Saturday, August 27, 2011

Route of the Hiawatha

YOU WANT TO DO WHAT???/!!!!! was Eldo's reaction when I said I wanted to do a 15 mile bike trail ride...Now hang on, folks! Before you start accusing me of driving Eldy to a premature death at the ripe young age of 63, know that this particular bike trail is described as one of the most scenic sections of rail-trail in the country. The part of the trail I wanted Eldy to do has a 15 mile gentle 2% grade DESCENT all the way. You should be glad I didn't tell him I wanted to do it the OTHER way! You ride through seven trestle bridges and TEN tunnels with shuttle buses that bring you back to the top "in comfort" says a local magazine. (More about that later.) Then, I show Eldo the photos.......check out these trail photos from the website....Route of the Hiawatha. and their main web page...OK, he's in....Helmets required? check.  Lights on the bike? check.  Snacks and enough food to feed an army because Sparky always forgets to bring enough of SOMETHING on a trail ride, like water? check. Buy tickets at 9.00 a person? check. Buy shuttle tickets at 9.00 each to ride back to the top? check.

And we're off....the first problem....going through a 1.7 mile tunnel that is your VERY first tunnel right at the entrance to the trail. And it's a cold, pitch black tunnel..forty-four degrees inside year round. Lots of water running down the sides and you feel the panic start. What if the tunnel collapses? What if there's a flash flood?..The trip through pitch blackness wouldn't be a problem if you had a super duper halogen headlight/flashlight taped to your bike or attached to your helmet. We did not...we had cheapy little Bell lights from Walmart, and Eldy's would dim at the slightest little bounce. This is an OLD rail bed tunnel and not very well graded which = Eldy's light seldom working. He was behind me because mine was the better light. And I had my blinking rear reflector blinking. Here's the other problem...water runs through the tunnels on both sides in troughs. Once you get past the entrance, it becomes completely and totally pitch black dark. You can't see your handlebars, you can't see the person in front of you unless your bike has the super duper, halogen (I know, I know...says E. Tell me about it! Mine wasn't working!) OK, in the mean time, you are freaked out by the pitch black darkness and the normal tendency is to feel out of balance, so you are jerking your bike handlebars back and forth, trying to keep your balance, worrying about hitting the troughs on both sides, (they're not really deep but you could do tire damage and halfway kill yourself if you ran into one, that's why you need helmets, haha). And also in case you go over the edge of the mountain while gawking at the gorgeous scenery...In theory, if you remember how to ride a bike, you wouldn't be jerking the bars back and forth. Sparky had three people in front of her and a little girl who was riding so steady straight, it put us to shame. But they had one good headlight /helmet light that was helping me to see where I was going.
See the little trail winding through the wilderness?
In reality, Eldy couldn't see, so he was in panic mode. We weren't going fast enough in front of him so that caused him to go so slow, he was having to twist the handlebars to keep from falling over sideways! I could hear the shaky panic in his voice, he was afraid he was going to run into me or the troughs and God only knew where THEY were, so I kept asking, "Eldy, are you there? Are you still there? Doing ok?" Sometimes he wouldn't answer because he couldn't hear me and then I'd panic! I was trying to turn around and look at him, which was trying to look through a black velvet hood totally covering your head tied snugly around your neck-- which caused ME to waver on the handlebars. You have a tendency to keep looking for light, a shaft of light, ANY light. Finally, he would answer kinda shortly, "Yeah! PEDAL FASTER! I'M ABOUT TO RUN INTO YOU!" and I couldn't because I was going to run into the people in front of me! Finally, we see light at the end of the tunnel...hardy har har.....and there's a waterfall waiting for you at the other end just as you come out....

And that was the worst of it and the longest as far as the tunnels go. After that one, many of them you could see the other side or at least a tiny shaft of light to give you hope. All the trestles and tunnels gave the height and/or length of the trestles so you wouldn't panic at seeing at another long one in front of you. The trestles weren't any problem unless you 1) have a fear of heights,  or 2) look down at the crumbling cement blocks that hold the metal beams in place (actually, there were just a couple of tiny spots, and probably not important to the technological soundness of the trestle bridges. But looking at these very old structures, I did wonder how often they are inspected! And one more thing that has me puzzled--Not sure why they made those trestles so doggone high! Unless it was because of forest fires so they would burn underneath them or something...

This was an amazing trail, IF they'd take better care of trestle bridges with outstanding views of the Idaho scenery, and ten tunnels. Well, after about five bridges and about five tunnels, you've had enough of those. If the trail was paved, that would be a spectacular trail ride. As it was, the trail hadn't been graded in awhile, and it was railroad sized rocks and pebbles and rough sharp stone for 3/4 of the way. So we rode with our eyes more on the road than on the scenery, worrying about our tires and we have hybrid tires.  My teeth were rattling so hard inside my head, I thought I was going to lose a filling! I would like to be able to say that's how Eldy lost his crown today, but actually, it loosened up yesterday and fell out. It's a good thing it didn't fall out on the trail or Sparky would be suing the state of Idaho for damages! (She's just kidding, everyone! Right, Sparky? asks E.) Yes, dear, that's right, unless Sparky feels that we've been genuinely wronged in some way. That was one of the roughest trails we have been on, and we have Trek bikes with great suspension forks on them, Eldy has a padded seat with extra padding (Sparky bought him that so he wouldn't complain about the family jewels when bike riding) And he STILL complained a LOT, so you know it was a ROUGH trail! Washboard rough 3/4 of the way down....I'd like to know what they are doing with all that money they are collecting for the trail!

Last Saturday, they had over 700 riders in one day! At 9.00 a person, that's a LOT of moolah for this trail! C'mon, guys, get the grader out and get busy!  And while you're at it, put some more park benches in for people to sit and stop and have lunch! We saw only TWO benches in the entire trip down the 15 mile trail to be able to sit and stop and relax. There were quite a few people on the trail today, at least 30-40, so that's some comfort as you enter that first tunnel--you are not alone!

Enough is a little more information. Even though it was a hot day, the trail had a lot of sections with shade and being up higher in the mountains, it was cooler. This trail is the former railroad journey for the Milwaukee Railroad out of Chicago. The history behind this railroad is provided as you bike along the trail on placards placed at the side of the trail and it's a very interesting favorite was about a woman whose job was to derail runaway train cars..she had one where they didn't tell her it was a runaway so she couldn't stop it at her normal post. She managed to derail it and all its contents at another junction in the rail track, only later to discover it was a load of pig slop, sheep sh**t or something like that!  You read about the construction of the bridges, the history of the Pullman porters, the history about carrying silk across the country, the history behind the workers and the huge forest fires that occurred, all kinds of things about the Milwaukee Railroad back in the day....

It was a beautiful day and we really enjoyed this ride, even if it was rough....oh, a couple more things. The ride in the shuttle bus taking you back "in comfort"? Those were old, old school buses that take you on a dusty narrow side road where the driver said sometimes he encounters a moose. That would be cool IF there was room for the moose AND the bus, but it's a one lane road with LOTS of blind curves...that and it was HOT, HOT, HOT in the not working, I guess. That, and you don't get taken back to your car at the parking lot. You have to go BACK through that same first 1.7 mile tunnel that you came through at the beginning...Ah-h-h-h, but the second time was a piece of cake. Some guy behind us had a REALLY BIG SUPER DUPER HALOGEN HEADLIGHT/FLASHLIGHT that illuminated the entire tunnel.....Thanks, saved my man from probably having cardiac arrest!  Yay, we did it!!!!!!  Hey, Eldo...did you see that OTHER trail, the paved one from the side of the road as we came off the highway?  (Trail? What trail? Nope, didn't see any trail, none, nada, zero.....)

And now, you are dying to ride this trail, right? Where the heck is it? Well, it was 100 miles from Jim and Mary's RV Park. That's right, folks, Eldy knew I had my heart set on riding it, and this was the closest we were going to be to it before we left the area and headed towards Yellowstone. So Eldy drove us there....I'm a little confused about where it exactly is, but it's in Idaho, near Wallace at the border of Idaho and Montana. Exit 5 on interstate 90 in Montana, the Taft exit. The drive to the parking lot to get on the trail is a trip in itself, dirt road to nowhere, but the whole thing was cool, and isn't Eldy quite the guy for keeping his woman happy!?

See you at a calmer, slower pace tomorrow......We're resting up for our trip to the Yellowstone area on Sunday, but first----a festival in downtown Missoula this weekend, and Sparky wants to check out a cool knit shop she found on the internet. (Uh-oh! says- guess who?)


  1. that was some ride. GREAT description. Eldo is definitely a real trooper.

    Even though I love Rails to Trails, I hadn't really thought about doing this ride and now I know why. :-)

  2. We have bikes, I had them fixed up last year, but we never road them. I'm not sure if we will take them along or not. We should, we won't be packing much for our first couple of trips and maybe we could fit them in the basement.

  3. Thanks for the laugh tonight! I could totally picture the entire butt clenching ride thanks to your detailed description :)

  4. That ride sounded so great at first, especially the bus ride back up hill. after reading the rest of the story, I am not so sure we would give it a try. The scenery was beautiful and I hope you really had the chance to enjoy it with all the angst.

  5. A thought about your bikes, look into getting puncture resistant tubes for them. My Schwin Caliente is almost 30 years old, over 5K miles and I have never had a flat. I have replaced the tires due to wear. When I bought the bike in 79 or 80, I had the dealer but the puncture resistant tube in and I have never regretted. The tubes are much heavier and will add weight to the bike. Thanks for a great article.


  6. An excellent adventure. A bit far to drive for a bike ride, although I would love to do it! Love your blog! We were your neighbors at Jim and Mary's. It was a pleasure to meet both of you. Safe travels...

  7. Enjoyed your Blog! Always enjoy reading the adventures of fellow full time RVers!