The ride: Part 1

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 details:

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.

another trestle

David and Zoe were my companions.


Zoe on Hiawatha

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.

Walmart next to trail

There was also a nice community garden in Kellogg.

community garden KelloggIt 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.

catalog camp

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

rose Lake bridge

and saw an osprey roosting on a pole on the other side.

Osprey nr Harrison

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.

trail end

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:

Coeur d'Alene 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).

downtown Coeur d'Alene

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.

new used shoes

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.

rv park

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.

post 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.

end of trail carousel spokane

The park looks like fun.

Riverside Park Spokane

And my trusty little bike did great. (I had one of those Hawaiian shaved ices, too).

bike at end

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.

oil train through dirty window









Wallace, Idaho

After a long drive David Zoe and I arrived here at around 5:30. Along the way I had my first visit to the legendary sporting goods store Cabela’s. It was huge and filled with fishing rods and hunting equipment as well as camping stuff. A Western experience.

The town is filled with quirky historical buildings like a museum dedicated to prostitution. Old buildings. Our hotel has fans and no TV. A hand sink in the bedroom. It’s quite charming and also very touristy. Restaurants are high quality.

Tomorrow, the first bike ride — Route of the Hiawatha.

In California after the train ride

The train was, as usual, relaxing, absorbing, and revealing. Though I had taken the Lake Shore Limited and the California Zephyr before, the Rockies, Red Canyon and Sierra Nevadas were still stunning. I also am fascinated by the backside and dilapidated parts of towns and cities. Passing a tiny huddle of buildings in the vast Nevada desert made me feel the isolation of some places in America.

Inside the train was a different world. Air conditioned, people serving us food and cleaning up after us, proximity if we wanted that, privacy if we didn’t. Most of my meals were with people I didn’t know. I met an Egyptian nun, a semi-retired judge from Reno, the principal of a progressive elementary school in Britain.

Landing in Emeryville, I visited my generous nephew Judd, his equally generous wife Rhonda and kids Kingston, an amazing artist, and Hassan, a basketball great. Now I am with my sister Yona in her beautiful new house. We are arguing only two or three times an hour. Seriously, I am very happy to be with her.

Next, Portland with my brother and sister in law, David and Zoe. Then, Idaho!


Today I start another train/bike trip. I’m taking Amtrak to California, visiting family for a few days, then setting off with my brother and sister-in-law to the Idaho Panhandle. They’ll spend a day with me on the Route of the Hiawatha, then they take off for Montana and their own bike adventure and I go back west on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. I’ll end up in Spokane, WA where I take Amtrak back home.

I’ve been dreaming about this trip for months and I’m as prepared as anyone with my level of anxiety and excitement can be. I’m sure I’ve forgotten at least one thing and I’ve taken at least one thing I won’t need. So be it. Just hope my body and my Brompton hold up and it doesn’t rain.

Day 1 on the train

The first day is a microcosm of Amtrak’s pluses and minuses. Pluses: the train left South Station on time, with me comfortably enclosed in my little roomette. I have everything I need: lights, comfortable seats, a door to the compartment, a toilet, a sink, mirror, curtains for privacy. The sleeping car porter, Alarik, is helpful but leaves me alone.

It’s fascinating to ride a train through the edge of Boston, the suburbs, then the exurbs, then the small towns, then nothing settled. Past Springfield we follow a frozen stream with open spots that are rapids. The trees are thin. You see low mountains occasionally when the train comes into a clear spot. Every once in a while there’s a quarry or an unknown rough business, or a ramshackle house with many objects around it. We’re going too fast for me to identify these objects.

I’m contentedly reading the Times, the Wall Street Journal, looking out the window, dozing (there are two big pillows handy) eating clementines. I brought lunch because I mistakenly thought I wouldn’t get one from Amtrak — I had a brief moment of wanting to eat my lunch AND Amtrak’s (after all it was free) but decided on my lunch.

We get into Albany 20 minutes early. We meet the branch of the train that comes from NYC here and we’re not scheduled to leave for about two hours. I walk down the street beside the station about a quarter mile. You can see Albany with the tall state offices buildings to the east (we’re in Renssaleer). The sun is setting.Image

On the walk back to the station I check out the public library. It has wifi, hooray! But there’s not much to look at besides checking email and the Times. I read the local paper.

Back at the station, I look at the arrival/departure board and I encounter the familiar Amtrak minus. The Boston leg of the train to Chicago got here early but the NYC branch will be late. That means our departure is delayed an hour. That also means dinner is also delayed an hour, because the dining car is on the NYC train. That means I may not eat dinner until 8 or 9 pm. Well, it’s not a disaster. And I’m hopeful that the train will eventually get to Chicago in time for me to catch the California Zephyr tomorrow. I have four hours grace for that. Right now I’m writing in my little compartment, very cozy and warm. Yes…the pluses overcome the minuses.




More on the last day

I meandered down the trail to Connellsville. I wanted to kill time because my train to Pittsburgh didn’t come until 9:30 pm but I also hated to have the ride end.
Less than a mile from Ohiopyle there was a trail up the hill to Ohiopyle State Park. I walked the bike up to check out the park. It was very steep and difficult to push the loaded bike, which probably weighed 50 or 60 pounds. At the top were some nice walkin campsites. Maybe next year.
Back on the bike trail I saw a butterfly that obligingly kept still long enough for me to take a picture.


The trees cast shadows.


There were vestiges of the old rail line.


When I got to Connellsville I went to the library where the trail guide said there would be wifi. But it was closed, no reason given.


Oh well. I found wifi in a city park next to the river. I struck up a conversation with Devon, who looked about 11 or 12. We talked about bikes, cellphones and age. He was impressed with the folding bike. A couple of other people were very friendly and proud of the bike trail.
Finally I went to the Amtrak station, hours early but it was getting dark and I didn’t want to be wandering around Connellsville. Here it is.


The enclosure had no door but it was heated! The train was an hour late. I got into Pittsburgh about 12:30 am and am staying with my sister Laure for a couple of days. Then back to Boston, where I will mull over this trip some more and plan the next one.

Last day

I will post more from Pittsburgh. The only place I could find wifi here in Connellsville is a city parknear the river. I’m standing in front of a locked door but can get a signal.
Connellsville is the antithesis of the artsy tourist towns I passed through. I ate at McDonald’s. There are a lot of vacant storefronts. I felt compelled to lock my bike.
I have about 5 hours to kill before the 9:30 train. I managed to take 4 and a half hours to ride the 17 miles from Ohiopyle.. It was beautiful as always. Photos when I get to Pittsburgh.

Rockwood to Ohiopyle

I couldn’t post yesterday because there’s no wifi in Ohiopyle! No cell service either. So I’m writing this Monday morning and will post when I get to some wifi.
It was another beautiful day and ride. The leaves on the trail were wet from the rain at night but there was no mud. It was about 20 miles to Confluence, a very bike-friendly town next to two rivers. There are two bike pedestrian bridges linking the trail to the town square and here’s one of them.


Here’s the view from the bridge


I had lunch in Sisters Cafe, a fish sandwich with tartar sauce on a hamburger bun. I loved it! I also used their wifi to call Yona on Skype and it worked.
On the way to Confluence the trail came to an abandoned tunnel and had to go around it.



After Confluence the trail soon entered Ohiopyle State Park and followed high above the Youghiogheny River, a whitewater destination.


Ohiopyle was incredibly crowded with bikers and tourists. Thete wss a convenient park with decks for viewing.the famous waterfalls.



I’m staying in my most luxurious accommodations yet, a double wide trailer with three bedrooms. I am the only guest. With no wifi last night, I watched football and Amazing Race. Today I make my way very slowly to Connellsville, where I catch a night train to Pittsburgh. Last day of riding.

Stats and loneliness

I’m noticing that I’m content to ride by myself, although there are quite a few people along the trail. Loneliness comes when I get to a town and explore and eat by myself. I guess that makes sense. Riding is such a physical act; it’s something I can focus on.
Now some stats. In two days I rode 43.7 miles. I climbed 1207 feet and descended 664 feet.
I’ve lucked out on weather. Yesterday was sunny and today it started raining just as I got to Rockwood. Tomorrow and Monday are forecast to be nice.

From Frostburg to Rockwood

Today was the end of up. And some notable spots.
Near the end of my 8 mile climb, I came to the Mason Dixon line


the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania


I was always aware that my childhood in Maryland was spent below the Mason Dixon line, to my regret. It was striking to see the real line.
Shortly after came the Savage Tunnel, nearly three quarters of a mile long.


Then, thankfully, the Eastern Continental Divide. A nice couple from North Pittsburgh took my picture.


Then downhill all the way, but a very gentle downhill. I descended about 550 feet in 23 miles, the same amount I gained fromFrostburg in 8 miles. And my heavy new tires have a lot of  rolling resistance so I was working.
It seemed more settled on this side of the Divide. Here’s an old graveyard next to some cows.


The trail followed a river for quite a way.


There were bridges big


and small.


Close to Rockwood was a beautiful little waterfall surroundef by rhododendron, with a bench facing it.


A talkative man told me many residents drink the water. He also said it was deer hunting season, but not to worry.
I’m staying tonight in a fancy, very comfortable bunkroom and I’m the only one so far. More on that later.