The day started out so innocently. Oatmeal for breakfast. Blue skies. An easy roll out of the Apgar campground.
You know how sometimes "fun" is best assessed after an activity is over? The second real day of our Montana dirt tour was definitely one of those times.
I'd planned to continue riding with Mandy as we made our way to Polebridge. We had to leave Glacier National Park (guided groups aren't allowed on the North Fork Road inside the park) and ride North Fork Road outside the park to the little town of Polebridge, a short 25 miles or so. Mandy and I started out together, but right after we turned onto Camas Road out of Apgar, the pavement started to climb.
I don't know how much climbing you've done on a bicycle, so forgive me if I'm telling you something you already know. You have to climb big hills at your own pace. Trying to ride slower or faster will wear you out quicker than anything. With nearly 1,000 miles on my bike for the season, I was a stronger hill climber than Mandy (for a change), and so pulled ahead of her as we started up Camas Road.
The first 1.5 miles climbed inexorably up (George was tracking inclination on a GPS and said it was mostly 6-7% with some 9% thrown in for fun). When I finally reached a level spot, I stopped to change into cooler clothes, gulp water, and wait for Mandy. Scott and John (our strongest riders) stopped to chat for a few minutes, and then rode on. Over the next 10-15 minutes, five more riders came by, all reporting that Mandy was stopped at the Fish Creek intersection. I finally gave up and continued riding without her.
The day's terrain confirmed the rightness of that decision.
I'd thought my resting spot was the top of the hill, but I was wrong. The climb continued unabated for another 3.5 miles. Eventually, I reached the intersection with North Fork Road and turned Pali north. With the Flathead River on my left, my hopes were high for a bit of level pedaling.
No such luck. Not only did the road climb and climb, it was muddy gravel (we'd had more pounding rains in the morning). At least I was finally justified in riding Pali instead of Madeleine.
Because I was working so hard to get up the hills, I found myself just wanting to get it over with. As a result, I seldom stopped to take a picture. At most, I took a few two-minute breaks to gulp some water or scarf some trail mix. I never even considered an actual lunch stop. This ability to keep going without food was rather a shock to me. Normally when I bike tour I have to eat frequently or I quickly bonk - reach a point of so little energy that I can't go on, mostly because my mental attitude plummets. Apparently, all of the calorie counting and exercising I've done this year had trained my body to expect deprivation.
The terrain, other than hilly, tended toward forests and farmlands. I was a little disappointed in the lack of good vistas to gawk at, but it was a pretty area. Eventually, I came to a little community outside of Polebridge where we'd been told to expect a mile or so of pavement. They must have done some recent roadwork, because I actually encountered closer to five paved miles. The sun was high and hot, and I tried to stop a few times for a shaded break, but the deer flies were so bad I couldn't stand to be not moving.
I did stop for one idyllic little ranch. In 1996, Thane and I spent six weeks driving from Alaska to North Dakota and back. As we drove through Montana, we kept noting ranch houses butted up against hillsides with fields spread out in front. We thought we could be happy living in such a place. This ranch outside of Polebridge was one such place. Even better, the owners had placed a Little Free Library at the end of the driveway. None of the books appealed to me, but I loved it anyway. I have a fantasy of building one of these for Valdez.
After 3.5 hour of solo riding, I finally made it to Polebridge and the North Fork Hostel. Polebridge is a tiny off-the-grid town with an independent streak. Electric power is provided by generators, and our hostel was probably typical in having solar panels, too. We had the option of renting a room with real beds, but I chose to pitch my tent on the lawn (as did most everyone else). If nothing else, it needed to dry out after the morning's downpour.
John and Scott had made it into camp before me. After we set up camp, John and I head back to the Polebridge Mercantile for a cold beverage and to wait for everyone else to roll in. That was one delicious rootbeer.
I was well rested by the time the last of our group made it in a couple of hours later. We all availed ourselves of the shower (!) at the hostel, and relaxed a bit before wandering into "town" for dinner at the Northern Lights Saloon. (With a name like that, I almost felt like I was at home.) I thoroughly enjoyed sitting outside while eating my buffalo meatloaf and sipping on a beer, right up until another thunderstorm rolled in. We made a mad dash inside, but the place was packed and I was quickly overwhelmed by the noise and the press of humanity. As soon as the rain abated, Mandy and I headed back to camp.
The tent was dry, the tent was wet.... Regardless, my Big Agnes sleeping bag and pad were very comfy and dry. Gotta love a hard day's riding to reduce one's standards for comfort.