Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Day 5: Going To the Sun Ride - Lake McDonald Lodge, MT to Sandpoint, ID

Room with a view - Sandpoint, Idaho.

Day 5 was a day of great motorcycle roads.  The legendary #56 was fun - but look out for goats...moose...Click to Enlarge
Leaving Lake McDonald Lodge early, we whisked through the rest of the park and headed south on the #206 deliberately missing Whitefish and the traffic.  We linked up with the #93 and followed the west shore of the beautiful Flathead Lake.  The morning mission was to find breaky after about an hours ride and top off the tank.  We passed amazing views, quaint lakeside towns, and great breakfasty looking cafes.  Unfortunately, I had a bug up my arse, and decided to continue and get some miles under our tank, waiting for the perfect place, at the perfect time, that my perfect imagination had conjured up.  Unfortunately, reality was somewhat different.  And the further south along the lake we chugged, the more isolated, dry and flat the land became.  Eventually, I pulled into what I thought would be our last hope of breaky before turning West on the #28, which I knew to be a desolate stretch of highway from previous reading.  My wife tapped me on the back and told me we were on a reserve, and that the locals were looking agitated...

After turning right before Elmo, we hit the #28 which was gorgeous, but desolate.  But the scenery, rolling prairie turning to golden semi-desert, was no substitute for breakfast, so no pictures were taken.  Besides at 120kmh, I was concentrating on the jack-rabbits and gofers who had decided to wake up in fancy-dress as chickens.  We passed - I kid you not - another place called Lonepine...it was desolate, and there was a pine tree, once, I guess.  Soo, after 30 minutes of not seeing another vehicle, we finally stumbled upon the above, Cornerstone Cafe, in Hotsprings, MT. Although we couldn't see any hot-springs, we do seem to get lucky with our breakfasting places, and this was no exception.  There were two locals and a really friendly waitress.  The locals got chatting to us about Canada, and asked if there were "any Chinamen up there?"  Not sure how to answer, we discussed our heritage and when it became evident we shared some commonality (heritage that is, not politically incorrect generalisations, mind) they wooed us with their health problems.  They quizzed Iris on her medical knowledge, what their blood test and EKG results meant, and we had two instant friends. The food was fabulous.  A mixed medley of cubed steak, chopped peppers, hash and eggs with toast and, wait for it, marmalade went down a treat.  And cheap!  You can see where my interest lay.  Not only that was a gas station next door with 94, which, coincidentally, was about the temperature at 10am.

Shortly after leaving Hotsprings, the scenery started to change back to dry pine forest and hills.  It was very picturesque, although it was evident there had been a fire here in the not too distant past. The road began to wind up and over the hills, following what must have been the path of least resistance when wagon trains came through here.  This made for epic riding which was to continue until Bonners Ferry.  Joining the #200, heading northwest towards Thompson Falls, the scenery continues to green up and is considered a scenic by-way, throwing vistas and corners together as one.

Thompson Falls is a little town with all the amenities a 'cycler could need.  Great views too...
Arriving in Thompson Falls, there were no signs of falls, but I did find a spray wash to blast the bugs off and we sat overlooking the Clark Fork River.  This, like nearly all the rivers in the northwestern states, is heavily dammed.  There was a weir here, and while picnicking in the shade, guzzling fluids we bumped into two women who chatted about Canada, Canadian Husbands and politics.  Trump came up.  These two gentle, polite and warm-hearted women were going to vote for him, because, "Hillary is a liar."  What do you say?

By the time we reached Noxon, just prior to turning off onto the much awaited #56 and heading north, it was scorching.  Over 100F we pulled into a deserted lay-by - the Americans do such a good job of these - and took a rest.

Nixon in Noxon.  Another stop on the Clark Fork River, another watergate.

This public rest stop on a desolate highway was created by AVISTA the local hydro company to offer great views of their project and as a goodwill gesture to the locals.  It was barren, but well tended and had these great water spritzers for bikers...After soaking ourselves - literally- the next fifteen minutes was heaven..until we were bone dry again.
 

Turning right onto the #56 from just after Noxon and riding to Troy was amazing.  It was another...yes another... perfectly tarmacked, very lightly travelled (as in 2 cars and a truck) perfect ribbon of windy tarmack.  Elevation, curves and scenery.  Wildlife too.  We had be warned about moose (much of the north eastern side of the highway in spots was perfect marsh woods for them), but not about mountain goats.  


They're only skittish if you stop, apparently Darwin's theory has left us with only road-safe goats...
We didn't stop in troy, but it looked like a nice place.  More beauty...what to do!  Bonner's Ferry was much lauded as a final destination for us, but, luckily we had booked into the Edgewater BW hotel in Sandpoint.  Bonner's Ferry had some quaint shops, and nice downtown, but I'm glad we had chosen to press on for another half hour and reach Sandpoint, that is, until we got lost in Sandpoint's maze of dead end, one way, no left turn sides streets.  With a small scale map and no GPS, we had to resort to - I know, I know, asking for directions.  Of course, he'd never heard of it, he spent to much time trying to get surreptitious looks at my wife's derriere.

In Bonners Ferry for a Beer and Bite.
Ahh, but Sandpoint was worth it.  It's a great town - very picturesque and full of great eateries.  We got the hotel, decamped, and went for a swim.  Later I completed the onerous task of oiling the chain - the sum total maintenance needed on the trip (read it and weep, you Harley riders).

Pend Orielle Lake (1150 feet deep!).  There was a nice collection of racing sailing hardware moored here.  Not bad for a lake.  A lake where the US Navy tests subs, weapons and sonar...I kid you not.
 
Food that night was excellent and a short walk away at Arlos Ristaurante... It gets mixed reviews on Trip Adviser, but all I can say is it was excellent while we were there.  Great food, great service, very reasonable, great views from the deck of the passing boat traffic, and a honking big black spider which dangled down over the next table from the parasol and frightened the annoying vegetarian away.   Can't say better than that.

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Going to the Sun Ride, Day Four: Glacier National Park -Lethbridge, AB, Chief Mountain Border Crossing to Lake McDonald Lodge



Glacier National Park - the furthest  point of our trip.  The place where we stop making easting, carve the peaks of the continental divide, and start the westing back to the Pacific coast.  The Going to the Sun Road was the raison d'etre for our ride; this made all that had come before...worth it. 

Day 4 Click to Enlarge
Day 4s objective was to get to Lake McDonald Lodge in the heart of Glacier National Park.  It's not a long route really, but with all the magnificent scenery in southern Alberta and northern Montana pulling at your attention, every corner, every vista was to be devoured.  Hungrily ripping through the scenery and tugging it through the vitreous humour, your gray matter gets a stomach full.  Sure a few snaps with an iPad will give you the gist, but not the scale, the shear magnificence of the landscape.  Don't think I've seen pretty magnificent scenery before? I live in British Columbia on Vancouver Island.  'Nuff said.  No matter how well traveled you are, how much you're enjoying the perfect rhythm of the black top on your canyon-carver, you'll be pulling over every few minutes to suck these panoramas in.  

Leaving Lethbridge at sunrise, not much happens until you start to reach Cardston.  Then, in the distance you start to see an amazing contrast: flat prairie backstopped by amazing snow covered peaks...


Through Cardston, the riding is fun now: there's a coolness in the air, the road starts to undulate, gently curving now: you're at a comfortable 110, and you've been here before.  Your deja vu-addled brain starts to flip memories up like a Rolodex in your mind's-eye as you reel off the miles, trying to pull the recollection from that slow, syrupy quagmire of a mind you've developed lately. Then it hits you - superimposed on your visor, you're riding through that Windows XP desktop theme.  

Taking the left from AB#5 onto AB#6 20km west of Mountainview, AB, you head south.  Now you're in it.  Scenery, everywhere.  Empty vistas, empty roads, you pull past the only truck you've seen for hours, and the bike compresses nicely as you rock through the next sweeper and up, up up.  Pulling over, to the west, you see the Waterton Lakes National Park that straddles the international border.  Stunning.  The roads here are beautifully surfaced too. Is this the old Albertan coffers?  Canadian National Park service shillings?  Or is it a "Welcome to Canukistan, my US red-necks, where roads are like magic-carpets, and taxes are good!"?  




The viewpoints are coming thick and fast now, but the signage is threatening us with an international border crossing.  No GPS means that I don't know how far it is, so I'm loathe to pull over at each and every stop.  Glimpsing the panorama's, one in particular, I'm torn, but carry on climbing, carving and curving to what seems like the top of the world.  A car with Montana plates, the first car we've seen for a while, trundles slowly down the grade, as if it is still accelerating, and then there it is: the Chief Mountain border crossing.  The US signage increases, the speed limit incrementally slows you down - still in kmh, until you're adjacent to a small, woodsy log-cabin-like lodge, with a single border guard, aged about 17 telling you he's the luckiest guy in the world to have this posting.  He implores you not to remove your helmet, "Sir," and to enjoy your stay in the US.  I'm stunned.  In climbing have we traveled back in time to a pre 9-11 epoc? Or is the rarefied air softening edges and diluting the old rhetoric?   Whatever, it's a quick salute and we're off, now rolling down hill, the signage now in MPH, and we're in the US of A.

The first thing you notice in rock that gives the border crossing its name. Actually it's the second thing you notice.  The first thing you notice are signs warning you of free-ranging cattle.  And bingo: there they are - cows taking shade under overhanging branches or wandering along the verges of the road. 



Close encounters of the bovine-kind have you thinking you're seeing Devils Tower from the movie.  Equally as stunning as its Wyoming cousin, Chief Mountain has what we used to call Presence.  Incongruous yet familiar, I have never seen anything like it.  Deja-vu again.


All this scenery was making us hungry.  So a smooth unwinding ride down to the village of St. Mary was where we found the diner, with requisite bikes parked outside that screamed "land of cheap goods and services."



Unfortunately, the Park Cafe was the antithesis of that.  We stopped for a coffee and breakfast slice of pie.  Iris ordered the tea, and kept her Dutch sagacity to herself as I let my stomach do the thinking.  PIE!  Huckleberry PIE!

Ordering the pie was easy.   Finding the pie was another matter...  It was two fingers wide at its largest breadth, and about as long.  Height?  They're Americans, I hear you cry: it must have been towering!  Why I bet it was Chief Mountain tall?!!  Nope.  More like Beaver lodge height.  Tiny.  TINY.  But what was huge was the bill.  Hot tea, coffee, slivver of pie, one small hollow ball of iced-cream.  $15.50 US;$23.85 CDN.  The conversion rate I can stomach.  But $10.50 US for a micro slice of pie and a dob of frozen milk?  And you Republicans can't blame this on Obama-care: there's no tax!  Let this be a warning to you: don't stop at the Park Cafe in St. Mary right before the Glacier National Park entrance...I shoulda known better!


Oh, but it was soon forgotten as we entered Glacier National Park and began to swoop along its pristine magnificence.  The entrance fee for motorcycles is $25. Iris did all the negotiations, so I'm not if that included just me, me and her or other permutation.  I was too awe-struck to haggle. Riding from east to west along the Going to the Sun Road seemed the way to go at this time of day.  So, in order, here are few snaps.  Less talk, more pics.


 Get there early...Part of the beauty is the isolation...
 Radiant in her magnificence; Saint Mary Lake isn't bad either.

 Look at the size of 'em!  Heads-up: mountain goats roam everywhere.

The roads are silken strips of gossamer wending their way through the picture-postcard alpine wilds.  Nice to know my pie is funding something.
Stop often, lest you topple thousands of feet to your bike's doom and get a closer view of the valley floor than you required.  


Above: The Continental Divide: much like a butterfly beating its wings in South America can cause a hurricane in the Caribbean, it is said that you can urinate from this rock and cause a Tsunami in Puget Sound.  


Above and below: Ah, lines of symmetry, latus rectum and parabolas.  This trip was educational too.  (Yes, there is usage of rectum which isn't rude, Andy.)





 Logan Pass is the continental divide.  There are boardwalks, viewing platforms and free alpine air stops.  



 Stunning peaks & valleys: amazing how those pert peaks were cleaved by glaciers.  

Above: Again, stop often, & keep yer eyes on the road...
 Get there early.  Logan Pass, at the top, has lots of parking but will fill early.  That's ok, you're on a bike.  Plenty of places to stuff the bike.
Lots of folks ride both ways. Start early, the traffic gets noticeably heavier by mid afternoon.  Most people seemed to be going east to west.  I'm not sure if that was just this day, but it certainly seemed that the traffic was heavier in that direction when we stopped at any viewpoint. 
Speed limit is 25mph in the alpine sections; 45mph below.  Roads are narrow; rock falls are frequent; drivers are distracted.
 I'm not sure why I had to pass at all, let alone on a double yellow.  But as the afternoon thickened, there were lots of these Glacier Shuttles which tend to block the view if you get caught behind them (though, of course, my eyes were on the road...)


Coming down the other side, the eastern end of the Ride to the Sun Road, there was a river which was perfect for wading...Butterflies (painted lady? comma?  fritillary?) would land and drink salt...

While this was a long day, it was an easy day.  Easy on the eye, easy on the mood and easy on the body.  So what better place to stop than the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park and on the Go to the Sun Road?  It's rhetorical...go there, you'll see what I mean.  Reasonable too!  And the views? As expected.  Beautiful.  The beer is good too!


The beach outside our cabin.  A full blown T-storm blew in for 30 mins while we eased into the late afternoon which is typical this time of year.  It was gone by beer o'clock.
As per the Man-Code: Some Cabin shots, just to convince your prospective pillion that it is really as I say...

 Beer on the veranda...


 The Lodge.  You feel like you're in Switzerland...



All in all, that was a great, great day for a ride.


Day Five: Lake McDonald Lodge, MT to Sandpoint, ID,via Thompson Falls, MT, Troy, MT and Bonners Ferry, ID.

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