Going To The Sun road in Glacier National Park, autumn

Glacier Park part three: over the hill

September 19, 2016

over-the-hill-tocI’m biking west on the Going To The Sun road, but the sun appears to be taking a different route. I have no idea if I can actually make it up to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

It’s 27 kilometers from my campsite to that high point on the road. For most of that distance I’ll hug the shoreline of St. Mary Lake, so I can expect the road to be more or less level. After that, the road climbs 650 meters (2100 feet) in 10 kilometers of 6.5% grade.

Map of eastern section of Going to The Sun road.

Map of eastern section of Going to The Sun road. click map for larger view

While there is spotty sunshine along the lakeshore, the sky to the west is ominous:

Looking west along St. Mary Lake, Sept 19, 2016

Looking west along St. Mary Lake, Sept 19, 2016

The wind is cold and blowing out of the west so I put my head down and concentrate on making steady progress without working up too much of a sweat. I try not to look very far ahead, but each time I do the snowy peaks have come a little bit closer.


Eventually the road veers away from the lake shore and starts heading uphill. At least, my legs complain as if we’re going uphill. This is one of many times on the trip when, surrounded by towering slopes with no level reference point in sight, I can’t really see whether the road is sloping uphill or downhill. On several stretches the road appears to be level but I’m pedaling hard just to keep moving – am I simply fatigued from battling the wind? Are my tires going flat? (Nope.) Perhaps, I tell myself, the problem is that I should have done this ride before I got to be sixty-one-and-three-quarters years old … maybe even before I was sixty, or before I was fifty ….

At last I reach Siyeh Bend where I stop for a snack. I pull out my map and see that I have covered nearly all of the distance between the campground and Logan Pass. But what encourages me most is a glance back to the east at the route I’ve just traversed.

The valley I’ve climbed out of looks almost dizzyingly deep, and I break into a big smile at the thought that I must already be much of the way up to Logan Pass. On cue, as if to say “wipe that silly grin off your face”, a shower of sleet blows in, turning the road white in the time it takes to put on my rain pants and full-fingered gloves.

The sleet proves to be intermittent but the views get ever more spectacular the closer I get to Logan Pass.

And believe me, I spend a lot of time admiring the view! While my legs feel strong enough to keep moving, I gasp for oxygen in the thinner air – just a few pedal cycles leave me breathless. Luckily there are pull-outs along the road something like every 100 meters on the last few kilometers up to the pass, and I think I stopped at most of them.


Finally the visitor center comes into view and I manage to pedal the last few hundred meters without stopping. I stay just long enough to put on another layer of wool underneath my rain suit for the chilly ride down. I don’t want to rest long enough to let my muscles get cold, but I do stop for the obligatory photo in front of the Logan Pass sign, and another visitor snaps a shot with my camera.

That night when I download the photos, I’m surprised to find that there’s another cyclist in the picture, in the background at right. This was the only other cyclist I saw that day. He had intended to ride up to the Pass from the west, but he decided the route looked too scary so he hitched a ride up with his bike. When we chatted in the visitor center he was buying another layer of clothing, while debating whether he should try the ride downhill.

I didn’t see him depart, but just after I started downhill myself, he was walking his bike back up to the top. I guess that’s understandable – I mean, this guy had some serious miles on him! Judging by his unruly white beard and drastically receding hairline, he looked to be not a day under 62!

But he missed a great ride. The next 35 kilometers were downhill all the way to Lake MacDonald. After I’d gone far enough to get out of the rain and sleet, I put on my helmet camera and filmed about a half hour of the descent. These excerpts from that ride, set to “Gearheads” by Joey Defrancesco and Danny Gatton, bring to mind the joy I felt all the way down. This is dedicated to all of us who are well and truly “over the hill”.