After biking the 56 miles from Plummer to Kellogg, Idaho the day before, we had less than 20 miles to the end of the Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes. The trail ends in Mullan, just before the Lookout Pass.
We started out fairly early (for us; 9 am is not really early for most people) and headed over to Wallace, about 12 miles away. Here is where the trail begins to ascend a little bit. It’s still a very gentle grade, hardly noticeable, but now we had to pedal more.
Wallace warranted a stop. It wasn’t lunchtime yet, but we had to get off the bike and adore it for an hour or so.
Wallace is a beautiful, very well preserved, historic town with a rich silver mining history. There is a silver mine you can tour (we didn’t) and lots of silver you can buy (I got earrings). The town is very small (less than 800 inhabitants), but because it’s located close to I-90, it gets a fair amount of visitors.
There is a theater here, restaurants with outdoor seating, a very good brewery serving excellent food (City Limits) and most importantly, espresso. Although Wallace is a tiny town, it hosts a number of festivals throughout the year and attracts many visitors. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in this part of the world.
From Wallace to Mullan it’s only another 7 miles (slightly uphill). Our original plan was to spend the night here, but that’s before I realized there aren’t any hotels in town. Ok, I take it back. There is one motel that seems to always have a No Vacancy sign up. I’m assuming that it serves more of as a long-term accommodation for the Mullan folks.
If Wallace is tiny, Mullan is pretty much microscopic. According to the census, there are 100 less residents in Mullan than in Wallace, but also Mullan doesn’t have much of a downtown. It’s still pretty cute, nestled in a valley surrounded by the mountains, but not much going on here.
We got to the town and then tried to figure out how to get over the Lookout Pass. Normally, bicycles are allowed on the highway here and you can get over the pass by taking I-90. However, we were told that the highway was under construction, so no bicycles were allowed on it. Not between Mullan and the top of the pass.
I called the offices at the pass asking them about it and they gave me a number for a highway shuttle. I called that number and no one answered. I left a message and started to worry.
Meanwhile, Dave went in to a local bar (just about the only place in town that was opened at 11:30 am on a Sunday) to get a beer and meet the locals.
I suppose I shouldn’t lie and say that I was glad he left me sitting on a bench, as I frantically tried to call people who could take us over the pass. And I suppose I may as well admit that this move of his to get a beer before noon ended up being our saving grace. In the bar he met a woman who said there is another way to get over the pass. She kindly drew a map for us on a back of a bar ticket.
It was only five miles or so to the top of the pass on this road, which turns out even has a name! It’s the Northern Pacific Trail, a dirt road which allows for some off road vehicles, sturdy AWD’s, horses and mountain bikes to get over the pass without having to go on the highway.
I had an ambitious plan for that day. We were going to get to the pass by 12:30 or 1 pm and have lunch there. And then continue on for the rest of the 20 miles, going down the pass, into Montana. What I didn’t realize was just how difficult it would be to get to the top.
The road was dirt and gravel, with many steep sections, and it was also intercepted with other roads. We got lost twice (!) and had to backtrack. It’s bad enough when you get lost driving around in a car, but on a bicycle?! It really isn’t much fun to lose a mile or more on roads that you can hardly get through.
At one point we came across a trailhead for the Stevens Lakes hike. Confident we were on the right track, we stopped and took a snack break here. After this rest stop we continued on what we thought was the right way, but it turned out it wasn’t! At one point we saw a truck coming towards us. He stopped and asked us where we’re heading.
“Lookout pass,” we said.
“You’re not getting to the pass this way! This way it’s all huckleberries and people shootin’,” said the driver (did he smirk a little when he said “people shootin’?”), who had a cute puppy on his lap and a little boy without a car seat in the back.
Sure enough, that’s when I started to hear gun shots. Apparently, this was a dead end forest road that lead to a spot where locals liked to go for target practice! We hightailed out of there in no time at all!.
The man kindly showed us the proper way to go (steeper, but at least it lead us towards the pass).
We arrived at the top of the pass around 5 pm, about four hours behind schedule. We picked up our tickets for the Trail of the Hiawatha (which we were to go on the following day) and then had no choice but to take the highway down the pass and into Montana.
Dave wanted to take the dirt road back down, but I didn’t think that would work. We didn’t really know how far down the dirt road went, where it ended, where it veered off. We were heading to a motel in Montana, located about 20 miles down by the side of the highway. The only way we were guaranteed to find the motel was to get on and stay on the highway. The road construction was only on the Idaho side, so we were able to do that.
Okay, let’s just say that I hope to never again take my bicycle out on a busy US highway! What a nightmare! There is a decent shoulder along I-90, but it’s full of rocks and debris from former car accidents and tire blowouts. As we were going down the pass (this in theory should’ve been fun, since it’s downhill) it was very cold (the weather that day was constantly promising to turn for the worse. Luckily, it never really rained), and extremely windy. The wind was whipping me around so much, for the first time I was grateful for all the luggage I was carrying. If I had a lighter bike, it could’ve have derailed me. We went down and down, trying to avoid pieces of glass, plastic, broken wires and chunks of tires. All this as semi-trucks rushed passed us at 80 miles per hour.
When we finally saw the 50,000 Silver Dollar Motel and Casino, it was like seeing a shiny oasis in a desert! I don’t think I was ever this glad to see a motel!
Yes, this place really does have 50,000 silver dollars on its walls and ceiling. It also has heat and running water and beer and food and beds with blankets on them. The man at the reception was very friendly and impressed we made it over there on our bicycles. When we asked him where we could lock up our bikes, he told us not to bother.
“No one will touch your bikes! This isn’t Seattle. The only excitement we get around here is when the bear shows up or the guy from Idaho, who smacks his wife around.” He then assured us that the guy from Idaho was not currently at the motel.
Lots of stops and starts on my Strava that day.
Initially, between Kellogg and Wallace, I forgot to start my Strava! Or I started it and then stopped it… Anyways, this is what I got. The trail really does not go in a straight line.
- Kellogg to Wallace ride: around 12 miles
- Elevation gain: around 500 ft
- Wallace to Mullan ride: 7.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 566 ft
- Mullan to 50,000 Silver Dollar Motel and Casino ride: 30.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,861 ft
Total for Today:
- Biking Miles: 50.4
- YTD Biking Miles: 746.2