Glacier National Park bike tour, August 2001

Day 6: East Glacier to Apgar

Day 6 was to be the last truly special day of the tour–tomorrow we’d just be returning to Kalispell from Apgar (basically the reverse of the first day). Today we’d be going from East Glacier to Apgar over Marias Pass, crossing the Continental Divide once again. (The mental soundtrack was The Band’s “Across the Great Divide“). As usual, I got on the road later than everyone else, but in this case I was only about 30 seconds behind. Going through the town of East Glacier, the road was under construction and the pavement had been chopped up to a washboard consistency. Apparently I was the only member of the group who had ridden on the streets of Berkeley, because I blew by everyone else on the slightly downhill road–just loosen your grip on the bars and let the bike find its way over the bumps. After we got back onto flat pavement, I tried to let the rest of the group catch up for a while, but they were moving too slow and my legs were too fresh–that cheeseburger I’d had yesterday had really energized me. So it turned into hammer time.

Marias Pass is about the wimpiest pass you’ll ever ride; the grade must average less than 3%, and the total altitude gain from East Glacier can’t be more than 300 meters. There was moderate high-speed traffic and a slight tailwind. I stepped it up to the big ring and started grinding. I got a little extra motivation when I was chased by a trio of farm dogs. (Unfortunately I hadn’t brought my bear spray). I stopped to take some photos of the fire camp, where enormous helicopters sat poised to extinguish a massive wildfire by pissing on it. (It didn’t work–the fire jumped the river that day, and wound up burning a total of 71,000 acres over the next month).

I reached the Continental Divide and took a few pictures. There’s no real comparison between Marias Pass and Logan Pass; the former would be easy to miss if there weren’t a monument. It wasn’t worth more than a few moments and a photo or two. I got back on the road and hammered up to Goat Lick, which is an exposed outcropping of minerals that the mountain goats come down to lick. Sure enough, there was a nanny and her kid hanging out by the river; I got out the telephoto adapter and took some photos, then watched the goats climb what looked like an impossible slope. Paul stopped by while I was there and then got back on the road; I took off shortly after Nancy arrived.

Paul stopped in Essex for lunch, but by this time I was fully in hammer mode. The scenery was pleasant but not particularly picturesque, and the road was slightly downhill. The ride reminded me a little of California’s Highway 1 from Montara to Santa Cruz–perfect for big ring flatlands tourists like me. I blew past Essex and started to make some serious time.

For the most part, I didn’t even stop to take pictures–I just kept thrilling in the feeling of strength and motion. I did take a couple of some rafters stuck on rocks in the shallows of the Flathead River outside of West Glacier–I guess there was a drought around here after all.

I hammered so much that I outran the support van; when I got to West Glacier I was out of water and food. But it’s only a few klicks onwards to Apgar, so I blew through West Glacier and hopped on the bike path through the woods. I reached Apgar around 1:00 PM, which was fortunate, as Eddie’s (where we planned to eat dinner) was closing at 2:00. I got another cheeseburger for my efforts.

After Eddie’s, I went down to the beach to watch the water and the smoke. The wind kicked up in the afternoon, and the fire jumped the river into the park. Apgar itself wasn’t threatened yet, but the enormous, ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible, tinting the landscape with its red hues.

Julie finally showed up with the van at around 3:00, allowing me to check in at the Village Inn and get a shower and a change of clothes. The Village Inn was not as quaint as most of the places we’d stayed, but it was perhaps the oddest. The rooms had full, modern kitchens, but no phones. Which was annoying.

Paul showed up shortly after the van, and Nancy not long after him. They actually put bathing suits on and did some swimming. Mark and Suzanne rolled in around 4:30. Because Eddie’s was closed (probably due to the fire), we loaded up the van and headed to Lake McDonald Lodge (where we’d stayed the first night) for dinner. I was already pretty satisfied by my late lunch cheeseburger, but added some Montana whitefish on top.

For the evening I sat on the shore watching the smoke. I also saw what I think was a river otter, swimming across the lake. He was very determined, swimming in a straight line about 10 meters away from the shoreline. I followed him as long as I could along the beach, and he just kept going. Unfortunately it was too dark for pictures.

We gradually dribbled into our rooms for our final sleep.

Day 6 Totals
Average speed: 26.1 kph
Distance: 93.4 km
Climb 736 meters
Cumulative Totals
Average speed: 23.1 kph
Distance: 470.3 km
Climb 4728 meters

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