Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Week Eleven

Emigrant, MT to Glacier NP to Missoula, MT...8 days riding & 3 days off

617 miles..21,807 feet climb
4715 miles total...177,424 feet climb total

Beehives to pollinate alfalfa
Very soon upon leaving Yellowstone through the north entrance the landscape opens up. The valley is edged with big mountains spreading wider as the Yellowstone River heads north to join the Missouri. The scale is impressive. To capture this in photos is difficult. This area around Emigrant, MT is not on picture post cards but I am drawn to wander further into its mountains and to know more of its people for the ones I have met intrigue me.

A day's ride from Emigrant takes me to White Sulphur Hot Springs. After all the hot water and steam of Yellowstone, it seems appropriate to soak again in natural springs. This hot spring is compared in mineral quality to Baden-Baden, Germany. It's incorporated within a motel and I camp with a Canadian couple in the side yard. After a hard day's ride, little food, likely not enough water, and probably too long in the hot soak, I just barely get out, fumble through a shower, and stumble back to my tent where I crash through a cold night.

The road next day takes me to Great Falls. I am riding into town to find a breakfast spot. But before one appears I decide to visit the Missouri River that I left weeks ago when leaving Iowa. Water birds seem to be gathering along the shore and islands for the fall's migration. Soon I will pass large lakes and wetlands that draw people worldwide to visit and witness the great migrations that occur late September and October. Along the banks of the Missouri surfaces the Great Springs of fresh water that is charged by the Belt Mountains that I climbed the day before. This spring bubbles up from cracks in the underlying sandstone with enough intensity that it is labeled the shortest river at 250 yards. The adjacent Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center has a very nice exhibit of the Expedition and much information on the plains Indians the 1805 trip encountered. It's 1:00 before I find my breakfast instead it will be a large bowl of noodles and chicken, with a side of mash potatoes and gravy, apple sauce, roll, and ice cream...many of my comfort foods.

Great Springs
Blackfeet spirit wraps outside Browning
Hold on Blackie...the winds have to die down sometime
Blackfoot Reservation
Northern Rockies

When traveling, it seems every day has its special purpose. As I ride into the town of Choteau, MT and circle the late 1800s stone court house, I make notice of the RV with the rear hanging bicycles that passes me. I think no more on this. I search for the one lone restaurant that will be open this Monday evening as the man in the previous town told me. Another good, interesting small town meal of rice, baked chicken, broccoli, and feta cheese. I like it. There is a city park camp here. As I ride in I notice the same RV with the bikes. The four occupants are mingling about the grounds. Three sisters, Nancy, Chris, Terry, 60ish, and Terry's husband Howie, the driver, had also noticed me through the court house square and can now find answers to their discussions as to what's this guy up to? Home is Wisconsin and Illinois. this group of siblings love traveling together. They missed a turn on the road construction of I-15 and found themselves at the end of the day in where they planned to be. I followed them on a search of the campground. Again, folks are intrigued by the effort of biking cross country. "How do you do it?!" Chris is a nurse and through the days of our meetings I receive many hugs. Terry supplies brownies. "This bicycle powered by brownies" I want to post on my bike for them to see as they pass me the next day. I sit with them in the RV till 11:00 talking and laughing. We are each headed next to Glacier.

Eager Blackie

One of the joys of bike touring is sending time with other tourers. Many times this may only be a thirty minute encounter as we pass on route. But occasionally a more meaningful meeting occurs. The common draw of spending time in the National Parks gives rise to greater opportunities for these longer meetings.

Upon entering the town of St. Mary just outside the Glacier NP east entrance, and at the bottom of a killer descent, I spy a grocery store for my afternoon treat of chocolate milk. Outside are two touring rigs. Inside I find the riders...Mark and Annie from Seattle out for a week ride around Glacier area. They are headed to a cafe 200 yards to the north...The Park Cafe + Homemade Pies. They save a seat for me at their table. The food is very good; I will eat here three times during my stay at St. Mary Campground. It is very difficult not to order seconds on pie each time I am there. They bake from scratch, including the crust, about 80 pies a day of a vast variety of berries and fruit. I believe I would return to Glacier just for these pies!

Best pie find

We arrive at the hiker/biker camp about the same time. I get distracted while paying the park fees at the entrance when I hear my name called out. "Robbie!" It's my RV foursome heading out of the park for a drive. Our timing in passing seems impeccable. I will spend the next two evenings sitting in their RV sharing each other's day activities and more meaningful life discussions. They depart the campground one day ahead of me. Meanwhile, at the hiker/biker site this evening we share the site with a hiker couple from Kansas City who took Amtrak to West Glacier via Chicago. A week's vacation without the car! My camp colleagues will be leaving camp on the morrow while I go hiking a trail guided by the KC couple who make sure I exit the shuttle at the correct stop that morning. Due to road repairs ongoing in the park, shuttles ferry people from both sides and along the Going to the Sun Road. This is great service. It means this bicyclist can access remote trails, and hikers can have a different start and completion point. This service likely will not be available next year when the road repairs are completed. I have timed my stay at Glacier well...the shuttles will not run after Labor Day.

With my can of bear spray I now have a new found false security to launch out alone on a trail above the tree line and within site of glaciers. All Glacier's ice is a small fragment of its historic amount...within fifteen years there will no longer be any glaciers remaining in this park of glaciers. Once out of site of the main road, I follow directions and talk aloud and clap my hands several times every 30 feet or so. This is so not to surprise any grizzly around some corner. I am having a lively discussion with myself as I round a corner of the trail. Wild Animals!! In the middle of the trail ten feet in front of me are two large deer...who nonchalantly turn their head to gaze at me and are not in the least eager to leave the trail. Well, I suppose I didn't surprise them, but if this is the reaction from the wild inhabitants to my rousing conversation and clapping, I am beginning to second guess what grizzly awaits me around the next blind curve. I grip my bear spray a little more at the ready!

"So who are you?!"

I climb higher and through a high level field that I later learn a mother grizzly and her three cubs are grazing that day. Apparently I am so intent in not encountering any bears that I remain blind to their presence. Eventually reaching the high Sayeh Pass I feel I'm at the top of the world. A glacier is off in the near distance, but I walk over to a close snow bank to stick my finger in acknowledging with sadness I may not be able to do so on my next visit.

Glacier trail
Glacier trail
Sayeh Pass
Blackie wanted in the action
True glacier below pass
Trail wind down...and down...and down
Glacial stream

On my return to camp, I have new mates...a woman Chinese foreign student studying transportation at Chicago university on foot in the park, and Tony, Hong Kong born whose family immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta during the British/Chinese transfer. He was a carpenter in Edmonton, saved, invested, and at the age of 45 is determined to spend the next twenty years traveling the world on his bicycle. Asia and India have already felt his wheels. He travels on $20 a day...and hopes his investments improve or at least hold steady. Tony and I enjoy each other's company and make plans to hike together the Highline Trail from Logan Pass the next day. We are fortunate to see a male Bighorn Sheep and several Mountain Goats. It's also a beautiful trail high above the surrounding valleys with distant views of mountain peaks.

Going higher
Robbie on Highline Trail
Clouds break
Morning clouds
That's not Blackie...only a very fat high elevation ground squirrel
Big Horn Sheep
Mountain Goats
Pica...this guy hides better than Blackie
Trail goes across saddle
That's not Blackie...only a very fat high elevation ground squirrel
I have enjoyed being in the backwoods of Glacier and hiking more than any other place on this journey. It is one place I would like to return to...and also to sample more pie.

Used bikes by the acre
Adventure Cycling, Missoula, MT
Adventure Cycling...thanks for all you do! They moved many years ago into this old Christian Science Church that moved to another location.

It doesn't hurt the bike at all
Blackie witnesses the formal weighing at 92 pounds


For the bicycle traveler...

  • Emigrant, East River Road, Highway 89 (this road will take me all the way to Glacier NP; sometimes there are wide shoulders; sometimes there are narrow or no shoulders; traffic is mostly light; this is a good route), Livingston (turn left in town to cross railroad tracks and access Old Clyde Park Road, Highway 89, Clyde spark, White Sulphur Springs, camp at hot springs hotel side yard
  • White Sulphur Springs, Highway 89, Belt Mountains with long, steep climb, Armington, commercial camp
  • Armington, Highway 89, Great Falls, Central Avenue West, Vaughn Road, I-15 Frontage Road with lots of traffic and no shoulder (may be better to continue on Central to McIver Road to Ulm Vaughn Road), Vaughn, Highway 89, Fairfield, wetlands, Choteau, city park camp
  • Choteau, Highway 89, Browning, motel-most expensive on route @ $110 (there is commercial camping on west side of town)
  • Browning, Highway 89, St. Mary, Glacier NP, St. Mary Campground hiker/biker
  • Glacier St. Mary, Going to Sun Road, Logan Pass, Glacier Sprague Campground
  • Glacier, West Glacier, Highway 2 (wide shoulders, lots of traffic), Montana Highway 206 (no shoulder, moderate traffic), Highway 35 East [options: 1-west side of Flathead Lake on Highway 2 with scenic view of mountains behind lake with wide shoulder and heavy traffic; 2-east side of Flathead Lake on Highway 35 with non-consistent shoulder and light traffic; 3-Highway 83 through forest area and the route chosen by Adventure Cycling] [since I was traveling on Labor Day weekend I chose Highway 35], Bigfork, Polson, Highway 93, Ronan, commercial camp [there is a good paved rail-trail mostly on west side of highway from Polson to Ronan]
  • Ronan, Highway 93, St. Ignatius, National Bison Range, Wye, Broadway Street, Missoula


  1. Great stuff. Enjoying the travelogue!

  2. We had a great time meeting you in Choteau and again in Glacier N.P. We are also glad to hear you made it with all the wonderful sites along the way. We had a great time in Yellowstone after our visit with you. We soaked in the Boiling river and on our way back on the trail, we encountered a elk herd of about 30 drinking from the river.One bull was there and then a bigger one came and chased the other away. It was great to watch. We made it back to Wisconsin without a hitch and we had a wonderful time as well. Take care and if you ever run into Ron and Pam Kopp in Ashville, tell them you met the Fisher's. We are fellow curlers. Howie and Terri

  3. Thanks Howie and Terri. I missed our evening chats...and brownies! Haven't been on my bike for over two weeks.


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