Day 12: Fish Creek Campground – Whitefish

When I left the campground today I had two choices: Camas Road northwest to North Fork Rd to Columbia Falls, or ride a little ways on Highway 2 out of the park and take Belton Stage / Blankenship roads to North Fork Rd. The first alternative is about 10 miles longer but avoid Hwy 2 entirely, so I chose it.

Camas Rd is a very nice paved road that climbs very gradually away from Lake McDonald. There are some great views up there.
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Unfortunately, the first ~10 miles of North Fork Rd are unpaved and very dusty. Choking, can’t even see down the road clouds of dust every time a car passed.  And the surface was very loose gravel that was pushed into washboards by the traffic. It was horrible to ride on; the only compensation is that I did get to enjoy quite a bit of the NF of the Flathead.
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I passed this spectacular rock waterfall on the side of the road. The temperature was noticeably cooler in the spray and so I sat there having a snack and then replenished my water supply.

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Eventually the gravel gave way to pavement, and I passed the other end of Blankenship Rd. So if I had taken the other route, I could have avoided all of the dusty section of North Fork Rd.

There was a bit of climbing along the road and then a very long (miles), gradual downhill to Columbia Falls. I went back to the same grocery store to get lunch. Then I called Avis to see if there was any chance that I could pick up my car today instead of tomorrow — because if so, I’d go straight to the airport instead of to Whitefish. They said they hadn’t gotten back any cars yet today, so I headed out for Whitefish. I knew this route because I’d already done it a few days ago and it went by quickly.

A few miles from Whitefish I passed a Hertz rental location that I had mentally bookmarked the last time I went by. This time, I figured what the heck, I walked in and said, “This is completely out of the blue, but do you have any cars that can go to Butte today?” They told me that they own their own cars and don’t sent them out of town, but Hertz at the airport might have something. Amazingly, they did, and even more amazingly, they told me they’d drive it over from the airport because it would be cheaper for me to rent it at the in-town location than at the airport! They said it would be a bit, and I replied “a bit is good, because I’m going to the beach!”. And I boogied down the road as fast as I could to the Whitefish Beach, where I jumped in in my bike shorts and got cooled off in a hurry. About 1/2 hour later I was on my way back to the rental car place and I got there about 2 minutes before the car did. The car was a Dodge Grand Caravan and I was able to load the entire bike without even taking off the front wheel!

So I managed to make it back to Butte tonight and staying at the Super 8 where my own car is parked. In the morning I’ll return the van to the airport and then be on my way back home to Boulder. My vacation is over! :-(

Day 11: Polebridge – Fish Creek Campground

Had a very good night’s sleep at the hostel. Here are the “cabins” behind the hostel, which are really just a bunch of old trailers that have been parked there. To say that this place is funky is an understatement!

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First thing this morning, after using the lovely outdoor plumbing, was a ride down to the Merc to get breakfast. Polebridge, it turns out, is the gateway to the northwest corner of the park, and the bakery is packed with hikers and other park visitors.

Then back to the hostel to clean and lube my chain. The road here are incredibly dusty, and by yesterday my chain was so dirty it was making grinding noises and sometimes skipping. Luckily Oliver, the hostel owner, had some chain lube.  When I left it looked and sounds like new again.

Since today’s ride is a short 30 miles, I took a detour to see Bowman Lake. It was a steep climb of about 800 feet on a bumpy road with a lot of traffic. But it is pretty :

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The creature from Bowman Lake

On the way back I stopped at the Polebridge ranger station again to ask about the road closure sign I had seen. No problem for a bike, I was told. Ha!

Here’s the historic Polebridge ranger station built in 1922.

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It survived the fire in the late 90s but the namesake bridge was not so lucky and had to be rebuilt. BTW the bathrooms in that ranger station are the finest in Polebridge. :-)

After riding along for awhile I finally got some nice views of the north fork of the Flathead River. That’s one enormous river!

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Look at how clear that water is!

But alas the road doesn’t follow the river liked I hoped it would, and I spent most of the time riding in heavy forest.  Traffic dropped to zero once I passed the quartz creek Campground and finally I came to the closure.

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Note the smaller sign in front that says Ok for hikers and bikers. The fine print says, basically,  “don’t even think of going in here alone. ” oops! It was pretty freaky riding through the heavy forest and I was ringing my bell like a streetcar! Lol
So it turns out there are lots of downed trees on the closed road, which are a real pain in the butt when your bike weighs 60 pounds!

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Also the road kept crossing large creeks, which means big downhills to the bridge and then big up hills on the other side of each creek.

The weather forecast was 90% chance of a thunderstorm and sure enough it started to rain on me. It felt good because it was such a hot day.

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However, as it got heavier I decided to stop and put on my rain jacket. No sooner had I done so, the sun came out and I was roasting.
Here I am crossing Dutch Creek.  See how sunny it is again? .

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You can see the evidence of the forest fire all around.

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Finally I made it to the other end of the road closure!

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Within a mile I was at the fish Creek Campground. $8 for a hiker or biker including a shower! Fish Creek runs right into Lake McDonald.

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Day 10: Whitefish – Polebridge

Got a very late start today because I was having intestinal problems and so I was very reluctant to leave my hotel room. I finally rolled out of the hotel at 11. I  figured it would take about 5 hours to get to Polebridge but as usual I underestimated the difficulty.

The route starts out on a busy paved road in the east side of the lake but there is a bike path as far as the ski area and traffic dies quickly after that. There are lots of multi million dollar homes along the lake shore. Eventually the road turns to dirt and climbs gradually.

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There is tons of surface water up here – to the extent that I actually dumped out the hotel water that I brought with me. In some places there was a creek running down the hillside every few hundred yards!

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That is one big culvert!

I ran into a section of the road that was being graded and there were first – sized rocks all over the road. Luckily the graders blade wasn’t quite the full width of the road so there was a narrow strip that I could ride on.

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Upper Whitefish Lake was too beautiful for words. And it was practically deserted! If I had known about this place I would have planned to camp here.

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There was a very tough (and unexpected) climb up to red meadow Lake, then lots of downhill. I began to see my first tantalizing views of glacier np.

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I pulled into Polebridge at about 6:40.

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I grabbed a quick shower at the hostel.

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Then I headed over to the only restaurant in town for a glass of chocolate milk and a steak. Don’t judge me until you’ve cycled a mile in my shoes! :-)

This town is pretty interesting. It’s all off the power grid. Every building generates its own power and they all have satellite Internet and phone.

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The hostel has a mixture of electric lights and propane lamps. But it does have an Internet connection which I’m using right now!

Tomorrow I intend to ride the inside north fork road down to the Apgar campground. Since this is a pretty short and flat ride, I also plan to make a detour to see Bowman Lake as long as I am this close. It is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

Day 9: Whitefish

Rest day today. Kicked off my day with a massage at The Wave health club. Excellent! The therapist recommended that I spend the afternoon at the city beach on Whitefish Lake so I think I shall.

While eating some fish tacos at an outdoor table at the shopping mall I saw another bikepacker riding by. “Hey, divide rider” I yelled. He could not believe I had pegged him so fast. Then I told him I was also riding, but my packs were in my hotel room. He is from NH. He started in Banff and said he had been riding 100 miles a day on pavement because of the flooding in Alberta. Said he hadn’t seen any other riders till now. He was at the mall to buy bear spray at the sporting goods store.

There’s a bike path along the river that goes right to the beach. The lake is very nice. It’s weird to be swimming and see the ski area right there.
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And the beach is very popular.
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After spending the afternoon at the beach, I went to the library and used a computer there to reserve a spot at the north fork hostel for tomorrow night. Also researched where to go for dinner and found a BBQ joint. Here is the 3-meat platter at Piggyback BBQ:
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What a great deal for only fifteen bucks!

Afterwards I went back to my hotel to wash my clothes because I smelled like a smoked piggie. Not good for bear country! :-)

Day 8: Bigfork – Whitefish

As I left the campground I took this picture of Flathead Lake. This is as close as I got to it. I think it’s a shame that this is off route. I’m sure many riders go by without ever seeing the lake or the path along the Swan river.
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Almost all pavement today. This is just a very well settled (and well-to-do) corner of Montana. It was a very pretty day with clear skies and not too hot. It’s horse country. And look, an actual bike path!
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About 5 miles from Columbia falls I caught up with John again! We rode into town together where he wanted a sit down meal but I preferred a sandwich and a quart of chocolate milk from the grocery store. Funny how cheap that guy is but he loves to eat in restaurants. We said goodbye for the third time but this time it will probably be the last as he is heading east into Glacier tomorrow and I’m heading west to Whitefish today. BTW his blog is fenby.zxq.net. Check it out.

The last 10 miles into whitish were hard for me because I was just so ready for a rest! Got into town around 5pm and discovered that all of the nice hotels – even midrange hotels – were well over $100 per night! Since I was going to be here for two nights I did feel the need to economize so I ended up at the Cheap Sleep motel about a mile south of downtown. At first I was pretty depressed by the yellow cinder block walls and the icky green carpet, but the people here are very nice and I can see they are doing their best with what they’ve got. Plus in my room I met my new best friend :
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That’s real leather, bay-bee! I spend every moment that I’m not actually sleeping (like right now for example) in that chair!

Day 7: Condon – Big Fork

Today was a very easy day. I was feeling good, too, possibly due to the fantastic breakfast at the B&B.

I headed north up the highway to cold creek rd so that I wouldn’t have to backtrack 7 miles down the highway. I crossed the Swan river.
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I then noticed that my inReach was complaining about low battery. Poop, I had just passed a grocery store about a mile back up the highway. I but the bullet and went back. Unfortunately they did not have lithium batteries so I had to buy regular alkaline. The lithium lasted for 5 days ; the alkaline didn’t even last 1!

Today’s ride was on easy dirt road on the west side of the Swan river. There were lots of trees on either side of the road so no views. It got rather monotonous.

BTW, when there’s a sign that says road closed ahead you’d better believe it! Apparently they decided to put in a new bridge over this creek.
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To get an idea of how high that bank is, notice the man standing on the other side! I decided to bushwhack upstream a few yards to where the bank was more manageable.
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Lots of nice creeks to get water from again today.
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In the only real climb of the day, Crane Mountain, I unexpectedly caught up with John. He started that morning at Peck Lake, where he had wild camped the night before. That was a few miles further up the route than where I got on. We were both impressed that I had caught him – after all, he’s got 20 years on me and he’s much stronger. Must have been my fantastic breakfast.

We were both going to Bigfork, which is slightly off the route, for different reasons. I wanted to see if I could contact some folks I know who live there and John needed to visit the bike shop. A couple of days ago, John was extolling the virtues of rim brakes for touring in that they don’t overheat like discs can. Of course, he admitted, they do wear down your rims eventually. Sure enough, within 24 hours of making that comment, his rear brake started making a thumping noise and it turned out that his rim was splitting! The guys in the shop couldn’t help him because they don’t stock rim brake compatible rims. Everybody uses disc brakes nowadays.

The ride into Bigfork is on a bike path along the Swan river. That’s one big river!
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We had dinner at Grille 459 and I had their eponymously-named 459 burger. This was a cardiac bomb consisting of a bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg and a slice of ham on top! It was absurd ; even for a hungry biker it was almost too much.

After dinner I went in search of a hotel but it was Saturday night in Bigfork and everything for under $200 was sold out. So I ended up camping at Wayfarer State Park which was quite nice actually. The campground was full but they have one site saved for cyclists to share. John refused to stay there on principle because they charge per person for the shared site and it would have cost more for the two of us (15@) than a single regular site would have cost. I thought he was nuts.