Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

Day 21; Friday, June 18th, 1999
Start: Belly River Campground, outside Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta
End: Havre, Montana
338 Miles

I get up, break camp, and am on the road around 9:00 AM.

I ride about 3 miles south, and arrive at the US Border. There's nothing there, just a little guard house and a sign listing the hours when the border is open. The US customs agent is so somber and serious; but a few questions and answers and I'm back in the US. Yeah!!

The thought pops into my mind that I'm almost home now.... and then I laugh - I'm still 2000 miles from home! Until three weeks ago, I'd never been more than 2000 miles from home. Now 2000 miles feels almost like my own backyard. Strange.

I head south on Rte. 17 to Rte. 89, buy breakfast outside Baab, Montana; before continuing south on Rte. 89 to St. Mary, Montana. The scenery is all rolling ranchland, with the Rocky Mountains just to the west. Very nice morning, very nice riding.

I plan on riding the "Going to the Sun" road in Glacier NP, but Rte. 89 through St. Mary and several miles south is torn up by road construction and I miss the turn to Glacier.

Eventually, I realize my error, do a U-turn and end up behind a BMW R850R. We motor north through the construction, and into St. Mary. I follow him into the parking lot of a restaurant / convenience store / gas station and we talk.

His name's Loren, and his BMW is very heavily loaded. He's got a folding kayak aboard (No kidding!!!), and an Aeroflow windshield up front, marked "prototype". He's from Tennessee, and headed to Seattle to board the ferry, and then Alaska. After he grabs lunch, he's doing the "Going to the Sun" road through Glacier. We decide to ride together through Glacier.

While he eats lunch, I show him my Alaska pictures. He tells about his planned route, I tell him what I saw on the roads I was on. He talks about the folding kayak, and the prototype windshield - I show him the vest as he eats his lunch. He likes the idea of it being washable.

Lunch over, we gas up and head into Glacier NP. At the entrance, they give us a bunch of literature on Glacier NP, Waterton Lakes NP, and bears. On bears, they advise tourists traveling through the park to roll up their windows to protect against bears. Oh great...

On the Going to the Sun road now, we climb up and up, past a huge lake, into the mountains, light fog, and rain.

In spite of the fog and rain, the scenery is fantastic..! Snowbanks with 30'-40' deep cuts in them where the road goes through, beautiful valleys when we can see them, thick pine forests. There’s a lot of slow tourist traffic, but even that can't detract from the scenery - and if I'd simply wanted to go fast, I'd have stayed on the Interstate.

The visitor center is closed when we get there; the road crew is still digging out the snow from the parking lot. The snow is even with the roof of the visitor center, and the parking lot is a 10'-15' deep hole in the snowbank. They're clearing the snow with front-end loaders and dump trucks, and nearly finished but not quite. We continue on.

Loren and I are both using electric clothing, and this day is perfect use for that. A foggy wet day is transformed from a forced march into a ride where, with the rider warm and comfy, he/she can look around and appreciate the scenery. Comfort is just a click, or a turn of the knob, away.

Past the visitor center, the road passes a tall rock cut where the snowmelt is cascading down the wall at dozens and dozens of points. I realize that the cut is man-made, but it's still very pretty with the streams of water running off it's face.

Then down the other side of Logan Pass, the rivers are flowing down with us now, I grin as I catch Loren checking out the rapids on the fly from his bike - just like I'm doing. It looks like some incredible boating if you're very, very good - complete Hell if you're not.

We continue, past the campgrounds, in and out of the rain now, through the pine and hardwood forests, and out the west entrance. We pull over, shake hands and say goodbye. Loren's continuing west on Rte. 2, I'm heading east. But the company was nice while it lasted.

Then I'm eastbound on Rte. 2, up and down and around through the low mountains south of Glacier. Rain comes and goes, my 'Stich and my vest keeping me dry and warm.

Along this section of Rte. 2, there's tourist cabins, gas stations, thick pine forests, rivers, some dads going fishing with their sons, tourists unloading mountain bikes at a pullout. And always the various rivers and creeks teasing me, suggesting big adventure of a completely different flavor.

Suddenly, the land flattens out; and I'm back in rolling range land. Bit by bit, the rain clears and I settle in for the long drone across the plains. Now and then, I look back, checking to see if the mountains are still there, not wanting them to go away just yet - but of course they eventually fade away.

Alone with my thoughts, I reflect on this change in the trip. I've been in the Rockies now for 18 days, have had snowcapped mountain peaks to look at almost every one of those 18 days.

Where I live in Ohio, the land is table flat, scraped smooth by the Ice Age glaciers long ago. Great farmland, some of the best in the world. The roads are laid out in 1 mile square grids, the drainage ditches flow arrow straight alongside, with the crops all planted in perfectly straight rows that hypnotize as you gaze down them, watching them click by. All is straight and orderly, not a single tree is out of place.

So for me the mountains are pure magic. Random, chaotic, wild; they're a wonderful contrast to my home! There's no pattern to the mountains, no predicting what will be next, and man still hasn't tamed or flattened them. The rivers twist and turn and drop there, the land is pushed up into smooth hills in some places; larger, sharper creases in others, and jagged peaks somewhere else, with no two mountains or hills ever being the same.

They were here long before I was born, they will be here long after all my descendants are dust. I'm just renting a space and a time.

I've read that the Indians believed that everything had it's own spirit, it's own personality. I don't claim to be a religious man, but I think that if I were to spend more time outdoors in the wild, I'd end up going to the same church that those Indians did.

Then I'm back into tourist mode, droning across the grasslands of northern Montana, wondering what this land looked like with giant herds of buffalo milling around.

Rte. 2 across Montana is marked scenic on the maps, but I'd have to say it's probably an acquired taste. It's not such bold scenery as the mountains; it's much more subtle. The sheer emptiness of it, the rolling landscape with it's various shades of brown and green grasses, broken by an occasional train, ranch, town, or windmill. In the mountains the peaks seem to "hem in" the valleys, the land is full of tension, activity, and change. Here on the plains, the land just spreads out, relaxes, takes it easy.

After grabbing supper at a Subway shop at I-15 and Rte. 2; I start looking for a place to spend the night, either a campsite or motel. There's not a lot of places out here, but the places that do exist are very inexpensive. Supply and demand, I suppose. I don't see many out of state plates, either.

I end my day in Havre, MT; at a very nice little mom and pop motel, about a block south of the main drag, with cable and A/C, all for $26. With such a low price, I just don't feel like camping.

After checking in, I shower and then take a walk around Havre. I end up at a sports bar on the main drag west of my motel. There's a bunch of Harleys parked outside in the crowded parking lot, and inside there's loud music, cigarette smoke, college aged kids and some older people as well.

I have a couple Margaritas while trying to strike up an interesting conversation, or listen in on one, but everybody just seems so... normal? average? Not sure of the correct word, but after 2 weeks in Canada's far north, the people here in the States seem guarded and reserved, a bit more busy and frantic - as though there's a bit of a facade that I, being from somewhere else, won't break through. I miss the north already.

I walk back to my motel room, watch a little TV, and turn in for the night.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio