‘The Crowd’ Shock of Glacier National Park changes my Plan

Glacier National Park near the East Gate
Glacier National Park near the East Gate

At 7am yesterday morning I was sitting on the banks of Middle Fork Flathead River, that marks the southern border of Glacier National Park. It was a foggy morning, and I was deeply moved by what the past 24 hours had delivered.

I should have been camping out somewhere remote in the Park, just me, my bike and tent, but there I was with a rental car, in the car park, with my unused bicycle dismantled in the trunk. Rather than a natural tent site in the wilderness I had to overnight in a soulless motel in West Glacier with the sound of trains passing through the night. I had decided to leave at first light and try and find some wild nature solitude before handing the car back at East Glacier. (West Glacier is 50 miles from East Glacier on the other side of the Park, where I’d disembarked from the train two days before)

At the river, I was enjoying the first real peace and tranquillity of the Park area, even though I’d arrived at East Glacier those two days earlier. Why had my plans all changed, and what was going on inside me?

As I looked up the river I was hopeful for some wildlife, but my thoughts drifted back to 2012, and my amazing three months in really wild Siberia: How different that had been, and how truly lucky I was to have been there almost always in uncontrolled wilderness, mostly just me and raw Nature. There were no maps, no brochures, no permits needed, no campsites, and most of all no RV’s, SUV’s, and Harley Davidsons…!

Siberian Grizzly
Siberian Grizzly

I felt this urgent need to go back there before it’s too late and The Crowds get there too….It really hit me that the world is changing so very fast, and that our 7.6 billion is evidence all around us each and every day. And yes I am also one of those 7.6 billion, with no more rights than any other!   I reminded myself that I wasn’t in Siberia, I was here in Montana on some serious work!  So Howard, what happened to cause all these 48 hour changes?

Well, immediately on arrival at East Glacier Amtrak station the curtains for a nightmare movie started opening: I hate planning ahead, and America requires you to plan ahead, and so I knew I’d be battling up current but I’d rely on the ‘Howard Fairbank’ resilience and ability to make a home and have a bed ‘anywhere’, to somehow get me through. A huge number of us got off the train including to my surprise a big Amish group complete with digital cameras! I found out that there were just coming for two days, with a drive in drive out park experience! So there we go the Amish are also pushing through the One Point Zero code!  Haha, these were a less fundamental bunch! To meet the train there were lots of hotel / motel pickup vehicles at the station, and passengers (except me) eager to find their waiting transport!  I enquired with the one lady about accommodation and she said everything is full at least for the next week or so, other than maybe the main lodge which she said goes for “over $500 a night”!  Fortunately I had phoned ahead to confirm there was a place that offered ‘basic campsites in the forest’. As I left the station on the bike, I could feel I was in a busy tourist place and I’d need to move to my maximum resilience and ‘thankful beggar’ mode.

I set up my little one person tent between two RV’s, the one guy not very friendly with ‘lesser being’ tenters, and the other coming out and saying:  “Do you really sleep in that small ‘thing’?”  I replied: “Of course, I have just spent 14 continuous days living in it, and love it!” Haha, I have had so many experiences with USA RV people who are shocked when I say “I retired 12 years ago, and choose to do it this way, I don’t have to!” I have proved beyond doubt that this shatters the tenets of living the American good life dream. Herein lies a huge One Point Zero challenge for Americans: Minimalism and Simplicity is not Success.


American simplicity:  Three panniers and a trailer! For the 15 moths and almost the whole of Africa I had only 3 panniers!  Plus a 660 cc bike that one is 1660 cc!! Unusual to see a non-Harley!
American simplicity: Three panniers and a trailer! For the 15 moths and almost the whole of Africa I had only 3 panniers! Plus a 660 cc bike that one is 1660 cc!! Unusual to see a non-Harley!

Anyway the unfriendly guy’s RV Camper electric heater cut in and out all night as he sought to create the same home environment he’d left in the city, and I stayed snugly tucked up in my comfy two square metre, One Point Zero friendly, house and non-electrified sleeping bag! I love the freedom of that simplicity, and just wish more could find the wonders of this fashion!

Impressive Glacial Valley Features
Impressive Glacial Valley Features

The weather wasn’t great the first day, and I decided to spend two nights there as although I had my specific bicycling plan, I wanted to talk to people about the conditions, restrictions, best routes and trails etc…. East Glacier is a busy place and I just couldn’t believe the number of cars being rented from the place where I was camping. The woman in charge was dealing with the conflict of being record busy and huge business but not having a life of her own! Many times I thought back to the friendliness of a place like this in New Zealand and how difference this almost capitalist mind set here was….  It was clearly a very ‘sunny time’ and there was only time for haymaking, no ‘small talk’!

Well, as I spoke to more people, and read the park brochures etc, a very unpalatable picture started developing:  This culminated with a dinner with a 30 year old guy, Justin, I bumped into who had ridden ‘his Harley’ at 80 mph from’ all the way from Wisconsin where I had been with Imi. The previous day he had done the ‘Going to the Sun’ road, through the park route I had planned, and had slept out ‘illegally’ in the park. Just a normal young testosterone filled male, he had taken a week’s break from working on his family’s dairy farm, and wanted to ‘do the park’. I asked him: “What’s the purpose mate?”  He said to me: “Spiritual, man, spiritual! But the only thing that was a problem was that it rained in the night and I got wet and that spoilt my spiritual experience!” I suggested to him that ‘be naked’ dealing with wild Nature and the rain or whatever comes up on the bike is wherein the spiritual experience lies! We spoke for hours, switching between modern farm life, and his park ride: All the time the picture confirmed that the park roads were heavy with traffic, queues, all the campsites full, and then finally he said the roads were real narrow and not so good for cars and bicycles, particularly when the cars are big RV’s . Later back in my tent I read further that there were restriction times for bicycles on two parts of the Pass. Hmmm, going to sleep that night I had to be honest with myself that I was not fired up about the cycling days ahead, but was just stoically still committed to completing cycling my plan. Not a good frame of mind for what lay ahead!

On waking I questioned myself as to why I was doing this, and what this whole trip really was about?  Was the truth that I hadn’t done as much planning as I should have, or was this just not the place to be for what I was looking for? Flashes of openness of The Boundary Waters came up, and I thought to myself: “Your soul is rebelling mate, listen to it, and don’t just plough on ahead because of heroic commitments!” I’d packed up the tent, bike was loaded up, and decided to have a final decision over coffee:  Well as I was having coffee, recalling that the purpose of this trip is One Point Zero exploring, I saw a bicycle support vehicle from the biggest national cycle touring company pass by and realised that they too would be running part of the route with their normal, twenty or so, paid cyclists. So the road would be busy with other cyclists too… Hmmm! That was it: my soul took over and said: “Over your dead body, are you going ahead with this, it will destroy ‘us’, mate!”

So not to cycle was decided but now how best to use my situation ‘in paradise’ for One Point Zero exploring? After lots of to-ing and fro-ing I decided I could justify a one day car rental, and ‘do the Park’, as a One Point Zero research exercise. I worked out that with all my simple tent living, and train riding I still had some footprint credit and the park research would be invaluable.

One of the many Harley Groups... Maybe better they go by bike than cars!
One of the many Harley Groups… Maybe better they go by bike than cars!

So there we go, I joined the rest of America in their cars, RV’s SUV’s, and Harley’s….  Was I a hypocrite and just another contributor to the huge traffic problem? Well, I did make the assumption that probably I was the only one, or one of a very, very small number who were mindful of the footprint decision and doing One Point Zero research, so I wasn’t!

Well the rest is history, and without trying to justify my decision, in hindsight I was so, so thankful that firstly, I never put myself through what would have clearly been a miserable cycling ordeal, and then secondly the valuable research I obtained. It was actually fun being one of The Crowd, yet not one of them with my investigative journalist hat on!

I found out that Glacier Park traffic is up 19% on last year.  An astounding average of 11 400 people went through the West Gate entrance each day of the past month! There is still the East Gate Park entrance, so who knows how many people went through in total? The traffic and congestion on the road inside showed that the park was overloaded. All the campsites were full, almost all the side pull off view spots were full, and it was clear that if one wanted to do a hike from one of the many trails that start from the main road one would be done together with lots of other hikers. The road was very narrow and windy, and I did come across two cyclists and truly felt sorry for them as the traffic had to consciously move around them, backing up sometimes as oncoming traffic prevented them passing! Somehow traffic like that and National Park wilderness should be mutually exclusive, but maybe I’m in the very minority and what everyone was getting, was exactly what they wanted…?? There were many groups of Harley bikers, and the big thumper sound obviously tuned up a few decibels just for the trip and communicating with the wild life! It’s a free country America so whatever one wants goes, and nobody shalt stop ya!

The sad thing was that I could see a magnificent park, and the potential for amazing wild Nature experiences, but sadly the remoteness of Siberia, or even the naturalness of The Boundary Waters will never be experienced by maybe other than a very few who managed to plan deeper remote expeditions deeper into the park, away from the crowds.  I had to remind myself that this Trumped by Nature 3 months was not a normal Howard Fairbank remote, passionate, full on adventure, and that I in fact in my minimal planning I had set myself up to be a ‘normal tourist’, so maybe I’m being unfair in my views and expectation?

I stopped at the various refreshment/ lodge stops along the way, I did try and talk to people and find out what they felt and whether they were ‘enjoying their time in the Park? I tried to explore whether they thought they deserved to be here in ‘special Nature’? How they saw Nature? Was Nature just there for our human enjoyment, to use without thought of whether we are helping Nature’s cause or defying Nature’s cause?  Mostly there were blank looks at my attempted serious engagement, and our talks were filtered back to superficial niceties and supporting the lies of how wonderful the Park’s Nature experience was…! I got a feeling that most were just on their summer vacation and it was what it was, and as such there was not much more to chat about….

The gasoline price is at the lowest it’s been since the highs of 2011, and reading the New York Times, I was made aware that people are moving from smaller cars, back to larger SUV’s and this summer is seeing American’s get back on the road travelling in their automobiles for their vacations. The article went as far as saying that USA vehicle emission commitments will not be met because of the move away from smaller and hybrid vehicles back to the bigger gas guzzlers. This is all evidence that the US system wants consumption ahead of reducing carbon footprint. I have often wondered why the gasoline price is not fixed at a cost to the environment, but know that the answer is that that goes against market forces and will reduce economic growth. So the final conclusion is that ‘everybody’ is happy that the Park has had record traffic, and that the traffic is made up of a bigger gasoline consuming vehicle than last year.  All this did make me feel bad about my one day car rental, and my potentially hypocritical behaviour, but having only done 150 miles in the one day rental, I sense I’m being a bit over sensitive….???

Going back to yesterday, as I sat on the bank of the Middle Fork Flathead River reflecting on all of this I had so many different thoughts coming through me. This confusion and conflict with society is happening all the time now, as I move from seeing the whole picture so clearly, understanding the mind-set change that is needed for a new One Point Zero fashion, and then realising that that mind-set change is so far away from where we currently are, and people don’t seem at all interested. I got back to East Glacier dropped the car off and was in a café where the TV showed Hillary Clinton blasting away saying that if she wins she will make America the leader of the global powers in Green Energy!  Firstly this sounds very honourable, but a huge and very costly goal for the USA, but more importantly for me, it says nothing (very little) about One Point Zero. Basically she is saying to the public that ‘you’ can carrying on travelling, carry on consuming, and me at the top will just change the fuels you use and all will be OK under me! Consumption is the biggie, and there is never any mention of what the consumers need to do, and how the whole fashion of ‘smoking’ (consumption, ‘more and more’)  has to change. The reason is because she would have to change her big elitist lifestyle in a very inconvenient way…! “I don’t want to do that Howard! I could never live simply and happily like you do! So just go away with your One Point Zero stuff, OK!!  Wow, at least she responded! Haha! ”

Then the TV programme host said Trump’s plan would cause energy usage to ‘skyrocket’… We know that, so it looks like another 4 maybe 8 years of ever widening Chasm by the most powerful nation on this Earth!  I find this very difficult to deal with… But I guess I’m just a ‘little nobody, boy!

The scary climb in energy usage that started in the 1940's Please we have to stop The Consumption!

A number of people have sent me emails not understanding the concept of The Chasm, and how Western society is one side of the ever widening chasm and Nature the other?  In my few talks with people in the Park this is also coming up as a foreign concept and hard to understand so I’ll be putting some more work into getting this very important concept across to followers. How we see Nature, what Nature means to you, and how the whole planet and its bio-capacity works, is key to understanding why we need One Point Zero. While it can be seen to be a very sustainability and scientific focused approach, I see it as being a spiritual issue: How we humans belong to the planet and how we fit into the grand scheme of our world with all its other diverse creatures of Nature.

If you haven’t already, you may want to read my page on ‘Smoking and The Chasm‘? You can read it here

OK, I’m in Spokane, Wa for 3 or 4 days, and am using every possible moment to find new inspiration for One Point Zero.  I’m reading three fascinating books that may help… Haha, they say: That boy, needs a lot of help!!! :

  1. Crystallizing Public Opinion: Edward Bernays
  2. The Persuaders; The hidden Industry that wants to Change you… James Garvey
  3. The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind! Gustave Le Bon (A classic!)

More soon….

Appropriate Nostalgia:  A sign I found on a store window in rural Siberia. That's what I'll be doing the next few days! Haha!
Appropriate Nostalgia: A sign I found on a store window in rural Siberia. That’s what I’ll be doing the next few days! Haha!