After three days and 1700 miles (2736km), today I was finally going to reach the mountains. Having been out here once or twice before, I wasn’t just going to see any ol’ mountains, I was going to ride through Glacier National Park.
But First, You Have to Finish the Plains
Starting this morning in Havre, MT, I ventured back towards town to take a photo or two from the bluff overlooking downtown and the BNSF railroad yard. The activity in this rail yard was virtually non-stop, building a little anticipation that I would see some additional rail activity when I left town on US2 to the west, which parallels the BNSF Hi-Line.
Heading west out of Havre, you crest the bluff on the west side of town and the landscape suddenly looks an awful lot like eastern North Dakota, which is to say flat as a pancake. After the rolling terrain that ended the day before, this would have been a bit of a letdown if I hadn’t already known it was going to be this way. You see, I’ve taken this route once or twice before.
The thing that separates this flat farmland from the flat farmland that I say back in North Dakota was the distant mounds/hills/mountains in the distance. At first these were isolated and only a 100-200ft (30-60m) higher than the flat farmland. Eventually they became the distant profile of the Rocky Mountains off on the horizon.
Something I failed to mention yesterday was that this is apparently harvest time for many of the wheat-growing farmers in northern North Dakota and Montana. I saw plenty of combines in the fields and also on flatbed trailers being transported from field to field. The roadways were also a bit busier than usual with the grain trucks making their way from the fields to the local grain elevator. Similarly, I saw a number of grain unit trains (trains containing nothing but grain cars) traveling back and forth on the BNSF Hi-Line.
I had enough gas to get me to Shelby, MT, where US2 and I15 cross. I was getting gas in Shelby when I struck a conversation with an Ontario biker on a well-used K1200LT. In this case, well-used means fairly well beat up. It was missing both mirrors, had cracks on several pieces of bodywork, and a couple of stone chips in the headlight. Judging from the multitude of Iron Butt paraphanelia that adorned his bike and wardrobe, I gathered that this guy rode quite a bit. He’d been thinking about updating his ride to the K1600, so (naturally) we had much to talk about. Those of you who know me know that I like to, well, monopolize conversation. With this fellow, I could barely get a word in edgewise, even when I was trying to answer the questions that he was asking me. He was a total hoot.
The Ride Starts to Get Interesting
West of Cut Bank, MT, US2 starts to roll a bit. By this time, the previously featureless outline of the mountains on the horizon were much more detailed. You could pick out snow on some of the peaks and some of the forested mountainsides were now visible.
US2 doesn’t actually go through Glacier National Park, it goes along the southern border of the park. Consequently, I departed US2 in Browning, MT and headed north to St. Mary on US89. This stretch of road crests the first line of mountains before the main event culminates with the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier.
I’ve ridden through Glacier National Park several times in the past, but it is always impressive. This year’s ride through the park was no different. I had gorgeous weather, warm temperatures, and (because the road is so twisty in places) no RVs to dodge around.
As you ride the GTTS Road east to west, you start with Lake St. Mary on your left as the mountains rise on either side of you. You hug the northern slope, always climbing until you’re high above the lake with an impressive view. Eventually you get to the Visitor Center at the summit. Then you start down the west slope. Within 10 seconds of leaving the Visitor Center parking lot, you crest the pass and the valley below you opens up and you can see this dramatic parnorama of the mountain valley and the GTTS Road hugging the right slope and slowing making its way down the mountain. It’s seriously awe-inspiring.
Rather than try and describe the scenery, I’ll let photos do the work for me.
The road crews were working on one portion of the road where only one lane was open. Traffic was backing up on either side of this jam. Having seen this from a distance, I loitered a bit at one of the preceding parking turn-offs to take a photo or two. It was here that I encountered Dave and David (try to keep them apart). They were Harley riders who were both up here on BMWs the previous year. We talked shop about bikes for a while until I noticed that the traffic down the mountain was moving again between excavation cycles on the roadway. We parted ways and I slid into formation behind a long line of bikes. We talked a bit while we waited for the road to open again and agreed that, if you’re going to be stopped by a construction zone, having this as your view while you wait does not suck.
Once the road opened, I proceeded down the mountain behind my new-found friends. I reunited with US2 down at West Glacier and with the sun beginning to get lower in the sky, headed to Columbia Falls to figure out what I was going to do for dinner and a place to stay.
Arrangments for the Night
My first task once I got into Columbia Falls was to confirm that the Night Owl (not my bike) and the Back Room were both still in existence because I wanted to eat there this evening (and perhaps tomorrow morning for breakfast).
I spotted some shade in a credit union parking lot and got out the phone to find a campground. I called one and they didn’t answer. I called the second and they not only answered but confirmed that they did have tent sites and the tent sites were shaded.
I rode over to the campground and pitched my tent for the night. I gathered my iPad, camera, keyboard, and camera connection kit and made my way back into town to visit the Back Room. As usual, the back ribs were excellent. The sides of baked beans, cole slaw, and their legendary fried bread all went down very nicely. Even better, my (probably) slightly dehydrated condition was completely solved by a helpful waitress who keep my glass of lemonade filled no matter how many times I emptied it.
Since the Back Room has WiFi and a bar, I elected to stay here and write up the day’s report and upload a few photos. The barkeep was also very helpful and poured me a rather generous shot (more like three) of Maker’s Mark to give me something to sip as I wrote. (What a sweetheart.)
I’ve probably got a pretty long day ahead of me tomorrow, so I’m calling it quits.