Saturday, January 07, 2017

Going to the Sun Ride, Day Four: Glacier National Park -Lethbridge, AB, Chief Mountain Border Crossing to Lake McDonald Lodge

Glacier National Park - the furthest  point of our trip.  The place where we stop making easting, carve the peaks of the continental divide, and start the westing back to the Pacific coast.  The Going to the Sun Road was the raison d'etre for our ride; this made all that had come before...worth it. 

Day 4 Click to Enlarge
Day 4s objective was to get to Lake McDonald Lodge in the heart of Glacier National Park.  It's not a long route really, but with all the magnificent scenery in southern Alberta and northern Montana pulling at your attention, every corner, every vista was to be devoured.  Hungrily ripping through the scenery and tugging it through the vitreous humour, your gray matter gets a stomach full.  Sure a few snaps with an iPad will give you the gist, but not the scale, the shear magnificence of the landscape.  Don't think I've seen pretty magnificent scenery before? I live in British Columbia on Vancouver Island.  'Nuff said.  No matter how well traveled you are, how much you're enjoying the perfect rhythm of the black top on your canyon-carver, you'll be pulling over every few minutes to suck these panoramas in.  

Leaving Lethbridge at sunrise, not much happens until you start to reach Cardston.  Then, in the distance you start to see an amazing contrast: flat prairie backstopped by amazing snow covered peaks...

Through Cardston, the riding is fun now: there's a coolness in the air, the road starts to undulate, gently curving now: you're at a comfortable 110, and you've been here before.  Your deja vu-addled brain starts to flip memories up like a Rolodex in your mind's-eye as you reel off the miles, trying to pull the recollection from that slow, syrupy quagmire of a mind you've developed lately. Then it hits you - superimposed on your visor, you're riding through that Windows XP desktop theme.  

Taking the left from AB#5 onto AB#6 20km west of Mountainview, AB, you head south.  Now you're in it.  Scenery, everywhere.  Empty vistas, empty roads, you pull past the only truck you've seen for hours, and the bike compresses nicely as you rock through the next sweeper and up, up up.  Pulling over, to the west, you see the Waterton Lakes National Park that straddles the international border.  Stunning.  The roads here are beautifully surfaced too. Is this the old Albertan coffers?  Canadian National Park service shillings?  Or is it a "Welcome to Canukistan, my US red-necks, where roads are like magic-carpets, and taxes are good!"?  

The viewpoints are coming thick and fast now, but the signage is threatening us with an international border crossing.  No GPS means that I don't know how far it is, so I'm loathe to pull over at each and every stop.  Glimpsing the panorama's, one in particular, I'm torn, but carry on climbing, carving and curving to what seems like the top of the world.  A car with Montana plates, the first car we've seen for a while, trundles slowly down the grade, as if it is still accelerating, and then there it is: the Chief Mountain border crossing.  The US signage increases, the speed limit incrementally slows you down - still in kmh, until you're adjacent to a small, woodsy log-cabin-like lodge, with a single border guard, aged about 17 telling you he's the luckiest guy in the world to have this posting.  He implores you not to remove your helmet, "Sir," and to enjoy your stay in the US.  I'm stunned.  In climbing have we traveled back in time to a pre 9-11 epoc? Or is the rarefied air softening edges and diluting the old rhetoric?   Whatever, it's a quick salute and we're off, now rolling down hill, the signage now in MPH, and we're in the US of A.

The first thing you notice in rock that gives the border crossing its name. Actually it's the second thing you notice.  The first thing you notice are signs warning you of free-ranging cattle.  And bingo: there they are - cows taking shade under overhanging branches or wandering along the verges of the road. 

Close encounters of the bovine-kind have you thinking you're seeing Devils Tower from the movie.  Equally as stunning as its Wyoming cousin, Chief Mountain has what we used to call Presence.  Incongruous yet familiar, I have never seen anything like it.  Deja-vu again.

All this scenery was making us hungry.  So a smooth unwinding ride down to the village of St. Mary was where we found the diner, with requisite bikes parked outside that screamed "land of cheap goods and services."

Unfortunately, the Park Cafe was the antithesis of that.  We stopped for a coffee and breakfast slice of pie.  Iris ordered the tea, and kept her Dutch sagacity to herself as I let my stomach do the thinking.  PIE!  Huckleberry PIE!

Ordering the pie was easy.   Finding the pie was another matter...  It was two fingers wide at its largest breadth, and about as long.  Height?  They're Americans, I hear you cry: it must have been towering!  Why I bet it was Chief Mountain tall?!!  Nope.  More like Beaver lodge height.  Tiny.  TINY.  But what was huge was the bill.  Hot tea, coffee, slivver of pie, one small hollow ball of iced-cream.  $15.50 US;$23.85 CDN.  The conversion rate I can stomach.  But $10.50 US for a micro slice of pie and a dob of frozen milk?  And you Republicans can't blame this on Obama-care: there's no tax!  Let this be a warning to you: don't stop at the Park Cafe in St. Mary right before the Glacier National Park entrance...I shoulda known better!

Oh, but it was soon forgotten as we entered Glacier National Park and began to swoop along its pristine magnificence.  The entrance fee for motorcycles is $25. Iris did all the negotiations, so I'm not if that included just me, me and her or other permutation.  I was too awe-struck to haggle. Riding from east to west along the Going to the Sun Road seemed the way to go at this time of day.  So, in order, here are few snaps.  Less talk, more pics.

 Get there early...Part of the beauty is the isolation...
 Radiant in her magnificence; Saint Mary Lake isn't bad either.

 Look at the size of 'em!  Heads-up: mountain goats roam everywhere.

The roads are silken strips of gossamer wending their way through the picture-postcard alpine wilds.  Nice to know my pie is funding something.
Stop often, lest you topple thousands of feet to your bike's doom and get a closer view of the valley floor than you required.  

Above: The Continental Divide: much like a butterfly beating its wings in South America can cause a hurricane in the Caribbean, it is said that you can urinate from this rock and cause a Tsunami in Puget Sound.  

Above and below: Ah, lines of symmetry, latus rectum and parabolas.  This trip was educational too.  (Yes, there is usage of rectum which isn't rude, Andy.)

 Logan Pass is the continental divide.  There are boardwalks, viewing platforms and free alpine air stops.  

 Stunning peaks & valleys: amazing how those pert peaks were cleaved by glaciers.  

Above: Again, stop often, & keep yer eyes on the road...
 Get there early.  Logan Pass, at the top, has lots of parking but will fill early.  That's ok, you're on a bike.  Plenty of places to stuff the bike.
Lots of folks ride both ways. Start early, the traffic gets noticeably heavier by mid afternoon.  Most people seemed to be going east to west.  I'm not sure if that was just this day, but it certainly seemed that the traffic was heavier in that direction when we stopped at any viewpoint. 
Speed limit is 25mph in the alpine sections; 45mph below.  Roads are narrow; rock falls are frequent; drivers are distracted.
 I'm not sure why I had to pass at all, let alone on a double yellow.  But as the afternoon thickened, there were lots of these Glacier Shuttles which tend to block the view if you get caught behind them (though, of course, my eyes were on the road...)

Coming down the other side, the eastern end of the Ride to the Sun Road, there was a river which was perfect for wading...Butterflies (painted lady? comma?  fritillary?) would land and drink salt...

While this was a long day, it was an easy day.  Easy on the eye, easy on the mood and easy on the body.  So what better place to stop than the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park and on the Go to the Sun Road?  It's rhetorical...go there, you'll see what I mean.  Reasonable too!  And the views? As expected.  Beautiful.  The beer is good too!

The beach outside our cabin.  A full blown T-storm blew in for 30 mins while we eased into the late afternoon which is typical this time of year.  It was gone by beer o'clock.
As per the Man-Code: Some Cabin shots, just to convince your prospective pillion that it is really as I say...

 Beer on the veranda...

 The Lodge.  You feel like you're in Switzerland...

All in all, that was a great, great day for a ride.

Day Five: Lake McDonald Lodge, MT to Sandpoint, ID,via Thompson Falls, MT, Troy, MT and Bonners Ferry, ID.

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