Playing the tourist in Glacier

So, updates on general things: I bought a thorn-proof tube for my rear tire, so of course I haven’t had a rear flat in days (it’s one of Murphy’s Laws of Cycling, which is why I stopped patching tubes before I need them, it always meant I’d need it that day). I did have a front flat, but that’s because my first flat of the trip put a lovely gash in my front tire and the tube was working its merry way out of the hole. There’s a big sticky tire boot in there now, and I patched that tube. Patches, patches, everywhere. I’m glad I feel confident fixing flats–for ages I knew how but hated it so much I’d walk a flat tire to the shop–but I don’t want anymore practiced.

Saddle update: I moved it a tiny bit forward and flat again, and that just made me slide right off the wide part onto the nose, so I left it in place but put back the very slightly higher nose. This seems, currently, to work okay. We did a fifty mile day yesterday and yeah, I had pressure in unfortunatel places, and I wish I’d put some salve in the general area, but all in all it was….tolerable. I was able to ride in the drops and all that. I’m tempted to move it forward a tiny bit more and see if that’s even better, but I worry about all the other angles that affects, like my knee position. *sigh*

Once again I find myself unable to remember all the things I wanted to say!

First of all: Glacier National Park is one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen in my life. Oh man. Riding (like bats out of hell because the road is closed to bicycles after 11am) up the road to Avalanche Creek campground, the first time I saw the mountains over Lake MacDonald I gasped and felt tears come to my eyes.

We really wanted to ride Going-to-the-Sun Road, but it was still covered in snow! So we took a shuttle bus from a spot near our campground, to a switchback called The Loop that has a view of Heaven’s Peak, and Shawn and I hiked a small section starting from there before turning back and taking another shuttle to our campground, and then doing an out-and-back (about four miles, round trip) hike to Avalanche Lake. From the shuttle, one of the passengers pointed out where the road goes (where it’s closed) and I had trouble believing there was a road up there, even though I could see it. They built the road into what looks like a cliff at the top of a mountain!

The next day was…eventful. We took our time in West Glacier, including going into a rather large visitor’s center whose only goal was to get us to visit Alberta (which we were already planning to do).

The day was about fifty miles, which isn’t bad, but we started late. Because Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed, there’s more traffic on the highway that goes around the southern border of the park, and the shoulder was often narrow, so that was unpleasant. And early on in the ride, we were leaving a pull-off area that was gravel, when I hit a deep drift of the gravel at too low of a speed, and fell over. I was mostly sorta embarrassed and just dusted myself off. The gravel wasn’t the sharp pointy kind but more like small pebbles, so the fall didn’t hurt, but I probably wouldn’t have fallen if it were normal gravel. Here’s hoping it’s the only fall I have this trip, yeah?

And then! It turns out they’re putting new chip seal on a twelve-mile stretch of the highway. Which would mean: more gravel. Freshly laid-down gravel, actually. And traffic taking turns going each way. There was no way in hell I was going to ride fresh gravel for miles. We did ten miles of new chip seal on the Olympic Peninsula last summer, and it was the least pleasant ten miles of biking I’d ever done. Thankfully, because the traffic was stopped for minutes on end, we were able to go down the line asking people for help. Lucky for us, the second vehicle waiting was a truck with space for our bikes…but no empty seats. The jeep that was the first car had room for me, but not Shawn. So I got a nice ride in the front seat of a Jeep being driven by a guy from Portland, which was a fun coincidence, and poor Shawn was on the flatbed of a truck with the bicycles. I had fishing poles in my face the whole time, but I still had a much comfier ride.

When we passed a spot called Goat Lick, there was a bridge, and lots of cars pulled over, and people on one side of the bridge pointing and taking pictures. Shawn and I got off the bicycles to look at what they were seeing: mountain goats!! About a dozen, total. That’s some truth in advertising for you! Made me a little sketchy about biking near Bear Creek for a couple dozen miles…

A bit before sunset I wanted to stop for a break, but when I did, HOLY SHIT: Mosquitoes. Clouds of them. We were on our way to Marias Pass and our first time crossing a Continental Divide on this trip, and let me tell you, I was riding as fast as I could, even though I was tired. I ended up getting to the pass before Shawn did, and dumping out everything in one of my bags to find the “natural” bug repellent. I sprayed myself all over to no real effect. Shawn soon arrived, and I made him get the DEET out, and we sprayed each other, and still: swarms. Yeah, they weren’t biting, but instead they’d hover all around you in a cloud, especially your head, and try to land on you. Much too close for comfort. It was driving me crazy. I don’t know what it is about being surrounded by bugs like that, but I just can’t deal with it. I will literally run around shrieking, trying to get away. Poor Shawn wanted to take pictures, and there’s neato stuff up there at the pass. I let him take this picture and then announced that I was leaving without him. Shawn took a little time looking at stuff while I pedaled as hard as I could to get away from the mosquitoes, but the problem was, there was more of them everywhere I went. I would turn my head and see them trying to follow me. They’d fly past my ears (really loud). One went up my nose. Another got in my mouth. And in theory it’s all downhill from the pass, but in reality you don’t lose elevation very quickly, and so there are some gentle rollers. I would have enjoyed the hell out of the ride (the scenery was nothing short of spectacular) but I was almost crying because I was so desperate to get away from the little bloodsuckers. Every time I saw that there was a rise in the road, I wanted to scream, and I’d climb it as fast as I can, because every time I slowed down, they caught up with me.

For a couple of miles the road was graded and rough, and I didn’t lose any more speed than I had to, which was rather bone-rattling.

Eventually it was dark (and cold) enough for the assault to die down, and then I started worrying. Was Shawn mad at me? Did he feel like I abandoned him? Oh god, what if something happened to him? I didn’t have cell phone service! Even if he got just a plain old flat tire, he might be half an hour or more behind me, and what would I do? I don’t even know where the hostel is we’re going to! So I stopped and chatted with a few people out enjoying the view by the road for about five or ten minutes, when with a flood of relief I saw his headlights come around the corner a few hundred yards away. He was fine, he wasn’t mad. Whew!

The hostel we’re staying at in East Glacier is so odd and cute.The building is pretty old, and the downstairs has a deli/grocery and bakery, and during the day, there’s a flight of stairs that goes right into the deli/grocery section. The floor is really uneven and the outside walls are honest to god logs, and the inside walls are a single layer of wood panels, which means ZERO sound barriers. If it weren’t for our nice big box fan in the window (just like our old apartment in Portland!) it would be hard to sleep! We spent today doing laundry and visiting ba few things in the town, including the Glacier Park Lodge, which was huge and expensive looking.

Glacier is just so amazing, and I know we’ll be back. And here’s the thing: It’s stupidly easy to visit Glacier if you live in Portland, or really anywhere on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line. Shawn and I have talked about trying our hand at backpacking, and while it’s often tricky to get to good places to do it without a car, it could not be easier to do it from Portland to Glacier. Amtrak has a stop downtown in Portland. There are several stops right on the edge of Glacier National Park, and then free shuttles to take you further into the park that stop in a bunch of places. So we could just catch the train in downtown Portland, get off at the edge of the park, take a shuttle, and start hiking. Hell, there are campgrounds and lodges that are short walks from the stops, so even if you weren’t roughing it, it’s the easiest thing imaginable. Why this park isn’t overrun with people from Portland and Seattle and Chicago arriving by train, I have no idea. It’s not any slower than driving, for pete’s sake, and when you include gas and places to stay along the way and stuff it’s probably even the same price.

Seriously, people. Visit Glacier National Park. And take the train. This place is already overrun with RVs and SUVs.

My last note today: the gift shops around here? Torture. You can get damn near anything with a moose on it. I do not need 8 billion moose-themed items, nor do my parents. I especially not cotton tshirts and socks, no matter how cute they are. I got a little sticker to put on my bike, that should make me happy.

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2 Responses to Playing the tourist in Glacier

  1. Todd says:

    Now you know why REI rt al sells those net bags for ones head.

    Now the cat is out of the bag…the trains to Glacer will be full.

  2. Ron Richings says:

    Hey April – Ron Richings gives good advice.

    Too bad that your saddle is still causing you pain.
    Try the ‘camping foam’ approach that I described in my July 6 ‘reply’ on the Brooks post. Your tender bits will thank you. Really. Ron

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