30. Leaving St. Mary, and Back to St. Mary: Fog, and Terrible Road - From the Olympic Peninsula to St. Mary - The First Bite of the Northern Tier - CycleBlaze

June 18, 2018

30. Leaving St. Mary, and Back to St. Mary: Fog, and Terrible Road

This day was supposed to be 30 miles on Highways 89 and 49 from St. Mary to East Glacier where we would catch an evening train to West Glacier and then a car home. But weather and road conditions on Highway 89 at 7:30 am were more hazardous than we could bear. According to the topo map, the route skirts the foothills outside the park and accumulates a 3200-foot elevation gain like GTSR to Logan Pass, although spread out over more miles. After four miles climbing "7 Mile Hill," the passing lane disappeared, the road narrowed with no, zero shoulder, enclosed by guardrails. We entered a thick fog that settled as the rain hit. Traffic to and from the eastern entrance was picking up, so we bailed and went back to St. Mary to cadge a ride somehow. We approached the drivers of pickups, but most were going the other way or simply weren't interested. We didn't offer any $$, but perhaps that would have been an incentive. In the end, we got lucky and caught a $60 shuttle ($30/person) operated by Xanterra, the Glacier Park concessionaire, with a detour through Two Medicine Campground. We will return to Two Medicine Lake. Even through the rainy haze we could imagine how spectacular the sheer peaks shooting up from the lakeshore will be in the sun.

When we arrived in East Glacier, it was still raining, not a bad thing, especially with the day's ride over. More rain into the summer might help reduce the fire hazard before the autumn rain and snow begin. But the prognosis isn't good. Local papers quote forestry officials saying the fire season will probably just start later and go longer into the autumn.

A note about this shuttle. When we first asked about the shuttle the night before, a Xanterra rep said, "No bikes." But when we asked again after returning to St. Mary soaking wet from the cold rain, a mid-level manager took pity on us and made a call to a driver, telling him we would be on board. The driver's cranky attitude showed we were an exception to the rule.

A note about the Highway 89 and 49 route. It's not an Adventure Cycling route, and it's easy to understand why. In good weather with full visibility and with an early - say 5:30am - departure to get ahead of traffic, this would be doable. The climbs will slow you down, but you could make up time with fast coasting downhill and get to East Glacier by 10:00 am or so. The last 10 miles are on Highway 49, which we saw from the shuttle bus window is also narrow and winding but not quite as steep as 89. The last couple miles of 89 are being widened, so in 2019 there may be only 15 miles or so that will be risky.

Today's ride: 10 miles (16 km)
Total: 1,046 miles (1,683 km)

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