Our Backroads Glacier National Park Epic Biking Vacation
Tuesday, August 2, 2005 - Sunday, August 7, 2005
Anne and Stewart French

3d View of Glacier National Park
Typical Route Rap
Going To The Sun Road
Mountain Goats
Continental Divide - Logan Pass
Continental Divide - Marias Pass
Scenic Vista 1
Scenic Vista 2
Scenic Vista 3

Tuesday, August 2, 2005 - Day 1
Pickup at Grouse Mountain Lodge, Lake McDonald Lodge warmup ride
11 miles

We flew in on Monday afternoon and checked into Grouse Mountain lodge. This is a very nice hotel in Whitefish, MT that caters mostly to old golfers (it seems). The room was very nice with a wall of windows that opened to the golf course. We turned off the A/C and opened the windows to let the warm breeze in. Montana smells a bit like northern California due to the pine trees.

That evening we had the shuttle drop us off in Whitefish and we walked the town and had dinner at the Tupelo Grill, a 5-star restaurant in downtown. It was very good. The shuttle driver took us on a scenic ride back to the hotel that could easily be walked. He pointed out all the landmarks and the parks that we could walk through on our way into town. Next day we walked from Grouse Mountain Lodge into town, crossing a footbridge past a lot of geese, for coffee and to shop a little. The walk was great and we saw a lot of Whitefish that way.

Backroads staff, Michael and Mansur, met us all at Grouse Mountain lodge at about 12:30pm. The rest of the guests had been gathering at the entrance with all their luggage. We met Susan and Lorens, Ray, Erik, John, Kirk and Caroline, Elizabeth, Steve, Denise, Leis, Stacy and Mark. We still had to go out to the airport in Kalispell to pickup the Toronto contingent, Dora and Bettina, Paul and Melinda. Then we were on our way to the Alberta visitor center in western Glacier National Park.

At the visitor center we prepared our bikes for the week. Some people had brought their own pedals, saddles, trip computers, helmets, and all had to be fitted to their bikes. Some of us put trunks on the bikes to carry our booty. We couldn't put a front pack on the drop handlebar bikes this time because the cabling wouldn't allow it. Too bad. Everyone who had been on a Backroads trip before missed the front bag.

Mansur then gave the Route Rap describing todays ride. It was an easy ride with a harder option. We couldn't ride past Apgar Village onto the "Going to the Sun" road until after 4pm. The road is closed to bicyclists from 11am to 4pm each day because of traffic. More on this later. Anne and I decided to dog it at the beginning and only do the basic route, 11 miles, so we left dead last, after everyone else had headed out on the longer option. Our hotel for the night was Lake McDonald Lodge. We took it easy biking stopping and taking pictures and arrived first at the lodge. We heard later that the long option on this warm-up ride was pretty hard. Here are the guys making themselves comfortable on their arrival. Our room was a "quaint" little room in a side building. They did their best to make it look nice, but it was definitely rustic, with a tiny bathroom. A "Drop your drawers and back in" sort of place. The lighting in there was so dim it was almost impossible to read while lying in bed.

We met for dinner at 7pm and shuttled over to Belton Chalet where we formally introduced ourselves, had a nice wine and cheese reception, and headed down the hill to a long, late dinner.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005 - Day 2
Lake McDonald Lodge to Many Glacier Hotel
60 miles

This was a tough day.

It started very early. We had to get over Logan Pass before 11am. The road closes to bicycles between 11am and 4pm. It was quite cold when we started. The road to Logan Pass is called Going To The Sun Road. We understood why as we went in and out of the shade on the climb, wishing that the sun would come out and stay out! The climb started at about mile 9.5 and we went over the top at mile 21.1. That's a climb of about 12 miles. There was road construction in multiple places where the 2 lane road narrowed to 1 lane. The construction workers had flag people posted at either end to carefully control the traffic as it passed through. They were very nice to us, talking to us as we passed. There is exactly one switch-back on Going To The Sun Road at mile 13.2. We stopped there and rested and took some photos, then continued on.

There are mountains all around as we climbed, the views spectacular. Many of the mountains and sides had ice on them. We couldn't decide what was a Glacier and what was not. The best views came after the switch-back and we climbed and climbed the west side of the mountain looking way, way down into the valley floor, at the river that we just biked along down there.

Once at the top of Logan Pass, at 6,646 ft elevation, we stopped for a long break at the visitor's center. The Backroads van was there waiting for us with water and snacks. We all talked and visited, took some photos of the local ground squirrels which were _very_ friendly, then noticed some mountain goats up on the side of the mountain! How do they walk around up there ??

Over Logan Pass, down the east side was a long, long fast downhill. This led down beside St. Mary Lake where we stopped for a break and out the east side of Glacier National Park. The downhill was steep and fast. Stewart got so cold that both his legs started cramping and his teeth were chattering. Anne was wearing her fleece jacket and kept it on all the way to Many Glacier Hotel !

Once off the mountain we headed north through Babb, past the Two Sister's Cafe where the pies would come from the next day, left onto Rt 2 and on toward Many Glacier Hotel along the shore of Sherburne Lake. Many Glacier Hotel is on the shore of a beautiful lake with mountain peaks all around.

We got a funny room again. It was large with a huge fireplace, on the ground floor with a door to the outside parking lot facing the lake. Out that door we could walk directly to the Backroads van and the bikes! From the inside the room seemed to be in the basement, down a long hallway, everything covered in light beige painted wood, turn left and go all the way back down the hall to the end, our door on the left. Once inside however we had 3 nice windows that looked out over the lake and let in a nice, warm breeze. The hotel is built into the hill so that it is in the basement, but also opened to the outside on the back. This would have been Elizabeth and Leis room but it wasn't ready when they arrived. Again, no A/C, little tiny bathroom, no closet, 1940s era room, with poor lighting. And it had 2 twin beds in there.

In the afternoon, before dinner, the phone rang. An older woman with a New York accent asked to speak with Elizabeth (she must have wondered why a man answered the phone!). Stewart explained to her that she had the wrong number. She asked all kinds of questions about us, the Backroads trip, how Elizabeth was doing, where we were, all kinds of funny questions. Stewart eventually directed her to the front desk and Michael or Mansur for additional info. Turns out it was Elizabeth's mother, worried how she was doing on her first Backroads Epic biking trip.

Thursday, August 4, 2005 - Day 3
Many Glacier Hotel to Prince of Wales Hotel
50 miles

We didn't have to get started too early today. Plenty of time to pack and get the bags put outside our door. We walked out to the bikes from our back door. We had the Route Rap and left at 9:30am. Today we rode with Elizabeth. We backtracked the way we came to Babb, then turned left (north) and headed toward Canada.

There was Babb-Fest going on at the Babb fairgrounds. We didn't know what that meant and didn't stop, but Stewart guessed. Babb-a-Que, Babb-raham Lincoln Exhibit, the Babes are Babb-ilicious.

At the turn onto Rt 17 we paused to look at the Osprey nest made at the top of a telephone pole! Rt 17 heads directly for Canada, Waterton Township, and Chief Mountain. Here we passed over the US Canadian border. Everyone had their passports and we all passed through customs easily. This was a perfect photo op that we all took.

Michael and Mansur set us up a wonderful picnic lunch at Belly River Campground. Backroads set out 3 pies they had bought at the Two Sister's Cafe. Wow, they were very good! As usual, they had tons of food and lots of variety. We sat at two covered picnic tables, talked, and relaxed as long as we could. The three of us took a short detour farther into the Belly River Campground in search of clean bathrooms so we wouldn't have to squat on the ground like everybody else did. Score!

After lunch there was a 6 mile climb. It was particularly difficult with a full stomach and stiff muscles. Ugh. But it was followed by a long, straight downhill toward Canada Route 5 (45 mph!) where we turned left toward Waterton Township and the Prince of Wales Hotel. Here we encountered a very strong headwind. Anne and I formed a pace line, put our heads down, and ground on through. Elizabeth was not comfortable with a pace line so she fell back. Michael rode with her to bring her on in.

The Prince of Wales Hotel is set on a pomontory on the north shore of Waterton Lake. It is up high, with no trees to block the wind, and the mountains along the east and west side of the lake form a sort-of funnel that causes the wind to scream around the hotel. Anne found a description of the Prince of Wales - "You know you're at the Prince of Wales when you see white caps in the toilets." But there was only a light breeze most of the time we were there, and very warm. Our room was on the 2nd floor, in a corner. We had windows on two sides. This was a good thing because of the warm weather. We opened all the windows and got a light breeze through to try to cool it off a bit. The room was another 1930s style, rustic, sink in the middle of the room, poor lighting.

We walked into town for dinner and ate at an italian restaurant called Tuscana Risorante on the main drag. Pasta and wine was the name of the game. Then the walk back to help digestion.

Friday, August 5, 2005 - Day 4
Prince of Wales Hotel
Off Day

Today was an off-day, no biking.

We woke up in the morning and could see deer crossing the parking lot outside of our window heading toward the Prince of Wales Hotel. Breakfast was in the hotel restaurant on the north side overlooking the lake. The view was spectacular with the mountains displayed in the wall-to-ceiling windows. The dear we had seen earlier were right there outside the window! The Eggs Benedict were great.

There were lots of options in and around Waterton Lake and Township - Hiking, boat rides, scooter rental, golf, canoeing, kayaking. We chose to take the boat ride to Goat Haunt from the northern most part of Waterton Lake to the Southern most part, across the US-Canada border. It was another warm day with light winds (both highly unusual) and a clear blue sky. The boat was built right on the lake in the 1920s and is still in use in the summer. The lake sometimes freezes completely over in the winter and forms a mirror smooth surface. We crossed the US-Canadian border while on the lake and could see the border marked with a 20-ft cut line through the trees. Our guide pointed out all the mountains on both sides of the lake, their names, and some interesting details about each of them. We looked for the bald eagles that had been spotted there earlier in the week, but no luck.

We had lunch with Ray and Elizabeth at Zum's in town. We took it to-go and headed down to the lakefront, sat on a park bench, ate, talked, and relaxed. We watched a very small dog chase a full-grown deer through the park. The dog's owner was right on his heels trying to catch him before the tiny dog caught the deer (not really much chance of that!). We then headed back to our room for a short nap and some relaxing reading in the lobby and outside on the benches. It was very relaxing. Later in the afternoon we walked back into town to visit Cameron Falls and pickup some coffee at the tiny coffee shop. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant with Kirk, Caroline, and Elizabeth.

Saturday, August 6, 2005 - Day 5
Prince of Wales Hotel to East Glacier, Glacier Park Lodge
77 miles

This is our longest day. The bikes were setup on the east side of the hotel, right outside our window. We watched as Michael and Mansur got them ready and we packed. Breakfast was at 6:30am, as soon as they opened. Most of us bikers were waiting for them to open the doors then we piled in for more eggs benedict, fresh fruit and yogurt, and the rest. Another excellent breakfast. We packed lunchs and headed out at about 7:15. Since we were to backtrack into the US all the way to St. Mary, we had a tough 6-mile climb ahead of us almost immediately. The evening before, at dinner, Steve spent some time trying to figure out the grade. He looked at a USGS map and counted the elevation lines, took the distance measures from the Backroads directions, and calcuated the grade to be 3.3% Hmmm... this didn't seem right, so he fiddled the numbers a bit more, reworking the climb distance and the elevation and arrived at 5.9%. Hmmm... Still not right. After some more minor fiddling he got 7.5%. Much closer to the real incline! Just like in engineering school, if you know the answer you can fiddle the calculations until you get the right numbers!

We were sort-of dreading the climb, but it turned out to be pretty manageable. Our legs were feeling good after three days of exercise and the off day. The grade was okay and the morning weather cool with a breeze. Mansur rode with us part of the way as we tried to sing The Beverly Hillbillies, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, The Brady Bunch, Petticoat Junction, The Adams Family, and Gilligans Island. We figured out all the words to some of them. In the meantime a bear apparently ran across the road behind us. Mansur saw it and couldn't believe we didn't see it. We couldn't believe it either. We never saw a single bear the whole time we were in Glacier.

We had lunch this day on the Park Cafe porch at mile 46.2. Steve, Denise, and Leis had already scoped it out and found more excellent pies available inside. We bought two pieces, one a bumbleberry, the other strawberry-rhubarb. Both were fantastic. We sat and relaxed as the other bikers came and went. We were the last to leave (again). We noticed that a Hammer Supplements truck was parked there while we were eating. This is the stuff that our friend RonMon suggested that Stewart could use to aleviate his cramps. Their Endurolytes have Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, and Sodium (uranium, titanium, ?) which are exactly the electrolytes needed to prevent cramping. As we were getting ready to leave the driver came out and got in his truck. Anne yelled out to him "Can we have a free sample?!" He immediately stopped, jumped out, opened the back, and threw us a full bottle of Endurolytes! Wow! That was sure nice of him. Stewart took one right away, and continued popping them throughout the rest of the trip. No more cramps (well, he didn't have any cramps anyway after the 2nd day).

This ride had lots of hills on it and some spectacular scenery. There was another 6-mile hill at the 46.2 mile point. Anne stopped midway up and charged her batteries with a packet of Gu. That hill was followed by an awesome downhill that shot the edge of the unprotected roadside precipice. The deep green pine forest was a beautiful backdrop as we flew down the hill at 45 mph.

There were 5 significant hills marked on the Backroads packet guide. The last one was pretty tough, encountered at mile 65.7, a 3.5 mile climb after turning at the Kiowa General Store. That store was pretty nice. Our loaner Backroads leader Melissa drove the van up just as John, Bettina, Kirk, Caroline, and us rolled in for a break. She ran into the store and brought a platter full of homemade chocolate chip cookies, still warm and gooey. She said we were welcome inside and could get free homemade lemonade and iced tea (green tea with honey and mint). It was all fantastic, just what we needed before tackling that hill.

Nobody took the Two Medicine Option that would extend the trip to 96 miles. Ray and John both thought about it but both opted to skip it. We never even considered it. It would just take too long and interfere with the planned nap.

We rolled into East Glacier without really knowing where we were going. Neither of us had the proper descriptive paperwork visible in our map pockets. We just rolled on through figuring we'd know it when we saw it. Yep. We biked around back of Glacier Park Lodge and to the breezeway where the Backroads van was parked. We unloaded all our gear and headed to the front desk to get checked in. Our room was large with two double beds, hardwood floors, a strange step-up bathroom with a tiny sink, even smaller shower, and poor lighting. The shower was so small that Stewart couldn't bend over to wash his feet. He had to turn off the water, open the curtain, stick his butt out, soap up his feet, close the curtain, turn on the shower. Like that. Crazy!

The lobby of Glacier Park Lodge was amazing. So much wood! There were Douglas Fir tree trunks that held everything up. The breezeway that we parked under had mission style chairs and small tables lining both sides from which we could sit and look out through floor-to-ceiling windows at the surrounding countryside. It was beautiful and pretty warm in there. We sat in there for a while reading our books but it got too warm and we moved into the lobby where it was more shaded and breezier. The other guests started arriving and crashing in the chairs and couches as we waited for the dinner call. Dinner was at a place called Serranos, a short walk down the street from the hotel. It was right beside the train station where trains were pulling in and out all the time. The Glacier area seems to support and lot of train traffic, both Amtrak and commercial.

Michael and Mansur held a trivia contest outside Serranos while we waited for our table to be prepared. We're not sure who won but we all ended up with something Huckleberry. Dinner was okay, but a bit long and slow.

Sunday, August 7, 2005 - Day 6 - Last Day
Glacier Park Lodge to West Glacier Campgrounds
58 miles

This was our last day biking. We weren't in any hurry to get started today, but Stewart got us up at the break of dawn anyway. We had breakfast in the restaurant, just the two of us, over by the window looking east watching the sunrise. Mansur and Michael prepared the bikes under the breezeway, right outside our room. We could get to it by walking through a small lobby that had a huge fireplace with doors on both sides that went outside to the breezeway.

This was the first time we left with a group, near the front. Melinda and Paul were in front, then us, then Lorens and Susan, and the others. There was a stiff headwind, so Anne and I formed another pace line alternating the front every mile. This worked great. We would go over the Continental Divide again today at the Marias Pass. The Marias Pass is the lowest point one can cross the Continental Divide, so the climb was very gradual over 11.3 miles.

We stopped at the visitor center again and took a break. There were numerous flats today. As Loren and Susan passed us, Susan's tire went Pow! and she pulled over to wait for support. We heard later that she had 2 flats and Lorens had a flat. Michael ended up scavenging his bike for parts then hitch hiking to the van.

Once over the pass the ride ran southwest along the Flathead River and the train tracks, then turned west-northwest and continue along the river and train tracks. This was a tremendously long downhill, mostly straight, about 10 miles. Trains were on those tracks most of the time we were riding.

We had lunch at mile 29.2, outside the Izaak Walton Inn. The Inn is right beside the tracks and has a train exhibit in the basement. The exhibit was fascinating showing various local wrecks, the different locomotive engine makes and models, how the trains cleared the tracks of snow in the winter, and various famous people involved in the rail industry over the years. Lunch was another fantastic picnic lunch prepared by the Backroads leaders. We relaxed a long time here as Michael was dropped off from his hitch hiking adventure and re-stocked his bike. Leis had gotten stung by a bee right beneath her eye and it was starting to swell. A visitor to the Inn saw her and gave her some cream to help with the swelling. That was nice. We also took a group shot here.

She wasn't the only one. We were pelted by insects today, with Stewart getting stung three times on his right hand. The bugs hit so hard it was hard to tell if you got stung or not. You'd find out later if it formed a head and started swelling.

After lunch we continued along the river valley toward the Glacier Campground in West Glacier. Every now and again we'd see the river to our right, and sometimes there would be rafters and kayakers on it. As we rolled into West Glacier we were flagged down by others in our Backroads group sitting at outdoor tables around the Belton Chalet, where we had lunch on the first day! There had formed an impromptu frat party and were drinking beers and cheering their biking prowess, trying to figure out how they were going to get Michael or Mansur to come and pick them up here instead of biking on the 3 miles to the campground. We paused for a few minutes then got back on the road.

There was a nice, steep uphill into the campground to end the ride. Nothing like breaking out into a good sweat before jumping into a van for a 40 minute ride back into town! Michael and Mansur met us with encouragement and helped to strip our bikes of the gear, pedals, trip computers, trunks, front packs, saddles, etc.

From here some people went to the airport, others to various accomodations in Whitefish. John and Erik left to continue their vacation on a fishing expedition! We got dropped off back at Grouse Mountain Lodge, which seemed like heavenly accomodations by this time. We showered and had a liesurely dinner at the hotel restaurant sitting on the porch watching the sunset.