Montana 2014 Part 2 – Day 77 – Swan Lake CG – Kalispell: Boom town

Monday August 4, 2014, 48 miles (77 km) – Total so far: 3,637 miles (5,854 km)

Am I still grumpy? No, not too bad. Verne’s irrepressible goofy grin and outstretched arms indicate the rest of the crew is feeling pretty good, too. It is very, very early, but the goal is to get down the road and out of this valley with its shoulderless roads before many people wake or decide to head into Kalispell. Once we get out into the Flathead Valley the road should have a shoulder. Then, once we hit Hwy 93, we can hook up with a bike path into Kalispell.

Swan Lake in the early morning.

So off we go in the very early tinges of first light. The road climbs to curve up and around the glaciated valley wall. Down below, private homes perched on cliff ledges and forested slopes line the lake. Once through this narrow constriction, the valley opens up and the road cuts through grassy flats and sloping glacial debris. We curve down and across a fault line – I can’t pick it out at the surface but know it’s there. As the light increases, so does the traffic. By the time the sun is fully out, and we are pedalling across gently hilly expanses of prairie which mantle the glacial debris mounds, I am being passed every minute. I do have a shoulder, though, except for one bridge, where the cars actually wait patiently behind me to cross.

Kalispell has grown tremendously in the past 15 years, and the valley is full of commuters. By the time we hit Hwy 93, the traffic is heavy. Between 2000 and 2010, Kalispell’s population grew by 40 percent. It is expected to hit 25,000 residents next year. The county is the second-fasting growing in the state. There are heaps of people heading into town today from the south. The MT bike map, which dates from 2004, has a traffic count of 8600 cars/530 trucks per day along this section of Hwy 82. This increases to 14,990/740 on Hwy 93. So I can only imagine how much greater those numbers are today than when the bike map was published (time to update MT DOT!).

The bike path into town parallels Hwy 93 for quite a few miles through various sorts of industrial buildings. I imagine that, from above, the industries strung along the highway would look like scattered outliers populating a line drawn on a scatterplot. Near the airport, the bike path dives under the road along a creek then curves through the western reaches of the valley plains. This whole area was bulldozed by continental glaciers grumbling down the Rocky Mountain Trench, so the wide, flat expanses look more eastern than western Montana. The only reminders of geographic location are the low mountains of the Salish Range at the edge of the plains to the west and the high peaks of the Swan Range to the east. Both ranges are bathed in grey clouds and a smoky haze today.

We’ve been fighting a pretty substantial headwind since we turned north, and it is a nice respite when we hit some protection from the wind in the form of a sound barrier and the new, big, boxy houses on tiny lots off to the right. I head into town at the northern end of this suburb on a road that not long ago would have been a country lane. This road dumps you into older bits of downtown.

Most interesting bike path sign I’ve seen in a while. I don’t think the people who cut switchbacks would understand the “senseless” wording. I don’t think it’s the proper use of the word ‘jaywalk’ either – but the angry intention is clear. The apostrophe in ‘shortcuts’ drove me nuts, too 🙂

I ride around, and the building that looks like it should be the post office is the library. Indeed, this used to be the old federal building that housed the post office, Forest Service, Land Office and Weather Bureau. You can connect to wifi outside; there is no password. A check of my email brings more disappointing news. My friend Jenny, who has ridden with me for a week or so on my past two tours, cannot meet me in Glacier. She just can’t swing the time off this year. There is no email from another friend who is vacationing with family in Columbia Falls at the moment. I’ve been doing my best to keep in touch in regard to when I might be close to him, so knowing he is 15 miles away but not letting me know yay or nay about meeting is frustrating. It makes me sad, but puts me in my place. It lets me know that I am not as important to him as he has been to me. Oh well – I did the best I could on my end to make it work and that is the best I can do.

I stop by the bike shop in town. They don’t talk down to me. They are enthusiastic about my ride. They give me crap for not swapping out my chain every 1,000 miles (I usually average about 2500 to 3000 miles per chain). But they have a chainring they can make work for me without having to order something in. I will take the bike in tomorrow morning and they’ll work some magic, and install a new chain.

I head out to the northern end of town. It is all big box stores and cancerous commercialism out here. It all looks like it just sprouted in the past few years. There is a huge bypass project carving through hills to the west. The downtown area was really choked by all of the traffic, and I can see the need for a bypass, but I imagine anyone living here for a long time can’t really recognise Kalispell anymore.

I head out to the Rocky Mountain Hi RV park. They have tent sites, and it’s only about $20 with discounts. The tent sites have some shade but are a long walk to the amenities block. The chick says I should be able to pick up wifi at the sites, but I can’t even get on outside of the office. Way too many people and not enough bandwith – that seems quite typical at RV parks. Still, if you are a family with kiddos, this is the place to be. There is a creek to play in with a deep waterhole for jumping, and a huge grassy play area with a bunch of equipment and plenty of shade. Works for me, but reminds me how far removed my life and priorities are from ‘normal’ America.

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