GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — The full moon inspires lovers, triggers tides and awakens elves and werewolves. You should see what it does to the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
If Glacier in daytime demands Vincent Van Gogh’s riot of color, the same scene in moonlight begs for Ansel Adams’ black-and-white precision. And if you can, experiencing a moonrise by bicycle over Logan Pass would reacquaint the most jaded Jammer bus driver with a reason why this place rewards attention.
Cyclists must wait until fall or next spring to enjoy a fully nonmotorized experience on Sun Road. But if they don’t mind the challenge of sharing the narrow highway with automobiles in the dark, full-moon opportunities approach on July 8, Aug. 7 and Sept. 6 this summer.
“Last year I came up in September and it was snowing,” bicyclist Phil Albert said while taking a break in the Heaven’s Peak Tunnel during a June 9 full-moon ride. “It’s so cool to do it at night. There’s so few people up here. From Avalanche (campground) it takes about three hours to get up to the pass.”
That Friday night, the moon made a Hollywood entrance in the notch of Logan Pass. Adding to the drama, a fog bank in the pass started the show by suddenly glowing gray, then silver, then blinding white. By the time the orbiting disc cleared the cloud, everyone’s night vision faded in the glare.
When the world reduces to black and white, other human senses come into play. The swirling wind currents up and down the Garden Wall bring flows of warm and cold breeze across the skin. Fragrant (and not-so-fragrant) wild roses and skunk cabbage tickle the nose. Waterfalls take on sonic, three-dimensional perspectives, signaling their hidden presence with low-frequency rumbles long before the high-pitched crash of their cascades reaches the ears.
Unshielded by the windows of a car, night-bike riders pedal with their emotions in the air. The full moon shines bright enough to overwhelm headlamps, but the Sun Road twists around S-curves into abrupt blackness. The eyes have no time to adjust on the downhill run as the bike careens through instants of dark and light.
“You’ve got to slow way down so you don’t run into a bear,” night cyclist Ivy Gysler said. “It’s kind of unnerving when you’re riding on the edge with no guardrails on the upper part.”
Fear competes with wonder and curiosity on the night ride. For every pang of dread at the abyss on the right and the cliff wall on the left, there’s the fascination of the glowing silver-white clouds over Logan Pass teasing the moonrise up ahead. The unexpected skritching of a rarely seen, bushy-tailed woodrat inside the Heaven’s Peak Tunnel may startle, but the ghostly dance of waterfall mist curtaining the tunnel’s portals — visible only in the perpendicular moonglow — amazes.
Spring and fall bikers can take on the 14-mile span from Avalanche to Logan Pass without competition from cars, although they must risk snow- and rock-fall along with trickier weather. In the high tourist months of July, August and September, they face a trickier time in traffic. Bikes have no special privileges on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Many sections barely have enough room for two cars to pass, let alone provide dedicated bike lanes. And while the thrill of taking 30 minutes to coast down what took three hours to grind up is understandable, the prospect of encountering a car around a blind corner could really ruin the night.
Several considerations may make a big difference in moon ride experiences. First, full-moon rises often occur before sunset. That means the ride might start in evening daylight, which can be a plus or minus. Real nightowls or early risers might consider catching the moonset, which provides a more unusual western horizon than the common eastern perspective most Sun Road night riders capture. Moonset riders also are likely to encounter much less car traffic in the pre-dawn hours.
And the full moon isn’t the only moon worth riding to. Waxing and waning moons a few days before or after the top of the cycle often provide enough light to ride by, and benefit from smaller crowds. With July’s and August’s full moons occurring on a weekend, it might be worth sacrificing a few percentage points of moonface exposure for a less-hectic travel day.