• Abdulrahman Alkhamees

Going To The Sun Road


Bike leaning against a rock in glacier national park with mountains in the back

The most life-transforming ride I've done so far.


Montana is known as the Treasure State, not because of the abundance of Oro Y Plata "Gold & Silver" but for being the home of the Crown of the Continent.

I've dreamt about visiting Glacier National Park for over 8 years. Thankfully, I managed to do that in my last year in the US. Glacier national park is a place that transcends my ability to describe in words.

It's majestic, grand, and so beautiful that I can't even begin to process that I was there for a few days. It's not a play on words to make you feel some type of way or dramatize the experience. I've just been struggling to put this experience into words, as I was supposed to release this post weeks ago. Yet It took me a few weeks of pondering and recollecting what I saw and experienced during that trip to Glacier so I could write about it.

This was and will forever be the most heartfelt day I've had in the United States.
 

After spending about a week roaming around The Evergreen State, I ventured eastwards on roads that I took almost 8 years back, headed to my long-awaited home, the PNW. Traveling those roads brought up many great memories. It enabled me to reflect on the person I became and the amount of growth that happened over those years.

Rite of Passage, I suppose.

The trip to my first stop in Montana was a long one. Montana is massive!

I departed the eastern foothills of the Cascades early in the morning to avoid the scorching heat of Eastern Washington. The temps reached 106 degrees (F) by noon, so my car started to overheat a little. Luckily, I managed to get to my campsite spot in Idaho shortly after that.

I didn't spend any time in Idaho on this trip aside from driving across the Panhandle, per recommendations from friends to skip that part and gain a few more days in Montana. The drive from Coeur d’Alene to Whitefish was jaw-dropping, even though I've already done part of it before. And as I mostly always do, I took the long way to Whitefish. The drive north alongside Flathead Lake was something...

It was as busy as it gets; little did I know there was a massive music festival that weekend, and I got there a few days before. Whitefish is a great town, definitely less tourist-trappy than I expected for being near Glacier National Park. I didn't want to spend much time in town with that heat and foot traffic, but I had to link up with Clarie, a friend I met in Seattle.

a road in a dark forest around sunset

Clarie had already been living on the road, traveling around the US, exploring areas, riding bikes, and just being a free spirit.

I was inspired by her excursions.

If I had not met Clarie in Whitefish that day, I might have not been able to ride there. I didn't know that there were some restrictions on bikers, hikers, and drivers alike within the National Park. Apparently, you had to have a ticket to get into the Park, which has been sold out for months, thanks to the unprecedented influx of visitors during the Pandemic.

I didn't have a ticket or a plan to get into the Park!

Claire suggested camping near the western entrance for the night and getting into the Park before 6 am. The challenge wasn't getting into the Park. It was the time limit they set for cyclists.

To simplify a complicated decision by park rangers, they created restricted areas. Logan Pass and the stretch alongside Lack Mcdonald were off-limits from 11 am to 5 pm, where only cars are allowed (lame, I know). Logan Pass, well, gets a pass. Cyclists are not allowed to bike UP the Pass between 11 and 5. However, they are permitted to descend it during that time.

I was confused too, but that didn't matter much since I planned to be in the Park by 4:30 am.

I camped about 15 mins from the west entrance, and by 4:30 am, I was already in the Park, driving to the Avalanche Trailhead parking lot. I was surprised to see how busy it was already! The early-bird hikers were there to beat the tourist traffic jam.

assembling my bike next to my truck

After a cup of coffee, some oatmeal (peach and cream, obviously!) Then, I packed some snacks, jumped on my bike, and hit the road. I left in the dark, lights on, and eager to get to the summit of Logan Pass.

Houg Diggly and I chatted about Glaciers and Going to the Sun Road when planning this trip. He told me how difficult it is to do this ride because of the unpredictable weather and tourist traffic. However, the fact I managed to do this ride is nothing short of pure luck.

sunrise in Glacier National Park

Going to the Sun is one of the most scenic roads in the United States. It stretches over 50 miles, from Western Glaciers all the way to St.Mary to the far east, spaning across valleys, lakes, Glacial covered peaks, Logan Pass, and the Continental Divide.

There was something spiritual about that ride. I could feel it with every pedal stroke and every second that passed. As I alluded to in previous posts, this was my US farewell trip, so to say that there were lots of mixed emotions would be an understatement. On the one hand, I was happy I got to do this ride. Yet, on the other hand, I knew that I would never see it again, a bittersweet feeling.

But that was a beautiful day regardless.

climbing up a road next to a stone wall in glacier national park

Starting this ride in the dark was the best and, frankly, the only way I could do this ride. I am so glad I did. The starting point is in the heart of the valley, shaded by evergreens and thick canopies. As you pedal uphill, the tree canopy opens up, clearing the way for you to see glacier peaks, showered with colors of coral and pink. The appearance of the first light in the sky before sunrise illuminates the land.

It was awe-inspiring.

Nothing but a subtle breeze and birds chirping around me while I was taking it all in.

bike leaning against a stonewall in glacier national park with mountain in the back
Heavens Peak

The road picks up in elevation as soon as you take the hairpin turn by Heavens Peak viewpoint.

And there it was.

A seemingly floating road on the side of a mountain. A marvel of engineering that winds and twists around the foothills leading up to the summit, Logan Pass. The sheer magnitude of those mountains was big enough to hold back the sunlight for a while. I could feel the crisp morning air rushing down the road as I was making my way up, stopping at every viewpoint to take in the view.

a deep valley with river cutting through it in glacier national park
For Scale

I was blown away by the elevation gain once I realized that I could tell where I parked my car. Looking at the picture above, the river cuts through the valley westward towards the giant Lake McDonald.

I thought I understood how small I was, down there deep in the heart of the valley. However, I felt even smaller standing on the edge of this viewpoint, with the prominent peaks touching the sky that has been there for millions of years.

What am I to them?

Nothing but an admirer and student.

I get chills all over my body, just recalling that moment.

climbing up a road with a valley to the right of it in glacier national park

sunrays behind a mountain on Going to the sun road in glacier national park

A lot was going on in my head, lots of chatter and noise. One minute I would be fully occupied thinking about how many days I had left till I needed to leave the US. And another minute, I would be mesmerized by what was around me.

The rollercoaster I was on was the struggle of processing my fears, prowling hand-in-hand with my natural sense of calmness.

However, as soon as I went around the corner and saw the sun rays shining behind the peaks

a road in in glacier national park through the forest with mountains in the background

in front of me, like the lights of the heavens, everything went silent.

Not even the cars passing me by made any sound.

I stopped at the next viewpoint and sat on a rock. Like a moth to the flame, I was drawn to that view like nothing in the world could distract me from it.

I sat there with my jaw wide open, tears in my eyes, and sobbing like a lost kid.

Then, I finally understood what Ben Swanny has been talking about, Rite of passage. It hit me right then and there.

a few minutes later, an elderly man called William, a photographer from Tennesee, came up to me and just put his hands on my shoulder and said:

"Everything good, son?"

I said, "everything is better now that I'm here."

He jokingly said, "I thought the elevation was getting to you."

Somehow, William saw right through me and gave me a few wise words that things always work out in the end.

bike leaning against a rock with glacier mountains in the background

I changed a lot from that point onwards. As a matter of fact, it was a timely occurrence. I wasn't far from the continental divide at that point. My tears turned to smiles and sadness to vibrance; I set for the summit.

As if my north star and salvation were dependent on me crossing that divide, the one within me, and the one splitting the course of water flow in the US.

Traffic had already started flowing into the park by that time since the entrances opened up at 6 am. Luckily, I was already by the summit at that point.

It was lovely for once to run into so many friendly folks passing me with the windows down, throwing a bunch of dad jokes and compliments as if it was an achievement to climb up that Pass.

A cyclist sitting next to a sign that reads Logan Pass Continental divide in glacier national park

At that point, that was my first crossing of the Continental Divide on the trip, but it won't be the last. Getting to the summit felt effortless, thanks to the natural beauty of Glacier National Park. It takes your mind off of almost everything and brings you closer to it and the spirit of the land.

As legends say, The Blackfoot Native Americans believe that Going-To-The-Sun is a sacred mountain where the Sun God, Napi, descended during a period of great misfortune. After helping out the people of the land and completing his mission, Napi started climbing up to the Going-To-The-Sun mountain until he disappeared into the sun.

Perhaps Napi's healing spirit still lives within those valleys and summits, forever changing the hearts of whoever climbs up Logans Pass to see the sunrise.

A valley with sunrays and haze in glacier national park

The following 18 miles are downhill all the way to St. Mary, the eastern entrance.

What a legendary descent, flying over the valley and alongside Saint Mary Lake. The warm summer-morning air washing over your skin and the light shimmering over the waters as far as the eyes can see.

I sat there on a rock eating a turkey sandwich and a handful of olives before making it to the visitor's center of St. Mary.

Saint Mary lake in glacier national park with mountains in the background

The ride back up to Logan Pass from the Eastern gate was as beautiful as the western side. The difference in topography and flora over those 50 miles alone is worth the trip to Glaciers.

The tourist traffic was already in full swing by that time, and I found myself sharing the road with tons of other cars, so I pressed onwards towards the Pass. Again, starting this ride as early as 5 am was the best thing I've done. I took my time with the viewpoints, spoke with some folks, and had time for myself to sit & reflect on so many things.

And what better way to finish the ride than a dip in a glacial-fed river and a cup of Portland roasted coffee?

Not a lot can top that.

I am forever changed.

a road next to Saint Mary lake in glacier national park

a tourist buss driving on the road in glacier national park