going to the sun, and beyond..... - Seattle towards Minnesota - CycleBlaze

August 7, 2007

going to the sun, and beyond.....

I should have known better than to ask a crazy man what time if gets light. It's definitely still dark at 5AM.

I packed as quickly as I could and left at 6:22.

This is Going-to-the-Sun Highway, something I've been looking forward to for years. I don't know if I've really expressed how excited I am about today. Not much else could've gotten me out of bed at 5:00.

The morning was cold. Shortly after starting, my fingers went numb, then my big toes. I thought that after I got warmed up the numbness would go away, and it did, but it took a long time.

A fawn startled me about ten minutes after I started. I was looking left, and it was quietly eating on the side on the road only about four feet away from me when I noticed it.

I was happy to see that the smoke wasn't as bad as yesterday.

After about forty five minutes, I pulled up to some construction where they were doing some "rock work." Traffic was stopped in both directions, and they were alternating which direction the traffic could go. While I was waiting for the pilot car to return and lead us to the other side, I began chatting with Belinda, the woman who holds the stop sign.

"It's a bit chilly today," she said.

"It is indeed," I replied as a drop of sweat dripped off my nose.

She goes by "Bo" and, as many people do, she told me a lot about herself. She's just a normal, everyday working American. I won't tell you all the information I learned, but I will share this. She's from Darby, which has a few hundred people, and she's convinced it's a hidden treasure. Although it's set in a beautiful part of the country, housing is still affordable. Her three-bedroom, two-bath house rents for $465.00.

Do you remember how I told you every town is "famous" for something? Without me asking, she told me what Darby is famous for:
David Letterman got a ticket driving through there.

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The construction was great. It meant I had the road completely to myself for twenty five to thirty minutes, then I'd pull over and let ten or twelve cars pass. Thirty seconds later, I'd start pedaling again.

I can see where this road gets its name, "Going-to-the-Sun." Not long after you start the ascent you can see, miles away, a sliver of light as the morning sunlight shines on the top of the pass. You are, literally, if not going to the sun then at least going to the sunlight.

I won't try to describe the beauty of Glacier National Park. I will say that while looking up at the surrounding scenery I regularly noticed that my mouth was open.... not from breathing hard but from awe and wonder. The pictures you'll be seeing don't express the expansiveness, and appear hazier than it really was.  Be warned:   there are a lot of them..

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that's where I was earlier today
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this gives you an idea of how steep the road is
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as does this
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unlike being in a car, a biker can pull over anywhere
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looking back
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another picture which shows how steep the road is
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on the bottom left you can see a small section of the road I was on, and in the middle (far background) you can see the road I came up on
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People in cars were very courteous. No one was rude. One guy going in the opposite direction yelled out, "You're almost there!"

About fifty yards from the top of the pass I stopped to take a picture of the valley spread out below me. As I was taking the picture I heard a clicking sound behind me. When I turned around to see what could be making a sound like that, I saw a Bighorn Sheep standing in the middle of the road. It looked at me, bored, then slowly ambled away and disappeared.  I snapped a picture, but it didn't turn out very good.

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I'm at the top and....
I Am An Animal.  I climbed from 6:22 AM to 9:46 AM, averaging over 5.4 mph. Now, this is where a real cyclist will snicker or roll his eyes. Two things:
1) I'm not a "real" cyclist. I'm just a normal guy and don't take myself seriously enough to be a real cyclist - I do this for fun.
2) YOU try lugging all this gear plus 100 ounces of water plus two weeks' worth of powdered donuts up this grade and see how fast you go.  

What? 9 mph you say?

oh. me too.

At Logan Pass I stopped at the Visitor's Center, but they didn't have any food or drinks so there wasn't much of a reason for me to stay there and hang out with a few dozen tourists I didn't know.

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So, at the continental divide, 6,664 feet/2,025 meters above sea level, with a deep satisfaction of having reached a milestone in my life by finally accomplishing something I've wanted to do for years, I began rolling downhill on the other side of the continent.

I really didn't go very fast down the other side. The road wasn't very good and there was a dangerous crosswind, so I only went as fast as I could safely go.

But then the road became much better....

...and after that the crosswind became a tail wind.


On the way down (read: downhill with the wind) I saw some bikers and some mangled bikes on the side of the road. One of the cyclists appeared to have a bone sticking out of his leg and blood was spraying all over the place.

It even sprayed on me as I zipped past. I'm sure he'll be okay.

I hope I didn't hurt him too much when I ran over his other leg.

You know, come to think of it, that one guy looked a lot like Jesus.(see Mark's Bicyclingisms Number One)

I took a few pictures on the way down. I've become quite accomplished at reaching one-handed into my handlebar bag, pulling out and turning on my camera, taking a picture, turning it off and replacing it.  (You know, I seem to recall that Jesus-looking guy who crashed on the side of the road had a camera clutched in his fist. Huh.)

These are all pictures taken during the descent.

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In St. Mary, I ate at the Park Café. Everything looked good, but I opted for the veggie sandwich in keeping with my new diet. The guacamole and hummus added a nice flavor. I also bought one to go so I could have it for supper tonight.

Lower St. Mary Lake
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Some pictures along  the way:

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this reminds me of Close Encounters
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As I passed Two Dog Flats and Chewing Black Bones (again, these names are fantastic!) I had a 20-mph tailwind, and felt like I was flying through space.

Then the road took a turn to the left, and that tailwind became a 20-mph sidewind. The wind was so strong that my bike was actually leaning to the left as I pedaled. I stopped outside a convenience store at the intersection of 89/17 to take a look at my map as the wind howled and roared in my ears.

What I saw made me want to fall to my knees and pound my fists onto the ground... another turn to the left. I looked a little closer at the map and my heart sank. Most of the way to my campground is uphill.

I went into the convenience store, the only building around, to consider my options. The cashier was pleasant and talkative, and I learned a whole lot about ospreys.

This intersection is only 29 miles from Cardston, which is on my route. I could take a shortcut which would move me farther east while also enabling me to continue blowing down the road without a headwind. I could be there in no time at all. Or, I could keep following the ACA route to Waterton Park, then continue on to Cardston the following day.

I listened to some new information about ospreys, then walked outside. I put on my game face and started pedaling into the headwind.

The next few hours were, without a doubt, the hardest of my entire trip... harder than riding through rain, harder than climbing Going-to-the-Sun, harder than my bicycle saddle after seven hours.

I climbed with a grueling and fierce determination, the wind blasting in my face. Along the way I had to dodge cowpies, a final insult.

If you turn the crank you're going to travel a few feet. If you turn it again you're going to travel a few more feet. Eventually, if the crank keeps turning, you're going to get to your destination. Just keep pushing on the pedals. Time no longer existed. My entire world consisted of making the pedals go round and round as I remained in the "tuck" position (to decrease wind resistance) and staring at the road a few feet in front of me.

I finally arrived at the US/Canada border. There was a courteous but professional young woman in a cubicle who asked me what I assumed to be routine questions:

Do you have any alcohol? (Are these Canadians all alcoholics? Why is she begging alcohol off the tourists?)
Do you have any tobacco? (What? The alcohol isn't enough?)
Do you have any weapons... firearms, pepper spray, knives? (No, I don't. Will I need them in Canada? I didn't realize Canadians were so dangerous.)

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About ten minutes after I passed the border I remembered that I WAS carrying a weapon... a small Swiss Army Knife. I wonder what the penalty is for smuggling weapons across the border. Probably somewhat worse than not paying for that campground in Libby. Still, my smuggled weaponry might come in handy in defending myself against these dangerous alcohol-fueled, tobacco-smoking, weapon-wielding Canadians.

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At the Belly River Campground, I chose a site and lay down on the picnic table. I just didn't have the strength to pitch my tent. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes I just lay there. Finally, slowly, I dragged myself up and began setting up my camp.

There's an expression in Texas about describing someone who looks the way I do: "He looks like he's been rode hard and put up wet."

Belly River Campground has no potable water. Apparently, they've had some contamination problems and took the sinks out of the restrooms. Now, the only place you can even get water is over at the group campsite, and it's still not drinkable. There's a well there but, unfortunately, there were no instructions.

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Of course, you're thinking, "Instructions???  For a well??  What kind of idiot is he?" 

If you haven't figured out what particular brand of idiot I am by now, perhaps you should reread a few of the previous postings.

Regardless, if you look at this particular well you'll see what appears to be a drinking fountain on the left side. Trying to wash off with water out of a drinking fountain is pretty much impossible. There's also a reservoir, and a gold knob on top of it. After some trial and error, I learned that you pump up the reservoir and the water fountain will give you some drinking water... drinking water that you can't drink, that is. If you want water to come out of the downspout you pull up on the gold knob and the reservoir empties. Ingenious, those Canadians. And cruel. Eight or nine pumps of the handle, run around to the other side, lift the knob, get one and a half seconds of water. Repeat.

On the way back to camp I met Kurt and Phillipa from Calgary. They're taking a week off to do some traveling around the region. 

Odd, they didn't look dangerous.

The wind blew all evening and all night. It was an odd wind. It would blow 25-30 miles an hour for about ten minutes, then it would completely stop for a few minutes.

On top of the picnic table there was a sign taped which stated, "These items should be stored in your vehicle or the campground storage locker: food, stoves, pet food..." It gave a long list, citing the fact that bears are attracted to strong odors and they will maul whatever it takes to get to the food...  that includes tents. I thought of the olive oil can with the teeth marks in it I had seen at Gary and Rose's place in Ione. I'll make sure I put all of my stuff in the storage locker.

Then, there at the bottom, I noted the last item: "Any item with a strong odor." I thought about that a minute. Really, what item in my general vicinity has the strongest odor? That's easy....


I briefly wondered if the storage lockers are big enough to sleep in, but at that point I was so tired that I really didn't care if a bear decided to eat me. Besides, I've got the 2.25-inch/6 centimeter Swiss Army Knife I smuggled past the border guard.

Come and get me Mr. Bear. I'm ready for you.

But first, I think I'll just take a little nap for 10-11 hours.

No wonder the Canadians are all armed to the teeth and ask for alcohol and tobacco from tourists.  I wonder if have to be because they smell like me.  God, I hope not.

wow.             what a day.         i'm going to sleep.

Miles 66.34
Maximum speed 43.4
Average speed 9.3
Time 7:07:37
Cumulative 772.26

I fell asleep thinking, not about bears or headwinds, but this....
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Today's ride: 66 miles (106 km)
Total: 770 miles (1,239 km)

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