July 14 2009 by Jason Fogelson
I woke up with particular vigor on this morning. It would be our last full day of riding for this trip, and we were taking our one real detour, into Glacier National Park.
And it was my birthday.
Does it get any better than that? A perfect day, a great motorcycle to ride, my ideal companion on the pillion, a dream destination and it's my birthday?
We enjoyed a quick cold breakfast, then checked out of the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge and hit the road. Instead of following US 93 South all the way to Missoula, we turned left on Route 40 as we departed from Whitefish and met up with US 2 East, which leads directly to Glacier National Park about 24 miles away.
As we gained elevation, I knew that special things were in store. We would be riding along the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, which cuts through the center of the park. It was still too early in the season to pass all the way along the 53 mile length of the road, but we would be able to go 16 miles up to Avalanche Gorge Trail.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel that opened up Glacier National Park to motor vehicle travel in 1933. So much snow falls on the road up at Logan's Pass that it takes until early June to plow a clear path. The views are spectacular all the way up and down the road.
We stopped and took pictures at St. Mary's Lake, one of the most breathtaking spots I've ever seen in my entire life. We rode up to Avalanche Gorge Trail and parked Monty, dismounting to hike the 1 mile trail up the gorge and through the ancient cedar forest. The air was sharp and clean, the views spectacular and the whole sense of nature around us overwhelmingly beautiful.
Finally, we had to leave the park, and drive back to Missoula. We stopped for lunch at Bob's Diner in Hungryhorse, and we had another one of those fortuitous encounters. An elderly local man, Roy, struck up a conversation. He wore a Harley-Davidson hat, commemorating his visit to the York, Pennsylvania Assembly Plant, so I knew he was no casual biker. Roy asked us where we were headed, and if we had planned our route. Our plan was to take the main road back to Missoula, but Roy had other plans for us.
"What you're going to do, you're going through this canyon, past the Sinclair Station and you'll see an A&W Drive-In. At the light, you're going to take a left. Then take that down until you hit a 'T' intersection. You can either go right, to Kalispell, or left. You're going to go left. You're not going to Kalispell. You're going down the east side of Flathead Lake." I nodded, trying to memorize the directions. "If you like farmland, and rolling hills and a lake and beautiful scenery, you're going to love this ride."
I do love farmland and rolling hills and a lake and beautiful scenery, so we scrambled up onto Monty's back and followed Roy's directions. He was right. The ride was beautiful, with cherry orchards along the banks of the Flathead interspersed with farmer's homesteads and vacation cottages.
When we rejoined the main highway below the lake, Roy had another detour for us - a ride to the National Bison Range. A few miles south of Ronan, we swung off of US 93 for a country loop that took us to the entrance of the 18,500 acre wildlife refuge. We couldn't ride through and look for the small herd of 350 - 500 Bison who occupy the range. Apparently, they would see two humans perched on a motorcycle as somewhat of a challenge, and we wouldn't be safe. But we enjoyed the journey, nevertheless.
Back on US 93, we encountered the toughest part of our ride: Construction. Road crews had turned US 93 into a rough gravel road for what seemed like 10 miles. It was some of the most difficult riding I've ever had to do, two-up, fully-loaded in heavy stop-and-go traffic and nearly 90 degree heat. I was tired and hot and nervous, but having spent nearly 1000 miles on Monty, I was completely familiar with the bike. We made it back onto solid pavement, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
After 220 miles of riding, we returned to the Best Western Grant Creek Inn for a final night of vacation, preceded by a final soak in the hot tub. Our best ambition to explore Missoula was thwarted by the siren call of the MacKenzie River Pizza Company right next door to the hotel. When I confessed to Robin that I would be happier eating there than in a fancy restaurant downtown, she threw her arms around me in joy. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best, even on your birthday.
Next: Missoula, Montana and Home again