This summer I’ve fallen in love with riding my bike on the gravel roads of the Flathead Valley. With the pandemic surging and many of my usual spots in the mountains and on the rivers more crowded than what I’m comfortable with, I find myself taking to the quiet roads of the lower valley, admiring the great farms and ranches beneath the borders of the mountains. As a cyclist, gravel roads mean less traffic and when I do encounter a vehicle they’re often courteous and slow down to make sure tires don’t blast me with gravel or dust.
It’s on these rides where my mind can roam. I mutter out my worries, mumble out my prayers, and cast my dreams into the blue sky. I talk to cows as I pass by fields but they don’t seem too keen on lending a sympathetic ear. Mostly, I pedal, legs churning as the tractors bale hay and swallows dip and dive into the many back channels and sloughs of the Flathead River. More often than not on these quiet, meditative rides I can’t believe just how beautiful this valley is, and what wonders it holds. Glacier National Park is certainly the crown jewel and this fertile valley shimmers in her shadow. I’m thankful to have discovered these routes during this tumultuous time, reminding me of how natural beauty provides a much-needed balm.
This quieter journey of mine reveals the increasing residential development, and I note new homes built on farmland, often startled when I make a turn in the road and see another excavator dig a foundation. This is not new news, as we’ve read that home sales are increasing and construction is booming. Watching it grow and spread from the pace of my bike is a unique experience, a slower observation at what is changing, and what remains the same. Hay is still baled, the cows still roll their eyes at me when I pass, and I still chuckle aloud at the “Private Sign Do Not Read” tacked to a fence along one of my favorite routes.
I hope the road stays dirt, the river stays clean, the houses don’t crowd the fields. And maybe just once, the cows will tell me something good.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.