for the first time once. Finishing my first tour as I rode into the University of Montana campus at Missoula in 2007 is as clear in my mind as if it had happened only 10 minutes ago. Epic. Never again would I finish my first-ever bicycle tour. But that’s not to say riding into Loveland, Colorado or being driven to the hospital in Langenthal, Switzerland were not memorable ~ and special ~ in their own way. They were. And so it would be today, the last ride of the Glacier/Waterton tour.

It appeared at first that our biggest challenge would be to understand the route sheet. Being only about 26 miles from West Glacier to Whitefish, our router decided to offer a variety of options, resulting in a lot of “if you chose Option 1, go to line 20 of the sheet, but if you want to ride Option 2, go to line 46.” Except it wasn’t that straightforward on the actual sheet, which just had lots of Option 1’s, Option 2’s and Option 3’s all over the place. But, I’d ridden in Switzerland where the only thing that wasn’t optional was the name of the hotel we were aiming for at the end of the day. And where Bill and Bob succeeded in finding options to the options. Sometimes on purpose. How hard could THIS day be?

Note: Since I DID NOT say anything about how I saved Bill’s life by having enough warm clothing for two people on yesterday’s ride, I know he won’t mind a little poetic license regarding the Swiss trip. It’s only a little, though.

The side trip to Hungry Horse dam was highly recommended so dam it was to be. To save you the trouble of returning to the first post, I’ll just tell you now, “It was a grand morning, cool and clear, when we headed out early after a quick breakfast.” Eight miles out of West Glacier, I turn onto Reservoir Road for the four mile ride to the dam. The road was quiet, rolling and scenic, providing a most pleasant approach to the more-impressive-than-I-had-expected Hungry Horse dam.

To Hungry Horse Dam

After spending time in the visitor center, we decide to ride around the lake behind the dam. There is an 11 mile stretch of paved road and we’ll have to turn around and backtrack, but this is such a nice area that doing it twice doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. Shortly after crossing the dam, the road climbs gradually above the lake where we get good looks at several occupied osprey nests.

Beyond Hungry Horse

Looping along to follow the contour of the shore, the road carries us into a bit of the Montana wilderness. There is a campground and a couple of houses. We meet a few cars. There is a construction crew re-building a small bridge. But we are mostly alone in the quiet of the forested hills above the large lake collected behind Hungry Horse dam.

At the end of the paved road, I stop and ponder the significance of this sign:
My conclusion? When you are at a point in the road where your only options are to go to Hungry Horse or Spotted Bear, you are a LONG WAY from home. Maybe it’s time to go back.

Roads often look much different when ridden in opposite directions; that was the case today on the return to Hungry Horse dam and then on into the town of Hungry Horse itself. A nice 15 miles. The remainder of the ride to Whitefish was enjoyable as well. OK, there was that 2.5 mile section of Highway 2. Narrow, no shoulder, fast moving, heavy traffic. But it was off on rural roads again at Columbia Falls and after 10 miles of fairly easy riding, the tour was over.

It was probably the least affecting tour ending of the four I have experienced. Yet it still had that same bittersweet character. The riding had been hard work and it was nice to be able to anticipate a day not perched on a seat that would be small to someone half my size. There would be no pulling myself and the bike up hills or riding those unpleasant parts that you encounter any route – the long, straight, flat stretches that seem to never end. On the other hand, it was with considerable regret that I realized I wouldn’t be on that seat tomorrow, going up another grade, rounding another curve, finding another spectacular vista unfolding ahead of my handlebars, rolling through country I’ve never seen nor will ever forget, … Sigh. What a great tour.

If you’ve been on a cycling tour, then you probably know how enjoyable it can be. If you haven’t, then maybe you don’t know, nor can you figure out, why anyone would find pleasure in the experience. I doubt all the writing about my tours gives any more insight into the experience to either group. But I get to relive the rides, so I write about them. And in that, perhaps, given those of you who read the accounts a smile or two as well. I hope so.

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
61.2 miles           427.9 miles
2708 feet            19,525 feet


Spiffer said...

At least it's not "Hungry Bear."
Great post. Look forward to hearing about the next tour!

Anonymous said...

Fun to see more info about your ride. But darn. Now I can't get the tune to "Walk the Line" out of my head.

Carol K.