-Kevin’s Bikepacking Photo Essay-
In August I had the chance to join my uncle for a bikepacking trip in Montana. It was pretty involved logistically with having to pack my gear and my bike and get them and me out to meet him first in Washington. What follows is a photo essay of our bikepacking adventure on Red Meadow Pass Loop in Montana. [If you want to learn more about how I handled the bike prep, gear packing and transportation, along with a full trip report (including the continuation of the journey in Lake Tahoe), check out Trails2Ales podcast episodes 4 and 5.]
Montana is a state I had never been to before this trip. I have heard and read many good things so I was really stoked to see what Big Sky Country had to offer. My trip started out arriving in Spokane, Washington where my uncle lives. Actually he lives in Newport, which is a fun little town in east Washington state. From Newport it was roughly a 4.5 hour drive to Whitefish, Montana where we’d begin our ride.
We arrived pretty late into Whitefish the night before our start and ended up setting up camp in the dark at Whitefish State Park. While a nice campground, it is literally right next to a very active railroad so if you are a light sleeper you may have issues camping here. I personally love it for some strange reason and love hearing those giant diesel haulers rumble through. We woke up the next morning to an amazing view of Whitefish Lake.
Always Nice to Meet the Author of Your Route Right Before You Head Out
Running into Zach Miller as we were about to embark on the route that he himself documented was a great coincidence. He was full of good energy and info and happy to hear we were checking out his hard work. Be sure to check out his blog at https://zacharystephenmiller.wordpress.com/. I’m hoping we can set up an interview with him at some point in the future. Thanks again, Zach, for all the great info!
Zach’s sweet Surly Pugsley with 29+ wheels and 1x setup = Rad
Once we had the rigs loaded up Zach wished us luck and even was cool enough to give me his cell number in case we ran into trouble on the route. We took a few obligatory selfies of beginning the journey and we were off. Zach warned us that the first leg of the trip up to Red Meadow Lake would be fairly rough as it was almost all climbing. He was right. We had a late start to the day so we began the ride around noon, which made things hotter and more challenging. We took regular breaks to make sure we kept hydrated and fueled up.
Road Use Restricted – We Are in the Right Place
Our rigs loaded up and about to depart. My uncle picked up a Surly Pugsley at a local swap meet in his town of Newport, Washington. It came with the frame bag and front rack, which was cool. He added a Blackburn rack to the rear and used his vintage Cannondale panniers he’s had since his road touring days back in the 70s/80s. it’s amazing they are still in solid enough shape to handle an off-road touring ride without fault. I rode my Surly Krampus, which was actually a last minute selection when the bike I had been building to debut on this trip was not going to be done in time. The Krampus served me well, but I had to leave a few items at home due to lack of frame bag space. Look for a future post of that touring project build once I finish it.
Red Meadow Lake
Red Meadow Lake was a fantastic stopping place for day one of the trip. The water was crystal clear and refreshingly cold. I wanted to take a swim, but by the time we got there the sun had already dipped below the mountain peaks so it cooled off quick and I was afraid of not being able to warm back up after going in.
Day 2 started out with a very nice downhill cruise for miles, erasing all the climbing we did yesterday. This road connected us to North Fork road, just miles from the Canadian border. North Fork brought us to Polebridge, where we stopped for lunch.
Polebridge Has the Goods
Polebridge is a must stop on this ride. The mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon offer great food and drink options as well as just about any other goodies you might want for the rest of the ride.
Endless views…(Glacier National Park way off in the distance)
…And endless climbs…We thought day 1 was rough and the rest was going to be a downhill cake walk, but we were wrong. There is still some tough, long climbing to do on day two. What made it even worse was the washboard texture of the roads, so even when there were downhill sections we couldn’t ride very fast. Day 2 was looooooooooong!
Off the Dirt, On to the Pavement
We eventually reached pavement for the last 15 or so miles into the town of Columbia Falls. My phone died shortly after this picture so the rest of day 2 and remaining riding done on day 3 were not captured. We got into Columbia Falls around 9:30, hungry and exhausted. We decided to find food first and luckily North Fork Pizza was open for another 15 minutes. They graciously still accepted us in, knowing it would be after they closed before we’d be able to finish eating. They even let us bring our bikes into the shop while we ate. The staff was super friendly and informative on where we should stay for the evening. Since it was already dark and we were beat from riding somewhere around 50 miles on the day we decided to find a hotel to get some good rest before day 3. We tried to find a hostel to keep things cheap, but they were already closed for the night so our only option was Cedar Creek Lodge. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth the good night’s sleep. They also let us bring our bikes into our room, which was cool.
And We’re back!
Day 3 began with the first rain the region has had in months. We decided to wait it out a bit to see if it let up. We also decided to leave our camping gear at the hotel to lighten up the bikes for the last leg of the ride. I know it sounds like cheating, but we were sore and kind of just wanting to get back to the truck. It was a site for sore eyes when we made it there, but our spirits warmed back up the closer and closer we got to the Swift Creek Trailhead. We did stop in town at Whitefish for a coffee at the Montana Coffee Traders before chugging up the last few climbs. It’s a great coffee shop worth checking out.
Bonsai Brewing Project – The Ales After the Trails
After packing up the truck with everything, we navigated over to Bonsai Brewing Project close to Whitefish for the suggested celebratory beers. Zach was right again – this place impressed me. Not only the beers, but the food was great too. The bar staff was great as well and kept us entertained while we ate. One major stand out was their “Miss Thang” blonde ale brewed with ginger and habanero.
Resources/References Bikepacking.com – Great source for well documented bikepacking routes Red Meadow Pass Loop Route Info by Zack Miller Zach Miller's Blog Glacier Cyclery – best bike shop for last minute supplies and info Swift Creek Trail Head – great place to park vehicle while on the route Bonsai Brew Project – excellent brews for celebrating your return to civilization Mama Blancas – great burrito place in Whitefish