Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | May 10, 2016

Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road: Bear-Free Edition

 

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After our last fun and fabulous outing to Glacier, we decided we had to take advantage of the continued run of unseasonably warm weather here in Montana and hit the park again. It had only been two weeks since our previous outing, but apparently the string of warm days, or the shift of the calendar to May, brought out more people. Make no mistake, the park was still mostly empty, but there was a bit more life this time: a smattering of cars in West Glacier; a couple of people wandering around the still-shuttered Apgar Village. Lake McDonald looked magnificent as usual, reflecting the tranquility of the empty land around it.

 

The last time we were in Glacier, Going-to-the-Sun Road was only open to cars as far as Lake McDonald. This time, however, it was open to Avalanche, where we had biked to on our previous outing. As we drove along, we stopped at the rock where we’d been waylaid by a large black bear. Alas (fortunately?), we saw no sign of him, so we drove to Avalanche and hauled out our bikes.

After our bear encounter on our previous trip, I knew we should be prepared. I kept my can of bearspray clipped on my belt, as opposed to stuffed in my backpack as usual. Because when you encounter ursus horribilis (aka, a big ol’ grizzly bear), you don’t want to dig through your bag to find the bear spray, rummaging past a sandwich and a jacket and a granola bar and sunscreen and Kleenex and a hat and oh look, that hand sanitizer I was searching for earlier. Because by that point, the ursus horribilis would have eaten you, the sandwich, the granola bar, and possibly the hand sanitizer, too.

We kept our eyes peeled on the side of the road but fortunately, we saw no movement. We did, however, saw a few piles of bear scat – four in quick succession, in fact, right in the middle of the road. I guess the bear must be somewhat similar to my dog – fond of going in the same spot every day.

The road was flat and easy for a while, but soon the uphill grade began. I was slow as a turtle, but least I had an excuse. And no, my excuse was not that I’m old and out of shape. My excuse was that I was on a big clunky mountain bike instead of my light and speedy road bike. Fortunately the road leveled out at the tunnel, a great photo-op, even if it meant dodging drips from the melting snowpack above.

 

We continued our uphill trek to The Loop, and I felt rather bad-ass as we pulled into the parking lot. I felt decidedly less bad-ass when I saw an octogenarian who had biked up as well. What is it with these damn super fit Montana Senior Citizens? They’re making me look bad!

The road was closed at The Loop so we couldn’t ride any farther, but it was a gorgeous day, and we weren’t ready to head back.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.05.30 PM

Several other cyclists were milling about, enjoying the sunshine, but we felt compelled to do something a little more adventurous than sit on a bench. So, just like we did when we decided to hike to Avalanche, we made a spontaneous decision to trek into the wilderness. The trail to Granite Chalet begins at The Loop, so it didn’t take much discussion before we decided to set off. It was a little ambitious – 8 miles round trip, and since we hadn’t planned on doing it, we were short on food, water, and time. But we thought we could probably make it, or at least get part of the way there.

 

 

Within minutes, we realized the trail had not yet been cleared for the season. Because the trail is in an area ravaged by fire a few years ago, the winter winds did more than their fair share of damage. It was littered with downed trees. Every few feet we were faced with the decision of which preposition to choose: over, under, around, up, down, through.

 

It became clear rather quickly that we were not going to make the chalet. We could barely take 10 steps without having to scramble over a fallen tree. It took well over a half hour to cover one mile. We hadn’t even gone two miles when we decided to turn back. But still, the scenery was gorgeous even if the trail was slow going.

 

We returned to The Loop, now completely deserted, hopped back on our bikes, and began our cruise down the hill with the late afternoon sun just starting to cast shadows on the road. We took our time and soaked in the scenery. We kept an eye out for bears on the side of the road, but other than the same four piles of scat that we saw on the way up, there was no sign of any wildlife. It was simply a beautiful bear-free, carefree ride.

And although I skew towards cynical, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the experience. It was one of those moments that screams “Pay attention! Remember this!” A warm sunny day with a gentle warm breeze. Snow capped mountains against a deep blue sky. The scent of sun-roasted pine needles being carried on the wind. The scenic rush of the river along the side of the road. The road itself an empty stretch of asphalt, not a car to be seen. Yes, there was the worry of encountering a bear, but not a large fear, just enough apprehension to lend a sense of excitement. Remarkable. Gorgeous. Empty. And I was lucky enough to be there to do it.

 

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