We were now on our third day of the Idaho/Montana bike trip. In the morning, after drinking about six cups of coffee (true US travel tip: the further inland you go, the weaker the coffee gets), eating a huge breakfast and packing gigantic sandwiches for the road, we left the 50,000 Silver Dollar Motel and Casino and made our way towards the Trail of the Hiawatha trailhead.
This part of the trip was much more difficult than I expected it to be. We were told we had to get back on the highway for about six miles until Saltese. Then, in Saltese (a hint of a town) we were to exit and get on a gravel road that would take us, for another five or so miles, to Taft (a name only. No facilities, or buildings. When traveling in the USA be prepared to encounter names on the map which are are just that: names).
That day was even colder and darker than the one before. The clouds were thick and it looked like it would be pouring at any moment. At this point, I was layering more and more. Since this was the middle of July, away from the coast, I was expecting the opposite. I thought it was usually quite hot in this part of the world in July. I packed some long sleeves and a pair of long pants (just in case), but apparently not enough! In the end, I ended up wearing four layers on top (long sleeve base layer, a bike shirt, a merino wool hoodie and a cycling jacket) and two pairs of pants (bike shorts and long waterproof pants) that day. And gloves. And I was still freezing.
But the weather wasn’t the hardest part of the journey. It was the climb… Maybe I was just tired by then, but getting up from the motel to Taft was exhausting. Then in Taft there were still two miles left to the trailhead and those two miles were pretty steep!
At this point a number of cars and trucks, packed with mountain bikes and vacationers ready to ride the Trail of the Hiawatha, were passing us by on this rather narrow dirt road. More than once we had to pull over and stay glued to the mountainside, waiting for the cars to pass. After that we’d get back on our bikes and listen for more cars. The problem here was that we kept on going up and as you know, it’s bad enough when you’re rollin’ up. It’s much worse when you stop and then have to start up again on an incline. So here is where I, shaky and exhausted by now, stepped into the spikes of one of my pedals and got a bloody gash on my leg. It bled profusely (always carry a first aid kit with you!), but it didn’t hurt. Still, it was a little roadside emergency. Dave did his best to bandage me up. (I took a picture of it, but will spare you the gory visuals.)
When we finally got up to the trailhead, I was more than ready for a ride down the mountain.
The Trail of the Hiawatha is a fantastic mountain bike trail. You have to pay to ride it ($10), but it’s so worth it! It’s beautiful and well maintained and when you’re done, you have the option of being shuttled up. We, of course, chose the shuttle, which was an additional $8 well spent.
If you’re ever in this part of the world, I would highly recommend a stop at the Lookout Pass. The Pass not only issues tickets for the Trail of the Hiawatha, but also rents mountain bikes. If you don’t have a mountain bike of your own, rent one! Wish we had done that… Our bikes (both are a Surly Long Haul Trucker) are sturdy and ideal for a long bike tour. However, taking them out on a mountainous trail is less than ideal. Going up is doable, but going down had us bouncing around so much (with the panniers on the back too) that the next day our arms were all in quite a bit of pain! I mean, a LOT of pain! Thank goodness there’s ibuprofen. So no, I wouldn’t recommend doing this ride without any suspension on your bicycle. The bikes that are available for rent at the Lookout Pass are either single or double suspension. Splurge and get the double. Trust me, it’ll be worth it!
The Trail is incredibly scenic. There are ten tunnels to get through and seven elevated trestles. The tunnels (especially the first one) are very cold and dark. Even on a hot day I’d bring something warm to wear and a headlight is a must.
The Trail of the Hiawatha is about 13 miles down the hill. Then you catch a shuttle back up that will let you off just before the first tunnel. To come back you have to bike through this long, 2 mile, tunnel again. So the total trail miles come to about 15.
Again, this is a wonderful, well organized and well maintained, well supported trail. This was a gloomy day, yet the views were breathtaking. I can only imagine what it would be like to ride this trail on a sunny day and on a proper mountain bike! Pure bliss!
Once we got back to the start though, we were now faced with getting over the pass again. Another 5 miles up (either on the highway or another attempt at a dirt trail) and then down the pass through the mountains. It was late in the afternoon and I officially was at capacity. I was determined to find another way.
I talked to the very nice young attendant at the beginning of the trail, telling her all about my limits and how I just couldn’t get up over the pass again. Was there another way? Could she find us a shuttle, or a back of somebody’s pick up truck?
She took pity on us (mostly me, because Dave was fine and willing to go over the pass without melodrama) and told us we could hitch a ride with the truck that was picking up the rental bikes at the end of the day. The driver was willing to take us as far as the top of the pass.
After that there was one more phone call and one more shuttle that took us from the pass (and past the road construction) to Mullan. A very nice driver, who worked for the department of transportation and whose job was to give stranded bicyclists a ride (I didn’t bother to ask him where he was the day before, when I tried calling).
We met some really great people on this trip. People who were always willing to help and told us great stories about the local wildlife (yes, the grizzlies are coming back, but they usually stay up at higher elevations; wolves have “no fear” and there’ve been lots of sightings of large cats lately) and the local history and how it snowed at the pass only two weeks before we got there!
In Mullan we got back on the now familiar Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes and zoomed back to Wallace, where we had a motel room booked for the night.
Again, a few stops and starts on my Strava. This is from the 50,000 Silver Dollar Motel in Montana and then the Trail of the Hiawatha.
- Miles: 29.1
- Elevation gain: 2,619 ft
The shuttle let us out before the tunnel and then we biked it. This is how long the tunnel is!
- Miles: 2.1
- Elevation gain: 79 ft (slightly uphill before entering the tunnel. I think the tunnel itself if pretty much level)
And then, back on the Trail of the Cour D’Alenes.
- Miles: 7.9
- Elevation gain: 0 ft (all downhill!)
Total for Today:
- Biking Miles: 39.1
- YTD Biking Miles: 785.3