July 15: Rising Sun to West Glacier, Montana - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 15: Rising Sun to West Glacier, Montana

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THE HIKER-BIKERS were asleep when our alarm beeped at 5:30 this morning. Especially those - walkers - who'd kept us awake beyond darkness through their loud talking and their very American wish to light a fire. Americans cannot see a place to pitch a tent without also seeing a place to set things on fire.

We were up early to beat the wind and to beat the traffic on Going-to-the-Sun road, the legendary climb to Logan Pass at a shade more

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than 2,000 metres. The lovely name comes from a legend that an Indian tribe many years ago was dispirited and down-at-heel until a wise man arrived from who knows where. It is a theme common to many religions. The sage showed the Indians the correct way to live and those who did as he said experienced happiness they had never known. And then the leader walked away towards the sky, high on this trail that has become Going-to-the-Sun highway. And when the Indians looked to see where he had gone, they saw he had walked into the light of the sun and that the snows on the nearest mountain portrayed his face. To this day it is known as Going-to-the-Sun mountain.

We were up early and so was our talkative warden. We were just packing up ready to leave as the first sun sent long black shadows through trees reaching for the clouds. And into our preparations she walked with a question: "Which way did the bear go?"

She'd had reports of a bear, perhaps the same one as the previous day, passing close to the hiker-biker section at dawn. Had we seen it? We said we hadn't and that probably nobody else here had, first because most people were asleep, second because it would probably have been the topic of conversation among those who were awake.

That made three things we had beaten: a bear, the wind and the traffic. We turned right, wandered along the edge of

Early-morning peace on the lake.
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St Mary Lake, then clicked down gears to start the climb. As we rose, the cloud fell but our spirits rose. It would have been good to have had sunshine all the way up but, on the other hand, tales that this was a tough ascent, some sort of Mont Ventoux, were hugely exaggerated. It is a steady ride, not demanding, never steep enough for our bottom gears. And not so very long.

We stopped to take pictures of a glacier, noting that the explanatory board was exactly right when it said it was hard to distinguish a glacier from ordinary

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snow, and then we made several involuntary halts when we were stopped by roadworks. The delay at each, as traffic went first one way and then the other, led by a workman's car, could be 10 minutes. At one, we pondered with roadworkers how best to extract a marmot which had climbed into a corner of a truck engine and couldn't or wouldn't come out. It huddled there behind wiring and bared its teeth and hissed at anyone who approached. Picking it up didn't seem so attractive an option.

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The situation was solved in the end by prodding the end of a signaller's flag behind its bottom and giving it a severe pushed. It jumped up in a mix of resentment and surprise, jumped over the edge of the engine compartment and ran off downhill at an angle across the road, grumbling as it went in a high-pitched voice.

The sun broke through before the top and we delayed the advance of those coming down the mountain, held up by signallers until we arrived, by stopping to take photos. You pass this way only once. Those in cars were free to drive back up again as effortlessly as they had arrived in the first place.

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There's nothing at the top of the mountain. Or less than you'd hope. What crossed our mind was perhaps a

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fanfare or a message from a mayor. But there wasn't even coffee, just a visitors' centre with yet another chance to buy T-shirts and books of photos. We are nothing if not smug and so we congratulated ourselves on rising early. The crowds were already making their way up the mountain from the other direction. Riding in traffic like that, on a road as narrow as that, would have been awful.

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There's no denying the mountain is beautiful. Whether it was worth the day after day of appalling headwinds we fought as the route took us round in a half-week loop to get there is another calculation. Would we have done it again had we known about the wind and the views? Probably not. But history cannot be unwound.

Going down the other side is complicated by a ban on cyclists using a stretch of the road for the middle five hours of the day. It makes going up a planning exercise worthy of D-Day. Descending, it was easy to overcome. We turned into Lake McDonald, a village which exists only for tourists but maintains charm and taste, and took a boat tour on the lake.

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And then we rode out of the park at West Glacier. And it was as though all the bad taste which had had to hold its breath when we left St Mary's came out in one enormous blast as we entered West Glacier. It is a maelstrom of coach

If you're clever, you'll see the shape of a sleeping Indian in this mountain.
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tours, tourist shops, helicopter tours and rafting companies. It has a good supermarket, for which we are grateful, but otherwise it did only what it was good at doing: which was selling old tat and passing sensations at high prices. Even our brief stretch in the traffic on our friend, US2, seemed better. It took us to a campsite where we are pitched beneath trees for $10 each.

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 26

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