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Biking to Alaska

Archive for the 'Montana' Category

Day 19: No Biking At All

Posted by Alan on 8th July 2007

0 mi.

IMG_0528From July 1st to Labor Day Glacier National Park is providing a free shuttle service which can take you from one end of the main road (the Going-To-The-Sun Road) to the other. This shuttle is a great way to help cut down on traffic congestion and auto emissions in the park. I took full advantage of it today to see the road ahead of me without having to pedal a single mile.

I started early by hopping on a shuttle up to the Logan Pass Visitor Center. This will be my primary goal tomorrow morning. I have to reach here by 11 AM or get off the road until 4 PM. It shouldn’t be a problem though. I met a couple cycling tourists who had just reached the top in under three hours and they started a little farther down than I will have to.

IMG_0539Logan Pass is quite a scenic area with lots of wildflowers in bloom and at least a couple hiking trails you can choose from to see the area. I didn’t feel like hiking a great deal, so I stayed close to the visitor center. I still managed to see some interesting wildlife though. I first saw some mountain goats as I wandered a short while down a hiking trail. Later a small herd of bighorn sheep wandered right through the visitor center area, munching on grass and plants as they went. They were of course shadowed by the many tourists who were there, all of them snapping away with their cameras.

IMG_0557I took the shuttle down into the east side of the park for lunch before catching a ride back to my campground. I met two couples who are riding cross-country on tandem bicycles. We chatted a bit about our experiences. It turns out they had ridden with the two cyclists I had been talking to just that morning. It’s a small world among bike tourists out here, I tell ya.

One more thing I’ll mention about my experiences today. I heard a brief talk by an older woman who has worked as a ranger in the park since the 60’s. She said that she has personally seen the reduction in size of the glaciers here in the park. She said there are estimates that within 20 to 30 years, Glacier National Park will have no more glaciers left. If you haven’t already thought about what you can do to help reverse global climate change, please do. Buy a hybrid, ride your bike to work, put some solar panels on your roof. If you want to do something REALLY simple, start buying compact flourescent light bulbs. If we start making these simple changes in our lives, maybe there will still be glaciers here for our grandchildren to experience.

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Day 18: Lucky 7-7-7

Posted by Alan on 7th July 2007

21.01 mi.

IMG_0486I can’t help but wonder how busy the wedding chapels were in Vegas today (not to mention the casinos). For me, it’s simply good luck to be on this trip and having fun in places like Glacier National Park.

IMG_0498I left the RV park pretty early because there are some restrictions on when bicycles are allowed on the main road going through Glacier. I didn’t want to risk not getting to a campground. Not to worry though, because the first restricted section is pretty flat and I made good time. I arrived at the Avalanche Creek campground and set up my tent in their hiker/biker area.

By the time I got settled in and had a bite to eat, it was about noon. I felt sleepy so I laid down for an hour nap to refresh myself. That’s certainly one nice thing about a rest day, you can rest! After my siesta, I hiked up a two mile trail adjacent to the campground.

IMG_0513Near the beginning of the trail is an icy stream which rushes headlong through a tight canyon it has carved out of the bedrock. At the end of the trail you come to the source of that creek, Avalanche Lake. It’s a very scenic lake set in a bowl shaped valley that was probably carved out by a glacier sometime in the past. There are several streams that cascade down the mountainsides in the distance to feed the lake. I was surprised at the sheer amount of water flowing so close to the Continental Divide. It’s obvious they get some serious precipitation throughout the year (or maybe the glaciers are just melting away as well).

After that, it was back to camp for an early dinner. There is a couple from Seattle, John and Rebecca, also staying in the hiker/biker area. They rode the train here and are spending about a week hiking and backpacking in the area. They told me about a good hike they did near the Continental Divide. I might have to check that out tomorrow.

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Day 17: 1000 Miles!

Posted by Alan on 6th July 2007

73.6 mi.

IMG_0485Well, the big milestone of today is that I reached 1000 miles for this trip so far. That means I’ve only got about 5000 more to go, right? Heh, we’ll see if I make that 6000 mile estimate I started with. At this point, it’s looking unlikely. I think I’ll probably want to do more sightseeing and will have to sacrifice some mileage.

I left Swan Lake and headed towards Kalispell. I was really surprised at how much traffic there was all around Kalispell. My map lists the population of the town at 12,000, but the wider area around Kalispell must have a lot more people than that.

After fighting all the traffic to get into Kalispell, I finally found a large sporting goods store that had a couple pairs of bike shorts that should work. I bought those and a small can of bear spray Hopefully that will help calm the fears of some of you who were worried about bears. :) I think I’m going to be in bear country pretty much from here until I leave Alaska, so it can’t hurt to have a little protection.

Seeing as how it was a Friday afternoon, I had to fight even more traffic to get out of Kalispell. I eventually made it to just outside of Glacier National Park and stopped for the night at an RV campground to shower, do laundry and send out a few emails before turning in. I’m hoping to make an early start tomorrow to beat the peak of traffic in the park. I’d like to stay at least a couple nights in the park so I can take a rest from biking and do a little hiking instead.

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Day 16: Land O Lakes

Posted by Alan on 5th July 2007

79.96 mi.

Today I traveled north along Montana Highway 83. This road has quite a few lakes along its length and so the scenery was quite nice for most of the day. Late in the morning I reached the small touristy town of Seeley Lake. While there I bought a few groceries and used the wi-fi in a coffee shop/antique store. I also called a bike shop back east to order another tire like the kind I have on my bike. My rear tire is showing a little wear and I don’t want to head up into the wilds of Canada without a spare. I’ll pick up that spare tire in St. Mary on the other side of Glacier National Park.

While in Seeley Lake, I ran into a group of six cyclists who were riding 1500 miles of the Great Divide trail. From what I understand, that is a mostly off-road trail which goes along the Continental Divide. You might think the cyclists riding this rigorous trail are young extreme kids, right? Nope. These folks were all retirees. It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend your retirement in an RV (despite the daily evidence I’m seeing to the contrary).

Later that day I also stopped to talk to another cyclist heading south. His name was Nikos (sp?) and he’s a teacher from Norway. He’s riding from Calgary to Moab in five weeks. He was carrying a large backpack across his rear panniers. I guess he was getting off the road for some backcountry hiking in addition to cycling.

IMG_0479One of the little pleasures of this trip has been the beautiful lunch spots I happen to stop at on some days. One nice one was on Togwotee Pass with Rick and Ursula. And lunch at Old Faithful was nice. Today I stopped at a place called Rainy Lake Campground. It’s a small little campground which was almost empty, but the lake next to it looked cool and inviting and was completely deserted. It was very tempting to simply set up camp and stay for the night, not to mention diving into the water right then to cool off! I resisted the urge, however, and continued north.

I finally made it to Swan Lake, MT (I think the town is famous for some ballet?) and sacked out at the forest service campground there. Tomorrow I’ll continue north, but will detour to Kalispell, MT to try and find some more new bike shorts. That new pair I bought in Helena were really comfortable and it occurs to me that I should pick up another new pair or two. I guess the shorts I had brought along from the beginning have just seen too many miles over the last couple years.

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Day 15: A Good 4th

Posted by Alan on 4th July 2007

85.56 mi.

Happy Fourth of July! This morning I enjoyed a breakfast of cold cereal with real milk (as opposed to non-refrigerated soy milk) thanks to the mini fridge in my motel room. Again, not a bad deal for only $40. I was out of the motel by 9 AM and rode through the quiet streets of Helena towards the highway out of town.

About ten miles outside of Helena I started climbing up a mountain pass which eventually topped out about 2500 feet above Helena. At one point I was quickly passed by a cyclist on a road bike who told me an encouraging “Less than a mile to the top!”. I envied his speed, but I wouldn’t have traded places with him at that moment because I knew that eventually he’d have to turn around and head for home. I could simply keep riding until I was ready to make camp for the night.

IMG_0477.JPGAfter descending from that mountain pass I turned north and started noticing a few more road bikers coming the opposite direction. After about the eighth one, I finally stopped a couple to say ‘hi’. It turns out they were part of a group of about 50 riders who had each raised $5500 or more for the American Lung Association and were now riding from Seattle to Washington DC.

The riders were pretty spread out and it was fun to watch each of their reaction when they eventually saw me coming. Some seemed surprised to see me, others simply waved. A few asked where I was headed. I finally came upon a motorhome which was one of their rest stops. It turns out they had started in Missoula that morning and were in the middle of a 100 mile day. I’m hoping I can get in a few days with that many miles on this trip, but I’m not there yet.

After riding a few more hours, I stopped at a little roadhouse called “Trixies” for a veggie burger (always a nice surprise to see that on the menu), fries and a beer. That really hit the spot and I got back on the road for another 10 miles or so. I finally found a campground after riding about 85 miles and decided that was far enough for one day.

I was hot and sweaty and would have killed for a warm shower, but luckily there was a river adjacent to the campground. I actually laid down in the river to rinse off the sweat and dust from the day. The water wasn’t too cold and it was still warm enough outside that it felt really good. I ate a few cookies to fill me up again and called it a night shortly after that.

My thoughts today were of friends and family as I’m sure they gathered together for BBQs or fireworks. I missed getting to celebrate this holiday with loved ones, but I wasn’t lonely and I’m having a lot of fun on my trip, so please don’t worry about me! I really appreciate all the emails I’ve gotten from all of you, thanks for keeping in touch!

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Day 14: Rest In Helena

Posted by Alan on 3rd July 2007

37.44 mi.

IMG_0469I broke camp early and rode back into Townsend to fill up on water. I bought some chocolate milk and drank that with some fig newtons for breakfast. Healthy, huh? :)

I had a headwind almost right away and fought it all the way to Helena. I was definitely going to take a half day rest after that kind of morning.

I stopped in Helena at a visitor information center to get details on a place to stay and a bike shop. I stopped by the bike shop first to buy a new pair of bike shorts and a biking shirt. I’ve been doing laundry every three days because I only have three sets of biking clothes. Now I can do laundry every FOUR days. Oh, the luxury of it!

IMG_0474I find info on a cheap motel in downtown Helena and stop there to ask about their rates. Only $40 for the night, I can’t pass that up, especially since they have free wi-fi. They’re also close to downtown which comes in handy as I go out for lunch and stop by the library to use a “real” computer (There are some things my wi-fi enabled phone just isn’t capable of doing. Does anyone have the iPhone yet? If so, how is it?)

I luck into finding a good grocery store with lots of organic stuff. They’re just like a small version of Whole Foods. Then it’s back to the motel to do laundry before heading to bed.

IMG_0476I seriously consider spending the next day in Helena as well, but since it will be July 4th, nothing will be open and I don’t think I need THAT much rest just yet. Helena does seem like a cool little town though. It has a college town feel that reminds me a little of Ft. Collins or Austin, TX.

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Day 13: No More Long Lunches

Posted by Alan on 2nd July 2007

79.4 mi.

I was on the road by 9 today. There was a fairly big hill to climb not long after I left Ennis. It had a great downhill on the other side though, so the climb was worth it. I passed through a small town called Norris and noticed a sign for some hot springs. If I’d known about that I might just have biked this far last night to have a soak. They’re closed today though, bummer.

I stopped for lunch at a bakery outlet store and deli which was at the junction of Interstate 90. I decided to take a long lunch break to try and avoid the heat of the day. Since they had free wi-fi I was able to upload a few more blog entries. The problem is that I ran into a headwind for the last 15 miles of the day. If I had taken a shorter lunch break I might have avoided more of that headwind.

I needed a break from the headwind and to re-fuel with some peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I pulled into a small fishing access area only to realize I was sitting on the bank of the Missouri River. I sat and enjoyed the scenery and even got to see a large bird dive into the water to snatch a fish.

I finally made it through the wind to Townsend, MT. The town seemed completely asleep with barely any cars on the road. I didn’t find a good place to camp in town, but lucked upon a campground just past the edge of town. I pulled in and started to get settled only to find the campground had no running water. Rather than ride the mile or two back to town to fill up, I was able to borrow a couple liters from a small family from Denmark. They were traveling through on their way from Canada and were very nice.

It was a hot night and the bugs were pretty bad, so I laid in my tent waiting for it to cool off so I could get to sleep. I was really wishing I could have had a shower because I had that “slime layer” feeling of sunscreen and sweat on my body. I think I’ll stop after only thirty miles tomorrow so I can rest for a half day in Helena.

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Day 12: Really Flying

Posted by Alan on 1st July 2007

77.31 mi.

I slept in a bit today, I needed the rest. Had a hot shower to start the day and packed up my gear. I stopped in front of a bar in town that had wi-fi so I could check my email and then I hit the road.
I felt pretty good on the bike and there was some nice scenery north of the town of West Yellowtone. I eventually made it to a place called Earthquake Lake (yes, it’s a lake created by an earthquake) where I met another bike tourist named Eric heading in the opposite direction. He was a bit younger than me and he seemed like a funny guy. He was biking in what looked like thrift store clothes. I particularly liked his sun visor which had been a NY Yankees cap at one point in the past, but was now sun bleached almost white and the top was cut away. We traded the usual details about our respective journeys. He expressed approval of my plan to bike to Alaska. I believe his exact response was, “dude, that’s tight!”. We wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.

IMG_0459.JPGAfter cresting the pass near the lake, I enjoyed some nice downhill and eventually a bit of a tailwind developed. I was cruising along at over twenty miles per hour, without even working to do so. Oh man, that was a lot of fun! I averaged 14 miles per hour for the day thanks to that tailwind. I wish all days could be like that.

I stopped to chat with a couple of cyclists at a rest stop. It turns out they are from Montrose, Colorado, so we chatted a second about biking and my trip. Then it was back in the saddle until I made it to Ennis, MT.

I’m surprised at how tourism seems to be so important through this part of Montana. Ennis is another little tourist town. It seems they get quite a bit of their income from people who come here to fish. The town even has a statue of an angler at a major intersection. I found some free wi-fi access in the town park and spent a little time geting the map page working on my website. That map might make it easier for people to follow my progress.

I rode over to an RV park to rent a tent space for the night. The place was packed with huge RVs, but it was a quiet place since most everyone there was a retiree. A woman came over while I was making some dinner and introduced herself. I think she said her name was “Shark” (or maybe “Snake”?, seriously, I’m not kidding). She told me she rode her bike across the country a few years ago so we talked for a bit about bike touring.

It was starting to get dark, so I looked over the map to double check my route for tomorrow and then called it a night.

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Day 11: Goodbye Yellowstone!

Posted by Alan on 30th June 2007

65.63 mi.

I got on the road fairly early, and traffic wasn’t too bad at first, but it just got worse as the day went on. I had been debating taking a detour through Yellowstone to see a bit more of it, but after seeing the traffic, I decided to get out of Yellowstone using the shortest route possible. I guess I should have planned better so as not to come through here on the weekend before the 4th of July.

IMG_0432I didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone except for the tourists. Maybe the animals were scared off by the sheer number of tourists just as I was. I did stop by Old Faithful and waited around making lunch until it erupted. It was pretty cool, but not as impressive as I had hoped.

IMG_0446After seeing Old Faithful, I hit the road again, but stopped at Middle Geyser Basin. All I could see from the road was steam rising from the pools of water, but the steam was blue and orange! I couldn’t pass that up. I walked around the little boardwalk they have to protect the fragile deposits and snapped some photos. It really is cool the way the steam picks up the color of the blue water and orange deposits (I think the orange is microorganisms). I hope my photos convey the beauty of this spot.

It was a windy day and on the way back to the parking lot I saw a foreign tourist lose his hat. It was blown to the edge of one of the big pools that had steam rising from it. I could tell he was about to go after his hat and as soon as he stepped off the boardwalk I yelled to stop him. I told him it was too dangerous, but really I just didn’t want to see him damage the fragile ground. I was surprised there were no park rangers in the area to watch out for this kind of thing. You’d think the park service could at least have one person working there on such a busy weekend.

IMG_0458Back on the bike, I finally made it out of the park and I also crossed my second state line of this trip. I was glad to put Wyoming behind me. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Montana before, so that’s a milestone as well. The town of West Yellowstone is as bad a tourist town as I’ve seen (keep in mind I grew up in Las Vegas). One night tent camping at a campground was almost $30! I paid it though because I badly needed a shower (my last one was two days ago) and to do some laundry. I also bought a shorter stem for my bike. I’m hoping that will help with the sore hands and back I’ve been having.

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