Monday, August 20, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 6

What a difference a day can make.

When I left Havre, Montana, this morning it was pretty much the same as the past couple of days...prairie, prairie, and more prairie. You reach a point where you just start to enjoy all that grass and can see it for the beautiful piece of earth that it is.

In this panorama, which I took just west of Havre, you can see the Bear Paw Mountains about 10 miles south of the city. These were the first mountains I recall seeing on the journey out, but they certainly aren't the last. Not long after I left Havre, I noticed another small range off to the north of US-2. It was the Sweet Grass Hills. They're practically on the Canadian border, and I could see them for almost 100 miles as I traveled along US-2 between Havre and Shelby. I stopped and did another panorama at the top of a hill about half way between Shelby and Cut Bank.

It's no wonder you can see even these smaller mountains for such a long distance, the land is relatively flat, even when it's hilly. It reminds me of the lesson we learned in science class that if you could rub your finger over a version of the earth the size of a baseball it would feel as smooth as a ball from a pool table. The only thing that kept me from seeing the northern part of the Rockies any sooner than I did was the haze that had settled on the horizon. I saw the southern part of the range first, about 30 miles out, and the northern section came into view not long after.

Northern Rockies and Glacier National Park, east of East Glacier
One of the things you don't realize, as you travel west of Shelby, is that you're steadily climbing uphill. By the time you get to East Glacier, on the edge of Glacier National Park, you're at about 4,800 feet. The highest elevation you hit on US-2 traveling through the mountains is 5,200 feet. This meant most of the trip after East Glacier was downhill, descending almost 2,000 feet by the time you get to Columbia Falls/Kalispell. Needless to say, I got great gas mileage on that last tank of gas! :)

One of the things that has been going through my mind over the past couple of days is thoughts about the first settlers to this part of the country. I've spent hours pondering the thoughts that might have been going through their heads as they slowly made their way across the plains. At what point does someone look around at all that barren grass and think, "This is it. This is where we're going to build our homestead." I also can't imagine the process of seeing mountains in the distance...anywhere from 3 to 4 days before you might get to them. I don't think we have any appreciation for that method and pace of travel today. :)

I'm going to be heading back east tomorrow, reversing course if you will, so that I can tour Glacier National Park. I'll be entering the park from West Glacier and taking the Going-To-The-Sun Road to the other side of the park. I need to do a little research yet this evening to see what kind of cool stops I might be able to make.

A side note here, I'm finding that bees seem to love Black Max. Anytime I stop for a stretch, I come back to the bike and find anywhere from a few bees to a dozen bees swarming around it. I'm not afraid of bees, so it's really no big deal. I just can't figure out if there's actually something about the bike they like, or if they're just checking out all the dead bees that are squished all over it. Bees seem to be the one insect that inhabits the plains and my coat, the bike, and helmet get covered in bee goo pretty quickly each day.

Black Max, covered in bee guts
I believe I'll push past the 2,000 mile mark on this trip tomorrow. It will be fun to reach that milestone while touring Glacier National Park.

Short jaunt today, a little less than 300 miles.
1928 miles so far
Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

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Chad Cole