Home, James


The second tale of three cities (Butte) 
The third tale of three cities (Helena) 
Montana Passes 
The wonderful grassed over road 
The Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park 
Another type of breakdown story
Glacier National Park offers a place to bike and hike without the crowds on its north western side.
On the Continental Divide Route you can expect some interesting riding conditions.
Montana's history is shaped by mining.
I have vehicle problems.

The second tale of three cities (Butte)

Butte was the largest city I toured on this ride. As I threaded my way through malls and parking lots on Harrison Ave. I kept reading signs of the "largest historic district in the Western US". Where was this historic district hidden between the parking lots ? Keep riding and ye shall find. Butte is a city divided in two. Besides its generic part that looks like any other town of 30000 people, Butte has square miles of wonderful old stone facades that show a rich mining city in "an arrested state of decay".

But here the "preserved state of decay" is much later than in Bannack. Like Bannack, Butte started out as a mining town. But here it was silver, not gold that began shaping the face of the city. Silver is mined from hard rock and requires more than determination, a gold pan and good eyesight. I requires machines and industry to separate the ore from the quartz. Consequently it did not only require determined miners, but heavy industry, and companies with lots of money. When there was no more silver, copper proved to be even more lucrative. Butte became a rich city of corporate mining magnates and their companies. They built plants for the ore, and mansions for themselves, and shacks for the miners. The buildings that sprang up around Butte have an incredible variety of architecture, rich mansions with ornamented porches, and also rickety wooden porches overlooking mining towers. The copper boom came to an end during the great depression, and this is the state we see Butte in today.

A number of museums cater to the tourists. First there is the "Museum of World Mining", which has nothing to do with the world whatsoever, and everything to do with Butte. I didn't go there. Instead I visited a number of small private museums around town. There was the "Maeh Wah Chinese noodle parlor museum", the Butte museum of transportation, and last but not least the "Dumas hotel brothel museum". All of these are one man operations, where you're likely to get your own private tour through a variety of walls where things happened, things like "Chinese ate noodles here". You need a lot of imagination to picture an old vibrant mining district from the inside of these buildings. It's really much easier from the outside and all the grand building facades. Inside all of these museums, every once in a while I encountered a picture "Evil Kneivel", the motorcycle daredevil jumper from Butte. I suppose this was appropriate in the "museum of transportation", since jumping over major obstacles on a motorcycle can be considered a form of transport where you get from point a to b. It also livens up the collection of street signs in that museum. If it has anything to do with the "Dumas Hotel Brothel Museum", I'm not so convinced. Even if he visited this establishment, it was after its period of active operation.

And then of course, there is the soul of Butte, its reason for existence, where all the money came from, its necessary evil.. It's the "big pit", an enormous hole in the ground, from where all the copper was extracted. It is filling slowly with poisonous water, waiting for money from the next democrat presidency before it can be cleaned up. This hole will be where all the money will be going in the future. Someday it will be interesting to compare the profits that have been made from this hole by industrialists, with the tax money required to clean up after them. That is, assuming it will ever be cleaned up completely.

Since several years ago, Butte also offers an attraction to religeous pilgrims. A huge madonna, made from gleaming white rock, watches from a gray cliff above Butte. Latin America has a name for something like this,  a mirador, a spiritual viewpoint. From its rocky perch, this rock statue inspires religous visitors onto a mini prilgrimage up the mountain. Historically the principle of such a venture is that you have to endure some physical hardship during the strenous climbing process. During this "suffering", you think of Jesus and all the suffering he did for you. And so the strenous exercise that you put your body through, makes you think, and it thus it becomes a religous experience, a pilgrimage.

In order to fit modern times better, this concept has been modified. Physical hardship has been replaced by financial hardship. You are supposed to pay $25, and then you get bussed up to the top. No provisions have been made to let you bike or walk to the top legally. Looking at this from a strictly religeous point of view, this practice is very defensible. These days, phyiscal exercise is not considered painful and punishing, the way it would have by a Butte miner from the 1800s. Now we move strenouesly for pleasure. Many of us enjoy running, climbing and biking up steep hills. I would have loved to bike up to this mirador. However, having to spend money to be bussed up a hill is painful financial hardship for most of us. And paying an outrageous 25$ for a busride lasting a few minutes would be downright mental torture for me. I would never put myself through it willingly. The most substatnial part of the proceeds from this expensive bus ride goes to the companies providing gas and combustion engine transportation and the fuel itself. A pilgrimage not only makes you suffer, it also makes you think. However, instead of thinking religeuos thoughts, the only thing I would think of during this bus pilgrimage, is the stupidity of it. Okay, so I changed my mind. Running a bus up to this white rock monstrosity, and charging 25$ for the previlidge of being bussed a couple of miles to the top, while forbidding selfpowered travel, is not defensible from a religeous point of view. It is anti God. God gave us legs so we could use them. So far he hasn't said anything publicly about burning up all the fossil fuels on the planet. He hasn't said anything, but we're getting some other signs.

In the process of touring pretty much all of the city streets of Butte, I also found an excellent Chinese restaurant in the historic part of Butte. Unlike European imigrants, the Chinese had it ecspecially difficult in American mining towns. Chinese were not allowed to work mining clains. They worked in service professions, things like laundries and noodle parlors. The chinese restaurant, or noodle parlor, has a long history in Butte. The only times Chinese could work mining claims when they were abandoned by Americans and other imigrants.

But the best part of Butte was its old facades, gleaming in brown red and yellow rusty colors against a blue sky. Many buildings have a factual little plaque that explain a little history of the building, without selfcongratulatory hoopla usual for tourist propaganda. If you like Lowell, Mass., or Newark, NJ., you'll love Butte. But here the sky is bluer, the colors of the buildings are more saturated, the people are not dangerous, and there's no traffic.

The various hills over which Butte stretches make it perfect for exporation by bicycle, with a triple chainring. It was so perfect, my chain on that tripple chainring was getting tripple stretched. Not to worry, this town of 30000 even has a bikeshop. I found it just in time to watch old Lance win his first stage on the 2002 tour de France on the TV. However, the store mechanics were really more interested in another American who was also riding in the Tour. He was a native of Butte, even though he now resides in California, where the winters are more productive for a bike racer. I also learned a little more about Butte bicycling. Unitil about 5 years ago Butte had a bikeclub, called the Big Butte bike club. That's pronounced "Big Bjoot bikeclub". Only  sometimes in casual conversations is it pronounced "Big Butt bikeclub". But then the Montana public utility company pulled out of Butte, causing the economy as well as the Big Butte bikeclub to deflate. Bicycling in general seems to be in a state of decline in the Northern Rockies. Earlier I rode through Dillon. Dillon is the only college town I know, which does not even have a bicycle store. Again the story was that it just closed down recently, due to lack of business. Later in Kalispell I found out that the "Flathead Bicycle Club" also ceased to exist due to lack of interest. So now club bicylists in the north west Montana really are outnumbered by ATVers by a ratio of infinity to one.

I deviated from the CD route between Butte and Helena. First I stayed in close proximity to it. North of Butte, I15 parallels the CD route closely. After all that excellent Chinese food, a few good aerobic workouts on smooth pavement were what the doctor ordered. And so the CD route stayed on dirt, as is its custom, and I stayed on the comfortable shoulder of the interstate. Then, after two days of using my often neglected big chainring, I tried to pick up the CD route again. It now diverted significantly from I15 for the first time since Butte, as it headed into Cateract Gulch. Sofar my method of navigation using copied Gazeteer maps had worked pretty well. But here something else was needed, something like a detailed description of wich turn to take, and when to take it. The CD guidebook provides such a description, but only in one direction of travel, North to South, and not the directions I was travelling in. Descriptions such as "at the fork continue downstream" are impossible to reverse when you're coming from downstream. Both options in my direction of travel were not downstream, so wich one was I supposed to take ? There are so many mining and logging roads criss crossing in this area that the Gazeteer maps are a useless spaghetti jumble of lines. Logging roads promised to end up at numbered logging allotments, while mining roads switched direction once you thought you figured out which direction they were heading in. So I let my bike choose the way.  Any one of these roads could just stop in the forrest or double back where I came from. On occasions like this, my bike always wants to climb a ridge and get an overview of the situation. Actually, I think it's something more than just pure orientation. It just likes views sweeping to the horizon. After an hour of climbing I had a view, even it wasn't exactly sweeping to the horizon. Muddled green hills stretched out in all directions. They were not organized in straight ridges, the way I was used form back home. One hill looked pretty much like the other. The most notable identification marks were the patches of clearcuts or reforrestation in various stages. Powerlines cut through this industrial looking forrest in straight lines. A far distance below was a haphhazard collection of trailers in a sandy lot. Since it looked like it would start to rain any minute I decided to head down in that direction. As luck would have it, I was heading back for the shoulder of the interstate, wich really wasn't such a bad place to be during one of the very few days on which it rained quite a bit. I finally picked up the CD route again a couple of days later just before it entered Helena.

The third tale of three cities (Helena)

The CD route led me into Helena the back way. I was rolling downhill through dense forrest for miles. I was now at the lowest elevation since I had started this ride. The relative nearness of the Pacific was beginning to make itself felt with a moister more moderate cliimate. A carpet of green was hiding the villas of Helenans and was making me think I was in Oregon. This route gives a completely different idea of the city than if you would aproach it on a main road. It led me from a forrested hill right into the heart of Helena. I coasted right into "last chance gulch".

Like Bannack and Butte, Helena started out as a mining town. In Helena's case it was gold that nursed the city into adolescence. However, unlike Bannack and Butte, Helena is not in a "state of arrested decay". It wasn't arrested as adolescent like Bannack, and it wasn't arrested in its prime, like Butte. Helena lives. The name "last chance gulch" may evoke a vision of desperate miners digging in the mud for gold nuggets. But in truth it's a trendy collection of art and junk stores that look more like a Sedona art gallery, than a row of historic mining quarters. Helena is not dead like Bannack, or even sedated like Butte. It has thriving modern businesses, along with the traffic, and all the homogenous modern structures that go along with it. In short,  Helena looks and feels just like any other American town in the hills.

Helena owes its life and wealth to its location, and also lots of luck. After becoming established as a gold mining town, Helena's accessible valley location was just perfect as trading location between Fort Benton and other mining towns. As the town attracted wealthy individuals, it became the object of rivalry between industrial crooks. Rich industrialists decided where the capitol would be by controlling newspapers and buying votes. One player was a man named Daly. He had made his money with the Butte copper mines, and wanted the adjacent town of Anaconada to become the capitol. Helena was already the capitol, and another crook named Clark had major mining investments here. Helena retained its status as capitol by a slim margin, and continues as a crossroads of business untill today.

As I rode out of Helena the next day, I found a particular location that gave Helena a very urbane, sophisticated angle. From inside a well kept city park, I could see two large architectural marvels. Both were houses of worship. In one direction the spires of the cathedral of St. Helena were reaching skywards. This church was modeled after the Cologne cathedral. I had wondered at its marvelous stain glassed windows the day before. They were made in Germany about 400 years after the original Cologne cathedral was built. The stained glass windows are very colorful and shine brightly in the dark church. There is a supernatural appearance about the way these glassy colors shine in the darkness of the interior. If this was the middle ages they would be as effective as a laser light show is today. The proportions of this church are much smaller than the original Cologne cathedral, and its exterior is not as ornate. But looking at it against the light, as I was from this city park, it appeared pretty convincing.

Looking in the other direction from the same location, I saw a building just as impressive, but it wasn't even mentioned in any tourist books. It was also a church of sorts, well, a temple of sorts. The building, with its tall skinny minaret reaching into the sky like an Apollo rocket, gave every appearance of being a muslim temple. I parked my bike and went inside to see if I could tour the building. A red velvet lined hallway received me. I was wondering if the building had been converted into a movie theater, and I was in the foyer. I was wrong on all accounts. The building started out as an organizational buildings for the Shriners. Apparently they built it in the style of a muslim mosque just because they were in a muslim mood. No other information was available in the building. Later they sold the building to the city of Helena, and now it houses municipal offices. So that's the story behind the minarets of Helena, as much of it as I could determine anyway, which is not very much.
the minarets of Helena the cathedral of St Helena

Montana Passes

Mountain passes are to cyclists what peaks are to hikers and climbers. They are out there, just waiting to be climbed. They are easily identified goals that keep staring at you from the map with their appealing turns and squiggles, making you wonder at the landscape that could force a road to do that. Named mountain passes provoke a strong desire in me to ride over them, and that means up one side and down the other. So, I'm going to mention some passes along the route.

Montana passes are a funny lot. Many of them are gentle rises on the Interstate. They are about as alpine as the sagebrush prarie. Deer Lodge Pass, between Butte and Fleecer ridge falls into this category. It actually was close to being the lowest point on the entire Fleecer ridge ride. Sagebrush hills stretch out in all directions. Where were the switchbacks and exhilerating climbs ? Anywhere, except on the passes. Deer Lodge Pass actually marks the lowest point between two major climbs, if you follow the CDR without any circular detours like I did. Another pass that falls into the same category is Elk Park Pass, crossed by I15 and the CD route alike, between Butte and Basin. Up to this point in the ride, the most pass like experience was travelling over the Medicine Lodge - Big Creek Divide, described earlier. Another fairly satisfying climb that crested just barely above treeline was Red Rock Pass between Idaho and Montana..

The number of passes along the CDR increases drastically North of Helena. For starters, Priest Pass lead me through a tunnel of green across the divide. After a small decent I turned off onto Mullan Pass. Mullan Pass is not really on the CD route, but it has an interesting history and is wildly scenic. This pass is also part of cycling history. The time was just after the civil war. The Indian wars were well under way. The army had a cycling enthusiast, a certain leuteniant Moss, stationed in Missoulla. He believed that the bicycle had certain advantages over the horse. He wrote "it does not require much care, it needs no forage, it is noiseless and it raises little dust, and it is impossible to tell the direction of travel from its track". Moss wanted to show the military just how useful the bicycle could be for them. He was granted permission to mount an expedition on bicycle from Missoula to St. Louis, some 1900 miles. During June 1860 Mullan crossed the continental divide on this pass together with his 20 black soldiers on their one speed Spalding safety bicycles. After an arduous trip they arrived in St. Louis in July, requiring 41 days for the trip. I had read this story in Michael Mc Coy's CD guide book. Full of expectation I crested the grassy ridge of this pass. I was expecting to find at least a plaque or histerical marker comemmorating the monumental event. Nothing of the kind. The brave bicycle soldiers have been forgotten, except for some dedicated guide book authors. Instead a sign with a 5 word sentence marks the spot. It mentions some other milityary official who crossed here, without providing further details. I fully intentioned to ride down this pass back into the Helena valley. After all, you haven't ridden over a pass untill you've ridden up it, and just as importantly down the other side. But after I saw the valley below me, baking in the heat like a souflet, while I was still relatively comfortable, I decided to stay in the comfort zone and follow the CD route further North along the ridge. Miles later I crested over another spectacular meadow. It's certainly a pass. But nobody ever bothered to give it a name. A long comfortable decent lead me into the scenic collection of  wooden churches, rusty snowmobiles, railroad ruins and lawn furniture, collectively called Marysville.

The next day I rode a circle over two passes in heavy forrest. The two passes provided a demonstration in logging practices. Stemple Pass is a dirt road up from Lincoln. I started riding in the crisp light of 8 am. When my eyes streyed from the dark shadows on the road into the pitch black forrest, it was so dark, I saw only black untill the eyes adjusted 20 seconds later. Only then did I see another forrest growing within a forrest. The plants growing in between the logs resembled full sized toilet brushes, only they were a lot more attractive. The hearty wild plant is called bear weed, and is ecspecially prolific every couple of years. This was one of those years. From now on the attractive toilet brushes managed to apear in convenient locations, so that I could place them in prominent locations in just about every picture I took. Stopping every couple of minutes to contemplate the possibility of taking yet another photograph, I climbed up Stemple Pass. Again the top of the pass was not the highest point of the crossing. A smooth dirt track turned off Stemple at the top, climbing several hundred more feet and crosseing the divide again at an unnamed spot. A fine view of the valley was provided along the way, courtesy of a clear cut by the lumber industry. From here I could see that the valley resembled a checkerboard. Part of the squares have been clearcut, others are in various stages of new planted growth.

To complete the circle I followed another pass. This one was a hard top road, shown prominently on the state map as a scenic route, Flesher pass. On the top a few serpentines looked as if they might aproach tree line. I pedaled a bit harder, looking forward to a majestic landscape viewing experience. Any clearcuts ? Yes, a few, but only far on the horizon. Every attempt has been made by the forrest service to keep up the illusion of pristene forrests along this major route. Only when you venture behind the facades onto the small dirt roads do you get an impression how much of the forrests have been logged. There are of course, millions of acres of pristene forrests in wilderness areas. But they are not ecspecially accessible to lumber companies or cyclists alike. We might as well face up to reality. These little forrest tracks, like the one leaving from Stemple Pass were not built so that mountain bikers can glide through the forrest quietly and in peace. They were built as access roads so that the forrests can be "harvested".

The next day's pass lead me along the edge of the Scapegoat wilderness. Even though it is not mentioned by name in Michael Mc Coy's book, it's one of the most scenic passes along the route, Huckleberry Pass. I climbed up the pass from the west side. I was lead forward by semipermanent trapezoids logged into the forrests, and black rock outcrops. The logged checkerboard landscape had a mathematical orderly character to it, much like the huge regular fields on the plains. The dirt track followed a narrow gauge railroad bed up into the mountains. After the first crest the landscape became too rugged for logging, and the track started to traverse along the mountains like a cross country skier who can't telemark. Since it was a railroad grade, I could speed along it like an expressway. As the road contoured along canyons in Iron Mountain, the term "as the crow flies" took on special significance. I wasn't doing anything resembling that. In an effort to find out more about the history of this narrow gauge railway pass, I searched the web. All I could find was a single picture of a group of snowmobiles congregating on top of Huckleberry pass, part of Montana's tourist promotion, no history provided. Wouldn't you know it ?

None of the passes I crossed have the same rugged character as the most famous of a all Montana passes, Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. None have the crowds either. I didn't see a single bicyclist on any of these passes. None of them are as high. These passes don't cross the highest ridges in the state. They sneak up litte shoulders and hug the valleys whenever possible. Montana has always been thinly populated, and people built passes to get from one place to another, or to haul out mining ore. With all the wide valleys to choose from, building roads onto the highest ridges never was necessary. The long winters also made it more difficult. Now those areas are protected as wilderness areas to keep out development sprawl, oil companies, roads, motorvehicles and bicycles alike. It's a shame we have to always choose between uncontrolled development one one side, and wilderness on the other. It seems there should be something else in between the two. Consequently these passes cannot be compared with passes in more populated regions, like the alps, or even some areas of Colorado. There is one major exception already mentioned above. Logan Pass in Glacier National Park was not built because people wanted to get from a to b. Instead it was a work project by the CCC, in an effort to provide something beautiful, as well as work during the depression. Logan Pass has a different reason for being. Right from the start it was designed to be an addition to the landscape, and it still is. I didn't ride that pass on this outing, but I remember it well from another tour.

I wasn't done yet looking for interesting climbs, and the Northwest offers a whole new genre in this field, rides to fire lookouts. I had already passed up several oportunities in this field. Finally, getting a good aerial view of the Swan range from Morrell fire lookout was an idea I couldn't resist. It's a 3000 foot climb from the CDR. I also wanted to get away from the heat. The previous day was typical of the last week.

It was the fourth day without a cloud in the sky. Missoulla had recorded record heat of over 100 degrees for four days straight. There hadn't been a cloud in the sky. During the morning, while I got the bike ready, it was warm. As soon as I got on the bike I felt a delicous shiver. I tried to enjoy it, and got cooled down as much as bearable, in compensation of what was to come. Around 10 am, I started being aware of the sun and all the warm breezes coming up the valley. There were still a few cool breezes from the mountains. Around noon I had to admit to myself it was hot. The long deep shadows from the tall thick forrest now didn't reach onto the road anymore. No matter how far on the side of the road I stayed, I was in direct sunlight. The Tang in my waterbottles was a warm syrup, which I ingested to get minerals and electrolytes that I knew I needed. Around 3 pm my tongue started sticking to my mouth and I knew the ride would soon be over. I didn't drink as conciencousely any more, concentrated on music on the walkman and the warm smells from the forrest. Then around 5 pm, I got back and found various uses for the up to 30 gallons of water I carried along.

So today I hoped to have a fully functional tongue that didn't stick to the top of my mouth for the entire day. I was used to climbing towards the treeline. You could still use that description for the climb up Morrell lookout, but the concept of "treeline" is different. Instead of reaching a line where you climb above the natural habitat of trees, here it means, you are climbing towards a line, where the trees haven't been logged yet. I climbed through patches of logged forrest, reaching for the natural forrest above. When I reached the trees, I was at treeline.  Near the top of the mountain the panorama on the Mission range opened up. At 7800 feet it was the highest point of the ride since Yellowstone. The fire tower looked like a square fortification tower on the corner of a western fort, without the fort. I could see that the character of the landscape was about to change as I headed North.

The wonderful grassed over road

The route continued through Swan Valley. Swan Valley is flanked by the Mission range and the Swan range. The mountains were starting to take on the "Northern Rockies" look. The tops of the peaks of the Mission range were sculptured into daggars that still had snow and ice clinging to them. Even the sedimentary Swan range resembled a serrated knife along the top. The valley was a dense carpet of thick trees. Logging is also prevalent here, but the CD route leads through heavy forrest, making the cyclist feel like a little bug that's crawling in a green jungle. On one occasion the route leaves the wooly confines of the valley and climbs partially up into the Swan Range.

For this loop through Holland and Sealey lake, I thought I'd try something new, actually following directions given in the CD book. This meant I had to ride the route North to South, so I could follow blow by blow directions of the book. I rode to the starting point of the ride, so to speak, on Rte. 83 hardtop. Following directions from the book worked amazingly well. I found myself making the most obscure turns onto abandoned roadways, based on the 10th mile digit of my odometer. Pretty soon I was riding through grass reaching up to the bottom of the seatpost. Still, I knew I was not lost, even though it seemed like it. The book described this stretch as a "wonderful grassed over road".  In the meantime, since the book was written, nature has taken the liberty to turn the "wonderful grassed over road" to a very long and wild linear meadow. But just before the meadow became unrideable, it delivered me to the back of a barricade. After I climbed around it, I was back on a regular dirtroad, and I could study the bear warning signs facing towards the path I had just traveled. These signs provided precise information how to identify the bear that may attack you. Is it a Brown or is it a Grizzly ? It is always interesting to read these warnings, after you have ridden through the area they pertain to.

The dirt road didn't last that long. The next climb was a similar story as the last paragraph. The dirt road became a christmas tree alley. The christmas tree alley had been further modified by logs hanging across it. The Swan range came into close view in their full verticality. Finally a single track pass crested in a riot of toilet brush wildflowers. On the way down I maneuvered through a slot of pine trees grabbing at me from all directions. Then again, there was that barricade, with the bear warnings facing away from me. The rest of the day followed the heat schedule described earlier. I rested from the heat in the little resort of Sealey Lake. Sealey Lake has just about everything a tourist could want. There is a place to rent snowmobiles, a place to rent ATVs, a videostore, a gas station, and a "fun palace". I have no idea what that last business is. Sarcasm aside, the town actually had a grocery store too. For a biker a grocery store is a gas station.

Following the CD route through Swan valley the "beautiful grassed over road", otherwise known as "the abandoned road", made a few more appearances. Now it always stayed in deep forrests in the valley. It's a peculiar feeling. You are riding along, aiming your front wheel tire towards the middle of a trough in the grass. You can't see where the tire is making contact with the ground. But you float along smoothly, like a boat in waves of grass and flowering weeds. You wonder about rocks beneath the surface, but all in all, it's a smooth ride. In any case it's great practice for the 11 inch shoulder on Rte 83, which I used to connect these routes into circles. Now all I had to do was get used to the cars passing at 75 mph. Generally speaking, Montanans are ecspecially unlikely to slow down for anything, except a gas station when they are about to run out of gas.

The Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park

North of the Swan Valley the CD route touches Flathead Lake.  In an earlier stage of the trip, the planning stage, when my eyes were doing the bicycling on the map, I had contemplated a ride around Flathead Lake. However when I got there, in the middle of record June heat, the haze made the mountains disappear in something resembling a floury soup, and the lake looked like it belonged somwhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin, but not the Rockies. A ride around Flathead Lake is done better in the fall or spring. I have seen this lake during September and the difference is striking. So I didn't get to see much of Flathead Lake this time. Instead I spent two days reading, waiting for the days highs not to climb to a 104 degrees any more.

Instead of a feast for the eye, I concentrated on a feast of a different kind. The route entered civiliztion again. Ahead were the small but busy towns of the Flathead valley, Big Fork, Kallispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, and several Chinese restaurants. The heavy traffic in the Flathead valley around Kalispell can be disconcerting after a week of heavy forrest. But I soon found the straight flat secondary dirt roads. I organized several days of riding on them, all centered around several Chinese restaurants in Kalispell. Soon I circled in around my favorite, King's Buffet on the West side of town. So it was goodbye sardines - hello sweet and sour soup - goodbye,  slice of white bread that can be squeezed into the size of a grape -  goodbye, slice of bread that can be compacted to fit inside a cavity in your tooth.. Instead it was - hello, snowpeas in sesame oil - hello large trays of spicy delicacies. What would America be without Chinese food ? It wouldn't be America anymore. Weatherwise I lucked out, and riding in the cool and cloudy conditions, with all this delicious energy on this flat plain, made me think back to all the warm winter weekends I had spent riding on the plains along the Front Range of Colorado.

North of Columbia Falls, the CD route continues at some distance west of the Glacier National Park boundary, before approaching it again north of Polebridge. The most popular road bike route, on the other hand, takes off straight across the mountains over Logan Pass. I did neither. I followed along the relatively isolated western boundary of the park. An interesting loop ride was staring at me from the map. I could trace a border along the western boundary of the park, along the "Outside North Fork Road". Then I could enter the park and follow the "Inside North Fork Road" all the way back to Mc Donald Lake inside the park, to complete the circle near Columbia Falls.

After 40 miles on the Outside North Fork Road, Polebridge made a conveninet lunch stop. Polebridge is a National Park resort at its most spartan. Instead of knick knack stores and icecream parlors, there is only an old werstern mercantile, a youth hostel, and a few log cabins. The old false front mercantile sits on the edge of the floodplain of the Flathead river, in a small dusty parking lot. A table under a shady tree invites to a picknick, and to study a few historical placques about this isloated little settlement.  The forrest fires of the 1994 have turned the surroundings into a matchstick forrest. The logcabins, parked snowmobiles and other outside appliances look right in place. The prices for celophane wrapped sandwiches, bread and bakeries are directly proportional to their distance from any competition. That would be around 60 miles from Columbia Falls, and 70 or more miles from Eureka.. I talked to one of the caretakers in the hostel. "The guy making the next shopping run into Columbia Falls is the most popular guy around" he told me. Just across a small bridge over the scenically braided Flathead is the remote dirtroad entrance to Glacier, leading to Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake, and also my current destination, the "Inside Loop Road" back to Mc Donald Lake.

Reports had it that the "Inside Fork Road" was closed. All the better, I thought. The park ranger said this was because of a mass of downed trees blocking the road. "Oh, not so great" I thought. "Still managable though". The facts turned out to be quite different. The road was not blocked by trees. In fact, as ususal, the toughtest part was the part they had just improved, by tearing it to sand with a road grader. Also the road was closed to cars only, because of a grey wolf den. This was a pleasantly hard ride, but the most scenic part were the views of the Livingston Range from outside the park. You had to leave the dust and trucks speeding to their favorite fishing spots behind, and wander a few hundred yards through the burned forrests to the bluffs above the river. There the Livingston range was spread out like a sculptured wall, being played with by the clouds.

The most beautiful aspect of Glacier National Park are its long deep glacially carved lakes. They fall in two categories. Some of them put on the best show in the morning. The other half can be seen in their best light in the evening. This is the time when the best light hits them. For lakes on the west side this conveniently coincides with sunset, while lakes on the east side treat early morning risers better. I spent one night camping at Bowman Lake, to watch the evening performance of sunset. A small campground with maybe 20 sights is nestled in the trees at the far end of this worm like like.  It stretches out from the deep forrest carpet around the campground, and penetrates the sheer cliffwalls in a deep canyon. As the sun was starting to approach the western horizon, around 20 people started to congregate along the quarter mile long western shore. A group of 5 guys in their 20s had just completed a week long back pack from the west side of the park. They had grown up together in Chicago. Now they worked in different parts of the country and had negotiated this week long get together over the internet. "You either have too much money and not enough time, or no money and enough time" said one of them to me. - "It's the system" I told him. But at least they had put their week to good use. A short distance on the beach, a man sat in his cloth chair that could be folded up to something the size of a small tripod. In one hand he held a dixie cup of red wine, savoring the moment. He was staring out at the lake, as if a particularly excellent performance of his favorite play was about to start. "Great time of day" he said simply, as I passed. "The best" I replied.

I went through quite a few pictures that late afternoon. Sometimes mountains appear steeper than they are. This happens when you are looking frontally at the slope with the light behind you. There is a term for this, forshortening. Here however, the steep slopes could be seen in profile, sun lit crags diving into the the smooth dark lake surface. With each degree that the sun set the scene became more three dimensional. Black shadows started to edge up from the lake. Clouds started to look as material as the mountains. The water started to become a mirror. It was a great show.

North of Polebridge, I was back on the CD route. I met another CD biker. Daniel was in his 20s and the only German biker I met along the route. His equipment showed that he had put some thought into his expedition, which was going all the way to the bottom of New Mexico. Around his neck he wore a whistle to frighten off potential bear attacks. Hey I need one of those, I thought. Instead of a water bottle, one cage carried a litte GPS transmitter that could report an emergency signal, accompanied by location of the person having the emergency. His bike also had some technical refinements worth pointing out. 21 gears were provided with only a single chainring on the cranks. The rearwheel also had no cluster, but also only one single "chainring" . The 21 gears were provided by internal gearing mechanishms inside the bottom bracket and the rear hub. The advantage of this is that it's less susceptible to failure because of dirt, mud or snow. On his bike Daniel displayed a decal with the Great Divide slogan: "Eat, sleep, bike, Great Divide". As slogans go, this one makes more sence than most. Doing any one of those three more intensely, is likely to increase the intensity with wich you do the other two.

I was about to ride over the last low pass on the CD route, the Whitefish Divide, west of Eureka. If it would have been 20 degrees colder, the weather would have been  perfect. The crystal blue sky and dry air somehow didn't fit with this dense rain forrest. As I started up from Tochuck campground, I met two women biking with trailers heading South. They were the only women cyclists I encountered along the entire route. I asked them how far they were going. The answer was "as far as we'll get".  This answer actually made a lot of sence. This was a mother and daughter team. It's probably wise to stay as flexible as humanly possible in an intra family biketour. However, for me the problem was rather academic.

Another type of breakdown story

For the first time since two days, my VW was on a paved road again. As I tried to take it out of first gear for the first time in two days, I realized something was wrong. The engine could not rev up to its normal rpm. On a flat road I could get up to 40 mph, even 45 mph. But as soon as the slightest hill appeared, I was reduced to 15 mph, driving on the shoulder. I could still get to a shop. It took several hours of hunting around, before I could find a shop that would work on a VW van.

Klaus, owner and only mechanic at "European Motors" was an expert on VWs. His Meisterpruefung certificate straight from Wolfsburg greeted me from the wall, as I walked into his office. I detected a German accent and switched to talking to him in German. Of course he know what was wrong, with all that experience. Or at least he thought he knew. First he replaced the points in the carburetor. When that didn't help he adjusted the timing. After that we tested all of the litte devices that sit on top of the engine. We checked for a vacum leak, tested the flow meter, put in a new condenser, and tested the coil. Nothing helped. By now I thought, that a VW engine is a very complicated mysterious instrument indeed. What mystical failure is slowing down my vehicle ? After that Klaus had done all he could. He was very busy mechanic and it was a great favor of him to fit me in.

The closest shop that could possibly help me was back  a couple of hundred miles in Missioulla. I  started driving back the next day. I called 2 shops. Each one stated that they were booked up for the next week. So I decided to try to drive the van back home as far as I could get it. It was still running. If I would pick an eastern detour back to Colorado, I could detour almost all mountain passes.  As I drove along on the shoulder of the Interstate for the next two very long days, I thought I could hear people making VW van jokes as they passed at lightning speed. You probably already heard the following one : Why are there so may hippies in Boulder ? Because when their VW vans reached the mountains, they couldn't get over them and had to stay there. The truth about this vehicle is different. The difficulty lies in finding parts and somebody able to work on the vehicle. Granted, if you have the necessity to drive 75mph up a 20 percent incline, towing a speed boat to Lake Powell, this is not your vehicle. The appeal of the VW in its efficiency. In the last 20 years, man has made remarkably little (if any) progress, in consuming less gas. The slight improvements in engine efficiency have been more than offset by the increased size and weight of  today's monster SUVs and trucks. Weight is still the major factor determining gasoline consumption, just like it was 20 years ago, and today's vehicles are a lot heavier. The small air cooled engine in the roomy box of a VW van offers more efficiently organized space for the gas consumption than any other truck, van or RV around. An exception to this are several excellent Japanese camping vans. But, sadly (tragically), they are not available in the US.

When I finally got the vehicle to a shop back home, that was willing and able to work on it, they found a problem right away. The exhaust was plugged. One thing about owning a VW. You may be a neophite when you get it. But you will not remain long in that condition of blissful ignorance. The car will teach you about itself. It will teach you , by breaking down. The car keeps finding new things to teach me, new ways to break. I still own it.

So this collection of bicycle rides was cut short. I never made it up to Canada and the Icefields Parkway. I got as far as a few miles north of Eureka, within 5 miles of the Canadian border. Of course I realize what that means. It means I have to try again. I can deal with that. I won't try right away, and I'll choose a new route to get to the border. But I'll try again.

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