November 21, 2015
Frost had covered the bikes overnight and we’d moved them into the sun to warm up. The R1200GS wasn’t fond of cold mornings and would complain a couple of times before actually starting, so I was surprised when she started right up without fuss. The plan was to head towards Waterton National Park which lay directly to the north of Glacier National Park on the Canadian side of things. While we knew that Glacier would be out of the question due to snow fall we did hope that Chief Mountain Road and it’s subsequent border crossing would be open. The plan was to head northwest on HWY 89 all the way into Blackfeet Country and, just before Canada, head onto HWY 17, the sweet Chief Mountain Road that would take us back into our home country.
HWY 89 is an awesome alternative to the monotony that is the I15. We’ve done the I15 which runs basically straight south of Calgary (designated HWY 2 in Canada) and takes you all the way into Los Angeles in the most vanilla of fashions. We rode it the WSBK races in 2009 on the back of a couple of sport bikes which gave birth to our love of travelling overland by motorcycle. Albeit not on sports bikes. It was fun to be sure but I’m just too big to sit comfortably at length on one. To be clear, I have no religion when it comes to bikes – I love them all and encourage people to ride what they love. It makes all the difference.
I digress. HWY 89 separated us from long-haul trucks and almost any sign of traffic. It weaves it’s way through a number of small farming towns and the fields that feed them. After an hour or so of wheat passing us by we stopped to wait for a cattle farmer to walk his herd down the highway until they eventually made a graceful left hand turn into the farm. He and his ranch hands waved with big smiles as we passed them by.
As we moved to face the mountains our old friend Wind arrived to share some time with us. Again the mountains created a jet for us to fight and, on this day, the wind was more fierce than ever. For an hour we were shoved and pulled. The bike would lean at sharp angles then immediately release making us swerve and tip. And so it went. As we approached Browning the highway joined up with HWY 2 and stopping to make the left hander would have resulted in being blown over. The clouds over the mountains were dark but a clearing was forming to the north. We filled with gas and decided not to stop in Browning. The town itself is interesting – with plenty of people, little shops and a school all visible from the main street. There were also a number of feral-looking dogs roaming freely around the ‘hood that didn’t look friendly at all. With an hour and half left we gave Browning a pass.
Closer to the mountains the wind died down – we’d managed to get under the airstream and found ourselves in a really nice pocket of calmer, warmer air. Now riding right along the base of the mountains we rose slightly and then dipped into an amazing valley that had been burned out from a fire. Like the branches on the lifeless trees the road twisted and turned, leading us for a while, back toward the stormy peaks only to spit us out into the calm. Soon we passed the east entrance into Glacier National Park and whereas it had been a hub of activity two years ago, it was now entirely boarded up leaving the impression of a ghost town. Going to the Sun Road was closed due to heavy snowfall and, in effect, so was the park. Further north the clouds dotted the sky like fluffy UFO’s hovering over the landscape as if waiting to deliver a horde. It was quite a sight – like nothing we’d seen before.
The turn-off to Chief Mountain Road let us know that the border was closed and no longer a part of the plan. We continued north on HWY 89, through the border with little fuss and entered Waterton via Cardston – which, by the way, was a much sweeter town than either of us expected. The detour had cost us an extra forty minutes or so but when we saw Waterton it was completely worth it. It’s one of those places that just takes your breath away. The village itself is nestled tightly between towering rock faces and it’s entry is guarded sternly by the magnificent Prince of Wales Hotel.
Again we were met with a town in hibernation. Most of the shops and hotels had their windows boarded up for the winter and all but the essential staff had long since left. It felt as if our hotel was the only place left open. Our reservation through hotels.com hadn’t made it to the front desk of the Waterton Lakes Lodge, but the manager gave us an upgraded room without batting an eye. It was a lovely gesture and it was a great room to spend our last night in.
The next morning was crisp, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. We were in familiar territory on the route home with every point retracing a step we’d taken before. This part of southern Alberta is truly beautiful. While it’s noted for it’s fierce winds, on that day it was still and welcoming. The long curves of the Cowboy Trail and the usual stop in Longview for a sip of gas station coffee we found ourselves in calm disbelief that the trip was all but over. The mountains were clear to our left and looked giant in comparison to the mountains we’d seen during the entire trip. We knew the landscape well but were seeing it with fresh eyes. Into Calgary we slipped through the streets and were soon at the entrance to our garage. The smiling face of my mum emerged from the backyard – she’d been kind enough to look after our house while we were gone. We were so happy to see her and were excited to see the people we’d not seen in over six weeks, but what was immediately clear was that we could have easily continued for another couple of months.
That bodes well for the future :)