Revised – Why The Road Is So Lonely at 7:00 AM in Glacier Park: IronVan Almost Becomes DeadVan
*Updated since I fell asleep posting the original!
Well, tonight I’m thanking my lucky stars. Today was a most unusual day, and despite being almost too tired to stay awake, I just got to share my latest adventures with whomever is reading me out there.
Today was a glorious, unfathomable day of Montana weather. Forecast for a high in the mid 70’s, sunny, and not a cloud in sight. Wanting to take advantage of this rare episode of good weather, and with the park nearly open and not packed with tourist, I saddled up this morning and hit the road at around 6:45 AM today.
Turns out, even though the forecast was for mid 70’s, it did really matter at that hour of the morning. Per the car thermometer, it was a brisk 37 degrees. When I first started out, the initial mile was brutal. So brutal in fact that I thought about calling it and heading back for a coffee at the diner that had just opened up as I was leaving West Glacier. Like always though, once my outer layer of skin froze, it was much more pleasant.
No real training plan today. Just wanted to ride steady and moderately hard to approximate my upcoming half-ironman. As you already know, I’m in love with Montana, but I never get used to the beauty of the park in the morning. To top things off, the road had just been freshly paved within the last 2 weeks. So no cars, just pure, virgin, smooth asphalt, and not a person in sight as I was cruising along.
I made decent time up to the point the Going To The Sun Road closes to car traffic. From then on, the road was only open to bikers and hikers. My goal for the day was to get out of the valley and into the climbing section of the road. So I kept chugging along, and finally the pavement started heading up and up. After about 21 miles, I finally came across my first fellow cyclist of the morning: a handcyclist also heading up. I made the typical hello on my way by and made it to the debris field left by a gigantic avalanche some time ago. It was then that mother nature said it was a good time to turn around.
Right in the middle of the road, I saw a black, waddling bear. I immediately stopped, and as soon as I unclipped my right foot, the bear stopped in its tracks and stared. At first, I thought it was “just” a black bear. However, as it gave me the evil eye, I could see some Michael Phelps type shoulders on it, a sign of a grizzly. I stood for a second, and looked at the ground to try to avoid eye contact. It also helped that I was furiously trying to get my camera out of the bento box. When I looked up, I was delighted to not see a bear charging at me, but a bear butt climbing up the side of the road. I snapped a quick photo:
Alright, before you all get into a huff, I did stop and warn the awesome para-palegic hand cyclist that I had seen a bear. He decided to wait it out as he was on a mission for the top of the mountain. After sitting for moment, I reversed and heading back downhill to the West Glacier. Being mostly downhill, the speed was pretty high, around 28-30 without pushing. The road has a nice gentle turns, and I was loving cruising through them. I was still on a bear induced natural endorphin high when I rounded a right hand corner at about 30 mph and I came face to face with a moose.
Now, I’m not talking 40 yards away or across the river type of encounter. It was a “checking my computer when I looked up and saw a GIGANTIC brown animal six feet away” type encounter. I did one of those classic brake and skid bike maneuvers complete with an “oh sh!t.” As I had too much momentum to stop fully, I made a quick u-turn. I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to run, not run, duck, crawl into a ball, or do the hula. Dazed and confused, I decided to just stop. I slowly turned around, expecting to see a pair of antlers about to open some northern exposure whoop ass on me. Luckily, it seems that moose do what most people who encounter tight clothed cyclists in the woods do….they run away in horror. Said moose galloped down the road a few yards and then took off across the water. Here’s the pic..
While a bear is crazy exciting, it was terrifying to think of the ramifications of colliding with a moose. In any case, I made it back safely after wards without any scratch marks….or skid marks. My wife and kids met up with me in West Glacier as planned, and after a totally yummy breakfast of pancakes with huckleberry syrup, we heading back into the park for our own ride…this time with a bunch of other meal potentials…er tourists. We got in another 10-20 miles on the mountain bikes before calling it a day with some Mojitos. Unfortunately, I don’t have any Powertap Data as I was on the road bike today. Would have been interesting to see my heart rate at max while at a stand still on the map!
Joking aside, I don’t think I will be riding that early again in the park. At least not alone. With training on my mind, some of the safety items/lessons were totally forgotten by me today. I didn’t have any bear spray or gun with me. No warning bells/whistles to alert grizzlys I’m coming down the road (you don’t want to surprise them) In retrospect, I also remember that bears and lions feed the most around dawn and dusk.
So I guess next time, I will stick a baseball card in my spokes and make sure I’m not the slowest rider in the group.