September 17, 2016
“Big whirls have little whirls that feed on their velocity, and little whirls have lesser whirls and so on to viscosity.” – Lewis Fry Richardson
On the train across the the northern US to Montana I passed the time reading a fascinating book by Bill Streever: And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind: A Natural History of Moving Air. The book recounts the centuries-long effort to understand the wind: why does it blow, what effects does it have and how can it be forecast? Lewis Fry Richardson (1881 – 1953) was one of the most prominent pioneering scientists of weather, whose methods of forecasting didn’t really become practical until the arrival of supercomputers long after his death.
As a touring cyclist the wind is always one of the major influences on my ride, so I read Streever’s work with great interest.
When I disembarked from the Amtrak train in the village of East Glacier on the evening of September 16, I was steeling myself for the first anticipated challenge of my trip: the ride over the famed Going To The Sun road in Glacier National Park.
From East Glacier north to St. Mary, and then along the Going To The Sun road to West Glacier, is about 130 km (80 miles), a distance I have often covered in a day on a loaded touring bike. With a tail wind, might I ride that fast through Glacier National Park? I set out on a sunny Saturday morning to find out.
It didn’t take long, riding on Montana State Highway 49, to realize the 50 km to St Mary might be a day’s work. What my iPad map application didn’t tell me is that there are two major climbs of over 300m (1000 feet) between East Glacier and St. Mary. For a cyclist still acclimatized to summer on the flat-lands along Lake Ontario, a chilly autumn ride over mountains was a challenge.
When I got to the top of what would be the last climb of the afternoon, the outlook suddenly changed. A stiff breeze accompanied by fast-moving mist hit me in the face. Out came my rain suit and soon I was rolling down a steep hill, slowly, against the wind, all the way to St. Mary.
Did it look like a good night for camping? Not if I could find a room. The Red Eagle Motel obliged and soon I was warm and dry, logged into wifi and pondering this forecast:
Listening to the gusts and rain batter the motel walls through the evening I was glad to be inside – my cheap summer tent would have been torn to shreds. My comfort was lessened somewhat, though, at the thought of biking in the same wind the next day over Logan Pass, on the Going To The Sun road.