Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 22, 2016

Sorry I’m Late for Dinner. I Was Hanging with a Bear.

Ah, yes, the (somewhat) annual trip to bike Going-to-the-Sun Road before it opens to traffic. But wait! It’s only April! Surely, I’ll freeze to death! (Note to self: wear a warm jacket. And stop calling me Shirley.)


I usually bike Sun Road in June, when the weather is more predictable, and I’ll admit I wasn’t keen on coming to the Treasure State so early in the season. But it turns out that Montana in April is far from dismal. It was 70 degrees as we cruised along Route 2 towards Glacier National Park. But while the weather suggested summer, the place was deserted. Motels, RV parks, huckleberry stands, souvenir shops: all closed, like there had been an evacuation order and we didn’t get it.


We pulled into West Glacier with the windows down and the radio up. Usually packed with tourists, it was a ghost town. Not a tour bus or RV to be found. It felt like the perfect setting for a zombie attack, so I hit the gas and sped through. Bear spray doesn’t work on zombies. I wasn’t taking any chances. We cruised past the entrance (no line!) and into Glacier.



We parked at Lake McDonald Lodge (closed), next to a small smattering of cars. We hauled out our bikes and weaved past the road closure sign on GTTS. There were a few pedestrians, but within minutes we had the pavement to ourselves.



The sun was warm, the road was (relatively) flat, and after a few easy miles we approached Avalanche and the Trail of the Cedars. Anyone who has been to Glacier knows the area – one of the most popular spots in the park. Trail of the Cedars is a flat, level, half-mile boardwalk designed to be wheelchair accessible, also known in the summer for attracting flip-flop wearing tourists who want to experience nature without going more than a few yards into the woods. We frequented Trail of the Cedars when the kids were young, a great place to let toddlers run ahead; the most dangerous thing they might encounter would be a cantankerous old man waving a cane.


Trail of the Cedars is known for being more crowded than Disney. Yet here it was, empty, dusted with a glaze of pine needles. It was a spontaneous detour that we just couldn’t resist. We pedaled right past the “no biking” sign and onto the boardwalk.




The sound of tires on boards echoed like a freight train – thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk. We passed two bikes chained up just off the trail, people who obviously respected park rules more than we did. We got to the Avalanche Lake trailhead, a short trail we’ve been up dozens of times, and decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hike one of the most popular trails in the park, given that we’d have it all to ourselves. We ditched the bikes, passed the waterfall, and headed up.



I must confess, however, that it was a little unnerving. Sure, it was nice to hike without throngs of people, but said throngs usually keep animals away. They also serve as protection. In the event that a bear shows up, I can always outrun someone in flip-flops.


But because we’d seen other bikes at the bottom, I knew there were two other people on the trail. Two super buff and badass people like us, I assumed, people who bike and hike and take no prisoners. And about halfway up we saw them coming down. A couple well into their 70s, strolling along like they were walking laps at the mall, making me feel decidedly less badass as I huffed and puffed my way up the trail.


We continued to Avalanche Lake and were rewarded with a view of some mountain goats.


See that little tiny white spot?

But that wasn’t the most spectacular sight, nor was it the snow capped mountains or the clear lake. No, the most amazing sight was the empty beach. Usually it looks like Coney Island, but today it was deserted.



We relaxed in the sun, took some photos, felt the freezing cold water, then hiked back down and hopped on our bikes. It was getting late and almost time for dinner. We cruised along the road, an easy downhill grade when, “Uh-oh.” Bear on the road. He crossed in front of us, but instead of proceeding into the woods, he stopped just off the pavement. He dug in the dirt and then started eating something, probably ants.




We were stuck, a big black bear between us and our car. We tried making noise and inching forward, hoping we’d drive him off. We clapped. We yelled. We whistled. He didn’t even look at us. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. For crying out loud, it was dinner time and I was hungry! How long could we possibly wait?


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After about 15 minutes, I saw two cyclists heading up the road towards us. I waved my arms and pointed. They stopped. The bear turned and looked at them briefly but then decided that they, too, weren’t worth the worry. He went back to his ants. We didn’t want to ride by him and cause him to give chase. But I also didn’t want to spend the night on the side of the road. We moved forward slowly, but our clapping and yelling produced no response.




Finally, after almost 20 minutes, three cyclists came up behind us. Apparently there’s strength in numbers because the bear finally took note and abandoned his ant feast. When he climbed up the rock behind him, I realized just how massive he was. His huge muscles quivered as he pulled himself up on the boulder and walked into the woods. Our close encounter with nature was finally over. We sped down the hill to the car and headed off to dinner. And the menu definitely did not include ants.


  1. Holy Cow Sue! That was quite an experience. I’m glad the other cyclists showed up and finally you got the bear to move, and he didn’t try to attack. That never happens in Caldwell woods – I HOPE!

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