RA20: Two Miracles

West Glacier MT to East Glacier MT

Early rise here in West Glacier, and Mother Nature made her decision clear.  Gray skies and rain!  Eastbound and down…

Then a trip to the campsite office for wi-fi.  I checked out sport medicine docs in these parts and found only one anywhere nearby, and that was 22 miles backwards into Columbia Falls.  The next closest was Great Falls, 100 miles detour to the south.  East of here on US2, nothing, a big zero until Minot, ND.  With no desire to leave the group, I made a decision, with help from Jesse and Jack, for better or worse, to head east, go easy, use pain killers and apply ice packs.

Jack scored a quinoa scramble at the campsite grill, which looked really good, but Jesse and I decided to hold out for pancakes.  We found them in town at the West Glacier Restaurant, and they were full of blueberries.

Then off into the cold and rain.  I just talked to Linda on the phone who told me she is really getting tired of hearing about all the cold and rain.  Hearing about it?  How about riding in it?  Jack and I commented the other day that our Brooks leather saddles haven’t seen the light of day in over two weeks (with protective covers on them).

Back into the rain

The route today took us along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park.  Despite the low clouds obscuring some views, the grandeur of this place is truly breathtaking.   In the first 28 miles we spied both deer and elk, and did a fair share of climbing and descending along the Middle Fork Flathead River.   The HUGE Rockies rose up immediately to the north of us, and often showed a skirt of snow before disappearing into the clouds.

Beauty abounds

We reached Essex and decided to explore for snacks or lunch, and found our compatriots (without Roger) just finishing their lunch at the one place in town.  They gave it a thumbs down for very slow service, so we exited and decided to hold out 10 more miles for abetter place recommended by friendly residents.   Outside the restaurant I spied some more of my cedar waxwing pals who were much more photogenic this time.

More cedar waxwings
Plenty of USM transceivers up here

About ½ mile out of town, I found my self alone chugging up a hill.  A sedan pulled up beside me, slowed to my 5 mph speed and both windows went down.

“You going across the country?”

“Uh, yep.”

“You know a guy named Jesse?”


“Your name is Rich?”

“What? Yeah!”

“Is your knee bothering you?”

“Yes it is!  Hey, you’re freaking me out!”

The passengers made a big grin and the car then sped off but slowed a few hundred yards in front of me, pulled over and stopped.  A couple emerged and the guy held out his hand, gave me his name, and proclaimed, “I’m an orthopedic surgeon.  I understand your knee has been bothering you.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.  Right there on the roadside he gave me an exam, pushing and turning and pushing again and asking where it hurt, having me move my leg in various angles.  He took all the information I could provide, and he understood that “rest” was not an option I’d prefer at the moment.  He even talked about other cyclists he had worked with.  He finally proclaimed my condition, some long word with “patella” in it.   The bottom line, he said, was that no harm was being done.  Judicious use of pain killers was fine and riding through this phase was fine – I wasn’t doing any harm to the knee, only causing some internal swelling and the pain I’d been feeling.  Ice, pain killers, and going easy would suffice.  He said either Motrin or Aleve would be fine, whichever worked better for me.

Unbelievable!  I was (and am) so grateful.  An expert consultation and peace of mind to continue onward and to use the pain killers.   Think about it.  Here I was in the middle of nowhere with no sports medicine doctors around for MILES and no chance for me to see one for 12 or 13 days of additional riding and one miraculously shows up beside me in the woods and gives me an exam and diagnosis on the roadside.

They left amidst my thanks and their wishes for our safe ride, and I stood by the roadside, catching a glimpse of Jesse finally climbing up the hill.  I waited, then told him all about what had happened.  Together, we decided that it was something of a true miracle.  The couple had asked Jesse to take their photograph in front a locomotive at the restaurant, so he’d gotten to talking with them and then, to his astonishment, found out the fellow’s profession.  Jesse then said, “You know, we have a rider who really needs to talk with you!  His knees have been concerning him. Would you talk with him?  He just left here.”

The doc is my samaritan for the day.  And Jesse is my hero for the day.

Another ten miles to lunch, most of it uphill at a low grade.  We finally reached the Snow Slip Inn.   Jesse, Gary, Jack and I were all plenty hungry.  I even got an order of fried gizzards with my cheeseburger. Service was excellent and friendly – a very good stop.  Our server told us that all the tough climbing was over and it was almost flat to the top from here.

At the Snow

About 7 more miles to the top of Marias Pass, and during the climb we decided that our server had never ridden a bicycle.  She might not even know what a bicycle is.  For the last two miles the road top disappeared and all we had left was a roughened mess that jarred the teeth.

Approaching the pass

And finally the top came into the view.  The Continental Divide!   We made it the last of the mountain passes in the West.  It really felt like an interim accomplishment.

Top of the Rockies (for us)

For several days, Jack (in charge of optimism usually) had been saying the the weather patterns east of the Rockies were completely different, that the rains would subside and things would take a turn for the better.  Well get ready for the second miracle of the day.  It was UNBELIEVEABLE what we saw at the divide.  Looking west, we saw dark gray skies, rains, everything in black and gray and white and dark green.  Looking east, clear blue skies, puffy white clouds, yellow sunshine, bright green rolling prairies.    It made me think of the scene change from Kansas to Oz.  The constrast was unbelieveable.  Jack must be a genius.

The two pictures below were actually taken from exactly the same spot:

Looking west
Looking east

To top it all off, the road surface reappeared and a tailwind arose – and a really brisk one dead onto our backs.   We were soon at 30 mph and still being pushed along, grinning in the sunshine.  It was so dang refreshing after all the rain and cold and climbing we’d just done.  In just minutes, we covered the remaining 13 miles into East Glacier, and eventually secured a “house” (through the Dancing Bear Inn) for the three of us (Jesse, Jack and me).

Our house for the evening

Dinner at a place called Serrano’s (no relation to the Phoenix chain) for some excellent Mexican food, calls from/to the family for Father’s Day, ice cream cone, then back to the house for sleep.  But I had to stay up and write out these “miracles” while they were still spinning around my head.  What a day.

59 miles.  Using low doses of Motrin, my ride was much more comfortable today, even with the climbing through the pass.  I felt the knees complaining, but an improvement for sure.  Must continue to go easy, gear down, etc.   We learned that Roger couldn’t pass up the amazing tailwind, didn’t want to camp here in the Blackfeet Indian reservation, and sailed all the way to Cut Bank MT today, almost a 100 mile ride.  We will have to link up with him when we can.  Everyone else is here in East Glacier tonight.

Tomorrow we will plan to reach Cut Bank and perhaps go farther if the winds are like they were today.  In either case, we will be a day ahead of “schedule,” since we were not permitted to take the road through the national park and into Canada as originally planned.  Jack and I finished our 20th day of the tour today and have now ridden more than 1000 miles.