Sports

Cruising the Sun

Outdoor Essay

She sleeps quietly, a mantel of white around her shoulders.

Soon this beauty called Going-to-the-Sun Road will awaken from her winter sleep to the sounds of cars.

Until then, however, the more than 20 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road currently open to the public provide a glimpse of the solitude and peace of Glacier National Park. Road crews are still clearing debris and face the additional task this year of repairing damage from last fall’s devastating washouts.

Biking or hiking up Going-to-the-Sun Road you see the damage wreaked upon the highway last November, when heavy rain fell on several feet of new snow, causing washouts in many areas.

From Avalanche Creek up to Logan Pass, most drainages that cross Sun
Road are damaged. Guardrails have been completely washed out and rock and trees litter the roadway in places.

Huge piles of washed out rocks and gravel line the creek beds. Hiking from Avalanche Creek, the farthest you can drive beyond Lake McDonald, gives you a pleasant view along McDonald Creek. But with miles of the road to explore, a bicycle is the preferred means of transportation. The cycling crowd spans a wide demographic, from racers wearing Lycra and riding high-tech carbon-frame bikes, to children on bicycles with kickstands and streamers. Many cyclists stop at the Loop, about 12 miles from Avalanche Creek, and turn around. Others, however, continue up the narrow roadway that clings to the sides of cliffs and mountains.

Our group last month made it as far as the Weeping Wall. Having ridden
more than 20 miles uphill, I was happy to turn back about four miles west of Logan Pass. I knew a blistering downhill run was about to commence. As soon as we pointed our front tires downhill, gravity took over and the real fun began. We hit speeds of more than 30 mph in certain sections, and the alpine air stung my face.

This time of year, before Going-to-the-Sun Road opens to cars, you never know what you might see in this wild landscape. The angular Heaven’s Peak dominates the skyline south of Sun Road. Looking across the McDonald Creek valley you can see where an enormous avalanche calved away from the north face of Heaven’s Peak and left a deep, wide fracture line.

There’s also potentially dangerous wildlife. As we neared the home stretch on our downhill run last Saturday, veteran Whitefish cyclist Don Nelson, told us how he once encountered a large grizzly bear in the roadway.

When he saw the grizzly in the road along McDonald Creek, Nelson hit the brakes and jumped off his bike. Nelson and the grizzly were caught in a showdown, with neither knowing quite what to do. Then the grizzly jumped across McDonald Creek in three swift bounds, stood on its hind legs and “woofed” at Nelson. Nelson smiles when he tells the story of coming face to face with a large grizzly bear; he knows it’s part of the magic of this place called Glacier.

A place − for a little longer − without cars.

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