23.9 mi / 9.2 mph / 1559 ft. climbing
Home: Two Medicine Campground
A week after leaving Missoula and wrapping around to the east, today we finally enter Glacier National Park! The east side of the park is roughly arranged like a trident: the large center spear is Going-to-the-Sun Road, the one road that cuts all the way through to the west side of the park. The other two forks are in-and-out valleys: Two Medicine and Many Glacier. Our rough plan is to first explore the southern fork (Two Medicine), then bounce up to the northern fork (Many Glacier), and finally ride over the top via the middle spear.
A relatively short ride, but not an easy one, as we’re now heading straight west into the prevailing winds, going up some tough hills to get us out of Browning’s valley, and still have that gravelly shoulder to ride in. The last one improved when the road surface changed to proper asphalt, but it got cancelled out by a moron cop.
We’re climbing one of the hills, and this one is big enough to have a passing lane, which means that our shoulder disappears for a period and is replaced by a 2nd full travel lane. Generally we’re not upset when this happens, because a full lane is nicer to ride in than shoulder, and traffic is almost always light enough (as was the case today) for vehicles to easily slide to the left lane and pass our “slower traffic”, exactly as intended.
But for some reason on this climb, a Glacier County Sheriff’s deputy slows beside me, and while I couldn’t understand everything he said, he wasn’t happy with us and the words “impeding traffic” were used. Um, what? First of all, by slowing to 5mph in the left lane, you’re literally the one impeding traffic right now; everything was flowing just fine a second ago. Second, we’re doing exactly what the law, the road design, and common sense tells us to do. Finally, if we were actually doing something wrong, you would have used your law enforcement powers to do something about it, not just bark something out the window at us. So I’m forced to conclude that you’re simply dumb angry man who lucked into that badge, and no different than any other irrationally-angry driver. The good news is that this is the first time in my life of bike riding that law enforcement has said something this egregiously wrong and stupid to me, and now that I know cops can be this dumb, it makes me appreciate that the vast majority are not.
We crossed an impressive stream gorge and turned down into East Glacier Park, the last bit of non-Park civilization. I was thinking of my friend Dennis and his Amtrak ride here to start his first solo bike tour 11 years ago. And perfectly, there is the Empire Builder train sitting right at the depot! Rett and I have made a gradual approach to these mountains over weeks (and started from a mountainous area anyway), making it sometimes difficult to notice how much things have changed. So seeing the train sitting there with the sharp peaks rising suddenly behind it really drove home what an epic, scary, and thrilling moment it must have been to be transported from the Chicago flatlands and suddenly dropped into this alien place, just you and your bicycle, committed to facing its challenges.
So then it was especially awesome when, just as we were leaving our last bit of data connectivity for an unknown period, I got a text from Dennis wishing us a great time in Glacier! And 20 minutes earlier I had gotten a similar text from my mom; my parents have also experienced Glacier, so this must have been some kind of Park Magic. I don’t even get two texts a week from friends and family (my fault!), so two just as we were entering the park (completely unknown to them) meant for the first time in our life together, I was the one saying “sorry, pull over, I need to respond to this text!”
Once we were through the toy underpass to the west side of the train tracks and onto MT-49, the views became immediately incredible and just increased in magnitude as we drew the mountains towards us with each pedal stroke. Traffic entering the park on the narrow curvy road was totally chill, and even the 500 ft. climb just before the campground was no big deal. Give Rett a well-engineered mountain climb, and it seems she’ll tackle it without much pain no matter how tall it is.
It was an awesome feeling to arrive together to our awesome campsite. It was a regular, non-hiker/biker site, booked for three nights, partially because it wasn’t clear how you can book or pay for a hiker/biker site without cell service. So when we saw it was available a few nights ago (I think because, new this year, some sites are released to book 4 nights ahead of time, in a new experiment for this overwhelmed park), we just decided to grab it and make our lives easier. And at $20/night it’s still a steal, for a near-lakefront, wonderfully-shaded site nearly buried under mountains.
Oh, and immediately we saw our first large wildlife: bighorn sheep! Just walking through the campground without a care in the world.
Two of the biggest concerns we had upon entering Glacier and wanting to stay for a while were electricity (to power our devices) and food (to power us). The Internet hadn’t been able to completely assuage those concerns, so we made a beeline for the bathrooms and saw that they indeed had outlets, and then found that the camp store had plenty of, if not exactly “healthy food”, at least “calories”, so the load of groceries we hauled in may have been slightly more than strictly necessary. That was the final bit of calming excitement for the day, since it meant that our time in this park would only be limited by our desire to stay.
In this Two Medicine Valley the mountains are so close that the sun sets a full two hours before the astronomers say it should. They’re so close that you can walk 40 steps, and see another mountain you hadn’t seen before peeking out from your new angle. They’re so close that you can feel their presence, even after the sun’s light has finally left the sky and only the moon lights their shadowy forms.