June 24 – July 26, 2021
We started around 8 am the next morning by loading our bikes into a trailer for transport to the Route of the Hiawatha trailhead, and then climbed into an old school bus for our shuttle there as well. During its time, this trail was also known as one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. Operated by the Milwaukee Railroad, its trains traversed through eleven tunnels and over nine high trestles, covering a 46-mile route that crossed the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana.
First opened in May 1998 for hikers and wilderness biking, the15 mile trail goes through nine tunnels and over seven high steel trestles, and provides an easy downhill glide of 1.7%, from 4,160 feet at the West Portal to 3,175 feet at Pearson, over 13 miles. The Route of the Hiawatha’s most well-known feature is the 1;7 mile long St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel, which burrows 8,771 feet under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line between Idaho and Montana.
We arrived at the trailhead, got our instructions for the trail, found our bikes, and soon set off, immediately entering the Taft Tunnel. Our bike lights weren’t the greatest and it takes some time to get used to pedaling in the dark, so the first few moments were a little unsettling. But by the time we exited later we were ready for the many tunnels to follow. This would be the wettest of them all and our bikes would pay the price, covered in a slimy mud that would prove quite difficult to remove when we washed them back in camp.
It took a little over an hour to cover the 15 miles and soon enough we pulled into the lunch stop at the parking lot for the shuttle buses. Our plans for the rest of the day included getting laundry done and perhaps doing a tour of the silver mine, or one of Wallace’s other attractions. This all got derailed as the return trip by that not so comfortable school bus took an inordinate amount of time, so much so that all we had time for on our return was the laundry.
I used that time to nurse a pint at the pub and get caught up on the blog, then walked to the laundromat to relieve Joanna at the laundromat so she could take care of some of her personal errands, both of us returning to the pub in time to take part in a tasting there for beer enthusiasts on the tour.
The next day would be the longest of the trip at 53 miles to Harrison, with the first half downhill, losing about 600 feet over 25 miles. As we consistently ride 40 miles at a time at home, this ride didn’t present much of a challenge and so we pulled into town and staked out a campsite in the small city park there, under a large shade tree overlooking the marina.
Feeling a bit thirsty and looking for any cell phone reception or WIFI I went across the street to the Cycle Haus for a beer and a bag of chips which while refreshing, didn’t help my disappointment at not connecting the phone to the outside world.
This would be our last night of the tour and thanks to the accommodating tour staff, we’d arranged to have our gear delivered early to the end of the next day’s 15-mile ride. This way if we left just after breakfast, we could be in the car and on the road by around 9am for our drive to Boise. We’d originally planned on spending the night in Coeur d’Alene and then making the drive but a couple of days into the tour we discovered that Cathy and Tony, whose house we’d be staying at, had delayed their departure for a two-month road trip and would be home that Friday.
So, we cancelled our reservation which would leave us with a seven-hour drive and one hour time change. As planned, we broke camp quickly that next morning and moved our bags to the van that would take them to the end of the trail, ate breakfast and soon thereafter saddled up.
As noted earlier, we’d cover just 15 miles with the last half of them including close to a 1,000-foot gain in elevation, not hard but a little bit of work. We rode around Lake Coeur d’Alene and again crossed over the Chatcolet Bridge, stopping for a picture, and then began the climb to the end of the trail.
We hit the end of the trail, loaded the bikes and gear, cleaned up with wet wipes, changed out of our bike duds and after a quick stop at a market for ice and basic food stuffs, hit the road for Boise. There are two possible routes there, one that goes straight down on Highway 95 or swing out to Pendleton and Walla Walla on the I-84, which is where the GPS sent us.
A few hours in we stopped in the small town of Dayton, at the Moose Creek Café and Bakery, a locally owned establishment with a large and varied selection of baked goods and imaginative breakfast / brunch options. We opted for a quiche and a BLT, both delicious and substantial in portion size. We also purchased a lemon poppy seed loaf for Tony (he likes his sweets) and after demolishing our much-needed breakfast, hit the road for the final stretch to Boise.
At first we couldn’t understand why the GPS took us on this route, but soon grew to appreciate the time we spent in what is known as the Palouse, a distinct geographic region of the northwestern United States, encompassing parts of north central Idaho and southeastern Washington. It is a major agricultural area, primarily producing wheat and legumes and home to two land-grant universities: the University of Idaho in Moscow and Washington State University in Pullman.
We pulled into Cathy and Tony’s not long after 5pm and found them outside talking to some of their neighbors in the tight knit condo community they live in. We cracked a couple of beers, heaved a sigh of relief that we’d made it here smoothly and looked forward to our stay of the next four nights. But for now, we’ll leave it there and continue in the next post.
Route of the Hiawatha: https://www.ridethehiawatha.com/
The Cycle Haus: https://thecyclehaus.com/
Chatcolet Bridge: https://www.alisonmeyerphotography.com/photo/99000112
Moose Creek Café and Bakery: https://www.yelp.com/biz/moose-creek-cafe-and-bakery-dayton-2