Kootenai River north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho

In the Valley of the Kootenai

September 24, 2016

over-the-hill-tocThanks to the generosity of my hosts from Warmshowers.org, on my single night in Idaho I met several cycling enthusiasts in what was clearly a very warm and friendly community of outdoor enthusiasts, and they happily shared some of their favourite biking routes.

So when I left Bonners Ferry, Idaho on a sunny Saturday morning, I headed not to the highway but to a meandering gravel road that would take me through the lowlands of the Kootenai River valley.

This road led me first around the southern and western edges of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, passing wheat fields, cattle pastures and a large hops farm, before winding back to the east across the Kootenai River, where I would turn onto the highway north to Canada. Since the major highway route from Bonners Ferry to my next stop, Creston, BC was less than 60 kilometers, my more circuitous route would round out an easy day by adding another 16 km.

A small creek flows towards the Kootenai at the southwest corner of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge.

A small creek flows towards the Kootenai at the southwest corner of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Wheat farm west of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

Wheat farm west of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

 

Quad wheel tractor pulling sprayer.

The traffic was sparse but sometimes it was heavy.

Wetlands in Kootenai River valley.

Extensive wetlands make this an important area for migrating birds.

Just north of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is Budweiser Loop, the site of an intensive hops operation owned by Anheuser-Busch.

Kootenai Valley hops farm owned by Anheuser-Busch.

Kootenai Valley hops farm owned by Anheuser-Busch.

Where the valley-bottom road crosses the Kootenai River before heading uphill to the highway, I stopped for an early-afternoon picnic lunch.

Kootenai River north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Kootenai River north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho

My afternoon’s itinerary included riding the entire length of Idaho State Highway 1 – all 20 km of it. That would take me to the US/Canada border, where the Kootenai River mysteriously transforms into another stream with a different name. (Don’t ask me y.)

Relief map of Kootenay River system

Map of the Kootenai watershed and portion of Columbia watershed, adapted from map by Shannon1 and published under GNU Free Documentation License at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kootenayrivermapnew.png

Although I would return to this spell-shifting river several times over the next few days, my brief rest on the flatlands was quickly drawing to a close. When I pedaled in to Creston that afternoon, there were just 500 meters of road between me and my destination for the night – and that half a kilometer was on a 10% uphill grade.

US Highway 2 in western Montana.

US Highway 2

Sept 20 – 23, 2016

over-the-hill-tocHow do you go from West Glacier to Idaho? Just get on US 2 and ride west – you can’t miss it.

Why did I choose US 2? For two reasons of sentiment, and one issue of practicality. First, while I could have turned more directly north into Canada, I preferred to roll my wheels in the great state of Idaho for at least a few hours. You see, I’ve been religiously obeying the Idaho stop law for many years, so Idaho is a bit of a personal Mecca.

Second, I wanted to get a new case for my GoPro camera, and that meant getting to a big town with major retailers. When I had strapped my GoPro onto my helmet on the Going To The Sun road, I noticed the case was cracked right at the mounting clip and it was in danger of flying off in the wind. Luckily that didn’t happen, but I didn’t want to push my luck. Kalispell (population 22,000) would be the largest city on my route for weeks, so I set my course for Kalispell.

Finally, my first full-time summer job had been in construction on US Highway 2 in 1970. I worked in a gravel quarry just outside of Bemidji in northern Minnesota – a long way from Montana. At fifteen I was too young for a driver’s license, and I had hitchhiked to work each morning along Highway 2. This strand of pavement represented a connection of sorts with that long-ago me in a faraway place, so when I looked at the map that one meandering line had more appeal than the others.

Google map of US Highway 2 through western Montana

Google map of US Highway 2 through western Montana

In reality, US Highway 2 from West Glacier to Kalispell was anything but romantic. Mile after mile the road was lined with fast-food restaurants, motels, car dealers, and the other standards of ex-urban sprawl that characterize the outskirts of small US cities across the country. The main local twist on this theme was a liberal sprinkling of shops advertising wild huckleberries, but they all seemed to offer the same array of over-sugared confections: huckleberry syrup, huckleberry jam, huckleberry preserves, huckleberry pie, huckleberry muffins, huckleberry candy. I had nearly given up on actually tasting a real huckleberry when I came across a health food store which sold small bags of pure frozen huckleberries. At another time of year that would have been difficult food to manage on a bike tour, but I guessed that in the fall I could pack the fruit in a little plastic tub, eat the berries as they thawed, and enjoy a delicious healthy addition to each meal for a couple of days.

There was one memorable tourist attraction along the route, however. The Ten Commandments theme park is a circle of billboards around a small gravel parking lot right beside the highway. Each of the Ten Commandments is illustrated with contemporary imagery. The Commandments are interspersed with other bill boards that tie the biblical verses to phrases in the US Constitution, as if the white aristocratic slave-owners who penned the Constitution were the direct successors to Moses. American exceptionalism aside, I found in one sign a very pointed message to travelers of my ilk: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ox, nor thy neighbour’s ass.”

Illustrated "thou shalt not covet" commandment billboard.

On this warm sunny morning, coveting my neighbour’s ox was a thought-crime easily avoided – but the day before, struggling through the sleet up to Logan Pass, either my neighbour’s ox or my neighbour’s ass would have proven a grievous temptation.

This stretch of road didn’t offer an attractive place to sit down for a quick picnic lunch until I got to the Glacier Park International Airport. The turnoff was marked with the little bit of “nature garnish” which typically signifies “a large tract of formerly natural landscape which has been flattened and paved”. For my purposes, though, this looked like a suitable roadside rest, a place to sit down in the sun with my maps while I enjoyed a meal of rolled oats, yogurt and huckleberries.

entrance sign for Glacier Park International Airport

I sprawled out on the soft grass, pulled out maps and bags of food, started mixing up lunch – and a loud rhythmic “whoosh” began, followed by sudden showers. The automatic sprinklers had ticked on! I scrambled to fold up papers, cover food, put on shoes, and scamper to a safe distance with my bags. I should have known that this lush manicured oasis did not grow just on the rain God sent from the skies!

The artificial deluge only last a couple of minutes but the grass was soaked, so I had to be content with eating lunch from a perch on the dry concrete wall.

Leaving Kalispell the next morning, riding away from the major tourism attractions, the trappings of suburbia dwindled more quickly. I was also pleased to find a just-constructed, separated bicycle path running alongside the highway. The path was so new, in fact, that they were still backfilling the edges of the asphalt pavement with gravel, and I had to dodge “path closed” signs in a few places. The separated bike lane carried on for almost 20 kilometers, and by then Highway 2 was winding through a long stretch of sparsely populated country.

For the next couple of days I passed just a few towns or small villages, passed just a few gas station/convenience store combos, along with one lakeside resort lodge. Logging trucks were the main component of traffic, but that traffic was thin, so most of the time I biked in silence.

Nearly all of this roadway had paved shoulders of adequate width to bike on when the occasional logging truck roared by. With few exceptions the hills were gentle and reasonably short. For the most part, biking through western Montana was a pleasant, meditative, if unremarkable process.

US Highway 2 in western Montana.

On September 22 I took just one photo (above) but I could have taken a hundred that looked pretty much the same. That morning a light westerly wind had blown in a fine flowing mist, which was predicted to clear up soon but instead hung around until mid-afternoon. I again reflected on Bill Streever’s explanation of the wind seeking equilibrium between pressure zones. On this day the wind seemed determined to enforce a different equilibrium. As I pedaled along in my rain suit I gradually got wet, as much from perspiration as from precipitation. After an hour or so of fairly stiff riding I should have worked up some heat, but the headwind gradually picked up and the moving stream of 10°C air kept me just on the shivering side of comfortable. I took no break longer than a 10-minute snack break, and then picked up the pace in an attempt to get warm, but the wind simply adjusted strength to keep my temperature in a chilly equilibrium. Arriving in metropolitan Libby, Montana that afternoon, I found I had ridden 96 km in just over 5 hours – a brisk pace for me, and enough to call it a day’s work.

By mid-day on September 23 I crossed the border into Idaho.
At the Welcome to Idaho sign on US Highway 2.

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.

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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.

p1150898-sept-19-4m

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.
p1150904-sept-19-6

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”.

hiking trail in Glacier National Park, Sept 18 2016

Glacier Park part two: the friction of trees and mountains

September 18, 2016

The view from my motel window was encouraging: the previous night’s horizontal rain was gone.
p1150609-sept-18-1m

I took my time getting ready for the day’s ride, waiting to see if the gale-force winds in the forecast were really on their way back.

over-the-hill-tocWhen I rolled up to the Glacier National Park entrance gate just a kilometer from my motel, however, I was met with another challenge. The Going To The Sun road was closed due to a landslide! The night’s heavy rain had brought rock and mud down across the road in the Big Bend area, just beyond the high point at Logan Pass. I could bike up to the Pass, I was told, but then I’d have to turn around and come back. And there was no guesstimate when the road would re-open.

Meanwhile the sun was shining but the wind was picking up and there were ominous clouds to the south. The best course of action, I decided, was to set up camp in the park’s St. Mary campground, just a kilometer from the entrance, and plan an afternoon hike.

The campground had some nicely sheltered campsites. I set up my tent and then cooked a pot of oatmeal on my stove; though the wind was whistling through the treetops it was quite calm at ground level. Studying my National Geographic map of the park, I picked a nearby walk that I thought would provide some beautiful scenery without a lot of exertion.

By that time another camper had told me the Road to the Sun had reopened. But my legs were still tired from the previous day’s bike ride, and I wasn’t ready for several hours of biking uphill. So I chose to walk the Beaver Pond Loop and part of the Red Eagle Trail, totaling perhaps 8 km (5 miles).

With rain suit and extra clothes in a small backpack, I set out into a warm but occasionally ferocious wind. Looking west across St. Mary Lake the sky was mostly blue:

St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.

St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.

The view to the southwest was different – dark clouds and streaks of rain hung between the mountains.

The view to the southwest along St. Mary Lake.

The view to the southwest along St. Mary Lake.

With such a brisk wind it seemed improbable that the rain would stay at a safe distance all afternoon, and yet I carried out my whole walk in warm sunshine.
Rain clouds over the mountains in Glacier National Park, Sept 18 2016

Why does the wind carry clouds and rain over the mountainsides just a few kilometers away, and yet bring warm, dry air through this part of the valley? I thought again of And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind.

Moist air is less dense than dry air, Bill Streever explains, and so it will rise, creating a lower pressure zone at ground level. Unless, that is, the moisture in the air is condensing, in which case it will sink, causing a lower pressure zone up above. Air will quite simply flow from higher pressure zones to lower pressure zones, towards equilibrium of atmospheric pressure. Except, that is, in the real world, where there are all sorts of complications and wind flow is not simple:

The difficulty comes in understanding why wind seldom moves in a straight line between pockets of high pressure and low pressure, why it never succeeds in reaching equilibrium, why the highs and lows that drive it form and disappear …. The difficulty comes in understanding the confusion that arises from the earth’s incessant spinning below its atmosphere and from the friction that occurs where moving air meets unyielding ground and trees and buildings and mountains.”

Along my walk I approached some of the stands of pine trees that have fallen victim to the mountain pine beetle throughout this region.

Pine trees hit by mountain pine beetle infestation, Glacier National Park.

Pine trees hit by mountain pine beetle infestation, Glacier National Park.

The trees were dead but they were not silent. The friction of the wind against the bare treetops produced an eerie song, which I heard both in areas hit by the pine beetle and in areas hit by forest fire.

Though my camera microphone isn’t the greatest tool for capturing this song I gave it a try. Turn up your speakers and you can hear some of the music that I heard on my walk:

 

On the short ride back to the campground that evening that wind nearly blew me off my bike. But another camper advised that with all the twists and turns on the Going To The Sun road, the wind would most likely be at my back some of the time.

 

Gathering in campground at sunset, Glacier National Park

 

On that cheery note I said good night.

 

sunset in Glacier National Park

Glacier Park part one: “those with outdoor plans should prepare for strong wind gusts”

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

over-the-hill-tocOn 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.

Google map of route from East Glacier to St. Mary, with elevation profile

Google map of route from East Glacier to St. Mary, with elevation profile

But what views! The great part about being frequently out of breath is that it makes it easy to stop often to take pictures.
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Fall colours in Glacier National Park, Montana, Sept 17, 2016

Fall colours in Glacier National Park, Montana, Sept 17, 2016

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.

Rain blows across the mountains, Glacier National Park, Sept 17, 2016.

Rain blows across the mountains, Glacier National Park, Sept 17, 2016.

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:

Special Weather Statement warning of high winds, 17 September 2016

Wind warning for Glacier National Park, Sept 17, 2016

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.

Bart with loaded touring bike at Buffalo NY Amtrak station

Prologue: Two Minutes and I’m Outta Here

over-the-hill-slugMy journey began on September 14, when I boarded an Amtrak train in Buffalo, New York, headed for East Glacier Park Village, Montana.

But of course preparation had begun months earlier, with researching possible routes, testing camping equipment, installing touring racks on my bike, picking out the right clothes for an autumn ride in the mountains, deciding what to take and what to leave behind, and practicing the best way to pack my gear for both convenient access and a balanced load.

My bike is an eight-year-old Surly Long Haul Trucker. This year I used new Arkel front panniers and almost new Arkel rear panniers. Both the bike and the panniers worked beautifully for this trip. The list of things I packed underwent many revisions, but this is what I carried at the beginning of the trip:

My bike-touring equipment list.

My bike-touring equipment list.


Getting all these things into the bags took great patience, but you’ll only need two minutes for this time-elapse video:

Highway 401 overpass at Liberty Street, Bowmanville

Getting past the 401

Toronto’s infamous Gardiner Expressway is an unwelcome wall between the city and its Lake Ontario waterfront. But at the far edge of the Toronto metroplex, Highway 401 acts as a similar barrier separating local residents from the recreational facilities along the lake.

While the 401 runs along the north edge of historic Toronto, far from the lake, this is not true in the eastern reaches of the Greater Toronto Area. There the 401 runs close to the lake, and most residential development is north of the 401. This is particularly true at the east end of Durham Region in the Municipality of Clarington, the amalgamated governing region which includes Bowmanville.

A google satellite map of Toronto and its eastern suburbs.

A google satellite map of Toronto and its eastern suburbs.

Here the lakeshore and the 401 are in close proximity. Furthermore, from Oshawa east to Bowmanville most of the land between the 401 and the shoreline is marshland, farmland, or occupied by major industries, although there are recreational areas including a provincial park, several beaches, and the Waterfront Trail.

Google satellite map of shoreline from Oshawa in west to Bowmanville in east.

Google satellite map of shoreline from Oshawa in the west to Bowmanville in the east. (click map for larger version)

In Bowmanville there are well-used multi-purpose trails in the two valleys that run predominantly north-south through that town. These trails would be even more attractive if they linked up with the Waterfront Trail and the newly-developed East Beach Park. But the 401 is a daunting hurdle.

As shown on this Waterfront Trail map, there is no good linkage between the recreational trails in residential Bowmanville and the Waterfront Trail.

As shown on this Waterfront Trail map, there is no good linkage between the recreational trails in residential Bowmanville and the Waterfront Trail. (click map for larger version)

The Municipality’s Active Transportation Plan recognizes the importance of establishing better linkages:

The Clarington Active Transportation Plan includes among its goals to establish new linkages, for cyclists, walkers and runners, between the creek valley paths and the Waterfront Trail.

The Clarington Active Transportation Plan includes among its goals to establish new linkages, for cyclists, walkers and runners, between the creek valley paths and the Waterfront Trail. (Graphic adapted from map at www.clarington.net.)

Such linkages are a worthy goal, because the current 401 crossings discourage or intimidate many would-be recreational cyclists, and few parents would be happy seeing their children bike south to the beach given the current access options.

Biking past the 401

There are two ways to get from the major residential areas of Bowmanville to the 401: using the Liberty Street underpass or the Waverley Road overpass.

Waverley Rd and Liberty St crossings of the 401 in Bowmanville

Cyclists going from residential Bowmanville to the Waterfront Trail or East Beach Park need to cross the 401 at Waverley Rd or Liberty St.

Both options are busy roads which also serve as entrance/exit routes to/from the 401, so they carry heavy commuter and truck traffic.

Here’s what the Liberty Street underpass looks like to a cyclist traveling north:

Not only is the tunnel narrow and dark, but the noise of traffic bouncing off the walls makes it difficult to tell how close cars or trucks really are.

Below is a view of the same tunnel going southbound. If heading south to the Waterfront Trail, you need to turn left immediately after exiting the tunnel, so getting into left-turn position while inside the tunnel is part of the challenge.

One kilometer west of Liberty Street is the Waverley Road/Durham Rd 57 interchange with the 401. This route has a bridge instead of the dark claustrophia-inducing tunnel of Liberty Street. But because it is much more open, four lanes, and a regional road, traffic tends to be much faster.

For inexperienced cyclists, a key problem when going south is to get past the right-hand lane which becomes a turn-only entrance ramp to the 401. Should you move from the right-hand lane into the left lane early? Or do you stay in the right-hand lane as long as possible, and then turn through traffic which may have accelerated to near-highway-speed at this point?

Once past this obstacle you come up to the shoulder-less bridge over the 401. This carries traffic heading for the 401-east entrance ramp, as well as heavy truck traffic bound for St. Mary’s Cement. Just over the bridge, the 401-eastbound turn-off results in lots of turning vehicles, and drivers who often appear surprised to see a cyclist continuing straight south past this point.

Going north on Waverley Rd from the Waterfront Trail, you must share the narrow bridge with the same commuter and truck traffic:

By the time you’ve ridden north past another 401-westbound entrance ramp, Waverley Road morphs into an multi-lane arterial road at its intersection with Baseline Road, with two northbound through lanes plus a left-turn lane.

After the peace and quiet of a family-friendly ride on the Waterfront Trail, coping with this burst of big-city traffic may come as quite a shock – which is perhaps why so few cyclists are seen making this crossing.

Although I’ve ridden these routes about 50 times each over the past 18 months, I’ve yet to meet another cyclist on the Waverley Road crossing, and only a few times have I seen other cyclists making the Liberty Street crossing.

Clearly the Municipality’s goal of linking the in-town bike paths to the Waterfront Trail will meet an important need. But the 401 is an imposing physical barrier, and we must hope the Municipality will find the resources for this project in the near future.

Open roads of South Dakota

This story of potential restricted access to rural roads has a happy ending.

A hat tip to Momentum magazine for news from the great state of South Dakota. A bill proposed in the South Dakota legislature would have required cyclists to routinely stop and get off the road in deference to any faster vehicle:

If a person is operating a bicycle within a no passing zone on a roadway that has no shoulder or a shoulder of less than three feet in width, the person shall stop the bicycle, move the bicycle off the roadway, and allow a faster vehicle to pass.

As is clear from the following pictures, many of the roads I traversed on a bike trip through South Dakota would be affected by this bill. Although traffic was seldom heavy, shoulders were narrow or non-existent and no-passing zones were frequent. If this bill had been law, I would have been required to get off the bike and hit the ditch any time a single vehicle came up behind me in a no-passing zone. Maddeningly pointless, and for someone on a loaded touring bike, a real momentum-killer.

So I sent the following letter to each of the bill’s co-sponsors. For each co-sponsor in a district I had travelled through or spent a night, I added a sentence about my journey through that district.

A letter to the co-sponsors of House Bill 1073

In June of 2014 I enjoyed the most wonderful vacation of my life, bicycling through North and South Dakota. Entering your state at Lemmon, I biked several hundred miles on back-country gravel roads, state highways, and Interstate 90, before ending the trip by riding the length of the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills.

Throughout the trip I met a warm welcome from ranchers, farmers, other tourists in campgrounds, and people in the hospitality industry. I was equally impressed by the services offered specifically to self-propelled travelers in the Black Hills. I was so enthused about the experience that I developed a travelogue of stories and pictures, and presented it to four different groups after I’d returned home.

Had Bill 1073, at least in its current form, been law in the summer of 2014. I would not have considered taking the trip. I would have concluded that a touring cyclist would be regarded as a nuisance in South Dakota, rather than welcomed. I am so glad the bill was not law then, and I hope the proposed legislation is dropped so that other touring cyclists will know that they too will be welcomed, and that they too can enjoy every mile of riding through your beautiful state, as I did.

Sincerely,

Bart Hawkins Kreps

former resident of Minnesota

current resident of Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada

Postscript: I received an email from one of the bill’s co-sponsors letting me know the bill has been defeated in committee. Let’s hope this bill never returns to the legislative docket. While my email arrived too late to have any possible impact on the legislative committee hearing, I do find it worthwhile to remind legislators that’s it’s in everyone’s best interests to encourage cycling rather than trying to keep us off the roads.

At the North Dakota/South Dakota border on US Hwy 12 near Lemmon, South Dakota. June 15, 2014.

At the North Dakota/South Dakota border on US Hwy 12 near Lemmon, South Dakota. June 15, 2014.

White Butte Road near Bison, South Dakota. June 16, 2014.

White Butte Road near Bison, South Dakota. June 16, 2014.

State Highway 73 near Faith, South Dakota. I was happy to dismount and get off the road to let this truck pass. June 18, 2014.

State Highway 73 near Faith, South Dakota. I was happy to dismount and get off the road to let this truck pass. June 18, 2014.

Badlands Scenic Loop Byway in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. June 19, 2014.

Badlands Scenic Loop Byway in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. June 19, 2014.

Interstate 90 between Wall and Rapid City, South Dakota, with the Black Hills looming in the background. Cyclists are allowed on Interstate highways in both Dakotas. The traffic makes for a noisy ride, but the wide paved shoulders make for a comfortable ride. On this day I also chose I-90 because the bridge overpasses would offer some shelter if I didn't beat the predicted late-afternoon hailstorm. June 21, 2014.

Interstate 90 between Wall and Rapid City, South Dakota, with the Black Hills looming in the background. Cyclists are allowed on Interstate highways in both Dakotas. The traffic makes for a noisy ride, but the wide paved shoulders make for a comfortable ride. On this day I also chose I-90 because the bridge overpasses would offer some shelter if I didn’t beat the predicted late-afternoon hailstorm. June 21, 2014.

The Spearfish Canyon road, in the northern Black Hills. June 27, 2014.

The Spearfish Canyon road, in the northern Black Hills. June 27, 2014.

Looking north on County Road 8 near Cottonwood, South Dakota. US 14 runs through the centre of the image from west to east. June 19, 2014.

Looking north on County Road 8 near Cottonwood, South Dakota. US 14 runs through the centre of the image from west to east. June 19, 2014.

A neighbourhood expressway

Bicycle lane on newly reconstructed Green Road in Bowmanville

For the past two months I’ve been a very appreciative user of the bicycle lanes on Green Road – while marveling at the grandiosity of the roadway itself.

The lanes provide a convenient and comfortable route from new residential areas in south-west Bowmanville, to the sprawling shopping district along County Road 2.

For my errands, the newly reconstructed Green Road provides a much superior alternative to biking on nearby County Road 57.

Annotated google map of southwestern Bowmanville

Marked bicycle lanes on Green Road and Baseline Road (marked in red), with new big-box shopping area outlined in orange.

The high speeds of traffic on County Road 57 seem a natural consequence of its design – even though those speeds are typically well in excess of the posted speed limits.

Green Road, by contrast, is a curious mix of design features that facilitate pedal-to-the-metal speeding, on the one hand, and other features that not only encourage but require drivers to slow down to speeds appropriate for a residential area.

Green Road, looking south from new CP Rail overpass

Green Road, looking south from new CP Rail overpass

The photo above shows one of two roundabouts on Green Road, with a busy elementary school at left, playground in left background, and new housing on both sides.

Clearly, that’s a good place to be driving slowly.

Yet the road is arrow-straight, with no driveways or access lanes beyond the roundabout – and the road allowance is wide enough to serve as the landing strip for the space shuttle, on a windy day.

Satellite view of subdivision along Green Road.

Satellite view of subdivision along Green Road.

In addition to the two wide traffic lanes and bicycle lanes on Green Road, there are wide grassy areas between the road and sidewalk. Moreover, the maze-form street network within the subdivision provides only very controlled traffic access to Green Road, requiring additional “service roads” adjacent to Green on some blocks.

From the outside of one service road, across Green, to the outside of the next service road, is approximately 45 meters, with no visual complexities such as parked cars, encroaching trees, curves, or other traffic-calming features.

Coming out of a roundabout onto that wide-open straightaway, drivers might be forgiven for thinking they have suddenly jumped to a prairie highway. Not surprisingly, they speed.

Driving south on Green Road.

Driving south on Green Road.

So does it still feel safe to bike this road? Yes, at least so far. While there are short stretches where all the design cues tell drivers that 100 km per hour would be perfectly safe, the speedway is broken up by two roundabouts which slow drivers right down again.

The net effect is to keep speed differentials between cars and cyclists to a generally reasonable level.

God only knows, there are more frugal ways to build a residential street that’s efficient for local car traffic as well as safe and convenient for bicycles. But Green Road gets me to the grocery store, and I’ll take a smooth-paved bike lane where I can get it, so I’m not complaining.

Slabs of granite, and other bicycle cargo

Some people are sure they need a car for their shopping – a bike just won’t do. That’s probably true, if they go shopping for anything bigger than a sidewalk.

This video was uploaded in 2010, based on a project I completed the previous summer at my then-home in Port Hope. If I’d had a bigger budget, I surely would have hired a better narrator!