High in the Mountains and Wet in the Lakes

By Tooker Gomberg. Glacier, Montana.

Cliff hangers, storm water, and Green politics.

Cafes are often breeding grounds for strange tales. And here we were, not far from the Alberta border in a Montana cafe, listening to tales.

We were told that America is dangerous. Never leave your bicycle unattended in any city or else it will get stolen. In Chicago kids get their kicks throwing rocks from bridges onto passing trains. American cities are war zones.

Then a joke: if you’re eating a bagel and have to go to the restroom, be sure it has lox on it or it won’t be there when you get back.

We politely listened to these and other stories from two American travellers sitting at an adjoining table. We were building our reserves to pedal up and over the Logan Pass, along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. We downed a hearty breakfast, and a few cups of java, and headed up into the incline.

It was hard going. The wind was against us, and the first 30 km were uphill. But we took our time, rested often, and even dismounted and walked when we felt like it. We never used to get off and walk while bicycle touring – we thought it was cheating. Now it doesn’t bother us. Why not walk? It’s good to exercise other muscles, and it sure is a welcome change of pace.

It was a glorious, sunny day, and we kept cool by plunging ourselves into roadside waterfalls. The road itself was breathtaking: narrow, winding, and cut right into the side of the mountains. But we had to pay attention: one false move and we’d be over the edge plunging down a cliff for hundreds of meters.

We pushed on, and after topping the 2000 meter summit we were rewarded with a fabulous 25 kms. of downhill coasting. The sun was setting by the time we rolled into the campsite near West Glacier. We had travelled a record 95 kms., and we were aching, but we sure slept soundly.

The next day we caught an early morning train and the 24 hour ride to Minneapolis gave us time to rest our weary bodies.

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, though we were told that actually there were over 11,000. I suppose that doesn’t sound quite as catchy.

Even the cities sport lakes: there are a few right in the middle of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and we rode our steeds along well used bike paths that connected a few of them. Each lake was a few miles in diameter, and the water clean enough for swimming. Before long we took the plunge, clothes and all.

Cities are built up with non-porous structures like homes and asphalt. When rain falls it no longer reaches the soil to be absorbed. So cities need to spend enormous sums, often billions of dollars, building huge pipes to shunt the water to locations miles away.

But since Minneapolis retained its natural lakes, they can receive much of the stormwater and also save money not needed for all the giant pipes. However, there is growing concern that lawn pesticides and road runoff from the surrounding watershed are also entering the lakes, degrading the quality of the lake water.

What a joy to be able to go for a swim in a lake on a hot summer day in the city. And it sure was nice to have extensive recreational trails to explore. One major bridge across the Mississippi (similar to Edmonton’s High Level Bridge) generously allocated all of the top deck for cyclists, peds and other non-motorized users. Part of it was even covered to protect against rain and snow.

As we pondered Minneapolis’ green accomplishments we stumbled across a potluck meal and gathering of the Green Party of Minnesota. They are working to get Ralph Nader elected as president of the United States. He is well respected as a long time champion of the public interest, and for his work defending democracy, and promoting individual and community empowerment.

True, it would take a miracle for him to get elected, but why not try? The earth could use someone with his integrity and commitment to ecological and sustainable values in the White House. Imagine what politics might look like if elected people embraced Green values such as: ecology, nonviolence, social justice and grassroots democracy. Consider what could be accomplished if the vast resources now spent on defense and hunting down enemies (real or imagined) were instead directed towards cleaning up and restoring the health of our planet.

We spent a day helping the Greens gather signatures to get Nader and Vice-Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke onto the ballot (they needed to gather 2,000 signatures) and then felt the tug of the road to keep moving. We were expected in Chicago, where serendipity and adventure awaited.

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