"When you leave the confines of your daily routine, it takes a certain kind of courage to break away from the moorings of constancy, security and comfort. Much more so on a bicycle tour where you lose contact with family, friends and home life. You choose to sweat, strain, struggle, endure nasty weather and move toward the horizon which keeps jumping ahead of you. You come to know the animal in you with ravenous hunger, intense thirst and smell of your own body odor. It's been said that every man or woman's life ends exactly the same way. It's what he or she did between life and death that makes all the difference. Mark Twain said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." I have discovered that one day of adventure exceeds a year of sitting back in your easy chair with a remote." FHW
David and I started our Continental Divide Ride in Columbia Falls, Montana. With the Canadian border just a few miles up the road, we enjoyed terrific mountain views all around us. We pulled all our gear out of the rented vehicle in order to wrench the bikes together with panniers, food, water and traveling gear.
It's always amazing to gather so much "stuff" together that we carry for a journey, and then, stuff it all into four small panniers and a travel bag on the back rack of the bike. But in those bags, we carry our kitchen stove, pots and pans, fuel and food supplies. In one bag, our clothes. In another, our rain gear. In the final left front bag, our food. On the front rack, our sleeping bags. On the rear rack, our tent and air mattresses. It all goes together in a sort of travel dance. It allows us the ultimate freedom to camp, eat and sleep anywhere we travel. If needed, I carry a shower bag to keep sparkling clean after a long, sweaty day in the saddle.
After an hour of organizing and loading our gear, we mounted our bikes.
"Ready to ride David?" I said.
"Sure am," he said. "What's the theme of our trip?"
"Don't know," I said. "You have an idea?"
"It's GREAT to be us," David said.
"Works for me," I said.
We pedaled out of the parking lot on our way toward Glacier National Park about 40 miles to the Avalanche Campground where we would stay the night before our big climb up "Road Going to the Sun." The Civilian Conservation Corps cut that road in 1931. It turned out to be one of the most difficult and ambitious road-building projects in the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to offer jobs to the unemployed while benefiting the nation. Their work stands today as a model of citizen participation in building our country.
Oh, before I move us down the road, I wanted to let you know that I spent several weeks, bicycling up and down 2,000 vertical feet to train for this bicycle tour. It's important to get my legs ready as well as my rear-end. Once my legs feel the burn and recover often, and my butt feels the pressure over the hours in a day, it's pretty comfortable riding. For certain, a touring rider doesn't just hop on a bike and bust tailfeathers down the highway. Preparation equates to 9/10ths of all success.
We rolled down the highway with big mountains in front of us. In Columbia Falls, we met a Kiwi couple in their 70's mountain biking the Continental Divide trail route. That's hardcore. We rode the paved route.
As we rolled toward the campground, David's chain kept hopping over the freewheel and skipping. Very irritating!
"We need to go back to that bike shop" he said. "I can't climb that pass with this chain hopping all over the freewheel."
We rode back about 10 miles to a bike shop. The owner, Matt told us that a new chain didn't mesh with an old freewheel. The mechanic didn't realize the problem. Matt didn't carry a six speed freewheel, but phoned a bike shop in Great Falls. Good luck, but we must deal with the problem until we reached the bike shop.
"Just have to keep the chain off that high gear on the freewheel," David said.
"You can do it," I said.
We returned to the road that carried us past a river, and then, McDonald's Lake. A huge avalanche of rock blocked the river to create the lake centuries ago. We wound alongside it with the sun beginning to set low in the sky. Our shadows danced through the woods while the sun shone on the waters. Really a fantastically beautiful way to end the day!
We stopped at one spot near the water where it blazed through the pine trees. I saw the sun low in the sky and bouncing off the water. Thus, two suns shining at the same time.
"David," I said. "Let's stop and get some shots of you and the sun on the water and in the sky. Could make for a really cool shot!"
"Gotcha'," he said.
"Hold that stance," I said, as David stood astride his bike. "Good! Great shots!"
I took a dozen shots. Nice to see them clearly right after the shot to change shutter speed. We shot some really good ones.
About an hour later, we pulled into Avalanche Campground near dark. We cooked some dinner and fell into bed.
The one thing we noticed while riding into the park: a sign read, "Bicycle restrictions 11 to 4". The ranger lady at the entrance didn't tell us anything or explain anything about bicycles in the park. The next day would visit a surprise upon us.
After that 62-mile day to start the ride yesterday, we slept like logs. Felt so good to sleep that we didn't crawl out of our tents until 7:30 a.m., and didn't get onto the road until 8:30. We gobbled oatmeal and bananas for breakfast along with apples and trail mix.
How do you describe climbing into one of the most beautiful mountain throne rooms of North America? We quickly picked up a beautiful river that led us upward as it curved like a snake across the land. We rode through deep forest, untouched other than the road. Beside us, a glass-clear river featured a rocky streambed, kingfishers, hawks and one golden eagle. Above us, rugged, vertical pine-covered canyon walls rose dramatically into aspirin-white snowfields in the month of July.
As usual, Glacier didn't open the road until July because it features 40 to 50-foot snow drifts from the winter storms. They need huge snow blowers to clear millions of tons of snow.
Soon, the road cut away from the river as it snaked toward the climb. Finally, it took a hairpin turn that started to ascend toward Logan's Pass at 6,600 feet. But this wasn't an ordinary climb. We clinched our jaws as we negotiated a 6 percent grade, but with each mile, the view became more explosively astounding.
The road clung to vertical cliffs. We stopped often to take pictures. With each stop, we talked to other tourists who marveled at our upward journey. In a country of 330 million, only about 50,000 Americans engage in long-distance bicycle travel. Thus, a very hardy, determined group of men and women.
I don't mind saying that I've been riding a touring bike for 44 years. I love the physical, mental and spiritual aspects that serve my life on a multitude of levels. Some can define it, but it's something you must experience to know, to feel, to understand. I know that David read my book on touring across America in 2017, but now, he stood in the saddle to discover for himself what cycle-touring encompasses. I'd be curious as to the thoughts spinning around in his mind as he presses forward up this mountain grade. Some people love this touring life; and others shrink away because it's not easy. It may not be easy, but it contains an incredible magic beyond words, beyond description, beyond human thought. It digs down deep into your soul.
As we climbed, we witnessed 492-foot Bird Woman Falls cascading down the treacherous rock face of the vertical canyon walls. Beside the falls, deep forest green. Higher up, gray-black rock cliffs. While the road enjoyed a stone guard-rail built in 1931, it also featured endless wildflowers along that stone rail. And, tons of birds played on the drafts rising up the mountain.
Further up, we watched the road snake along the mountain cliffs. Soon, we pedaled past the famous "Weeping Wall" which featured black rocks, riding up vertically from the road and spraying water out of them as if they were crying. With the sun blasting off the water droplets, multiple rainbows played across the black rock.
"Gees," I said. "Is that gorgeous or what?"
"Can't beat that for one of the wonders of the world," said David.
From our position, we watched a line of cars winding up the side of the mountain to Logan's Pass. While they made it up the mountain in 30 minutes, we faced a total of 5 ½ hours of climbing at an average speed of four miles per hour.
"I'll tell you what," said David. "This is kicking my butt, big time. How much farther to the top?"
"Well, you can see it as that line of cars reaches that slot in the rocks," I said. "Probably another two hours."
"Geese Louise," David said. "I may be pushing the last mile or two."
"Whatever gets you to the top," I said. "If it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger. Besides, you'll be rewarded with a hunger never before experienced in your life. And, at the top, the view, well, indescribably fantastic."
By around 2:30 p.m., we slogged that last half-mile to the top.
As we entered the parking lot, a lady Ranger with a ticket book motioned us to come over to her patrol car.
"Did you guys know that you're in violation of the bicycle restrictions?" she said. "I have to write you a ticket."
"What?" I said. "There's no law against riding up a mountain pass."
"Yes, there is, from 11 to 4," she said.
"Why weren't we told?" David said. "The lady at the entrance should have told us."
"This is totally unfair," I said. "We're a couple of 70-year-old men. We won't come this way again. Just give us a warning."
Pathetic! I was burned. It cost $130.00 each for our infraction. She called it a safety problem. Oh, as if giving us a ticket with no warning was going to make it better. And, the traffic jammed from 8:00 onward all the way up the mountain.
"This is nothing but revenue enhancement," I said. "It has nothing to do with safety. I'm going to write the superintendent and give him a piece of my mind. You should have warned us at the entrance."
She did give us a break by writing out only one ticket. Yahoo! What a deal. Sometimes you bite the bear and at other times, the bear bites you.
"This sucks," I said.
"Well, it's a small price to pay for such a beautiful day and this incredible place," said David. "Just have to eat it."
In the parking lot, a rather rotund man with a 44-inch belt line walked up, "Wow," he said. "You guys finally made it. We felt so sorry for you having to pedal those bikes with your heavy loads. Gees, it looks like you're carrying 100 pounds of gear. Shoot, we made it up in 30 minutes."
Lord, he made it up in 30 minutes with two people weighing 350 pounds inside a land yacht dragging 20 tons of steel, listening to the radio, spewing countless carbon fumes melting the glaciers, surrounded by glass and steel, along with air conditioning, and drinks from the fridge. We, on the other hand, hammered up that road, busted our legs, took over 50 pictures, watched hummingbirds suck nectar out of the wildflowers, felt Nature at her best, and reached the top with a feeling of total exultation, triumph and a gut feeling of, well, you know if you ride a bicycle. We felt the magic inside our bodies, minds and spirits. Trade it for 30 minutes in a land yacht? Not a chance!
I wanted to say, "Dude, you gotta be kidding, you feel sorry for us?" Instead, I said, "That's great man, you made it in 30 minutes and it took us six hours. It's good that you enjoyed a much easier way of getting to the top."
At the top, just a complete mess of gridlocked cars and people crawling all over the place. Not a wilderness experience, whatsoever! More like a traffic and people congestion in Chicago, LA and Atlanta!
"Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."
Chapter 2: The ride down an elegant mountain from the Crown of North America.