Nowhere Slow

Climbing to Logan Pass

The next morning's ride begins with a smell. A god-awful smell, acutely miasmic, thickening with every pedal stroke. Roadkill, I confess, is one of the few things less pleasant on a bicycle than in a car. And in a state like Montana, teeming with wildlife, the carnage is especially abundant. After only 150 miles of cycling we've already seen a raccoon, a fox, a field mouse, a tabby cat, a mule deer, three whitetail, and about a dozen garter snakes, all in various stages of decomposition, all with their attendant odors. But this one is the worst. We see dark splotches of blood on the road. Then we see the victim: a polled Hereford, on its back, legs sticking out like an overturned table.

In a minute, however, all grim visions are erased. Just outside Kalispell we crest a small hill and directly in front of us, punching skyward, is a jumbled gathering of dark pyramids — the Rocky Mountains. It is a view, no matter how often you've beheld it, that reflexively causes a deep, whistling intake of breath. The thirty miles to Glacier National Park are effortless, the mountains growing ever larger until we are swallowed by their shadows. Camp is set near Lake McDonald, just inside the park, where we watch a double sunset: one illuminating the peaks, the other shimmering across the water.

We awake early and nervous. We've decided to leave Route 2 for a day to bicycle Going-to-the-Sun Highway, arguably the most panoramic road in the United States. For bicyclists, though, the view comes with a price: a thirty-mile climb to Logan Pass. In preparation, we eat a bacchanalian breakfast. After I place my order, the waitress turns to leave and we have to call her back, explaining that she only heard my portion of the meal. When you exercise ten hours a day, there is no reason to limit food intake. My eating habits on a bike trip, says Anne, makes her wonder if I am pregnant. Each hour, it seems, I crave a different brand-name sugar fix. We rarely pass a mini-mart without stopping in.

The ascent is epic. We shift into granny gear and push forward at four miles per hour, sometimes five. It is a climb of attrition. The pain rises through me: ankles, calves, hips, back, shoulders, neck. Even my bicycle is hurting, responding to each pedal rotation with an arthritic pop. At times, when another ten feet seem doubtful, I resort to pushing down my thighs with my hands. Passing cars honk at us, shout encouragement. One woman pulls over and videotapes us. But it is the landscape that keeps me going — a family of mountain goats, a patch of Indian paintbrush, a dentated arbte. We stop, drink from a mountain stream, devour a peach.

Five hours and forty-two minutes after starting we reach Logan Pass. The day is cloudless. Flush with triumph, we look up and down the long spine of the Rockies, drinking in the mountain air. Our bodies are marinated in sweat; our hands, from our mesh cycling gloves, are imprinted with waffle tans. Grease streaks crisscross our legs. When Anne removes her helmet, her hair does a fine impression of a Joshua tree. We are long-distance bicyclists. The descent is a swirling, adrenalized roller-coaster ride.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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