By Phil Grove
Five days in a row of perfect weather is pretty rare in Northwest Montana, but that’s just what the campers of the 9th Annual Highline Hammer were treated to at this year’s event. Besides lucking out on the weather, these 24 folks received some soon-to-be world-famous Montana hospitality while pushing their legs to the limit all weekend long. If you’ve never made a trip to come see us, the Highline Hammer is the perfect excuse to put your worries aside and focus on the important things in life – good friends, great rides, and amazing food!
In attendance were an eclectic mix of first-timers and annual pilgrims from all over the country. Some had already experienced the Flathead Valley; others were trying to wrap their minds around the endless beauty of the place we call home. Just to keep the senses from overloading, we began our adventure with an easy cruise from Hammer Headquarters through downtown Whitefish and out towards the western border of Glacier National Park. We all chit-chatted and warmed up our legs as the highway rolled along the North Fork of the Flathead River. Upon returning to HQ, smiles were plastered on faces all around and things were shaping up to be a weekend to remember.
We rose before dawn on Friday, the queen stage of the event, a 135-mile jaunt through Glacier National Park. The first hour of the ride was very serene. As we rolled along right up against the sharp peaks we would soon be climbing, they were clearly visible on the glassy surface of Lake McDonald. Our bliss continued on the 3,700-foot ascent up the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road. Soon we were in the realm of the Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep, the true climbers in this paradise.
With the grunt of the day behind us, favorable winds pushed us downhill to St. Mary and on to East Glacier for lunch. The always-helpful Hammer staff had a nice spread waiting for us in a shady Aspen Grove next to the historic lodge at East Glacier. After a splendid lunch, we were in for a gentle 12-mile climb … into a 30-mile per hour headwind. I had some trouble staying positive during this section, but would try to keep my own words in mind – a bad spot on the bike is better than a great day in the office! The wind eventually succumbed to our grit, and our spirits soared all the way back to West Glacier. Everyone was pleased with their accomplishment; this loop is one of the most beautiful and challenging in the whole country. We finished our day with some fine dining on the lawn of HQ courtesy of our awesome Chef Truby.
Saturday held in store a very scenic and slightly less difficult trip around Flathead Lake. The rollers and twisties along the lake were stimulating enough to encourage the campers to ride at a very brisk pace. We rode hard all the way to Somers where we promptly jumped in the lake. Another picnic was enjoyed by all as well as a great dinner back at the clubhouse.
Sunday was supposed to be a “recovery ride” out to Star Meadows and back, but a few of the riders had other ideas in mind. When we turned up the Star Meadows climb, several campers really wanted to take advantage of our last day. With no cars to worry about, a bit of a simulated road race ensued. Jerry from Nebraska was pushing a mean gear all the way out to our turn-around. The Heaton brothers from the Utah High Country were baffled by the flatlander’s climbing ability. I chalked it up to Jerry probably never using the little ring in Nebraska and maybe not knowing how to engage his climbing gear. Either way, he flew up the hill as the others chased. Sunday’s ride was fun for all and the capstone of the weekend was a lovely brunch of egg frittatas, fresh fruit, sautéed vegetables, and lots of happy campers. This being my first Highline experience, I couldn’t believe how much fun was had. I look forward to seeing some familiar faces, and hopefully some new ones, again next year.
»View additional Highline photos