In our former working/ career lives, we considered ourselves avid cyclists. I was a "roadie" or road cyclists and participated in club rides and organized rides on a regular basis putting in over a hundred miles each week and sometime more just on a weekend. Joyce and I had also owned two tandem road bikes at different times again participating in rides with the club that I helped to found and organize, The Suncoast Cycling Club. Moreover, I trained and supervised a bicycle unit during my law enforcement career.
The point is that cycling has been a major part of my life since I was a kid. So, when another couple told me about the The Route of the Hiawatha, Bike Trail, I just knew we had to try and make arrangements to do it. We had met Jeanie and Eldy, the RV couple that told us about the trail, while staying in Missoula. Jeanie also does a blog,Where's Eldo and did a wonderful entry on the trail. Located on the Montana Idaho border we actually passed it on the way to Wallace. Thankfully Paul and Paula were also enthusiastic about doing the trail.
Today we prepared the bicycles and attached lights for our bike ride on the The Route of the Hiawatha, Bike Trail. Bike lights and helmets are required to ride the trail. In addition you have to pay $9 each for the privilege of riding and an additional $9 each if you want a bus ride back to the top. You see it's a gradual descent for the entire 15-16 miles.
We loaded up the bikes on Paul's truck as he has a hitch receiver on the front and rear of his truck. We joked that his truck was about 30 ft. long with all the bikes attached making it even more challenging to park.
We got on to Interstate 90 and then off at exit 5 for Taft and then followed the brown signs for the Hiawatha Trail down a dirt road. We found the dirt parking lot which was filling rapidly (Saturday) and unloaded our bikes. At the trail head we paid the attendants who then gave us a safety briefing reminding us that the first tunnel is 1.7 miles long, dark and cold at about a constant 42 degrees.
|Lights, Helmet, sunglasses off...check!|
He made sure we had lights and reminded us to remove our sunglasses before entering the dark tunnels. We soon got underway and were shocked by the cold tunnel even though we were warned before hand!
The 10 tunnels and 7 high trestles were once used by the Milwaukee Railroad so this has become the ultimate Rails to Trails. However, the path is not paved it's all dirt and not smooth dirt except for inside the tunnels.
We soon discovered just how "not smooth" the trail really is as it was a long jarring 15-16 miles even on All Terrain Bikes. But the views and the cool often cold tunnels made it even more interesting. Throughout the route are signs and stanchions explaining bits of history of the rail and the 1910 forest fires that devastated the area.
|Paula and Paul|
We had once entertained the idea of riding back up the hill to the beginning but one-way over washboard roads is enough for most folks! We took the shuttle buses back. The buses were converted school buses with hooks in the back for 24 bikes and seats for 24 passengers.
The buses climbed up narrow dirt roads before depositing us at the other end of the Taft Tunnel ensuring that we had to ride back through the 1.7 mile cold dark tunnel to the start. Actually the cold tunnel felt good on the way back for at least the first mile!
We had a great time and were glad that we had done it!
Our plans are to continue heading west towards the coast of Washington.