THE LAST BEST HUCKLEBERRY BEAR CLAW
One cool thing about gravel riding is how it exposes us to new and wild places—like, must-carry-bearspray kind of wild. I was reminded of this last summer during The Last Best Ride, a gravel event in Whitefish, Montana, home to grizzly bears, huckleberries, and the ultimate mash-up: huckleberry bear claws.
Whitefish is a resort town in the Rocky Mountains and a gateway to Glacier National Park. The name of the event comes from a 1990 book written by William Kittredge and Annick Smith, The Last Best Place, which is an endearing term used by Montanans to refer to their state.
On a 60-mile pre-event shakeout ride through the west side of Glacier, we stopped halfway through at the Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery, a rustic-looking general store that’s served the North Fork community in remote northwest Montana for more than 100 years. Known for its huckleberry bear claws, the Merc sits at the end of a disheveled dirt road, tall and red with the promise of fresh pastries. When we walked in, a clerk asked us if we had ridden there; we nodded, and she said we could have a free fritter.
But we were there for bear claws, pastries the size of a hand, made of fluffy dough, stuffed with sweet huckleberries; then baked, and topped with more sugary sweetness. Inside, the huckleberries are small, and sharper-tasting than blueberries, packing a punch of delight in each mouthful.
With jersey pockets carrying bear spray and handlebar bags full of sustenance, we continued rolling past stunning views in the blues, emeralds, and earth tones of Montana as well as areas that had been ravaged by recent wildfires. No bear encounters, thankfully, but knowing that they were out there gave the ride a real feeling of adventure.
Going on a bike trip soon? Here are a few of my takeaways that could help you maximize the adventure, and give you ample time to enjoy all the pastries: J SHIP YOUR BIKE. I used Bike Flights; it cost $160 round trip. Depending on the airline, you may save money or come out even. But shipping your bike will save you the airport hassle and bike disassembly and re-assembly. Plus, you can pack extras into the bike box (helmet, shoes, nutrition).
J DON’T FORGET YOUR TOOLS. Depending on your skill level, you may want to pack a set of Allen wrenches, a bottom bracket and lockring tool (Feedback Sports makes a good one for $40), and even a brake-bleed kit if you are up for the task. Any level of self-sufficiency will save you time and money.
J INVEST IN A TRAVEL COFFEE KIT. You never know if you will be stuck in lodging with a lessthan-desirable coffee setup!
J BRING YOUR RAIN GEAR. You may have checked the weather for your destination a week ago, but between the time you finish packing and the day of the event, it could change drastically. Always pack a rain jacket, rain booties, and whatever else you need to keep yourself dry and comfy.