• Posted Nov 13, 2002

A self contained bicycle trip through Glacier National Park, with my dog, Red.

"I am not a writer, just an unemployed cyclist. so here we go."
written by Sloane Larson


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DAY 0 - Friday August, 30, 2002
I left Big Sky, MT heading to Glacier National Park. I was in Big Sky, Montana visiting friends from high school. I left late in the afternoon as usual so I only made it as far as the North side of Flat Head Lake, 50 miles south of Glacier. I camped on a side road that was so dark and quiet it was a little eerie.
DAY 1 - Saturday August, 31, 2002
I finished the drive up to Glacier. I was not in a hurry so I still didn't make it to the Park until 3:30ish. I paid my $10 for a 7 day pass into the park and found a free place to camp by parking in an area that is for trucks with boat trailers, this worked well since my rig is 40+ feet long. I even asked a Ranger if I could leave it there a few days while on a bike tour and he said that would be fine. I started packing my gear for self-contained biking/camping and by 5pm I was ready. I could not head to the main park attraction for a few days due to a 11-4 pm bicycle restriction on that road until after Labor day. I decided to head to a little town called Polebridge that was 25 miles North. I went to the visitors center that was a block away and asked an employee about that route. She said there was 6-7 miles of gravel on the way to Polebridge, but the road was well maintained. So I headed out at 5pm, Red (my dog) rode in a clothes basket that I mounted onto a 2 wheel bicycle trailer (the trailer was purchased at for $145). The road began with a pretty steep 1000' climb but there was very little traffic and my legs were fresh so it was great, and of coarse had a nice bomber down the other side of the mountain. When I got to the gravel section I was 12 miles into the trip. It was the worst gravel road I have ridden in the history of my cycling. Some pot holes but non-stop washboard. I could not find a good line for my bike to follow for more than 10'. Red's trailer hit the bumps the entire time. Someone slowed down to talk as I rode the gravel. They told me there was a pretty fun bar in Polebridge. This helped me decide to keep going. Many cars slowed as they past me but there were also a lot that seemed to enjoy making me eat dust as they flew by at 40 mph. Throughout the next 5 days, California, Idaho and Alberta license plates seemed to have the most inconsiderate drivers. The 6-7 miles seemed never ending at 4-5 mph, but I made it through with no flats.
After the gravel there was a another 6 miles of paved road and then another mile of bad gravel before Polebridge. This town only has electricity from solar and generators. The town consisted of a general store and a bar/restaurant, much of the seating was outside and I got a few cheers from folks that had past Red and I while fighting the gravel road. I parked the bike, let Red out so she could run around and socialize a little while I drank a Gatorade that I had in my cooler. I decided to order a chicken sandwich and a micro brew at the bar since I forgot to bring any mayo for the cold cuts that I brought. All of the locals and staff that I encountered thus far seemed clickish and rude. The clickishness is the norm for most mountain town staff/locals but I have not seen a town where they all seem to be assholes like these folks.
I went into the bar to get some mayo for my sandwich (I asked for it when he brought the sandwich, he said it's inside) and heard a couple girls ordering shots of Blackberry Brandy. I thought to myself there might be hope for this place yet. Their group sat down at my table outside and I met them. They were 3 girls somewhere near my age and a man that was 55 years old. They all worked together at a fitness club in a town 80 miles south. They were there for a wedding reception that was going on out back.
I drank some beers that I had packed in the cooler while we talked and played some volleyball until dark. After dark we joined the wedding group around a bonfire and drank a good portion of the keg that was flowing. At some point they had to go home and gave me, my dog, bike and trailer a ride over the 1 mile of bad gravel to a bridge over a river that I had scoped out on the ride up. My plan was to camp under the bridge. I disconnected the trailer from the bike and lifted the trailer over the guard rail to get it down the embankment, that was easy. Lifting the 100 lb bicycle over the guard rail after lots of beers proved to be a lot more difficult but after falling and scraping my leg a few times I got all the gear under the bridge. There was a flat area right under the bridge where I could camp and not be seen from the roadway. This was important because it was private property. The area was flat but not all rocks, I moved any rocks larger that 6" and called it good. I put a tarp down first, then a liner that goes under a tent and then the tent. For some reason I was dead set on having a campfire of my own that night. I had a very tough time getting that wood to burn, it took a ½ roll of toilet paper and a lot of patience to finally succeed with the fire. I let the fire burn until I was falling asleep in front of it and felt this probably wasn't necessary. I later found out it had rained a lot the day before and I blame this on my lighting difficulties. DAY 2 - Sunday September 1, 2002
A beautiful day and I slept late with the loud noise of rushing water to keep lulling me back to sleep. I brought the bike up the embankment before I loaded it with gear since I did not have gravity working with me this time. The rode back entailed 6 miles of pavement then 6 miles of gravel and then 12 miles of pavement with a 1000' climb. After the first 6 miles of pavement I could see the gravel when I felt my rear tire was low, by the time I got to the gravel it was flat. The tire had a lot of miles on it so I was carrying a new tire as well as a new tube. I put them both on and rode a mile before I hitched a ride in the back of a truck. I did not want to ruin my new tire and who knows what else on this terrible road. The bike, trailer, Red and I were all stacked on top of a load of firewood in the back of a nice local's pickup truck. He would have let me ride in the truck but I wanted to ride in the back to keep an eye on the bike. This was a bad idea because of the dust getting my eyes. He let me out after the gravel and I was off again.
I stopped at the first river to let Red get a drink and it started to thunder and get real dark, some fly fishermen pulled up to fish and said it was raining real hard down the road. I lucked out on this one because I made it up the mountain and back to camp without getting wet. I made some spaghetti for dinner which tasted great after having a turkey sandwich with no mayo for breakfast. I did not do much the rest of that evening, I may have read a little?. I was reading a book called "Travels with Charlie" by Steinbeck. A friend gave it to me and said I should read it after he saw I was traveling around the country in a pickup camper with a dog. If you have read the book you will understand, but the book was not that good. DAY 3 - Monday September 2, 2002
I was awaken by a loud firm knock at the camper door. I knew from experience that this had to be a Park Ranger and that I was getting booted from my free spot. I was correct and he was fairly nice and opted to not give me the $50 ticket for whatever it was he said I violated. He said the problem was that the other campers 200 yards down were paying $14 a night….I said I understand and did not bother to explain that the other Ranger said I could park here because I was not actually supposed to be in the camper. I was supposed to be gone on my bike somewhere. The night before I spilled a bunch of dog food outside the back door (it was after dark so I did not clean it up) and also leveled the camper by parking the truck on wood blocks. This is the reason he booted me although he did not say this. I had a plan B so it was no problem.
So I made some Norwegian pancakes, organized the camper and trailer for movement, pulled the camper to the dump station, dumped, filled and moved to plan B location. Two miles outside the park gate is a town called West Glacier. Behind the Canadian visitor center (which is inside the US, this does not make a lot of sense to me…) there was a pretty good size gravel parking lot which was my next home. I liked this place more than the last because it was not right in front of a Ranger station.
After I got settled in at my new home I rode my motorcycle over the "going to the sun" road, since I could not ride a bicycle on this road until Tuesday after the biking restrictions had ended. This road is the highlight of Glacier National Park. It is the only paved road through the park. This was a fun 100 mile ride and I had good weather. I was pretty tired after the motorcycle ride but I wanted to check email and I had told one of the girls I met from the wedding reception I was going to come over and use her phone line to get online. As I was getting my motorcycle out again, to go check email, I had to ask a girl to move her car so I could drop the trailer ramp door to get the bike out. She played with Red, and we talked, she was from Oregon, living in a tent not far from there in the woods, she was a cute girl, anyway she asked to use the camper to change clothes in, I said sure, after that I went in to get a pic of Red's puppies and my camper smelled worse than any vagrant person I can recall. I just thought it was funny that such cute normal seeming girl was that disgustingly filthy.

So I rode 15 miles or so to Columbia Falls and checked email, there was nothing worthwhile in my inbox but it was fun to get moving over 100 mph. We then went to the health club where she works and went hot tubing. This was one of the biggest and nicest health clubs I have ever seen and it was in an 8000 person town called Kalispel. I could not believe it. I went home after hot tubing and got some sleep for the next days ride. DAY 4 - Tuesday September 3, 2002
This is the day I ride the "Going to the Sun" road on my bicycle. I planned to leave at 10am. I managed to get out of bed by 10 am, I was packed and ready to roll at the crack of noon. There was 20 miles of flat and rollers at the beginning. (It would have been 18 if I had not got booted from the park). Red was getting tired of no action, all sitting in her trailer so I let her run up some of the rollers. There was 500' of light ascent and then 3000+' of pretty steep ascent over 12 miles. The climb went real well. Red could have gone another 3000' although I could not have. No real close calls with cars. Got a lot of thumbs up and a ton of pictures from moving cars. Only one rude honk, (from a Californian). Some people would take a pic and say something nice, and some would sneak a pic before they pass me and roll up their window before they go by. There are a lot of strange people in our national parks, I think many drove through without even rolling down their window and smelling the fresh air.
I had a sign on the back of Red's trailer that says her name Red Dog and below that it says Please Feed Me, this was intended so that people would feed her people food and I would not have to carry as much dog food. I had forgotten about the sign and eaten some cookies from one group and a muffin from another before I realized I was eating food intended for Red. If Red knew, she would surely be mad at me. One group stopped for a pic at a turnout that I was at. They were 2 girls in there 20's, from Michigan but they lived in Big Sky, MT. I mentioned my Michigan highschool friend Scott Hammond currently lives in Big Sky, they said that they knew of him and are supposed to go see him about some apartment. He is into property management. They were nice but seemed a little off. I think they were pretty high at the time, which is definitely the norm in MT. On the way up the mountain I saw big horn sheep and what I think was a mountain goat (big white fluffy thing).
When I made it to the summit of Going To The Sun Road I made a sandwich and talked with many people that stopped by to check out the rig and dog. I was planning on stopping in St. Mary's campground which would make for a 52 mile day. One group of folks that stopped to talk suggested I keep going 8 miles to Babb. It is a tiny town but that night there was to be a great blue grass band playing. I had not made up my mind until I just kept riding past St. Marys campground, I was not in the mood for much but just kept going mainly because I had some daylight still. I got into Babb after 60 miles and 4,850 feet of climbing. There were 2 bars, each across the street from each other. I stopped at the general store and used their microwave to warm up a big bag of spaghetti that I packed in the cooler. I did not see a great place to camp but settled on a spot behind a church that was on top of a hill 200 yards from one of the bars. I went down to the bar and cleaned up a little in there bathroom. I left Red in the tent and told her to stay. She hates to be left alone so I did not have high hopes for this to work. I came back and she was there. I went back to the bar had a beer and watched part of a movie. I checked on her again and she was there, I was surprised. I went back to the bar and at some time around 10:45 the place got packed, the band started playing and it was a really fun bar. The guy and girl that suggested I go to this bar showed up, he said he had eaten some mushrooms, and I believe him, he was out there somewhere. He was not the only one, ½ the bar was on cloud 9 or 10. Around midnight I was standing at the bar talking to some people when I felt something at my feet. I looked down and there was Red dog. She had broken out of the tent, snuck past the guy collecting money at the door and found me at the bar. I could not believe it. She does not like to miss a party. After about 20 minutes the owner found us and said she could stay, so that really made the night. The band played until after 2am and I went back to find a hole in the mesh where Red chewed her way out. DAY 5 - Wednesday September 4, 2002
All morning it rained and rained and rained. I did not leave town until 2:30 pm. I knew it was going to start raining again but I needed to get moving if I was going to make it back 60 miles. When I was about 1,300 feet from the summit the sky got real dark and I was getting hungry. I was just about finished eating when a huge hail storm started. I put on my helmet and spread out a tarp over Red and I. The hail hurt my hands through a tarp and gloves. After the storm the ground was white but still passable on a bike. Around 600 feet from the summit we got rained on really hard until I came to a tunnel where we waited a while for it to stop. Red was soaked and cold by this time. We got rained on few more times but not as heavy. With all the rain delays we ended up getting back an hour or so after dark. My only worries on the ride down the mountain were: the truck being towed for illegal parking, getting a flat (since I used my spare tube a few days before), and bears during the last hour of riding in the dark. Luckily none of these things happened. I slept like a rock that night (so did Red) and we packed up and headed for Oregon the next day.

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