27.4 mi / 11.6 mph / 1138 ft. climbing
Home: Swiftcurrent Motel Cabin at Glacier National Park
It’s finally time to move up to the top fork of the trident on Glacier’s east side: Many Glacier! While the distance from this middle fork to the top is similar to the distance between the lower fork (Two Medicine) and the middle, there is much less climbing. Thus we were able to laze in bed, and Maryam and the through-hiker had packed up and left without even waking us (more proof that he was legit!)
The return ride back out to St. Mary was a lot easier than the headwind-hard ride in had been. The prices at the outside-the-park store were no better though, now up to $10 for a dozen eggs (organic was all they had in stock). I wonder what they charged during the Great Egg Shortage of early 2023!
The ride north along Lower St. Mary Lake was initially less-spectacular than our northward ride from Two Medicine, though my rearview mirror was filled with a wall of mountains for many miles. But then as we got closer to Babb and our left turn back up the top fork, we started seeing more crazy things, like a mountain colored pink and white, different than any other mountain surrounding it. Or the pyramidal form of a Mayan temple atop another mountain (which turned out to just be an improbably-shaped mountain itself).
The road to Many Glacier was pristine asphalt, until we hit the park border, when it turned to gravel for 2.5 miles. We had been warned about this, and it’s not exactly due to “construction”, as there are no plans to pave it until a complete re-engineering can be done to prevent any new asphalt from slumping away every year. So at least there weren’t any construction vehicles, and the road was reasonably wide, but it was fairly rough and not any fun. In the middle we started getting dripped on by rain, which then turned into heavy drops, forcing another stop for us to put on our rain covers (which would also double as dust-covers if the rain wasn’t enough to tamp down the gravel dust clouded up by passing vehicles). I also finally took the opportunity to lower the pressure in our tires, because the rocks and holes and washboards were just rattling us apart. This happy easy day had tumbled down into one of pain and frustration, capped when Rett lost control of her bike on a loose section of gravel as she was walking it to restart, and it went twisting down into the rocks. Luckily there was no real harm to the bike beyond an extra layer of close-up dust.
By the time we reached the entrance station, the rain had stopped, the sun was back out, and that’s the point that the road flipped its extreme-dichotomy switch again and returned to its perfectly-pristine asphalt form. So we were returning to an emotional upswing, but then a car moves around to pass us just as oncoming vehicles are approaching (our most-hated traffic situation). On most occasions, nearly getting squeezed off the road would bring our mood right down again. But not this time! Many times, the oncoming driver in such a situation will slide as far to the right as they can (perhaps as an act of self-preservation?), which then just encourages the overtaking driver to squeeze into the still-too-small gap between us and the oncoming vehicle. But here, the oncoming driver just sat like a stubborn moose in the middle of their lane. Remarkably, the overtaking vehicle backed down, nearly came to a dead stop, and sheepishly slid back behind us. Half-a-second later, we pass the oncoming vehicle and hear the driver happily bellow “Hello, friends!!!” in an unmistakable Kansan accent. Holy shit, it’s Sue, the Rising Sun camp host we already loved so much!! She had taken a friend to see Many Glacier on her day off, and here she was keeping the roads just as orderly and safe as she keeps the campground. Not since we had Sergei protecting our rear on an Oregon bridge two Octobers ago have we had such a perfectly lucky new-friend coincidence saving our ass on the road. And like that Sergei encounter, it completed a mood-flip for us just as dichotomous as the road surface. Thanks Sue!!
The old-school National Park cabin we were assigned to was so cute and perfect for us that we decided to (and luckily were able to) convert our stay from one night in the cabin and two nights in the boring (but more-expensive) motel, into two nights in the cabin and two nights in the motel (thus extending our stay from three nights to four, which would hopefully allow us to do some more hiking in this valley whose ridiculous scope had already revealed itself as the best area of the park so far, merely from the ride in.
The cabin has two rooms, neither of which is a bathroom (though it has a large old-school cold-water-only farm sink in the “living room”). So it’s simultaneously a complete rip-off (at $142+tax), and a heavenly luxury (to people who had spent the last 8 nights in a tent, which contains neither hot nor cold running water, and for whom walking somewhere to a shared bathroom is “normal”). Rett needed to remind herself that she could turn up the brightness of her phone and didn’t need to reflexively turn off the screen if she wasn’t using it for two seconds, because there are electrical outlets right inside the structure that we’re sleeping in. Whoa!! Also making us feel a bit better about the expense was yet another “lucky” night where there is heavy rain when we happen to be under a roof.
We went to dinner at Nell’s Cafe (next to the motel lobby/office, which is next to the camp store, all the same building), which was super-crowded upon its 5pm opening for dinner, but another nice luxury since cooking our own meals will be a bit of a challenge in this place where bear activity has closed it to tent camping.