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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Whitefish, Montana: Day 38 is about to begin

April and I are currently in a cafe in Whitefish, Montana, where we consumed a lovely breakfast, possibly the last decent vegan food for many a mile. We arrived in Whitefish, the gateway to Glacier National Park, last night, and camped in someone's backyard. We wouldn't mind staying another night, but the backyard was a one night only deal and accommodations in town on this Fourth of July weekend are slim and expensive. So we'll be leaving this afternoon for the west entrance of Glacier National Park, where bicycle specific camping is available (yes!) It's only going to be a 30 mile day, so we have a few more hours we can spend in town.

But now, a quick recap of the past few days since Missoula:

Swan Mountains, between Swan Lake and Condon

  • Day 34, Wed June 29: We spent most of the day in Missoula basically hanging out and lollygagging. I was a bit concerned with the weather forecast, calling for thunderstorms, and thought about staying another night, but April wasn't having it. So after our final trip to Adventure Cycling Association to say goodbye to Heather, we hit the road at 4:30. We headed east along Montana Route 200 for a little over 30 miles and camped. More about this particular night in a future post!
  • Day 35, Thurs June 30: The day started out great with an awesome descent and great wide open landscapes. 10 miles in we came to Clearwater Junction where we stopped at the store and made lunch at the Rest Stop. At the Rest Stop we ran into Brenton and Ali, two other bicycle tourists pulling two cute dogs in trailers! They were doing an open ended six week tour around the Northwest, and would eventually make it to Portland. Say hey to them if you run into them. They were heading back the way we came to Missoula so we only had that brief encounter. After the 10 miles of awesome, the remaining 25 miles were not. We were now on Montana Route 83, a narrow and windy road with no shoulder. Normally this wouldn't be too bad, but the road was lousy with RVs and the like. I figured we'd see this type of shit on the weekend, NOT Thursday. So we were concentrating more on traffic than scenery. And the one "town" we passed through, Seeley Lake, reminded me of the bad aspects of beach towns I've lived in. With the help of a really nice Forest Ranger at the Ranger Station, we managed to snag a camping spot at Lake Alva Campground in Lolo National Forest. (Apparently most of the other Forest Service campgrounds were already full--on Thursday!--because the big one of the area was closed for repaving. Yeah, that's smart. Close the biggest campground on the busiest weekend. But I digress...) Lake Alva was eh, filled with mosquitoes and other campers who yapped on past midnight. (I'm beginning to see the appeal of backcountry camping, if not for the bears.) Plus, my camping pad has a slow leak. Ugh...
  • Day 36, Friday July 1: Things improved when we left Lake Alva. Traffic mellowed out, the road surface got better (for awhile, it sucked later on), and the scenery got way better. Route 83 was travelling through the Swan Valley, nestled between the Mission and Swan Mountains. The landscape started to have that "Glacier" look as the mountains were rocky, spiky, and snow topped. We made a brief stop in the "town" of Condon (there really isn't any real towns on this route so far) at the library for internet updating. We ran into Derek, another bike tourer who we also briefly saw in Missoula. He's sort of touring with his parents, who are futher ahead of him. He was planning on getting to Kalispell tonight, which was still 60 miles down the road AND it was almost 4pm. Hope he made it! We only had another 25 miles of riding to do. We opted to camp behind the trading post in Swan Lake. There was a Forest Service campground a mile down the way, but we were worried that it was already full. Plus the trading post had flush toilets, showers, and laundry, things we put to use. The proprietor of the post was quite the character. When I asked what the protocol for food storage was, he responded, "Don't you just put it in your tent?" Yes, I normally would, except this is bear country. Any problems? "Oh not really. Last bear I saw in the campground was over three days ago." Yeeps! So we locked our food and other smelly items in the laundry room for the night.
  • Day 37, Saturday July 2: The big goal was to get to Whitefish, some 55 miles distant. The first 17 miles into the town of Bigfork was pleasant. Bigfork was weird, though, another downtown made up to look "cute" and filled with exclusively touristy things. Reminded me of Cannon Beach, OR. We thought about getting lunch there, but realized everything was too expensive. So we ate at Subway on the edge of town. Getting out of Bigfork--eh. Two miles of heavy traffic and no shoulder on Montana Roue 35. Thankfully the traffic mellowed a bit, and the shoulder widened. And we got quite epic views of the Flathead Valley! Things turned to shit a few miles outside of Kalispell, the "big town" of the region. (What kind of big box store you want? I'm sure they got it.) It was a stressful ride through this soulless town. Heading north on US 93 to Whitefish wasn't much better, though there was a wide but crap-strewn shoulder. Plus April had a flat in Kalispell.
By the numbers:
  • Day 34: 32.5 miles
  • Day 35: 36.6 miles
  • Day 36: 44.1 miles
  • Day 37: 54.8 miles
  • TOTAL Missoula-Whitefish: 168 miles
Now we'll be spending several days in Glacier National Park. Going To The Sun Road is STILL not open, so we'll have to take the less steep, but longer and more trafficked US 2 over Marias Pass to get to the east side of the park. Looks like we'll be entering Canada at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, towards the end of this week. Guess we are somewhat on track as I predicted the second Canadian crossing around the first week of July!

And one last thing to note: Thanks to everyone who contributed to our IndieGoGo campaign! We're entering the last day on the current one, but will probably start a new one this week.


  1. It was ironic to see the sign announcing natural food for bears, then reading that you probably ate your last decent vegan food for a while.

    Those vistas alone are worth the ride. And I love reading your description.

  2. I was wondering if you were going to be taking the Going-To-The-Sun Road. I haven't been on that road since I was 12 years old, though I still recall the crazy hairpin corners, narrow road and tunnels (and amazing scenery). Not sure what it would have been like on a bicycle...

  3. Ugh! I was expecting to run into you guys on the road this weekend, which is why I didn't text. (Also, service is extremely spotty if you hadn't noticed...) Yesterday I returned to Missoula the exact way you went up, via the Swan River valley. Both Condon and Seeley Lake were in traffic jam mode because of impending Independence Day celebrations. It was a very mishap-laden weekend for me, I hope yours was better, and I hope you enjoy Glacier!


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