Saturday, December 19, 2009

Glacier National Park


I had gotten into the town of Banff late in the evening the day before, and by the time I finished internetting at a local coffee shop, it was way past sunset.  I was still getting used to this whole idea of the sun setting before 10pm.  Stupid lower latitudes.

Stealth camping when it's already dark is WAY WAY harder then doing it while it's still light, so for a couple hours, I tried just napping under a freeway overpass.  Just pulled the bike behind a concert pillar, laid down with all my gear on, and tried to sleep.  It didn't work that well, and after an hour of restless tossing, I got up and resolved to find somewhere that I could actually set up the tent.  I ended up here, next to the highway (picture taken the next morning).

While taking down the tent, I noticed a funny smell.  Yet another downside of camping when it's already dark is that you don't notice what it is you've pitched your tent right on top of.


Anyway, I rode through the town of Banff to find some internet at the library.  Banff is really a hellish little tourist trap; all of the buildings are made to look like they're old to give a "down-home" feel, but it's all fake.  Literally, all of the big timber posts and logs are all plastic, and a lot of the hanging plants were as plastic.  You get the feeling that nothing has actually been there that long, it's all clean and shiny and pretty and perfect and horrible.  It's also full of all sorts of absurdly expensive little boutiques and shops.  What a shithole.

I did find the library, which was being visited by someone who wasn't very interested in books.

I grabbed my laptop, walked in and was told . . . THEY CHARGE FOR INTERNET?!  $1.00/30 minutes.  What the fuck, wasn't this a library?  If I was going to pay money to use internet, I'd go to a coffee shop and at least get a drink for my money.  I declined, and rode about ten minutes down the highway to the town of Canmore, which was much less touristy, and who's library's internet was free.  As internet should be.

Also, they have people who paint funny things on their walls

After wasting a few hours on the tubes, I had to ride around town trying to find somewhere to get gas.  I guess there'd been a big refinery problem in Calgary, and a lot of places were out.

With a full tank, I left town.  I headed east in the direction of Calgary, and the scenery was very pretty . . .

For about ten minutes.  Then the road dropped out of the mountains, giving way to this;

And then, as I bypassed Calgary and headed to the town of Lethbridge, I had four hours of this.

*bangs head on gas tank in boredom*

Oh, it looks like that's pretty normal around here.  Smashing one's head on things.

Uh, wtf?

Whatever.  I stopped to get gas at some point, and this caught my eye.  I know 99% of people don't care, but I'd never seen an issue of Top Gear magazine sold anywhere in the states.  Yet another advantage of Canada, I guess.

Many weeks ago, a goon by the name of Slidebite had offered me a bed if I ever came through his neck of the woods, and now . . . well, I was in his neck of the woods.  He and his wife had just bought a new house in Lethbridge, and graciously offered me a bed, a shower, and a couple days rest. 

That would be Slidebite on the purple ST in the driveway there.  His house is in a subdivision so new that it's not on any maps yet; when I rolled into town he had to come get me, and have me follow him back to his place.  I was greeted with home-cooked good, a bed, internet, and a shower!  What more could I want?

Slidebite and his wife only live in the house as guests, though.  The actual owners are some very sizable cats, who don't have much dignity.

After an awesome sleep, and my first shower in the a week or so, it was time to fully fix my bike.

After replacing the crankcase cover in Whitehorse a couple weeks ago, the bike's starter system had been acting up.  About 3/4 of the time I tried to start the bike, the starter gear wouldn't fully engage with the flywheel, resulting in it just wirring away and not doing anything.  I found that if I took off the solenoid cover, I could pull it into place manually with a bit of leverage, and then the bike would start fine.  Or, I could just bump-start it, which is what I'd been doing more often then not.  Still, having to always try and find a hill, or get someone to help push, or spend a couple minutes un-doing bolts every time I needed to start the bike was a pain in the ass.  It was time to get this sorted out.

Slidebite had ordered the gasket I would need from a local Yamaha place earlier that week, so after going to pick it up, we pulled into the garage and got to work trying to sort out what was wrong with the starter.

And by "We" I mean, "Tsaven works on the bike, Slidebite sits in his lawn chair drinking beer".  And occasionally fetching me another Mt Dew.  :D

After getting the side cover off, it didn't take us long to find the problem. 

The gasket wasn't notched out properly  The rod that the starter gear slides on was getting stuck; the solenoid wasn't strong enough to actually pull it past the thick gasket, preventing the gear from getting over far enough to engage.  All things told, this was the best result I could have asked for; I was worried I had bent something out of alignment somehow.  All that was required was trimming the new gasket to give enough clearance for the parts to move past it freely, and then putting everything back together.  A couple hours worth of work, some new oil, and it was all set to go!  Man, it was nice to be able to push a button and have the bike start, rather then having to dick around with bump-starting it!

Another great meal courtesy of Mrs Slidebite, another night in a bed, and it was time to leave.  Slidebite and I had planned on linking up with another goon from farther north and the heading south together for a day of riding, but schedules didn't work out.  So it was just Slidebite and I the next day, heading south into the USA. 

I spotted this as we were leaving Lethbridge, commenting to Slidebite that it was one of the ugliest things I'd ever seen.  I guess it used to be a water tower, and now there's a pretty decent restaurant up there.

Even though it's just a couple hours away from the Rockies, the area around Lethbridge is pretty terrible in the standard mid-western way.

(Slidebite on his ST)

It doesn't take long for the scenery to start appearing in the distance and soon we were heading straight for it.

  Just after we got into the USA, we made a right hand turn, heading into one of the most amazing places I've ever seen.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is someplace that has to be seen to be believed. 

It was absolutely amazing, even with all of the other traffic and people, and construction causing some backups.

The weather couldn't have been more perfect, and I took out my good camera again for pictures.  Slidebite and I were giving it our all playing tourist, stopping for photos seemingly every few hundred meters.

The road that goes through the park goes over the continental divide at it's midpoint, and there's a sizable visitors center there.  There's a small army of open-topped red bus things that ferry people around, which is probably a preferable way to go, rather then having to deal with driving AND gawking at the same time.

Inside the visitor center is your usual national parks fare.  Exhibits on the climate, geography, flora & fauna, etc.  Also, bear paws are big, hold shit.

Awww, how cute!

This was as far as Slidebite was going; being a sane person with a job and responsibilities, he needed to get back to Lethbridge at some reasonable time of day. 

I bid him goodby, thanking him again for his hospitality that he'd shown me, and he went back the way we'd came.  I continued on down the other side of the divide.

The road was chiseled into the side of the steep hills for most of the way, occasionally succumbing to a sudden switchback to head farther down into the valleys on the other side.  The line going across the hills detracted from the scenery a little bit, but without it I doubt I would have ever gotten into this valley.  A necessary evil, I suppose.

By the time I got through the park to the other end, it was late. I really wish I could have spent more time there, maybe done some hiking, or even back country camping (Which I don't think is allowed, actually. Or it is but you have to apply for permits months in advance). I'll be going back soon enough, I hope.

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