Today for the first time on the ride we start with the Rockies in clear view. The majestic snow capped peaks span the entire horizon to the West as far as the eye can see.
They seem an impenetrable Wall and I wonder how the original settlers must have gasped at the idea of crossing them in covered wagons.
There is a long slow climb out of Cut Bank and at the top we are greeted with a vast deep green plain before the peaks rise. Suddenly Montana has gone from pale yellow wheat to lush verdant farms. Here there is a large population of Mennonites who have settled this area more than a hundred years ago next within the Blackfoot Indian Reservation.
As two of us pedal West the Mountains grow . The Wildflower with me has never seen mountains before and cannot believe their size…more importantly she cannot comprehend how we are going to go over them.
I point out where our mountain pass is to the North and explain we are going through them, not over them but it brings her little relief.
Ahead of us is the town of Browning, the central community of the Blackfoot Tribe. In the past this group of Native Indians had not been too receptive to our riders and I approach it will a little trepidation. As we turn North to pick up a back road to St Mary’s at the base of Glacier Park we coast down a long hill into town. I tell the Wildflower not to get ahead and to stay close by as if in reality there would be anything I could do if we had a bad experience with locals.
This time , however, there is an immediate obvious difference I can see. Last time there were many intoxicated men wandering the streets, police in abundance, stray dogs, and dirt roads leading in and out of town. This time it looks like any other thriving American town…a beautiful new Community College to the right , thriving stores and shops, clean streets, productive people going about their work. As we head west on a newly paved road I see a large hotel and Casino and begin to understand. Money has flowed into this are in the past 4 years and has been put to good use. I later learn from Rick and Fran that extensive local corruption present before the Casino was cleaned up by outside forces with many of the Native American politicians and local police forced from power and even jailed. Whatever the reasons this town, this hub of the Reservation, has been amazingly transformed.
Just to the west of Browning highway 89 becomes a dirt road where crews from the State of Montana are busy at work with paving machines.
We are ferried through by a pickup 5 miles closer to the Rockies around large trucks and through the gravel roads…I don’t mind a respite and enjoy the ride. The driver is a Blackfoot Indian woman who explains that all her family has jobs rebuilding this road and that times are good.
There are five of us in her truck and at the end of the ride we thank her for her kindness and hop on our bikes.
Here we have three long climbs through the final set of foothills, each about 1500 feet high.
I pace myself but lose the Wildflower in the distance as she speeds up a hill. And then up ahead I see that she has stopped and as I approach she seems shaken and covered in dust. It seems a car came too close to her and she was forced off the road…fell…ends up scrapped elbow with a little blood and a wounded ego with a little more fear. For the last climb I tell her not to get so far ahead and stay close by where I will be behind.
As we crest the final ridge we can see to our direct left the pass through the Rockies we will take in the AM. Below us is Glacier Park entrance at St. Mary’s…6 miles down!
Here we are atop a ridge 2000 feet high and the road is nearly straight and pointing down, down, down. We know to watch for cows by the side of a road and let loose with our breaks and begin to coast. The speed builds for both of us and there are few cars around so the ride turns into a roller coaster blast down the side. I tap my breaks now and then to keep my speed below 40 mph but she lets loose and tops 47 mph.
At the bottom with all smiles we pull into an ice cream shop and sit in the warm sun remembering that thrilling slide.
The nights stay is within Glacier Park where the Rangers warm us of bear sightings and the need to be safe.
As the sun sets over the mountains just to our West the air becomes cold and we must dress in our sweats.
That night I awake to relieve myself in the brush, being careful not to disturb the bears as I seek relief.
Above me are billions of stars and a clear thick Milky Way.
I smile as I watch the heavens move slowly by and thank Those above for safe passage to this realm.
Tomorrow we go over the top
and into the Rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.