Tuesday, August 18: 71 miles / 5,101 ft. elevation gain /Cumulative climb 6,718′
We woke at 5:50 because it was going to be a tough day. We had to get to the top of Going to the Sun Road (Logan Pass, 6,685′ high) no later than 11. After that we’d be kicked off the hill. It was only 32 miles, but gained 4,000′ in the last 12.
I went to check the bike and the front tire was flat. The rim tape had given out and punctured the tube. Some help from the mechanic and we were ready to go. Sheila took care of getting our breakfast together and bags on the trucks. It was very cool, so we were in tights and long fingered gloves when we rolled out with Mike and Chris at 6:50 AM.
The first 13 miles were very fast. We rode along Lake MacDonald and averaged almost 18 mph. We needed those fast miles in the bank. By mile 13 the climbing gently started and our outerwear came off. By mile 20 we were starting the main climb.
It ramped up to 5 or 6% grade and stayed there. It never got less, it never got more. That meant there were no rest stretches. Just climb, climb, climb. The sky was patchy overcast, so we weren’t baking and that was nice. The road was very narrow, no shoulders and steady streams of traffic. Cars would bunch up behind a bike group, then pass en masse when there was a straight stretch. So the cars came in waves. We didn’t see any big rigs (thank goodness), no trailers, and only one camper. It turns out there’s a prohibition on larger vehicles. Thank you! Of course there were still official park shuttles and touring cars regularly. And on the right side of the road was a one foot high, WPA era curb/retaining wall. Not much between us and a big cliff.
Climbing that steadily soon gave us spectacular views of MacDonald River Valley. It’s pretty amazing to see what the glaciers (now pretty much gone) created. But we were also pushing our time limit. We could only ride about 5-6 mph most of the way. So we climbed non-stop for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Sometimes we took turns standing to give our rears a break.
We finally stopped for a pee break next to a mini-pullout with a sunken culvert. It gave Sheila a little privacy and both of us a much-needed break off the bike. From there we only had 2 miles to go.
As we approached the top, the hillsides were crawling with hikers. That’s what the touring cars and shuttles were doing! We snapped a photo of some hikers at the pass sign and they returned the favor. The parking lot was full of all the cars who’d passed us. We found the Cycling Escapes truck and pulled out some warm gear for the ride down. The cold wind at the top had instantly brought our body temperature way down. We had made it to the top with 15 minutes to spare and Mike and Chris pulled in just after us. We had crossed the Continental Divide!
We had anticipated a fast trip down the back side, but the entire road was under construction. Actually, it was all newly paved, partially lined, and they were putting finishing touches on turnouts. But it meant we were stopped several times on the way down and never got up much speed. We rode through a large section of forest which had been recently burned.
We were the last ones to lunch in St. Mary’s. Then we had 20 miles to go. The headwinds were terrific for the next 8 miles. We finally turned off toward Many Glaciers and were free of wind. But we had to climb again. And the road was patchy – just gravel in several stretches. We were tired pups when we got in.
When we got to the room we had the most confusing shower mechanism I’d ever seen. It was a steampunk dream. The directions were just as confusing as the piping. But the shower felt good.
The hotel was nice, right on the water and overlooking a series of peaks. There was a huge wood fire in the center of the lobby maintained by a staff person in lederhosen! Dinner in the hotel was a pair of huge salads made just the way we like them. We sat on the porch afterwards and watched the sun drop behind the mountains.