I wake up around eight in the morning. The bar does not open until ten, so there isn’t a restroom I can use. Fortunately we are smack dab in the middle of a forest, so all I have to do is cross the two-lane highway and I am off private property and free to go about my business. I get out of the tent and notice the thin layer of frost that is covering my tent and my bike cover – it was a very cold night. There are three exits out of the backyard. The first leads into the bar, which is obviously closed so that is not an option. The second is the large gate that I rode the motorcycle through, but it’s so heavy and cumbersome that it is not ideal for getting in and out. The third leads to the deck of the bar, where the owners host a beer garden on weekends.
I go through the third door, make a few steps and realize that I am standing about a foot away from a huge Rottweiler. He was calmly guarding the bar by sleeping at the entrance door when I stumbled upon him. To give you an idea of how close I was standing to him – he was looking straight up at me. He didn’t seem particularly angry at me, but every ten seconds or so he would lift his upper lip to reveal his teeth – no growl, as if to show me that he doesn’t plan to rip me to shreds, but he very well could. As I stood there, I pondered my options: I could run for the door that I just came through, but I didn’t think I would make it in time to close it behind me. I could reach for my knife to defend myself, but dogs can usually sense threats like that and the whole situation could end very poorly for both of us. After standing there for what seemed like an eternity, I decided to back away slowly and plan B was to make a run for it into the woods if the dog charges. I was betting on the fact that guard dogs are usually interested in protecting their property and will not venture too far away. I start backing up as the dog is staring me down. I make it safely off the deck and proceed to the woods, happy to have had such a successful outcome in a situation that had potential to go very wrong. Lesson learned – pay extra attention to your surroundings when you are half asleep in an unknown area.
I return to the camp site, pack up camp and load everything on the bike. The night before I spoke to some locals and they told me that there is a diner up the road that servers the best pancakes in all of Montana. I head that way and arrive at the Glacier diner. I walk in and sit in a booth. The locals (mostly hunters) take notice of me, as one would later explain – “you don’t usually see motorcyclists here this time of year. You are one crazy SOB, son.” I order the “Hungry Hiker” special with an order of the famous pancakes and chat with some of the locals about hunting and tell them about my trip. The pancake (only one, but it was huge) was indeed delicious, but what pushed it over the top was the fresh huckleberry jam. If you are in Montana, treat yourself to some.
After breakfast I head into Glacier national park. First stop – visitors center to find out what is closed, open and most importantly, where can I go to find bears. I find a ranger and he tells me that there is no way to cross the park since the road is closed and it stays that way for the majority of the year. As far as bears, he briefs me on the proper safety procedures and recommends that I go on a 2 mile hike to Avalanche Lake. (48.659352,-113.794255) The ranger also suggests that I should visit the small town of Polebridge, on the edge of the park. “The road there is pretty knarly,” he tells me “but there is a bakery there, in which they bake on a wooden stove and people from all over the world come here just to visit that bakery.” Knarly roads, small towns and wood-stove-bakery-made pastries?! Sounds like my kind of adventure!
I head up the road to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake. The weather is pretty gloomy, but it’s not raining. I find the trailhead and gear up for the hike. Due to the limited capacity of my saddle bags, I have to take my backpack with the camera and other electronic equipment with me. That, plus the gear that I am wearing, which weighs a ton (jacket alone is 11 pounds) makes for a very loaded up hike. Good thing it’s only 2.5 miles each way!
I set off on the hike, camera in hand in case I am lucky enough to meet any bears. In the first half a mile I realize how much weight I am actually carrying, but reluctant to give up I continue on. As I walk through the forest, I keep my eyes open and make sure I am making a lot of noise so as to not sneak up on a black bear. If you didn’t know, the first rule of bear encounters is not to sneak up on them, since that’s really the only time they will attack you. I get through the 2.5 miles and arrive at the lake. What a view! The lake is surrounded by a tall mountain range, which is covered in snow. I have never been to the Alps, but I am pretty sure that view is as close as you can get without buying a transcontinental plane ticket. I take some pictures and get everything back together to head back. No bears so far, but I am hopeful.
I start hiking back and all of a sudden it starts hailing. Really large pieces of hail are coming down on me and it is far from a pleasant experience. Since hail doesn’t usually last a long time, I find cover under a tree and wait it out. Ten minutes later the hail stops and I resume my hike back. As I near the parking lot, I realize that I will not get to see a bear on this hike. Oh well, there are plenty of opportunities coming up in Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks, I think to myself.
As I reach my bike, I realize that it has started raining and I have worked up an appetite. Before proceeding on to Polebridge I take a break and have some lunch – nothing fancy just a couple of sandwiches with hot tea and sugar. The hot tea is the best pick-me-up in the middle of a gloomy day. I finish lunch and proceed to the famous bakery in Polebridge.
After roughly sixty miles of paved road riding through Glacier Park, I come upon a dirt road. My GPS is telling me that it’s another fifteen miles to Polebridge. For a dirt road, it was actually pretty good quality. On the straightaways I was able to go up to sixty miles an hour and about thirty in the turns. The only problem was that it was cold and wet. The dust was replaced by dirt and by the time I got to Polebridge, you would think my bike and me took a dirt bath.
I park the bike in front of the bakery and am instantly greeted by two golden retrievers. They remind me of Sebastian, a golden retriever that was dear to me and is unfortunately no longer with us, as of a couple of days before this was written. I stumble into the bakery and am greeted by a guy in his thirties. I tell him that I have heard a lot about this place and ask if it’s true that they use a wooden stove to bake the pastries. He smiles and nods. I ask if it’s alright to hang some of my stuff in front of the fireplace. (also wood-burning) He nods with a smile, as if to say – “Of course! No need to ask.”
I put my stuff down and hang up some of my wet clothes in front of the fireplace. I buy a huckleberry bear claw pastry and fill up a mug with coffee before sitting down in front of my computer to blog a bit while my clothes warmed up. I am not a huge fan of store-bought bear claws, but this… this was something completely different. It was the perfect combination of sweet and doughy goodness, all of it complemented with a hot cup of coffee. All I can say is, if you are ever near Polebridge, Montana, you owe yourself a visit to this place.
Before I am done fully appreciating the moment of bliss that was bestowed upon me after that cold and wet ride over, I smell something odd. It doesn’t smell good, almost like a burning… My socks! Without thinking, I put them on top of the metal fireplace and they started to burn within minutes. I ran over to the fireplace and swiftly removed the melting remains, but it was too late and the damage was done. Two pairs of my warm socks were toast – literally. I apologize to the bakery owner for stinking up the place and make a mental note to buy more winter socks when I get a chance.
Before taking off, I ask the owners and one of the town residents to take a picture with me. I gear up and am soon back on the road that I came into Polebridge on. The only difference is that I have to go further south on this road than I did previously, which would mean higher elevations at a later time in the day. As I climb the hill, it is slowly getting darker and my ambient temperature gage has been dropping consistently for the last ten minutes and is already showing 36F. I continue on and soon the temperature is down to thirty degrees and I am starting to feel that the bike is moving around more and more. At a hunting check point (where they check that hunters are only taking out animals which they have licenses to kill) I pull over and ask one of the guys how far before I reach pavement. He tells me that I only have two miles to go and from there it should be paved the rest of the way. I remount and continue on at a snail pace of twenty miles per hour, slipping and sliding the whole two miles. Finally, I reach pavement and sigh in relief in my helmet.
From there I take the highway about one hundred miles to a national forest. My usual procedure up to that point was to try and end up in national forests, in which I would try to find a place to camp. Up until that point I have been successful at doing just that, but not on that night… I reached this national forest and realized that the road is lined with lakeside properties and there was no place for me to set up my tent. If you have ever been to Lake Tahoe, you would be hard pressed to tell the two places apart. By dark and with it comes the danger of deer. I see them on the side of the road as I try to find a place to camp and realize that if I don’t find something soon, this day could end very poorly.
As I pass another house, I notice that the garage is open and there is a guy inside working away on what looks like an ATV or small tractor. I stop and walk up to him to ask about local campgrounds. A minute into the conversation and I am surprised to find out that he is actually from Spokane, Washington. He explains that he is an anesthesiologist by day and that this is his town home where he takes care of a cherry orchard, to get away from it all. Before long, Jeff offers me a room to spend the night. I couldn’t be happier, since I have been camping for the last three days. We head inside and chat for about thirty minutes before I start dosing off. A shower and a soft bed in a nice warm house provided me with the much needed rest for the adventure that was surely to come as I head over Lolo pass, back into Idaho.