I actually intended to buy a Gold Wing when I bought the VTX. But, I really liked the big v-twin and the Neo look was distinctive. I’ve made a lot of changes to the VTX since I got it but the trips I took and the rented/borrowed bikes I rode showed me the differences between cruisers and tourers. Even with saddlebags, a windshield, and a cruise control (throttle lock) the VTX is not the bike (for me) for a long trip over several days in many different kinds of weather.
The Gold Wing is that kind of bike for me. So, I started looking around to find a good price and for once, I was actually buying a bike at a time of the year (late August/early September) when you can get a good price. The riding season is slowing down in the northern parts of the US and the manufacturers are introducing the new model year bikes. Dealers want to clear out the current model year bikes and the prices reflect that.
I got a good deal from HDL of Shadyside, and planned to pick it up the Tuesday after Labor Day. I planned to ride to my parent’s house in Indiana, stay overnight Tuesday, and then finish the trip home on Wednesday.
Let’s just say it was an adventure.
I had seen signs for Gunsight Pass, but I couldn’t see anything that looked to me like a gunsight. Coming from the east, however, it was waiting for me. The V notch was very distinctive and easily seen coming from the east – coming from the west the sign is after the pass and trees must have obscured it. That’s why I wanted to go through the park both ways. You really can’t see things through your rearview mirrors very well.
The mountain goat is the symbol of Glacier NBational Park and I was lucky enough to find a ewe and a kid not too far off the road. They were probably wondering what that 2-wheeled machine was and why it was rolling through their territory.
Further west you come up on Lake McDonald and the deep blues of the lake and the gold, silver, and copper colors of McDonald Creek. Then you’re out of the park and into the town of West Glacier. I took a couple of pictures of the bike at the sign on this side of the park, and headed west.
I still had 300 miles to ride today.
After a good night’s rest, i got up and headed out fairly early. I wanted to get breakfast and be in the park early so that I could take my time on the ewast-to-west traversal. I again took MT-49 north towards the junction with MT-89, and found some horses wandering around to west side of the road, maybe they were displaced by the fires, I don’t know. They allowed a couple of pictures and then decided they’d had enough of my intrustion and headed for parts unknown. From almost the same spot, I saw a small pond and the angle of the sun and the terrain behind it was prefect for one of those reflection pictures.
Where Mt-49 joins MT-89, there was a sign that said 38 miles to Canada. I didn’t realize I was that far north. I headed towards Canada and around one of the bends on MT-89 I stopped literally in my tracks. Fire! Smoke! You see pictures, you see video, you read news stories, but none of that prepares you for smoke covering the road in front of you. Maybe people that live with this are more accepting of it, but I had not personally experienced anything like this before. I tentatively rode closer and just like fog it appeared less like a wall. I stopped, looked around, and took several pictures of the woods with the mountains of Glacier National Park in the background. Continuing on I got to St. Mary and had breakfast.
As I was leaving to enter the park, the visibility was still low. As I entered the park, East Flattop Mountain was barely visible through the smoke and the wisps of smoke over Lake Saint Mary were a reminder of what was happening just a few miles to the east. The Going To The Sun Road, as it clings to the mountainsides along the shore of Lake Saint Mary reminded me of European alpine images I have seen. The road climbs slowly and surely towards Logan Pass and there were a couple of opportunities for pictures of waterfalls and of the road itself. There is some construction work on the road and signs indicated the delays could be as much as 30 minutes but I was spared any lengthy waits. After seeing where the power shovel was sitting, I don’t think I would like that job.
I exited the park on the east side, into the town of St. Mary. As I mentioned earlier, I found a room at the Mountain Pine Inn in East Glacier, which is a short ride south on MT-89. The ride south on MT-89 was an eye-opener but in a very different way than the sights in the park. You could see where the wildfires had burned and were still smouldering, you could see where the fire had flashed over the roadway and the guardrails were floating in midair, the wooden posts that had held it in place having completely burned away in many places. You could smell and taste the smoke. There were camps along the roadway, maybe command posts, maybe places for firefighters to get some food and a brief rest. It’s difficult to imagine the work that lay ahead for them, and also to imagine the work they’ve already done for the people of the surrounding communities.
A bit further south on MT-89, I saw a turnoff for MT-49 that was signed to East Glacier, so I took it. Signs indicated that this road is closed in winter, but it was a great ride along the Two Medicine River down to town, gasoline for the bike, a bite of dinner, and a clean room for the night. Mountain Pine Inn is a nice, clean, quiet place to rest and I’m glad I stayed there instead of a nondescript room in a chain hotel.
I had ridden over 400 miles today, not a really long distance but some folk’s standards, but when you’re stopping every 500 feet to take another picture it makes for a long day. Tomorrow I will ride through the park east to west. Different perspectives, different sunlight, and another difference I didn’t even know about.
The Going To The Sun Road takes you to places that, sadly, most US citizens won’t see. IT’S WORTH THE TRIP, JUST GO. The Loop, where the road switchbacks with a turn radius of just a few feet is an amazing necessity given the work of the glaciers a few years ago. It is also one of the reasons that vehicles longer than 21 feet including bumpers are not allowed on the road between Avalance Creek and Sun Point – they simply could not negotiate the turns.
Triple Divide Peak is the geographic center of North America. As the park’s brochure states: the width of a human hand can determine whether a drop of rain will ultimately join the Columbia River drainage, the Mississippi River drainage, or the Saskatchewan River drainage. Logan Pass is where the Going To The Sun Road crosses the Continental Divide. Logan Pass is northwest of Triple Divide Peak, both on the Continental Divide. On the way up to Logan Pass, the road runs beside the Weeping Wall, a section of the Garden Wall that is constantly wetted by drainage from above.
Siyeh Bend gives you a great view of Mount Siyeh, one of the highest peaks in the park. Just past Siyeh Bend you can see Going-To-The Sun Mountain a high peak with an elevation just about 400 feet below Mount Siyeh. Then you come upon Sunrift Gorge and Saint Mary Lake on the east side of the park.
The wildfires burning in Montana have threatened the town of Saint Mary and can be clearly seen from the road as you leave the park headed east. The images are both scary and reassuring at the same time – people are risking their lives fighting to save residents and structures from the fires and yet nature decides when to start most of these fires and will recover from the burning without man’s help. It’s been that way for millennia and will continue in the future.
After starting out seeing the tranquility of Lake McDonald, McDonald Creek along the north side of the Going To The Sun Road is a sparkling jewel of colors and sounds. The images can’t convey the sounds of rushing water, coming from glacial snows thousands of years in the making. The colors are as vibrant as those in Lake McDonald, but they’re different. The water isn’t as deep so the colors are not as dark. They reflect more of the colors of the stones at the bottom of the creek. Every opportunity to stop and make pictures is worthwhile, and on a motorcycle I can stop where cars cannot. This isn’t the type of scenery to live in, this is the type of scenery to visit and visit again.
North of McDonald Creek, you can see Heaven’s Peak, although I think the best picture I got of Heaven’s Peak was taken on Sunday when I was going east-to-west. The sun just wasn’t right for a good picture today. Doesn’t matter though, you can feel the mountain’s presence anyway. I read and learned about aretes, a sharp ridge formed by two separate glaciers carving out valleys and leaving a ridge of mountain in between them. I also learned about hanging valleys, a term I first read in a book by Zane Grey. A smaller glacier cuts a valley and then joins with a larger glacier moving roughly perpendicular to it. The small glacier’s valley stops at the side of the larger glacier’s valley. It’s left hanging. There are many images of hanging valleys.
As you work you way east on the Going To The Sun Road, you are constantly amazed at the work it took to construct the road itself. There are many pictures of the road where you can see how it was notched into the side of the mountain and I read that the road was constructed in the early 1930’s. I also read that Mother Nature doesn’t like guardrails, as the people plowing out the road in the spring and summer would find the guardrails in the valleys, having been ripped off the mountain presumably by avalanches.
There are turnouts where cars can park and see the scenery, but one great advantage of a motorcycle is that I can stop and turn around almost anywhere. I was able to get some pictures that would take a lot of walking if you were going through the park in a car.
I headed out early, knowing I had miles to burn. I had been over the initial part of the route a couple of weeks ago on my Idaho-Montana ride, but I did stop and take some pictures along the way to supplement the ones I took earlier and to make up for some I should have taken. I did take a picture at Paradise, MT. I was on MT-200 for a while and then took a right turn onto MT-28 – if you remember my earlier post about the decision I made at the MT-200 and MT-28 intersection. At Flathead Lake (which was much larger than I expected) I took MT-93 towards Kalispell.
MT-93 towards Kalispell seemed to be to be a guided tour towards northern Montana with the mountains to the west and the east forming a funnel leading towards Kalispell. As I went through town, I saw a Harley dealer having a cookout and since there were a number of bikes there I decided to stop. It was an opportunity to get a soda and walk around a bit to shake off the aches of the road. I headed on through town and took MT-2 which I thought would get me to MT-40. I got to Coram and stubbornly knew this couldn’t be right as I had not seen MT-40. Going west on MT-2 (the wrong way), I eventually came to the intersection of MT-93 and MT-40. Whitefish was to the north and I should nat have been that far west. I stopped at a gas station on the southeast corner of MT-93 and MT-40 and looked at a map. OK, Magellan, you should have just continued east on MT-2 throuh Coram and the next town would have bee West Glacier. I got back on the Dyna and headed east, more than a little irritated at my apparent lack of navigation skills. Finally, I got to the west entrance of Glacier National Park. I paid my $12 entrance fee and went into the park. Little did I know what the Going To The Sun Road had for me.
The first clue should have been the almost indescribable colors of the water in Lake McDonald. Crystal clear at the edge, showing the gold, silver, and copper colored stones, gradually changing to a deep aquamarine blue that could have come straight from the Caribbean. Absolutely stunning. However, I needed a thesaurus because the word stunning would quickly be overwhelmed by the sights around every turn. What word do you use when stunning or breathtaking just isn’t enough? There were a couple of places that allowed a picture of the mountains reflected in Lake McDonald and looking at the pictures now it almost seems artificial, but it wasn’t. This was as real as it gets.
I knew this was going to be a long ride, but everything I had seen and read about Glacier National Park told me that it would be well worth the trip. I also knew that I had called every hotel in the area trying to find a room for Saturday night so that I could stay reasonably close to the park. My fallback plan was to stay in Kalispell, MT. I finally called some dear friends of mine that owned a home in the area and they suggested that I call Mountain Pine Inn in East Glacier, MT. My friends knew the owners and thought they just might have a room available. And I lucked out – even after I told them that Fran and Jane said hello, they STILL had a room for me.
OK, trip planning complete: motorcycle, clothes, toiletries, camera, film, leathers, helmet, a vague idea of how to get there, cash, and a good weather forecast. I just hate starting a ride in the rain.