A Gate And A Gift In Glacier National Park

October 13, 2016 - Guest blogger Mike Howard rode east across Adventure Cycling's Northern Tier route in 2016.

While riding cross-country, traveling east mostly on Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier, Mike Howard encountered a problem half way up Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. 

I arrived at Glacier National Park two days before the Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass opened. Cyclists were riding the lower portion of the road, and I asked park rangers if bikes could go up and over the pass to East Glacier Park. One maintenance worker even radioed up to a road crew chief to inquire for me. The word I got was, “Yes, before 11:00 am, or after 4:00 pm.” So, I camped at a campground near McDonald Lake and tucked in early. At 4:00 am I woke up to a soft rain on the tent and packed up fast, headed into the dark with lights. A black bear turned and ran into the woods in front of me. Good morning! I stopped later under the eve of a bathroom to fix coffee and breakfast out of the drizzle. Nice.

I continued upward alone in the quiet — the whole of Glacier National to myself. Half way up, I came to a second gate, “No Entrance Past This Point.” Hmmm … I’m half way up, it’s raining in the valley, and no way I’m going back. Experience told me the rain would stop as I climbed, so I continued, and the rain stopped. Then the fog came across the valley and a light snow began. Flurries really, no problem for me anyway. 

I got about two miles from the top and there on the road is a backhoe working. Evidently, an avalanche had left some debris on the road. The park maintenance fellow jumped down and said, “Didn’t you see that sign down there? Road closed.”

“Well, sorry, but yesterday they said it was OK for bikes.”

Backhoe guy, “You need to go back down. If a ranger sees you up here, you’ll get a fine, and sent back down.”

“Really, sorry, but if I go back down, it’s raining in the valley, and I might get hypothermia getting wet, trying to ride around Route 2.”

Backhoe guy, “Where is your vehicle?”

“San Diego.”

Pause. He looks at me in almost disbelief. I tell him I have a lot of experience in the mountains backpacking, I’m prepared, I’ve got lights on the bike ...

Backhoe guy, “Jeez ... OK, go ahead, but if a ranger sees you, he might fine you and send you back down. Just go.” He waves his hand, “Be safe, ride careful. I’ll radio my other truck up top to watch out for you.”

“I will, thank you very much, you’re great! I’ll be OK and won’t dawdle up top.”

Backhoe guy, “OK, be careful.”

I get up top and it’s snowing harder — two inches on the ground. I snap a quick photo of the sign, watching for rangers, and head down the east side.

It was the ride of my life. I had the park to myself. It was very much like having a gift from the federal government all wrapped up just for me. For that moment in time, I had Glacier National Park and Going-to-the-Sun Road, just for me. I was gifted the road for a morning without cars or people. Just me, one bear, and one backhoe guy. Absolutely the best ride of my life!

About that Beanie Baby bear: It belonged to my mother, she passed away several years ago. I take the bear on bike tours for good luck and lots of people give the bear a smile or a laugh. I’ve even had a few people call out from their cars, “Love the bear!” Anyway, I was glad to have that bear on this trip.


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Mark Krause November 21, 2016, 11:43 AM

Nice article, I can only image how wonderful it was to have this summit all to yourself. Did this E-to-W in the early 80s. Enjoyed our chat yesterday and the just prior to your trip. (Mark on the LeMond...)

Heavens Peak Photography October 13, 2016, 11:00 AM

Interesting read. Glad you had a safe and enjoyable experience.

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