I am in Glacier National Park. Cedar trees surround me and 9,000 foot peaks formed by millennia worth of glacial activity tower above me. I sit at the picnic table at the hiker biker campsite, arguing about computers with a fellow biker named Alan.
On my first off-bike day in the park, I went on two hikes. The first one was an incredibly popular hike that takes you up, up, up to an overlook of “Hidden Lake.” There is boardwalk and stairs for the majority of the way; however, it is all covered in snow. The park only opened on July 3rd because there was still 5-10 feet of snow covering Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is the major throughway. Hiking to the Hidden Lake Overlook was 1.5 miles out and back, but three quarters of it involved trudging through snow. A pair of 6-year-olds competed for “Who could fall fewer times” on their way up. I didn’t fall, but thought to myself, “If those kids can do it, I can definitely do this!”
The second hike, the High Line trail, is also a popular hike and parallels Going-to-the-Sun road. I stopped almost every half-mile to enjoy the incredible mountian views and to take pictures. After about 7 miles, I reached a junction that claimed: “Glacier Overlook: 0.6 mi.” I figured, ‘If I’ve come this far, I might as well do 0.6 mi.’ It was probably the steepest 0.6 mi hike of my life because it went straight up hill. It took almost an hour. At the top, though, I came upon a pair of hikers. One is a rafting guide and his girlfriend, Rachel, quickly revealed that she is planning on bicycling from Bellingham, WA to Glacier Naional Park in a month. I started to give her advice on the route, and then realized that I had my ACA Northern Tier map with me. I pulled it out and gifted it to her; I told her which campgrounds were good and which were free. I explained how to use the maps. I was able to give her the same gift that I’ve been given numerous times at this point: an ACA map, the ability to use it, and advice on the route. Bicycle tourist mobility.
Yesterday was my second day off-bike. Alan has been chasing me on his bicycle for a week now. He found my blog address at a cyclist-only campground; I then realized that he has also bicycled from San Diego and is now going east. Alan and I went on a hike yesterday to Avalanche Lake. The turquoise lake water comes from a melting glacier that sits atop the peaks. Waterfalls poured down from each mountain, making the lake an ice-cold pool. We walked around the lake and got onto a smaller, less-traveled trail to a waterfall. We yelled to talk over the sound of the rushing water.
After our obligatory day-hike, we took the shuttle over to the Lodge where we chatted and charged our phones. We sat outside of the general store, watching couples, families, and motorcyclists prepare for their hiking and camping experiences as we attempted to connect to the internet and sat next to an outlet, reaping the benefits of electricity. Alan pointed out this irony, but also said, “All of these people are going out of their way to go to this amazing national park and ‘be in nature, be in the wilderness.’ But we’re in nature and in the wilderness every day. So they can’t judge us.” As bike tourists, we’re not in the wilderness as a vacation from our every day lives; being in wilderness is part of our lives and sometimes you just need to charge your phone and camera battery. And we don’t have cars to do that from.
We went out for dinner, which was the first time I’ve had pizza since the Steelquist’s homemade pizzas in Blaine, WA, and the first time I’ve gone out for dinner since Vancouver.
Every time I tell people that I’m riding alone, I’m told, “You’re so brave.” I don’t think I’m brave–I’m actually just afraid a lot of the time, but I do what I have to do anyway. They say, “Doesn’t it get lonely?” I can point to one time when I felt loneliness, and it lasted for only a few minutes. People also say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to experience these things with someone else?” Galavanting around Glacier with Alan has been really fun, so yes, having company to experience incredible sights with is great. I think it’s even cooler, though, that we can compare our solo bicycle journeys going north up the Pacific Coast, and then east across Washington, through Idaho’s Panhandle, and into Montana. We have each ridden thousands of miles; at this point, I’ve ridden about half of my miles alone. It’s fun, then, to hear about how someone else experienced a particular town; where he got headwinds or tailwinds; what food he ate and where. By comparing our individual adventures, they almost become shared experiences. We’ve gone through so many of the same towns, seen so many of the same places, talked to so many people who have been both similar and different from ourselves. We’ve each experienced unconditional kindness from strangers and hosts. We’ve each ridden long days and have been intermittently thirsty and hungry. We have our own quirks; Alan carries hot chocolate packets, which he never makes, and I carry 10 liters of water and 3 days worth of food. After traveling alone, each of us is so set in our own ways of traveling that it’s comical to hear about what the other person does. For me, I wonder how a person can possibly eat pop tarts, granola bars, and candy every morning for breakfast. He can’t fathom how I can be eating oatmeal every day.
Riding alone and traveling alone is incredible. I have conversations with strangers and encounter other cyclists daily. I’ve found, though, just because a person is on a cross country tour doesn’t mean that we’re on the same page. Having a friend to adventure with who is similarly-minded is a rare treat.