34.2 mi / 9.5 mph / 2867 ft. climbing
Home: St. Mary Campground at Glacier National Park
Time to move on from Two Medicine. We certainly didn’t do all the hiking there that we would have liked to, but even with our unconstrained peregrination, we’ll always have to leave some things undone, and we also needed a return to connectivity.
It was interesting on the ride out (which was a repeat of my solo ride from two mornings ago) to see that the areas of connectivity were precisely repeatable, rather than random fluctuations. There was once again about 100 yards worth of Verizon LTE voice/SMS (but no data) at the very top of the hill a quarter mile east of the campground entrance, and then nothing until the slow but steady LTE data turned on at the same pullout about 5 miles east of the campground. I guess that explains why I’ve read about particular intersections, or lake shore picnic areas, that become known connectivity spots where people pull off and gather alone with their phones.
Soon after we made a left turn onto MT-49 and started climbing a 1000 ft. hill, a car pulled over in front of us on the shoulderless road. A tall white-haired gentleman with a wry smile under his Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses steps out of the driver’s side and motions for us to stop. Holy shit, it’s Joe Biden! Is he going to give us some sort of Presidential Award for being badass self-powered National Park visitors?!? “Hi y’all, can you help us lost Alabamans to find the nearest town?” Darn it, not Joe Biden, and I guess that means no award either. Oh well. It did feel rewarding though to already know enough about the park to be able to recommend that driving in and out of Two Medicine and just stopping for a view down the lake would be the best time-killer (what they were really looking for) before their room in St. Mary became available for check-in. As we rode on, Rett said to me “When that guy stepped out of the car, I totally thought he was Joe Biden for a second!” We both laughed at having the exact same impression independently, and then both agreed that telling a guy from Alabama that he looks like Joe Biden is probably a comment best left unstated (though he’s surely heard it before!) We saw them a couple more times during the ride, and another reward was when they hung out behind us during a long curvy downhill, keeping other drivers off our tail. Many thanks, Joe!
And holy crap, was that good 1000 ft. up and down. Another perfectly engineered old road (they don’t build em like they used to!) with the steady 5% grade Rett can do all day long. The up had views back towards Two Medicine from on high, and beautiful sections through aspen groves, and the down opened into a different world, looking out above the endless Montana grasslands rolling away to the east. It was a National Park-worthy ride, and it’s not even in the park.
On another big downhill, I shifted into my big ring up front (something I rarely do, but I needed to catch back up with Rett after stopping for a photo), and “skronk!” the pedals are locked up! This has happened before, if I try to shift up too quickly and the chain just gets smashed into the side of the chainring rather than lifted on top of it. Before, if I just back off, I could complete the shift with a second try. This time, that didn’t work, and a glance down showed my derailleur was all out of whack. I hope the mount just slid and rotated around the downtube, but I don’t want to stop and check because Rett is out of earshot and has no idea I have a problem. I don’t want her getting 500 feet up the next hill before she realizes she needs to come back down. Since I can’t pedal (but can coast just fine), I get into the tightest aero tuck I can, and try to reel her in. She hears my second full-throated “STOP!!!” just before the end of the downhill and we’re both able to pull off so I can take a look. Luckily I was right and it had just rotated, rather than the cage being bent and mangled, which would have been a much tougher (or impossible) fix. Did I have the torque setting right, and it’s designed to slip rather than bend? Or did luckily have the torque setting too loose?
US-89 was initially a return to the gravelly chip-sealed shoulder we disliked on US-2, but we hit a brief construction zone (much briefer than the 5 miles (of uphill) that the signs stated, and after that we had a whole newly-constructed road with smooth asphalt and proper shoulders!
Cresting that final hill brought us to a massive downhill to St. Mary Lake. Sounds fun, but the winds suddenly became really strong and unpredictable, and it felt like balancing on a knife edge (at 30 mph) the whole way down. We hit the “town” of St. Mary at the bottom, immediately bought two huckleberry ice cream cones (for a ridiculous $13.50) and collapsed onto a bench to cool our nerves and flush the adrenaline that was still buzzing through our systems.
Prices at the outside-the-park “grocery store” (which looked and felt like a proper mid-sized independent grocery store, but whose product selection was closer to a gas station) were no less insane. But they did have a small produce section, which we were unlikely to find in the park stores, so it was worth it for that alone (and oddly, the produce, much of it local/organic was the most-reasonably priced stuff in the store! Must have been different managers with different philosophies.)
We had cellular reception again, so we stopped at the park visitor Visitor Center and tried a couple setups for Rett’s weekly video therapy session until we found one that worked: out in the open to get Verizon signal on my phone, hotspotted into her phone, hung from her bike’s rear pannier, in front of her camp chair, all placed in front of some dense bushes to block the strong wind. I think it’s admirable and valuable that Rett’s so committed to getting help, but in a situation like this I wonder if the stress of making it happen cancels out some of the session’s benefits. I think we’ll need to rethink how to handle this balance going forward.
We’d booked a regular campsite at St. Mary’s, to potentially give Rett more privacy for her call than the shared hiker/biker site (which wasn’t needed), and also just because it was available. But man, it was a hot-ass site in the sun, with just some short little trees at the edges for us to squeeze next to with our chairs to catch a bit of relief.
St. Mary is one of the two campgrounds in the park with free showers, so we were ready after four days, but so was half of the park. I rode over for a mid-afternoon scouting trip, and there was already one person in line then, so it was sort of miraculous that we were able to jump right into an empty shower room after dinner. Especially since there was definitely a big line when we were through.
After the sun had sunk behind the nearest mountain, Rett called me over to the campground road to see a bright speck (presumably Venus) hovering right over the top of the same mountain. It’s rare that she points something out like that to me, so it was fun to stand there together in the growing twilight and watch that tiny light follow the sun down, lower, lower, and then surprisingly-fast, wink! It was gone too.