Throughout history, full moons have been known to bring out the bizarre. Werewolves, for instance, were purportedly seen most frequently during the full moon, and the world’s various spiritual rituals historically transpire on the brightest night of the month. Even the word “lunatic” is rooted in the Latin lunaticus, meaning “moonstruck,” and based on the notion that lunar phases inspire bouts of madness.
Although it’s been many moons since any werewolf sightings were reported in Montana, the same cannot be said for the lunatic. Every full moon of the summer, as many as 500 adrenaline junkies, tourons and cyclists gather en masse in one of Montana’s most revered places to pay homage to The Great Reflector in The Sky by grinding up and flying down a scenic stretch of asphalt known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Logan Pass in Glacier National Park is clear of snow for less than half the year, and the full moons during this time swell with a high tide of activity. Folks arrive from across the continent with bicycles in tow to cycle a road chiseled from sheer cliffs and penetrating high into the alpine splendor.
The ride itself is a blast—a slow, steady grind uphill, followed by a breather at the pass so illuminated by moonlight you can see mountains a dozen miles away. Typically the cooler alpine temps chill riders quickly, and it is then that the rewards are reaped: barreling at high speeds down almost a dozen miles of black ribbon, in and out of moon shadows the whole way.
Now, if yo-yoing The Road sounds like a pain in the rear, never fear. You can easily tailor your ride to match your desired thigh and lung output. For instance, park your car at “The Loop” and the roundtrip can be less than a two-hour investment. Or, if you’ve got a few days and a well-tuned bike, forget the car and start your adventure from your house. Most nightriders, however, park at the sizeable parking lot at Avalanche Campground, and from there the roundtrip takes a fit rider just three or four hours.
Regardless of the length of your ride, certain dangers exist for the night cyclist, especially for those riding such a spectacular, narrow and precipitous road. For instance, WEAR A HELMET AND LIGHTS, front and rear. Although not required by the National Park Service, these items are the cheapest insurance you can buy in order to ride again tomorrow. Also, make sure your entire bike (especially your brakes!) are in top working condition. Still, you don’t need any expensive road rig to make the ride. Any checked-over, sturdy and reliable bike will do just fine. Keep in mind, however, that a woman died last year when her bike left the road, and every precaution should be taken to ensure that you don’t join her. Lastly, keep in mind that your bicycle is a vehicle, and you are required to comply with all applicable traffic laws. Dangerous or speeding riders are occasionally ticketed.
Of course, you should be aware of the obvious hazards: fallen rocks, gaping road grates, large mammals, and wet or icy roads. Even under a high alpine full moon, visibility is low by daytime standards and motorists with blinding headlights can easily creep over the centerline and put a low-tucking cyclist in a mighty precarious position.
If you’re one of those folks who prefer to sleep at night and ride in the daylight, you have options too: The summertime daytime restriction of closing the Going-to-the-Sun Road to cyclists is lifted after Labor Day, so leave your car at the base of the climb and enjoy a warmer ride. Regardless of the time you ride, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of those unique and spectacular experiences available to Montanans. Perhaps it’s the folks who fail to maximize this opportunity who are the lunatics.