630km Lakeside to Cochrane
The Rocky Mountains loom in front of us as we pedal up the western side of Flathead Lake to the tune of a steady stream of jumbo-sized RVs rumbling past. There’s no doubt about it. North Americans like their cars big and their campers even bigger. Motorhomes the size of a large bus are commonplace, almost always coupled with an equally oversized vehicle like the gas-guzzling Hummer being towed behind them.
In campsites, we are more often than not the only tent around, save for the occasional youth group and as we sit around the campfire, we ponder just what it costs to buy and run one of those big rigs. Later someone tells us that they can easily cost over $200,000 and you can get 30-year mortgages on them! This staggers us. For the same price, surely you could travel in a nice car and stay in upmarket hotels or rent holiday accommodation for many years? We just don’t get it.
What we do get is the fabulous scenery. The road climbs gently out of Big Fork and swings around the bottom of Glacier National Park, where the rumble of traffic is now put to the back of our minds by gushing waterfalls, elk crashing through the forest and white mountain goats licking minerals off the exposed rocks. The snowy mountains are always in view, framing this area of outstanding natural beauty.
It’s a day for celebration in other ways too. It’s June 12th and Andrew is turning 35 today. He is surprised to wake up to a few presents on the picnic table along with his morning coffee! “Where did you get those?” he asks, forgetting just how much you can buy at the supermarket these days. Inside the old tourist brochures he finds a new dish cloth to replace our dirty rag of a thing, a big bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups and some spicy chili peppers to put on his pasta. We also stop at a nearby deli for some luxury lunch fixings and wine to toast many more happy birthdays to come.
Early the next morning we are working our way up to Marias Pass and the Continental Divide. “It’s all downhill from here!” a man yells to us as we take our photo under the sign and wouldn’t it be great if that were true but we’re barely down the other side when we feel the need to pedal a little bit against the headwind to get ourselves into East Glacier.
An incredible craving for protein overtakes us coming into the town so we make a dash for the store and buy everything we need for a top-notch omelette. Andrew takes over as chef and – buoyed by his recent success at flipping pancakes – decides he will try the same thing with his eggs. Some of them land on the ground but most stay in the pan and are flipped quite well. A partial success but not an experiment he’s likely to repeat! There’s nothing quite so traumatic to a cyclist as losing food.
Restored by our second breakfast, we set off in search of Sam and Jo, yet two more kind WarmShowers angels who open their home to passing cyclists. We find them quickly and soon our tent is up in the backyard and we’re chatting to Jo about life in East Glacier – a town that comes to life with the tourists in the summer and then shrinks to a group of hard-core locals in winter.
Sam is a ranger in Glacier National Park so we drive up to see him and do a little hike in the few hours left until his shift finishes. We decide to tackle an ambitious uphill trail – thinking that our bike training means we’re in good shape – but hiking requires a whole different set of muscles and soon we’re huffing and puffing and stopping for many rest breaks. The views are amazing and our aching calves will remind us of our exertion for several days to come.
We stay up chatting with Sam and Jo until it’s well past dark, which is late because the sun doesn’t set until 10pm these days, and then drag ourselves out of the tent the next morning to start our last leg to the border. Up we go, past mountains reflected in still lakes and forests that show the scars of recent fires. We are flying until we get through St. Mary and then the storm clouds roll in. The skies get darker and darker and then open up on us. “Keep going! Pedal harder!” Andrew yells, trying encourage Friedel to keep moving through a torrent of rain and flashes of lightning. There’s nothing Friedel hates more than lightning and she always has the instinct to stop and jump in a ditch, no matter how far away it is.
The last few miles to the border are torturous. It’s steeply uphill, the rain pours down and just as it stops the mosquitos emerge. We quickly discover that 10km/hour (our standard uphill pace) is not enough to keep them at bay. We joke that they are our welcoming committee for our return to Canada.
We’re shattered when we finally spot the border and dying to get to a campsite just on the other side so the few minutes it takes to scan our passports and answer the questions of the border guards seem very long indeed. It’s not until later, when we’re all set up in camp, with dinner in our bellies, that we start to reflect on the strange scenario of being home.
If we stop cycling this winter (and we do feel we need a break), there will be no more border crossings, no more languages to learn and no more nights in our tent. As much as we crave change, we fear it.
We reflect on this the next day as we head for the flat prairies, or so we think. Actually, we spend the next 3 days working our way over the fingers of the Rocky Mountains. It’s an almost constant up-down-up-down ride, punctuated by plenty of rain storms, gusting winds and the occasional surprise at finding things that we remember as being distinctly Canadian. We try to recreate our long-lost Canadian accent by saying ‘eh’ at the end of every sentence and ‘right on’ when we’re pleased with something but it seems a bit contrived. Perhaps by the end of the summer, it’ll seem natural, eh?