Montana 2014 Part 2 – Day 79 – Kalispell – Upper Thompson Lake: The need for an attitude adjustment

Wednesday August 6, 2014, 48 miles (78 km) – Total so far: 3,699 miles (5,952 km)

The ‘grumbles’ threaten to overwhelm me this morning. My list of woes is inconsequential but extensive, as personal gripes tend to be. I get out on the road around 7.30 am – a late start for me, but I just couldn’t pry myself off the sleeping pad this morning. My breathing was wheezy; it was already warm. It’s been hot and smoky for a while now, and the forecast shows it will likely last another 5-7 days. My motivation was bit low this morning as I thought about riding in more heat and smoke, on shoulderless roads with lots of high-speed traffic, and in pleasant but not outstanding scenery.

There is a bike path heading west out of Kalispell on the old Great Northern line. Of course the road has a shoulder where the bike path parallels the road. Both lead up a wide, mostly flat valley mown down by the large tongue of a glacier heading toward the huge ice sheet flowing down the Rocky Mountain Trench in the Flathead Valley. The small mountains surrounding the valley are actually more like hills and would have almost been completely covered in the Bull Lake glaciation. It was the more recent Pinedale glaciation that coursed through the valley in a slow but grinding and shaping flow about 15,000 years ago. Everything about this valley says: Glacier!

Bike path out of Kalispell is nice but parallels a section of road with a shoulder. Once the shoulder ends, the bike path ends also.

I get up to a two–mile section where they are completely reconstructing the road. The bike path has been demolished along with the road, so I have to get out on the rough and rocky dirt with the cars. It actually isn’t too bad, and the land is flat, so I can still maintain 15 mph. Still, it gets sand and grit in my brand new chain!! Grrrr….. Oh, I tell you the woes are teeny but loom large in my head. When you are in the thick of self-pity, it is hard to see things in perspective.

One of the pilot cars comes up behind me, so I pull over to let them pass, but the woman signals me to go on. She follows behind me as I try to sprint through the construction. Once to the other side, I pull off to let the cars pass and the pilot car woman waves, smiles and rolls down the window to yell, “Good luck! Have a great day!” I yell back, “Thanks”, then go cross-country through a shallow ditch to rejoin the bike path. Her cheery encouragement brightens my foul mood for a while.

The bike path curves around a hill, while Highway 2 travels over/through it. But then the bike path ends at Kila where the road overlooks the wide valley and the marshy lakes of a wildlife refuge. I join a backroad and come up to an intersection. There are no signs indicating which way to go, but the view up the glaciated valley is gorgeous. It is wide and flat, as if the glacier pooled and sat here as it came out of a narrower valley. That valley has higher hills and the classic U-shape of glaciation. Beautiful, but smoky! I gamble on one of the three roads I think is most likely to take me back to the highway. The road keeps curving around the contour of the hill, crosses Ashley Creek and then requires a short, steep climb back to the highway.

The traffic is still heavy here, and there is no shoulder. The MT bike map indicates 6440 cars/470 trucks per day in 2004. That level of traffic, which is probably more now with all of the population growth, is just not pleasant without a shoulder. Oh, woe is me! It is my choice to be here, but right now I HATE Montana Dept. of Transportation. I also have a bad feeling for Montana drivers. The speed limit is 70 mph, and most people seem to be doing that or more. They just do not want to leave the lane at all, or even get their tires on the centre line paint, to overtake me. Grrrrr!!!!! I move out in the lane a bit, but that doesn’t help. Maybe the most disconcerting thing is listening to the overtaking cars and not hearing them let off the gas when they initially see me. Foul mood! Foul mood!

The road curves into the narrower valley, following Ash Creek to a divide in this low mountain range. These mountains are Belt rocks, like everywhere else in western Montana, but these are older than the ones to the east. It is thought the younger Belt rocks east of here slid off these older ones in the thrusting that moved so many slabs of earth east around 70 million years ago.

But the visual geology draw here is not the Belt rocks. It is the glaciation of those rocks. There are outstanding examples alongside the road of the grinding of the glacier over the bedrock. Smooth, glacially polished outcrops, featuring long, parallel grooves and scrapes from where the glacier ground smaller rocks into the bedrock as it passed over, can be seen for several miles. But I can’t really get a good look at them as I ride, because the traffic is just too heavy to look at much besides my mirror and the oncoming vehicles. Grrr!!!! I tell you the woes are many this morning.

Then, to add to my misery, the log trucks start up. Luckily, the log trucks going my way are stacked empties. But these guys are really obnoxious. A couple of them force me into the gravel when they stick to the right of the lane when approaching me. You bastards! I married one of your own (my husband drove logging trucks for several years) and I am trying to share the road! There’s no excuse for an empty not to move over a little bit if there is no on-coming traffic. Fully-loaded log trucks tend to be quite unstable, so I understand when they don’t move over at all, since they are just trying to keep as straight a line as possible. But an empty?! They aren’t even much longer than a solo prime mover! Grrrr!!! My woes mount. My attitude worsens. And even though my new chainring and chain have improved things, my shifting is still not super-smooth. I’m still going to have to fiddle with things further. Grrrr…..

By the time I hit the long climb through the forested valley, I cannot really even see the beauty of the forest reaching down into the creek valley. I hate the heat, the smoke, the traffic, the impolite and discourteous drivers! Adding to my sadness and foulness is knowing that, in the past week, two of my good friends who’d hoped to join me for a week each, have had to bow out because of work. And I just missed another friend by 15 miles. At this exact moment, bicycle touring is not very fun.

The hill gives me a good chance to crank out my frustrations. A shoulder actually appears! I can climb in relative peace and just push out all my frustrations. It’s only 10 am, but it’s already hot. Sucking in the smoke has my lungs quite raspy. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m frustrated. Every tour has a low point, and I’m pretty sure that this morning is the low point of this tour so far. There may even be a tear or two threatening to leave their ducts and roll down my cheek. Pedal. Pedal. Crank. Crank. Grrr…..

Well, the blessed road gods put a gas station at the top of the long, hot climb to the divide at Marion. As I emerge from the building with two cold drinks, a man comes up to me and says, “You! I saw you riding up the mountain, just pedalling away like it was nothing, and I had an epiphany! Thank you!”

I’m afraid god-talk is going to ensue, but he then says, “I’ve been overweight for years and I’ve tried every diet out there, eliminated every food. And nothing works. Then I see this skinny girl riding a heavy bike up a mountain like it’s nothing, and it hits me: I need to get a bike!”

Sourpuss Em replies, “It’d be great if more people had that idea”.

The man takes no notice of my foulness and says, “I’m sure that once I can ride up that mountain without wanting to die, then the weight will have started coming off. How many calories do you burn”?

I reply, “I don’t know, but I think in an average day, I’d burn about 3000. The pack weight is very effective resistance training if you want to look at it that way”.

The man continues with his enthusiastic epiphany, “My doctor always wanted me to do a fitness plan, but I guess I always thought I could blame the food. But seeing you come up that mountain so effortlessly has set me straight! Oh thank The Lord for sending you to cross my path”!

He then asks the standard questions about the ride, then slips me a $20 note and says, “Replace calories on me later, I’m so glad to have met you!”

His enthusiasm brightens my mood again for a bit. The traffic dies way off at this road junction, too. And a shoulder appears. Of course there wasn’t one where I needed one, but goodness, I guess we’ll take whatever we can get whenever we can get it.

The road heads downhill in the wide forested flats of the divide. The road opens out to wider views of the low mountains. They look absolutely flogged here. Massive forest fires in the early 1900s and extensive logging give the area a rather scrappy look.

A few curves later and we go downhilling toward the chain of lakes descending from each side of the divide. Like the Swan Valley, the lakes are leftovers from the glaciers that scooped out the valleys as they ground down through the hills. The guys and I stop for a brief break at Mcgregor Lake. The turtle and the amphibian plead with me to stay, but after a few puffs of the inhaler, I insist we continue on.

Break at McGregor Lake.

We stop at Logan State Park to drink and refill water bottles. I could camp here, as there are a few spaces available, but it’s quite close to the road, and I’m still feeling fairly foul, so I just drink all of the liquids I have on board, then refill everything with water. The camphost here is very kind and tells me to hang around as long as I want in the shade. She thinks I should stay put because of the heat and smoke. “It’s going to be 94 degrees today”, she says. I tell her, in my hoarse and raspy voice, that I’ve recently taken my inhaler for my asthma so want to put in a few more miles while my lungs are relatively open. She looks at me with great concern and disapproval. She shakes her head, “Stay. If you have asthma, you should not be out in this.”

Hwy 2 west of Marion. Now that most of the traffic has turned off, we get a shoulder. Grrr…..

But I continue on. I’m not feeling as nasty as I was this morning, but I’m still not very happy with the state of my little world at the moment. Oh, woe is me! Get over it, right?!! But at the time, it is hard to see anything through your funky little window of woe and misery.

Ho-hum. Just some forested mountains to look at, some heat to withstand and some smoke to breathe. Another day on the road in western Montana.

I reach a long flat stretch with young trees growing along the valley floor. The low hills to the north are so low they are almost hidden by the vegetation from this angle on the road. As I’m pedalling this section, I know that there is a string of lakes off to the south. I have a map, but it’s not a fantastic one, and few of the dirt roads leading from the highway are marked. Much of the land here is private, so I don’t know which ones lead to the fishing access campsites along the Thompson Lakes and which ones simply lead to clusters of homes.

I take a gamble midway along the long, flat stretch of highway and head down a dirt road that I’m hoping will lead to one of the no-wake lakes. After the Seeley-Swan Valley, I’m tired of the sound of motorboats and jet skis. The road gods smile upon me again. I’m giving no respect in my foul mood, but they shine the light on me anyway. The road leads to private property, but it also leads to several campsites. The first one I see looks pretty awesome, so I just pull into that one. There may be better ones along the lake, but this only required a couple miles of gravel, so I’m calling it good. My lungs are insisting on me calling it a day, too. The nearest campers are at least 1/8 to ¼ of a mile away. There is plenty of shade. It is fairly open so the mozzies aren’t too bad. There is access to the lake. The pit toilet is about a ¼ mile down the road. It is peaceful and, most importantly, absolutely silent. Done deal. Let’s call it a day and get down to some attitude readjustment.

Hot and smoky today. I’m in a foul mood all morning. At Logan State Park I drink a bunch of water and then refill my Camelback and all my spare bottles. Then we head to Upper Thompson Lake area, head down an unmarked road and find this great campsite on one of the no-wake lakes.
The guys enjoying our lakefront spot out on the squishy, muddy grass. Frog and turtle heaven.


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