Despite plow crews having cleared the road—save for a sheet of ice discovered under the Big Drift—the Going-to-the-Sun Road remains closed at Avalanche Lake on the West Side. This is the famous road that cuts through Glacier National Park and across the continental divide, delivering fantastic views of alpine and sub-alpine habitat. Driving across this road—or, even better, riding it on one of the park’s shuttles—is well worth the $25 entrance fee alone.
What is even better, though, is biking it before the road opens. So yesterday, with the forecast sunny and in the 70s, Miriam and I drug my ancient bike and borrowed another one, and pushed ourselves up past the Loop.
There are several things that make biking the road more or less fantastic: Obviously, the lack of cars (except for a few construction vehicles here and there) make for a much more pleasant ride. The road itself is somewhat narrow—nothing to worry about really, but cyclists and sedans sharing the same lane can get tricky. Factor in the inevitable loss of common sense among the tourists, and the combination can be downright messy. But yesterday, we shared the road with but a few—and most of them locals. It took no effort to find moments of solitude on the most heavily-trafficked high-way in the Northwest Montana summer.
For me, the sights along the Going-to-the-Sun Road border on the mundane. Not because they are any less spectacular in my mind than when I first beheld them, but because I have driven this road so many times that they have become like old friends.
Though, there is something fundamentally different about biking the road than driving it. Where there once was a roof over my head, I could look above and around me. Where once I would speed through—at least up to the construction traffic stoppage—now the pace was slower. There are several mountains that peak out for only a moment, offering a new, unique glimpse at their peaks and slopes that I had missed before. I never saw them until on a bike. I was surprised at the road’s continuing ability to surprise me—to constantly push the boundaries of my expectations.
Then, of course, there was the ride back down. Okay—that was cool. The walls weep this time of year, streaming across the pavement. As my tires whirled down, the water sprayed up my legs, soaking my shorts—air conditioning for my sore muscles. I descended and was subsumed into the valley—the familiar peaks rising up like waves as I dipped beneath their flood. The familiar and the spread up before me. That was cool.