Montana 2014 Part 2 – Day 92 – Avalanche CG – Rising Sun CG: Going to the Sun

Tuesday August 19, 2014, 28 miles (45 km) – Total so far: 4,050 miles (6,518 km)

I pack in the darkness, like many times before. At this point in a tour, you can do it all by feel. I climb out of the tent. There are stars. There are no clouds. It is calm. Yippee! We’ve got good weather to climb Logan Pass.

I can see a flashlight bumping about in the tent on the other side of the hiker biker site. Louie is awake. I met Louie and Rebecca last evening and had a very nice conversation with them, both before and after our chat was interrupted by two black bears ambling through the hiker biker site not more than 20 feet away. Louie and Rebecca are doing a loop sort of thing out of Whitefish. They’ve mostly done dirt up to now, including the inside road of the North Fork valley which is quite rough – so rough it is currently closed to cars. I have a lot of respect for this couple. Louie and I are going to start out together this morning; Rebecca is going to shuttle over since she doesn’t think she’ll make the time cut-off and she doesn’t really like riding with lots of traffic. Louie asked me to bang on the bear box to wake him if he wasn’t moving around when I got up.

I go over and grab my gear out of the bear box. Even though Louie is awake, I slam the door shut anyway. Then I say, most definitely not in a whisper, “Hey Louie, you awake? You ready to go for a ride? You think there are any other people in the hiker biker site who’d like to go for a ride this morning”? Late last night, like each night previous, some car campers came and set up in the hiker biker site. These folks were very noisy and shining their flashlights everywhere post-10 pm last night, so I figure they deserve a little bit of an early morning wake-up call. Mission successful: I heard them jump when I banged that bear box door shut.

Louie and I get all prepared to go: rear blinkie lights flashing; headlights flashing; climbing attitudes turned on. We head out of the campground together, but within minutes it is apparent that we are not going to stick together. I’m on an aluminium bike with 37 mm road tires. I have three months of on-road fitness built. Poor Louie is on a steel mountain bike with knobby tires that he’s rented in Whitefish for this trip. He is on a two-week vacation. So he tells me to go ahead and not wait on him.

We start before sunrise to make sure we make it to the top before the road closes to bikes at 11am.

I kick it up and go. My lungs are good today. I’m psyched and ready for a climb. So much of Montana has been about valleys. I love a good climb. I feel so full of gratitude and joy this morning as I pedal up the gentle valley. I can actually see the peaks which soar above the road today. The clouds have finally shoved off. I can hear the creek rushing downstream on the other side of the road. The dark shapes of pines, firs and larches line the road and lead up into the hills. I worry for a moment I might be pushing it too hard out of the gate. Slow and steady, save it for the real climb, I tell myself. But I’m amped and cannot help myself. That gorgeous creek winding round the big curve in the valley, the high valley walls which tower above, the blackness of light giving way to the first light of day – it all envelopes me and seeps into me and propels me forward.

Soon after the long curve to the north, the grade increases. I stop to take my inhaler and down 250 mls of water. Then I start up the grade, flicking it down into an easier gear. I’m a few gears away from granny – she’s tossing back zzzz’s at the moment; it’s best not to wake her until she’s really needed.

I climb and climb the valley wall, up and away from the creek. The road drops off on the other side of the road, the cliffs on my side of the road close in, and I weave through the pebbles and shards of rock that have fallen from above. A car goes by and toots an encouragement honk. A fist comes out the passenger-side window and extends a thumb upward. The climb is easier than I thought it would be. I once told my husband that I could climb six percent grade all day, seven percent grade all morning, eight percent grade for a few miles, and nine percent in short grunts. Yep, I’m totally good with a six percent grade.

West side tunnel. There is light at the end of it. The picture is not blurry because I have no camera flash, it’s blurry because I’m going so fast (cough, cough).

I arrive at the Loop in good time. The valley continues north between snow-capped peaks and fire-affected forest, but the road doubles back on itself to head south. I stop here, a bit over eight miles into it, to get some food into me. I stuff down two Smores pop-tarts. Louie doesn’t arrive while I’m eating, so I head on.

The low brick wall escorts us on the right. The views out over the valley we just came up are long and distant. The valley floor is already a long way down. Now, the vertical cliffs of craggy rock are on the other side of the road. Over here, there is just a whole lot of air to the right. The road and the little brick wall weave with the wall of the valley. When I was on a trail crew, we would have said the road ‘curve-lineated’.

Heading up the west side of Logan Pass.
A bit further up the road. Logs line the road instead of brick for a bit.

The climb is sure and steady. I’m absolutely cranking it. Not fast – but much faster than I thought I would go and with much more ease. I don’t know why I thought this pass would be any more difficult than ones I’ve done previous. It actually ranks among the easier ones – either that or I’m just in some sort of super-groove today.

Just some examples of the amazing engineering that has gone into getting this road over the pass.

We arrive at Weeping Wall, about 13 miles into it. The traffic is starting to pick up a little bit now, but most people are giving me heaps of space. The Weeping Wall is over its spring-time sadness and the flow is not very impressive. The massive Haystack Chute, though, is even more impressive from down here than it was hiking through it on the trail. It is just a massive scoop-shaped bowl of green aimed perfectly at the road. The wind coming down off of that is quite noticeable.

You don’t want to look over the edge too much 🙂

I head on up the valley. I’m climbing very well today and don’t even feel the need to rest. With the constant grade, you just get into a groove and go and go and go. The road twists about before you – high valley on one side, drop off waaaaaay down on the other. The view forward contains massive glacially-carved peaks comprised of layers upon layers of rocks laid down 1.5 billion years ago and shoved east 75 million years ago. It’s a common story in western Montana, but no other range has been sculpted so dramatically at height.

We groove our way along the bottom of the Garden Wall. I can pick out the Highline Trail we hiked yesterday. Soon enough, we are cranking it up the final switchback. A guy on a road bike goes zipping down the hill. He does not even wave. And then we are there – 16 miles from Avalanche with 12 miles of six percent grade. That steady grade allowed me to get in such a groove that I almost felt graceful at times. I never feel graceful when climbing! The guys and I just ripped up that pass in 2.5 hours flat (okay, men, go ahead and laugh – it was a good time for me!).

Looking back from where we’ve come.

I take my photo with the pass sign, then look for a spot to leave the bike. A couple people come over to ask the standard six, then one woman comes over and says, “Wow! You are already here! When we passed you, I told Ray, ‘she is so slim and fit, she looks like a lady greyhound’! Now, show me your calf muscles!” Really? That is the first time that someone has called me a bitch and asked me to flex muscles all in one breath.

On top. 2.5 hours flat from Avalanche campground. That’s a good time for me. The steady grade allowed me to just get in a groove and go.

I ponder taking the time to do the Hidden Lake Trail, but the wind has started to get gusty, and there are clouds moving in. So I just take the guys up to the overlook with the throngs of tourists and take a few pictures of them in the wildflowers. Then it’s a fantastic downhill where I get up to 38 mph before I round the corner and meet the line-up stopped for road construction. I manage to time it perfectly to get right behind a bus. As we go through the first section, I can’t see anything but buss butt, and all I can hear is the hiss and pop of the hydraulic air as the driver repeatedly applies the brakes.

Verne gives a wave. Kermit climbs. I photograph. We are a team.
The colors of the wildflowers are outstanding. The guys look pretty happy.
Views from the top of the pass.

I pull off and stop a few times to hike short trails and admire the scenery, but it seems as though I have very bad timing with the truck spraying the water, too. I end up riding through tons of mud. I have it flicked up absolutely everywhere – on Verne and Kermit, all up my shins, on my forehead, and all over the bike and panniers. It absolutely plasters the entire bottom of the bike. It gets so thick on the cables, I cannot even shift. When I come up to one flagger I ask, “So, do you guys charge for the mud bath treatments?” She looks at me, laughs heartily and says, “No, those are free, but you’ve definitely gotten it worse than most.” Once to the campground, I fill my water bucket and give everything a good clean!

Looking west up St Mary’s Lake.
Tour boat out on the lake. The wind has really picked up. I imagine it’s choppy out there. There are white caps. It’s a crosswind for me. Hope no one gets seasick.
I have very bad timing with the water sprayer on the way down through all the dirt road construction. I have mud spatter EVERYWHERE, even on the guys and my forehead (I wear a helmet). It’s so thick on the underside cables of the downtube that, by the time I get to the Rising Sun, I can no longer shift.
My shin is covered in a fine layer of mud spatter. The mud bath treatments in the road construction zone are free. Don’t go paying lots of money for this in Whitefish.

Louie arrives later. He felt really good about his climb, too. Poor Rebecca arrives even later but has a hilarious, frustrating and scary story about trying to get to Rising Sun Campground on the shuttle buses. They are not as bike-friendly as they purport to be, apparently!

Louie and Rebecca are keen to get lunch at the lodge. They invite me to join them, and I accept. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten at a sit-down restaurant in 4000 miles. I get a big salad with steak on it. Delicious! I get to know Louie and Rebecca better – they are really great folks!

Meet Louie and Rebecca from Florida. They are doing a loop-ish ride out of Whitefish that they’ve done before. Louie would love to live up here… at least part of the year. I have a lot of fun hanging out with this couple back at Avalanche hiker/biker and here at Rising Sun.
The guys spend some time enjoying being out of the handlebar bag.

It’s a lazy afternoon in the campground, but the high winds dry all of my gear, most of which was damp after three days of rain over at Avalanche. In the evening, Rebecca and I chat for quite a while. She is an amazing woman who never really rode until she met Louie, and now she is out there riding impossibly tough dirt roads and camping in crazy places, even though it is all still quite new to her. I have tremendous respect for her.

Hiker/biker at Rising Sun is pretty full tonight. A group of 5 20-somethings riding from Seattle, a couple from FL doing a mountain bike loop out of Whitefish, a Mennonite couple in a very small tent, 2 hiker guys each travelling solo, and me.

Later in the evening, I head over to the pay phones by the general store and call my Dad. I’m so excited to tell him that I hiked the Highline for him. When I reach up to lift the receiver from the phone, I realize it is the last time I will ever call my parents’ Indiana number from a pay phone. I have called from a payphone to check in from the road on many adventures over the years. But the next time I ring my parents, it will be a different phone number since they are moving to Colorado. They’ve had the same number for 40+ years. Yet, this is the last time I will ever call ‘home’ from a pay phone on the road, despite the many, many times I’ve done so in the past. Man, ‘the times, they are a changin’.

The conversation with my Dad is fantastic. He is excited for me and relates more of his stories about his memories from the park. I’m standing here in spitting rain, with fabulous views of massive mountains, talking to my dad just like I always have from the road. As much as I’m happy to share my Glacier experience with my dad, it makes me sad, too. It just reminds me how time slips away. My dad may never get back to Glacier; my mom can’t hike very far or for very long anymore. I’m reluctant to let go of that time when they hiked long distances and their health was of no concern. It pains me to think that the past is long and the future short for the people that I hold most dear. Here I stand with views of mountains that chronicle more than a billion years of time. And I am worried about what the next ten or fifteen years will bring. Joy and sadness are as incongruous as geologic and human periods of history. But histories layer, emotions overlap. And time marches on.

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