It was too complicated to keep writing daily posts. This is the story of the rest of the bike part of my trip: riding 15 miles of the Trail of the Hiawatha with David and Zoe, and then riding about 100 miles west, from Wallace to Spokane. It took me 10 days, from Aug. 7 to Aug. 17; I stayed a couple of days in a couple of places, and rode anywhere from 8 miles to 27 miles in a day.
The trails were spectacular, I met friendly, interesting and/or quirky people, I had a few unpleasant but manageable surprises. Overall it was everything I had hoped for and I ended feeling a lot of joy and gratitude that I had ventured to, and could, do this by myself.
The Trail of the Hiawatha begins with a dark, wet 1.7-mile tunnel that I had dreaded and that terrified me. Water is pouring down the walls and off the ceiling and is carried in two ditches next to each wall, which you are warned to avoid. It sounded like I was under a loud waterfall the whole way, water dripped onto my helmet, and I couldn’t see very well because my bike light wasn’t up to the task. I tried to keep up with David ahead of me, who had a good light on his bike.
Ahhhh…finally I emerged. What a relief! It was cloudy but I could see! The trail follows an abandoned rail line downhill, gradually, and crosses deep valleys on trestles as high as 200 feet. I felt like I was in the mountains.
David and Zoe were my companions.
My bike with its 16-inch wheels shook and rattled down the trail, and me with it. It got a little uncomfortable after a while but the views were worth it. At the bottom, David and Zoe rode back up, and I took a shuttle bus. David loaned me an extra bike light he had for the trip back through the tunnel — my light had unexpectedly conked out. Amazingly, I could see so much better that I was hardly scared! OK, David, I will get one like yours.
We stayed two nights in Wallace, which is very historic, especially when it comes to prostitution — there was a museum dedicated to the trade across from our hotel. And other tourist spots.
The day after the Hiawatha, David and Zoe drove east to Montana for their vacation — look for photos on his Google + page — and I started biking west on the Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes.
It’s a paved rail trail that was built by the state of Idaho with help from volunteers, partly to cover hazardous waste from silver and other mining that had been dumped on the rail bed. It is absolutely beautiful but riders are warned not to leave the trail because the waste is still there along the trail, and you can’t use water from the lovely Coeur D’Alene River alongside because water filters won’t remove the chemicals.
Around Wallace the trail is almost industrial, goes through the ski resort town of Kellogg and passes some very commercial sites.
There was also a nice community garden in Kellogg.
It gets wilder and more buccolic soon after Kellogg. I rode 22 miles to a campground in Cataldo, Idaho, right next to I-90. Yes, it was kind of noisy but there was a great restaurant nearby where I got some fish tacos and watched the Olympics. And my little tent seemed right at home.
The next day I did 27 miles — the longest ride of my trip — to Harrison, a small town next to Lake Coeur D’Alene. There’s a cool little library, some decent restaurants and coffee houses, a lot of boating, swimming and bike day trips. (Interestingly, I saw hardly any other touring cyclists). I stayed two days, first in a B & B and then camped by the lake. There is a lot of wildlife nearby. I took a day trip across the river on a wood-planked bridge
and saw an osprey roosting on a pole on the other side.
Earlier in the morning I rode back up the trail and saw a moose; I observed him or her for almost an hour, munching leaves on a tree and lily pads in a wetland next to the trail. (Naturally I didn’t bring a camera along). Very exciting!
At the beach campground I met a friendly 17-year-old Japanese boy named Yasu who was touring the northwest by himself on a bike. He spoke some English but seemed woefully unprepared, ate nothing but chips and soda because, he said, food was too expensive. He also didn’t know about any bike routes so he would go onto busy roads and end up hitchhiking. I got a little worried about him. I offered him some mint tea — ugghh. Too bad I didn’t bring any green tea with me.
The next day it was on to Heyburn State Park about 8 miles down the trail, where I planned to stay two days. It’s the oldest state park in Idaho and it’s next to Lake Coeur D’Alene. I didn’t realize how steep the trail up to the campsites was. It was exhausting to push my loaded Brompton up there (it weighed about 55 to 60 pounds loaded, probably). But the campground was refreshingly primitive. There were a few individual flush toilets but no sinks, no bath houses, no electric hookups.
There I had a bad moment when I accidentally cut my finger and of course it kept bleeding for a while. All the sudden I felt very alone, though the campground was full. I did stop the bleeding and put a bandaid on, and the cut was really nothing much. But it shook me up.
I tried to explore the campground but it was difficult; the map I got was confusing and there were no directions anywhere. The roads were all gravel — not good for the Brompton. After wondering what I would do for two days, I decided to skip the second night and go to the little town at the end of the trail, another 7 miles or so, instead. Amazingly I had cell service and booked a room in a very cheap motel. That made me feel better.
The next day I rode on to Plummer, up one of only two hills on the trail (there is a hill at each end). The guidebook said it was a 5 percent grade but it didn’t feel like much to me. Was I actually getting stronger? I hope so. Approaching Plummer, the last mile marker on the trail said zero.
Plummer, and this part of the trail, is on the reservation of the tribe of the Coeur D’Alene. Plummer is the administrative seat of the tribal government and there is a courthouse and several social service agencies there. The tribe owns a casino nearby; it undoubtedly pays for some amenities, like a modern health club, and members of the tribe get quarterly payments. There is still a lot of poverty and I couldn’t see much evidence of jobs outside of the government, tourism, the casino, and logging.
The casino also pays for a surprisingly good, free bus transit system, which I took advantage of the next day to get to the city of Coeur D’Alene about 40 miles north. Of course you have to go to the casino first, then transfer to another bus. I talked for a while to a young man from Plummer who said he goes to the casino to gamble when he has nothing else to do. When I got to the casino I met two middle-aged Hispanic women from Coeur D’Alene who said they had been up all night the night before, gambling, and had lost all their money. They seemed surprisingly upbeat about it.
The end of the bus line was an empty gravel parking lot in Coeur D’Alene. “I was expecting a building,” I told the bus driver. “They’re building it,” he said.
But he pointed out my next bike trail nearby — the North Idaho Centennial Trail. It was early in the morning and I decided to go east into downtown Coeur D’Alene and see what it was like.
What a surprise! It went along the lake waterfront with beautiful views, a beach, and parks. Here’s the beach:
At a big city park, a triathalon was in progress and I listened for a while to announcements of the finishers. The park was crowded with racers and their friends and families. Then I went on to more of the downtown, with coffee houses and other shops (the road was empty because it was part of the course and had been closed to traffic).
It was here that my trusty Keen sandals finally gave up the ghost. I tried to repair a broken strap with adhesive tape, but no go. Finally I went into a tour operator’s shop and asked if they knew where I could get some cheap sneakers. They directed me to the neighborhood with used clothing stores, maybe a half mile away. There I found some snazzy blue suede running shoes (I think) that fit and cost $5.
It was time to go to the RV park where I was camping, in the city. It was an easy ride from downtown, almost all on bike trails. The tent sites left much to be desired. They were also ringed by sprinklers (which I cleverly avoided) and there was a light on a post nearby that kept the inside of my tent brightly lit all night. Finally, the bathrooms had keypads and you needed the code to get in; no one was in the office and there were no instructions but I finally did get in.
That evening, who should show up but Yasu! He had camped there the night before and wasn’t sure he could stay this night, but no one was in the office, so he stayed. He seemed uncertain about his next step. I told him about the bike trail I was taking to Spokane, and tried to show him the route on my phone, but he didn’t seem to understand. He depended on hitchhiking for the most part. I certainly hope he is ok.
I took two days to get to Spokane, first on the North Idaho Centennial, and then, after I crossed into Washington, on the Spokane River Centennial Trail. I stayed in a hotel in Post Falls, about 15 miles from Coeur D’Alene, the first night. I found a neat town park in Post Falls, at the falls.
The weather was hot and dry, above 90 each day. I needed some shade along the ride, but I did fine. The last day was 25 miles, finally ending at the carousel in Riverside Park in Spokane.
The park looks like fun.
And my trusty little bike did great. (I had one of those Hawaiian shaved ices, too).
In Spokane, I found a great coop grocery and bookstore. Plus the library was wonderful to hang out in. And I went to an AA meeting at the top of some mysterious stairs at the back of a church, to celebrate 38 years without a drink of alcohol.
At 1:25 a.m. I caught the Empire Builder to Chicago and then the Lake Shore Limited back to Boston. Three days later, I was home. It was a totally great trip that I won’t forget.
Apropos of nothing, I will end with a picture of an oil train taken through the dirty rear window of my car on the Empire Builder.