7.8 mi / 8.3 mph / 237 ft. climbing
Home: Apgar hiker/biker campsite
Yesterday afternoon when we turned up to the hiker/biker site at Sprague Creek, the three tent pads were already taken: one clearly by (absent) bike tourers (who had the same tent and chairs as we did), one by unknown (absent) maybe day-hikers, and one by two sullen, uncommunicative girls in a giant Coleman tent who were part of a family at the next site over who had flowed (intentionally or unintentionally) into the hiker/biker site and commandeered one of our picnic tables.
There was space for us, but it was frustrating to again find some of our place taken by people who it didn’t belong to. Since their parents weren’t around (the girls were presumably too sophisticated to get themselves sweaty doing a hike in this world-class environment), there wasn’t really any point in saying anything to them. But I found the campground host to ask if she had rules about where we could set up inside our site, and while there, made sure to mention the encrochers. She was friendly and helpful, but seemingly powerless, since she already knew about them (they’d been there multiple days already) and essentially threw up her hands and said, “yeah, it sucks, but the recreation.gov system allows it”.
That’s when I realized my assumption had been totally wrong! They weren’t part of the family at the neighboring site! They were simply another case of straight-up liars and thieves, car-campers who knowingly booked a hiker/biker site. And they didn’t even bother to try to fake-hike in, their goddamn car was parked at the empty site right across from us!
I also realized that their uncommunicative attitude, that I’d assumed was teenage sullenness, was really due to the fact that they knew they’d done wrong and didn’t want to open the door to being called out on it (unrelated: clearly I’m getting old enough that I mistake adult twenty-somethings for teenagers!)
The day-hikers turned up and seemed a bit suspect too (they had a giant Coleman stove and a bottle of whiskey in the bear box), so it was really nice when the next (and completely new) arrival was Ross, 100% one of our kind. A software engineer in the midst of a (definitive) job transition, he was taking the opportunity to get some bike touring in. Then the other bike tourers turned up who were very much my kind, but in a different way. They were actually doing a bit of “day-biking” in the park, having come just from Whitefish. But Julie was riding a Bruce Gordon bike!
I’d coincidentally just been thinking of Bruce Gordon, and how, with the current dominance of “bikepacking” vs. traditional “bike touring”, I’m now part of a relatively small group of old men and women who retain knowledge of early-2000s bike-touring culture, where Bruce Gordon frames were widely-known (on the Internet, at least) as one of the primo options (if you had the money!) But despite that Internet knowledge, I think Julie’s bike was the first Bruce Gordon I’ve ever seen in the wild.
She actually made a bit of a pilgrimage to see Bruce a few years ago, and while he was always known to be a curmudgeon (I mean, what niche bike builder isn’t?), she found a man who had slid down into bitterness. He was trying to sell his business but finding no buyers. That’s not at all surprising, because he failed to do anything to keep his brand relevant in the 2010s, so by 2020, he was mostly forgotten (younger Ross had unsurprisingly never heard of him). I always find it dumb and annoying when a company who makes a good product can’t just keep making that product and be satisfied, but instead feels required to expand, “innovate”, and often, follow trends. But here in Bruce Gordon is an example of what can happen if you don’t do that.
Julie herself was a bit of a curmudgeon, in a way I admire. Befitting her Bruce Gordon bike, she was once an Adventure Cycling tour group leader. Her embittering moment was when Adventure Cycling began expanding more into van-supported group tours, vs. the traditional self-supported carry-your-on-gear groups (essentially what we do, but where you pay to go with a group and have a guide and a route/plan made for you). She said that once the more-pampered options became available, they attracted more-pampered clients, and those clients brought much higher expectations for comfort and, well, pampering, and sucked a lot of the fun out of leading groups.
I mention all this yesterday-news to say that when we backtracked a mile to the Lake McDonald Lodge for breakfast (they have the same all-you-can-eat buffet as Many Glacier), we were glad to be joined by Ross and Julie, and continue the conversations of the evening before. I raised my idea of heading southeast through Montana out of Glacier, and then maybe going into Yellowstone via the Northeast Entrance. “The Beartooth Highway?” Julie exclaimed. Uh…I guess so? “That’s the 2nd-most stunning road in the Lower 48, and you just did #1 yesterday. Beartooth Pass is 11,000 feet, but it’s doable, and Adventure Cycling tours have done it before.” Hmm, sounds like an idea that requires further exploration!
Lake McDonald Lodge was another great rustic-luxury National Park building, though not nearly as grand as Many Glacier. And even though window seats were also a priority here, they were completely pointless because the view across Lake McDonald isn’t nearly as epic as Many Glacier, but maybe that’s why they hide it behind a wall of trees! Buffet was a step down too, but we still managed to max out our calories per dollar.
Our actual ride was another short hop, 9 miles to Apgar campground, part of the prominent “village” on Glacier’s west side. But it was 9 miles of under-construction gravel road. Overnight rain took over the job of the watering trucks, so at least it was dust-free. And Rett was attacking it with an appropriate aggressiveness (swerving to find the smooth bits, punching it out of rough sections) that I haven’t seen since…her days of bike-commuting in downtown Chicago on Divvy bike-share tanks.
We arrived well before check-out time to our reserved slot in the A-loop hiker/biker site (Apgar has two hiker/biker areas!) So it was a little strange how the couple packing up there were almost apologetic about not being gone yet. No problem, we know we’re early, and up to 8 people are meant to share the site anyway! Then it was also a little strange how they didn’t ask anything about where we’d come from, where we were going, why we were there so early, all the get-to-know-you that non-motorized travelers sharing a space immediately pepper each other with. And the final strange bit was their giant cooler. Wait, no, none of this is strange at all anymore! God dammit, they’re more car-driving site-stealers!
This is now three times at three different hiker/biker sites in the park (and we know it happened at a 4th)! We’re starting to become suspicious of everybody, which sucks, but now I realize now that the dead giveaway is the avoidance of those get-to-know-you questions, just like the sullen girls at Sprague Creek. Because if they ask where you rode/hiked from, they know you’ll inevitably ask the same of them, at which point they’ll either need to lie outright, or reveal their theft. Better for them to maintain awkward uncomfortable silence, even if that’s also a giveaway, because in retrospect there is such an obvious night-and-day difference in openness to conversation between legit non-motorized travelers and thieves. (at least this new couple’s apologetic attitude now made sense as a slight admission-of-guilt).
The camp hosts stopped by while we were there, and once again they were sympathetic and understanding, but also clearly powerless. But wait, here is a ranger stopping in his truck! With the enforcement powers that camp hosts lack! And he is citing them! For…leaving their cooler outside and not secured in the bear box. Which, great, at least you got these double-assholes for one of their sins, but that’s all the proof we need that no one is willing to actually do anything about the squatter problem. Once again the camp hosts put the blame on recreation.gov, which doesn’t make a ton of sense. A website will never be able to know if people who claim to have zero vehicles are lying or not; the people on the ground are the only ones who can do that, and as good as Rett and I are becoming at that job, we can’t cover the whole park.
Rett’s T-Mobile service from our site wasn’t as good as we expected it to be (but it was a rare place where it was better than my Verizon service), so it was a challenge to do her weekly video call, especially with the threat of rain. We scouted various places and experimented, but in the end she just did a voice call from our tent.
We also scouted out the C-loop hiker/biker site (the hosts recommended it, though it was further from the showers). There we found Roger, a friendly 65-year-old Amtrak-traveling walker from Ohio, and he endorsed our move, particularly telling us that we’d enjoy meeting the Belgian bike tourers who had been sharing his section of the site. We said we might come back later that evening to hang out, but Rett’s stomach started bothering her after dinner, so we stayed anti-social. But we booked 5 more nights in the C-loop, which will finally (probably?) bring our Glacier stay to an end.