Sunday, 7 September 2014

Go To The Sun Road

I'm home. The excitement of the road trip has ended; I am back in familiar surroundings beset by familiar routines. The last of day of our road trip was as exciting and interesting as any of the others. Unfortunately it was also the last day.

The drive yesterday started earlier than normal. Oddly enough, in spite of the bathroom challenges in the hotel, I slept well. So did David. We were both up early, before 8:30 AM. We both wanted to get underway early, as early as possible knowing it would be a long day on the road. So he went for breakfast while I went through my usual morning struggle to get dressed and ready. He packed the truck while I did some writing. Finally, by about 10:00 AM, we are underway.

Our drive took us from Butte, Montana to Missoula, Montana, and then up the Flathead Valley into Glacier National Park. The drive from Butte to Missoula was uneventful although our stop for lunch in the town of Missoula was great. Missoula is a small college town blessed with terrific restaurants and more brew pubs per capita than anywhere else in the USA. We stopped at a place called the Iron Horse where the Saturday worship of US college football was in full swing.

After lunch we headed for Glacier National Park where we had one of the most exciting drives of the whole trip. The road up from Missoula is uneventful, through low rolling hills covered with well cropped grass, home to massive cattle herds and plenty of horses to manage them. At Flathead Lake we went right, then on up to the park.

You enter Glacier National Park just as those low hills begin to turn into mountains, their sides covered in the kind of dense evergreen forest that I remember from my youth in Stave Falls. The road through the park was narrow, with trees covering much of it overhead. For the first while all you can see is the forest beside you, the branches overhead, and a view of Lake MacDonald beside you now and then. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, the road begins to rise, its edges more defined by rock and cliff and less by forest and lake.

Then it happens. You are driving along the canyon floor and you look up, way up, about 3,000 feet up in the air, along the cliff edge of the massively rising peak in front of you, and you see the road up there, with cars on it, driving, very carefully. It's then that you realize you are headed for a real mountain drive.

As the road rises ever more steeply, the edges become defined by the mountainside, the pavement merely poured right to the rocks rather than to any straight edge of the road. This slither of pavement snakes its way up the mountain face, twisting and turning along the lower half on one big switchback they call "The Loop", turning halfway up the mountain to make the long, winding snake across the face of the mountain up to the the pass at the top.

You realize how narrow and winding this road is about 3/4 of the way up, when you look down the edge and see the 3,000 or so feet of rock face below you. You realize how this road must have challenged the builders when you look at the arched supports melded into the rock of the mountainside, and the tunnels carved through where there was no place to make a road.

The road twists in difficulty, so twisting that vehicles longer than 21 feet are not allowed, with turns so tight that no trailers are allowed, carved into the rock so close that it overhangs and no vehicles higher than 10 feet are allowed. This is a ride straight up and once up most people come right back down. David and I were headed out the other side of the "Go To The Sun Road", as it is called, right out to the other side of the park and then north to Calgary. The traffic was much easier on the other side of the mountain, still exciting in places but nothing like the climb up.

It was an exciting drive, a great way to end a road trip.

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