Thursday, June 25, 2015

Getting Out Of Dodge - Old Flathead River Ranger Station

"The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
We don't need no water let the motherfudger burn,

Burn motherfudger burn."

~Bloodhound Gang~

This is the second installment in the Getting Out Of Dodge trilogy and picks up after we have reached our cabin in Glacier National Park and spins the yarn of our adventure to a ranger station that once was but no longer is. 

Great Northern Cycle & Ski in Whitefish Montana was on my short list of places I had to visit while in the area. Odd story behind this one actually, as most of you know or should know, I was born and grew up in Montana until about the age of 14 so I more than claim Montana as my home state. It's one of those situations where when I was 14 I couldn't wait to leave when the opportunity arose for our family to relocate to Colorado but now that I'm just a few years older than 14 and that wicked bitch hindsight has had her chance to kick me square in the man purse I speculate on how different things might have been, as we all do after a major decision. There are times my soul yearns for a return to the State I call home and perhaps that day will come but for now Nebraska is where I hang my helmet. Anyway because I still have a strong affinity for Montana, I often seek out places, shops, beers, etc. from the state. It just so happens that a few years ago I friended Great Norther Cycle & Ski on Facebook and Instagram and over that time we have had a few conversations and have exchanged "likes" and witty comments creating a quasi relationship online, I have purchased a few items from them as well so it only seemed fitting to stop in since I would be so close. 


Even before I walked into the shop I was not disappointed that I came, that's an awesome air hose sign from the now defunct Teton Cyclery. Nice snag! 


While inside chatting up Tom and Craig, I spotted this guy here and asked about the local trails. There were two that they recommended, one in Glacier and one that I never did have time to check out so next time I'm up there I will have to remember to bring the book back and try the other trail.


Honestly I, like most people, didn't realize that there was any ridable single track inside Glacier National Park as almost all national forest land is closed to bicycles so it was awesome to discover that there is in fact a trail that could be ridden in GNP.


Looking at the highly elaborate and detailed map as well as reading the description of the ride, we were able to deduce that the trail wouldn't be all that technical and that the actual single track would only be about 4 miles so the "I don't ride single track" girlfriend decided to be even more awesome than she normally is and said it was one that she could do with me.


Luckily for us the purveyor of the map started right from Apgar Village so we were able to start the ride from the cabin door.



The first few miles was a paved multi-use path through the forest, while not technical or dirt it was still beautiful with great scenery.


The path led us to a paved road that we followed for a little less than two miles, it looked like a well traveled road but we didn't see a single car on it while we rode it, maybe in busier times.


We did discover that the paved road ended at a horse rental barn. We stopped and talked to and petted the horses for a few minutes, not sure where the horse trails are but this might have to make the short list of things to do on a return trip.


We didn't realize how big of a outfit this little unassuming horse barn was until we spotted all of these guys out in the pasture who could be called to service if needed and I am guessing if they have that many horses then the need is there in the height of summer.


Not a bad place to be a horse!


The pavement ended at the horses and turned into a fairly rough and pothole filled gravel road for several miles. Michaela was not the biggest fan of this road but still pedaled on like a champ.


Of course being rewarded with views like this for our effort certainly didn't hurt.


The road eventually crossed the Flathead river via this wooden bridge, I remember seeing lots of these types of bridges in Montana from my youth but didn't realize that they would still be in service all these years later. I've always wondered what the center hump is for... personally I think the purpose is twofold, to help keep the driver from veering off the side of the bridge and to help make sure that two stubborn drivers don't try to squeeze two cars on the bridge going in opposite directions.


After crossing the bridge we started to see the results of the 2003 wildfires that raged in and around Glacier National Park that year, it's also the reason that this is now the OLD Flathead River Ranger Station trail. The ranger station itself was a casualty of a controlled "back burn" by the USFS in an attempt to make sure that Apgar and West Glacier were safe from the fire.


A very loose interpretation of the word ROAD was used here.



A little farther up the road we came to the start of the single track that would lead us to the spot of the old ranger station. As we rode on the magnitude of the fires became apparent from all the new undergrowth and dead or partially dead older trees that were everywhere. All of this would have been thick forest before 2003 and now it looks more like a tree farm with most of the new pine trees being no more than 6-8 feet tall but nature heals and years from now this will once again be a forest full of tall trees.


Most of the trail was non technical single track but with enough rollers, rocks and such to keep it fun. Actually with all that there was to see it was good that it was not more technical, I can imagine lots of crashes could occur from paying more attention to surroundings than trail if it was.



The only sketchy part of the entire trail was this stream crossing but hopping off the bikes and walking solved that issue... on a horse it could be a bit of a pucker moment, especially if the horse didn't necessarily want to cross the stream. One bonus about bikes is that they don't think for themselves.


I am not sure if it was because the 2003 fires threw off the blooming cycle of the Bear Grass in this area or if it's was more because nobody was here to pick them but we saw more than a few lilies in bloom on this stretch of trail as well.


Spotted this little guy on the trail a few moments before he spotted us, his defense was to lay in the grass just off the trail so it's probably a good thing we weren't looking for a deer steak dinner. Although he was 90% legs and not all that stable on them from watching him/her initially so running might not have been an option even if he/she had wanted to, I'm guessing as he/she gains more coordination hiding won't be the go to defense mechanism. As we were stopped and watching him/her we started to hear some twigs snapping not too far from us and decided it was time to move on, mamma dear would probably not be all that understanding if she came back to find us ogling Jr and a hoof upside the noggin was not on the agenda.




After riding for a bit more we decided to stop at an outcropping of rocks to take a peek and see what there was to see on the other side of them rather than just riding through oblivious to what was around us. You could hear the water but I didn't know how far off it was.


The view of the Flathead River did not disappoint, if it weren't for the horseflies I could have spent all day just sitting and looking out over the valley.


A few more miles up the trail and we reached out destination, the former spot of the ranger station.


Would have been fun to be able to get to the river but it wasn't exactly a gentle slope down, getting there would have been easy with the help of gravity... getting back up on the other hand would have been a whole other story.


Not wanting to need to call in a helicopter rescue we decided to just park the bikes and take in the views from up top.


Figured this was also an excellent time to pop the top on the cold-ish beer we had packed for the ride and just sit and watch the world go by.  Twas another awesome spot to sit and contemplate if not for the constant harassment from horseflies, suckers were worse than the mosquitoes.


After the beers it was time to pack up and head back, for not being a single track person Michaela did really well and only voiced a few complaints on the few steeper climbs. Someday we will get her converted and show her how to love the pain.


The only moving motorized vehicle we saw on the whole ride.


McDonald Creek just around the bend from and visible from our cabin, hit it up on the way back into Apgar.


Post ride ice cream from Eddie's in Apgar Village, scoop of cherry and of course a scoop of huckleberry. While not in the guide, I highly recommend this as part of the ride.

About the only thing I would have changed about the ride is that it would have been cool to see the old Ranger Station but I also understand why they had to back burn that area, the loss of buildings and potentially lives could have been much worse had the fire reached West Glacier or Apgar. The fires in 2003 were the worst in the history of the park burning some 130,000 acres of forest, about 13% of the Glacier National Park, and costing the park more than $68,000,000 but still an old ass Ranger Station would have been a pretty cool place to sit and have that beer.

The third and final installment of the trilogy will cover the Going to the Sun Road but since the weekend is packed full of Odin's Revenge it might be a bit before I get that one penned. 

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