Big Sky Country – Tuesday 24th to Thursday 26th May
Tuesday 24th May – Rexford Campground to Whitefish (Stage 20)
I set the alarm for 7am, as this was the first time we’d had to take our tent down & pack it all away. We were both dreading getting all the air out of our inflatable mattresses, as this had been a battle when we’d practiced in the UK! To cut a long story short, we had everything packed & loaded up by 8.30, which was in line with our expectations.
The previous evening, Misty had offered to open up The Frontier Bar for coffee & true to her word, she was waiting for us. After saying our goodbyes we headed for Eureka, which was only 8 miles down the road. It’s a great example of small town USA, where everything is organised in a grid & most of the retail & independent cafes & restaurants are near to the centre of town.
We stopped in Cafe Jax (thanks for the suggestion Tina) for breakfast. The food was spot on & we were made to feel really welcome. In the end it was a struggle to get moving again as we were so comfortable!
Leaving town we passed the Eureka Museum which celebrated its history as a logging town, where the logs were floated down the Tobacco river before being loaded aboard the railroad.
We would be on almost deserted backroads for the next 15 miles or so, as we made our way up & down short, steep hills under cover of the pine forest overhead. Every now & then we were provided with brief glimpses of the snowy-white mountains in the distance & the distinctive U valleys between the peaks.
We’d started under blue skies, but after breakfast the temperature dropped & the clouds moved in, threatening rain. However, something like a grey sky wasn’t going to affect our enjoyment of being at one with nature – we spotted eagles gliding on the thermals, we were surrounded by stunning scenery & the deer seemed to be as interested in us as we were in them! Deer in these parts seem to take a Mexican Standoff position – if we keep our distance, they’re prepared to stand their ground too.
As we reached a plateau, we passed a number of smallish lakes, each with an exotic name – my favourite was Thirsty Lake & needless to say, it was running a little low!
We descended into Fortine & re-joined US 93 for the remainder of the ride. Whilst quiet by UK standards, we’ve become accustomed to small back roads, so the first few miles always take a little bit of time to adjust. The main two lane road was fairly flat for the next 15 miles or so, as we rode alongside Murphy & Dickey Lakes, passing the small town of Stryker.
As we rolled past Stillwater Lake, we spotted a bar that had a florescent ‘OPEN’ sign flashing, so we decided to explore further. It was an idyllic location with someone fishing in the weir at the end of the lake. We had a cup of instant coffee & a bar of chocolate & took in the view.
The remainder of the ride into Whitefish was aided by a gentle tailwind which helped no end! As the road looked like it stretched to the end of the universe, it was very much appreciated. Passing the last of the picturesque lakes, we switched to ranch country, with numerous little plots of land with corrals of horses. Ironically, many of the lakes, creeks, sideroads & properties included eagle in the title, yet this was one of the few places we didn’t see any of them.
Riding towards Whitefish we enjoyed one last descent into town, before crossing the main commercial district & eventually finding the Stumptown Inn – recently changed to Apres, although that useful gem of information wasn’t included on Booking.com! We spent a few hours sorting out our laundry & getting breakfast items for tomorrow morning, then it was time to head to The Great Northern Inn to toast another great day in the saddle – we had a few cheeky IPAs, as tomorrow is another rest day! This was another recommendation from Tina & it didn’t disappoint!
Stage Stats – 63 miles, 2,835 feet of climbing. Rolling day with lots of short but steep kickers that gradually drained the legs.
Wednesday 25th May – Whitefish (Rest Day)
We were both up bright & early for breakfast of cereal, fruit, coffee & juice. As it was raining, we decided to delay our trip into town for a bit, so we didn’t get going until about 11am. First task was to drop off both bikes at Runner Up Sports, so they could be serviced – after over 1,000 miles (most of it in the mountains), the gears & brakes needed to be adjusted & it was time for all the mechanical parts to be checked over. While our friendly mechanic went about tuning the bikes, I headed off to Glacier Cyclery to buy a pair of armwarmers (I lost one of mine somewhere along Koocanusa Lake!) & a pair of waterproof gloves.
We then went for a bit of a mooch around town, heading to the lake & beach first of all. The skies were still very moody & the clouds were very much threatening rain, so we took a few photos for posterity. This would be a great place to relax & watch the world go by in the summer!
We just beat the heavy rain as we walked back into town & found Fleur Bake, where we stopped for coffee & cake – a rare treat on the adventure so far!
We picked up our bikes as we headed home – a really efficient & friendly service. As we continued back to the motel we passed a small art gallery that has a couple of exhibits on display outside.
As we’d eaten out the last few nights we both agreed that it would be a nice change to have something fresh, so we went shopping – the excitement of a long distance cyclist!! We’re heading to Glacier National Park tomorrow, so depending on weather we have everything from a 45 to 70 mile route planned – I think we’re both secretly hoping for the long ride!!!
Thursday 26th May – Whitefish to West Glacier Village (Stage 21)
In a break with tradition, I’m splitting today’s ride into two separate parts – this section will cover from Whitefish to the gates of Glacier National Park. The National Park deserves a post of its own.
We left Whitefish at about 9.45am under sunny skies (the day was forecast for rain) & a gentle breeze. We immediately picked up a small two-lane that followed the railroad closely enough that we would here Casey Jones tooting his whistle every now & then. The early miles took us past large working farms on long straight roads – it seemed like every corner was a 90 degree left or right hander.
At Meadow Lake we saw how the other half lived as there was a beautiful golf course set in the grounds of a private resort & spa. I poked my phone through the fence to take a photo! We swooped down a fast, but ruler straight descent into Columbia Falls. Here we got our first glimpses of the big mountains in the far background.
Joining the 486, we climbed up into the Flathead National Forest, where eagles were once more in abundance, gliding on the thermals above us. We then immediately gave the feet back on a long, swooping descent, at the bottom of which we turned onto a small back lane. Hidden amongst the pine trees were summer cabin rentals with PRIVATE PROPERTY – DO NOT TRESPASS posted along the boundaries. Suddenly we emerged from the forest & stumbled across the Blankenship Bridge – a historic single track road across the Middle Fork Flathead River.
After about a mile the tarmac ended & was replaced by compacted gravel. This really did put this morning’s ride into the adventure category – deserted backroads, gravel & huge vistas! The gravel carried on for about 2 miles before we re-joined tarmac & passed the exclusive Lake Five Resort – I quickly cycled in, took a photo & left!
Just after rejoining the US 2, we spotted an old Great Northern railway carriage advertising coffee, so we had to investigate further. The Great Northern Resort offers accommodation, white water rafting & hiking as well as selling coffee to people like us! We were surprised & pleased to find that there was a cycle path (the old US 2) that took us the final couple of miles to the Glacier National Park gateway. This is where today’s adventure would really begin!!
Stage Stats (Part One)– 30 miles, 1,500 feet of climbing. Rolling day with a couple of 5 minute climbs.