Friday, 26 August 2011

West Glacier, Montana - Going to the sun

Where the high plains of western Montana meet the Rocky Mountains is the territory of the Blackfeet Indians. One of their ancient legends tells of a time when the Blackfeet, an infamous warrior tribe, suffered terrible famine and lost their fighting skills and strength. The story goes that the Great Spirit sent down a fine chief who turned around the fortunes of the Blackfeet and restored their strength. Job done, the chief departed up the slopes of a mountain to the west as a snowstorm raged. After the storm, the sun came out and the Blackfeet noticed that the snow on the mountain formed the profile of the chief as he was going to the sun.

You may discard this tale along with those claims by people that they can see Mother Theresa’s face in a cinnamon bun or the outline of Jesus in a pain-aux-raisins. Nonetheless, the road that today passes the way of the great chief is called the “Going to the Sun” road. As it traverses Glacier National Park and crosses the Continental Divide, it forms one of the world’s most spectacular highways and it provided us with an unforgettable route over the Rocky Mountains.

We were sad to leave the high plains behind. The simplicity and airiness of the landscape had gotten under our skin and we were enjoying the increasingly chilly evenings and early mornings that made us reach for woolly gloves and duvet jackets. There was no gentle transition – one minute we were cycling in barren, arid grassland and the next in shady pinewoods that skirted the snow-streaked peaks of the Rockies. We barely registered the effort of cycling up the long and steep Going to the Sun road to Logan Pass at 6646 feet – the vistas of Glacier National Park were so spectacular. Jagged peaks and narrow fins of rock soared into a blue sky while dark forests of pines swept down the hillsides to the shores of dazzling glacial lakes. Meadows of wildflowers provided subtle colour and our first bear sighting added a frisson of excitement. It feels good to be in the mountains, as if the long ride from Boston was building up to this very moment. Of course, I love the mountains and cycling through Glacier National Park made me pine for the Scottish mountains … for throwing a pack on my back and heading out into the hills. After 14 months on the road, it’s the one thing that’s made me feel homesick.

Given that we’ve now cycled over the Continental Divide, you might think it’s all downhill from here but you’d be wrong – there are many more hills to climb. I’m hoping the great Blackfeet chief might make a comeback and restore my strength!

More words and photos on Flickr and updated map below.

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