June 26,2017, Cut Bank, Montana
By meriwether, Jun 27 2017 01:37PM
Greetings All -
The Rocky Mountains are in my rear view mirror. I’m writing the first part of this Update from East Glacier Park, the eastern portal to Glacier National Part, having crossed over the Stony Mountains - as Lewis and Clark referred to them - and the continental divide on Friday through Marias Pass at 5,240 feet, actually the lowest of the continental divide passes in Montana.
I had been tempted to take on Going To The Sun Highway at 6,400 feet as I did in 1982, but I was so much younger then, and pulling a lot less weight. But Mother Nature did make the decision for me (stole that phrase from my Cousin Beth). Going To The Sun Road is not even open yet even though it is officially summer - a massive snow drift is still being cleared from the eastern approach to Logan Pass. So the guilt of not taking that on has been lifted from my shoulders. Thank you Mother Nature!
Still . . .Friday’s climb to Marias Pass was a very long and arduous ride - 56 miles and nearly 11 hours on the saddle, and most of it up. And to make it even more challenging, the wind gods decided it would be fun to throw their chilly breezes in my face. The ride down is always the reward and justly earned . . . and it did not disappoint. Make no mistake about it - bicycling any mountain terrain is a test of one’s physical skills and stamina, but there are sublime and amazing stretches of the mountain highways when the cyclist is surrounded by high peaks dressed in snow fields which then give way to green carpeted slopes that descend to a pristine, alpine lake.
It is thought that Marias Pass was so named after the cousin of Meriwether Lewis, Maria Wood. To the east of the Rockies is a northern tributary that feeds into the Missouri. Lewis and Clark explored it to determine whether or not it was the main branch of the Missouri River. Discovering it was not, Lewis decided to name the water course after his cousin - hence, the Marias River - and that name also came to be used for this pass. Along the entire course of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, many names of the expedition members are affixed to features of the land. And yes . . . just as my bicycle’s namesake is young Sergeant Charles Floyd - the only member of the expedition to die on while on the Expedition - there is a river in Northwestern Iowa that bears the name of Floyd’s River.
Actually it was just Lewis and three of his best hunters who explored the Marias River on their return journey to the United States in 1806. The Corps of Discovery had split up into four separate exploratory groups for a time - a dangerous move in Blackfeet country. The Blackfeet were fierce warriors and tenaciously protected their territorial hunting grounds from intrusions by other tribes as well as European and American trappers and traders. Lewis and his men met up with a band of 8 Blackfeet warriors, and spent an uneasy night camping together. The expedition members awoke to find the Blackfeet warriors attempting to make off with the expedition’s rifles and then their horses. A brief battle ensued during which two of the warriors were killed - one stabbed and the other shot through by Lewis. As a warning to the Blackfeet and with a bit of irony, Lewis placed one of the expedition’s peace medals around the neck of one of the dead warriors. And then . . . they high tailed it out of there and rode non-stop over 100 miles back to the confluence of the Marias and Missouri Rivers . . . and only by a stroke of amazingly good luck, they met up with their canoes that were heading back down the Missouri.
The site of that encounter is just to the southeast of where I am now in Cut Bank, MT.
During that nearly two and half year Voyage of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark Expedition would encounter over 50 different Indian tribes, and this was the only instance when a violent encounter resulted. Without the aid and assistance of the many Native American tribes that Lewis and Clark made contact with, the Expedition likely would not have been a success.
When I arrived in East Glacier around 7:00 P.M on Friday, my Warm Showers host Jo had a wonderful meal of fresh veggies stir fried with noodles awaiting me, and a couple of beers that went down with amazing ease. Jo convinced me that I should stay another day, and it did not take long for me to see the wisdom of that idea. I have been riding straight for 3 weeks now, and a day off was much needed.
I wandered over to the famous and historic 103 year old Glacier Park Lodge and soaked in the ambience of this amazing structure constructed of huge Douglas Fir timbers in 1913/1914. There was a half marathon taking place in East Glacier on this Saturday, and the finish line was directly in front of the lodge. After another fine meal prepared by Jo, we took a drive into Glacier Park up to the Two Medicine Valley, and what a magical place this is! It is easy to understand the Native American reverence for these natural places - you can feel the spiritual power emanating from the mountains, meadows, and streams.
And that brings me back to the Rocky Mountains in my rear view mirror. On today’s 45 mile ride to Cut Bank, MT, under a cloudless sky, I had to stop several times to look behind me and snap my photos. It is such an awesome sight to see those peaks thrusting upward out of the Great Plains. And somehow it becomes even more dramatic as the distance from them increases and the panorama of the fading mountains stretches from horizon to horizon.