Jul 09

Our Mountain States Adventure

by in 2011 Trips

Here’s the summary…

July 1-4 we took part in the Northwest Tandem Rally. This year it was in Spokane. We rode 63 miles the first day, 47 the second and 24 the third. Most of the miles were southwest toward Cheney. Lots of friends, more than 300 tandems, and blessed sunshine! Overnighted with my friend Mike from South Salem High.

July 5-7 we rode the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes across the Idaho panhandle. Mike took us to Harrison on Lake CdA to start. We rode 50 miles on the 5th (saw lots of moose) and slept in Wallace. On the 6th we rode 66 miles (28 on gravel forest roads) in a round trip over Lookout Pass to the Trail of the Hiawatha and back. The Hiawatha is an old rail trail (The Milwaukee Line) which snakes up the west side of the mountains. There are 9 tunnels and 8 sky-high trestles. The tunnel through the pass is 1.7 miles long, 40 degrees cold, and dark as night on the seafloor. It was great fun, but we were glad to be back in Wallace at day’s end. On the 7th we returned to Harrison and tacked on some extra miles to total 67. Total biking miles for six days: 316.

From July 8-9 we were in Missoula without our bike, visiting our friend Bonnie and the Garden of 1000 Buddhas. It is a gorgeous site dedicated to peace in the Montana hills. On the 10th we drove back to Seattle, tired but full of wonderful memories.

And here are the details.

Friday July 1

It had been a cool, wet spring and a horrible “June-uary” in Seattle so we were ready for some sun. The Northwest Tandem Rally (NWTR) was headquartered in Spokane which guaranteed better weather. We planned to add a few days of vacation at the end, so we stuffed the car full of cycling equipment and food, then set off.

The drive was uneventful until we stopped for construction outside of Spokane. We eventually got off the freeway and took side roads to the HQ. We had the requisite visits with other riders and the organizers, then went to our hotel, the Red Lion at the Park. We went to dinner with ETC friends Kathy and Pat at a local Thai restaurant, then hit the sack.

Saturday, July 2

We rose early the next morning to ride the 4 miles to the rally start line. It was sunny and promising warm temps early. About 40 ETC members gathered for our annual snapshot. We joined 300+ tandems heading out on the streets of Spokane. We were planning on doing a medium length ride, 54 miles. We were concerned that the first five miles were a steady, hard climb. Fortunately it all leveled out once we reached the Palouse. Lots of wide open spaces in this country! We took a break at Medical Lake, visited with more friends, old and new, and rode on to Cheney for lunch.

The lunch stop was impressive. They had a professional mobile pizza maker working there. The pizza shop was tossing pies right in front of us and loading them into ovens built into the side of an old fire truck. They can produce 1000 pieces an hour! They handled our crowd pretty easily. They even baked one without cheese for a bunch of us vegans who arrived at the same time. The ride back was marred by losing the use of our tandem communication device. I could hear Sheila, but she couldn’t hear me. At our last rest stop (A&W Root Beer), I discovered that her earpiece was clogged with wax. Quick work with a straight pin took care of the problem. What joy!

Even more joy came when we got to do a 4 mile downhill run to the finish. That more than made up for the difficult start! Of course, we still had to ride another 4 miles to the hotel, but it had been a good day. Our mileage for the day was 63.

Sunday, July 3

We got a lazy start made slower by a puncture ¼ mile from arriving at the start line. We got it fixed quickly enough, but everyone was gone by the time we started. Today’s route called for a return to Cheney, this time via Fish Lakes Trail, a rail-trail. It was again lovely. We were in sleeveless jerseys from the start. We eventually started catching riders and having visits, one of the best parts of the rally. We saw people from Virginia, BC, Oregon, Indiana… all over, really. After lunch in Cheney, we joined forces with 4 other ETC teams and headed back. The day was hot and we all decided to lop 14 miles off the route. We circled through bucolic pine forests and fields, and eventually hopped onto Fish Lakes Trail to run home. We skipped the ride to the HQ this time and took a short cut straight back to downtown Spokane, avoiding the big climb we’d done on our return yesterday. We walked through the site of the old Expo and looked at the waterfalls where we ran into Mike & Renda from ETC, who took our photo for us. The falls were spectacular. We’d done 46 miles and were tired, so we just read books and relaxed that evening.

Monday, July 4

On the national holiday, we packed up, and did a quick 25 mile loop out to Nine Mile dam. Easily more than 60% of the ride was on bike trails through parks. The views of the river were outstanding. Then we headed to see my old high school friend, Mike. We lounged around his house, eating and visiting all night long. We retired to the queen-sized air mattress in his basement. Thus began our worst night’s sleep of the trip.

Neither of us could sleep. We tossed and turned in the cool basement for well over 1.5 hours. Sheila finally went upstairs to try to sleep on the loveseat. I napped downstairs until I figured out the problem. The cement basement floor was sucking the heat from our bodies. It was like sleeping on an unheated waterbed. I pulled out a hide-a-bed mattress for insulation. Finally, I was actually able to sleep a few hours. Sheila had not fared much better upstairs, so we were both wrecks in the morning.

Tuesday, July 5

This was to be a big day, too. Mike was ferrying us to Harrison on Lake Coeur d’Alene to begin a 3 day adventure. On the first day, we rode from Harrison to Wallace, an old mining town. We followed the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s. It is a converted rail line that is arrow straight and flatter than a pancake. We only gained 15 feet of elevation in 25 miles! The catch is that there is no potable water on that first 25 mile section. The trail is built on land that was so polluted from the mines that part of the remediation included sealing the soil and building the trail. There were half a dozen lovely little lakes along the trial, huge marshes, the lovely Coeur d’Alene River, none of which were safe to even wet your feet.

Along that first section we felt like we were in a wildlife sanctuary. We saw half a dozen moose standing in the water grazing. We watched flocks of pelicans swooping and swirling in aerial acrobatics. Herons were numerous, as were smaller birds. It was quite a visual feast.

When we stopped for water at a restaurant off the trail, we walked in to see a group of 10 tandemists from Portland. Sheila was having an allergy attack and one of them not only gave her some drops, but also an aromatherapy and acupressure session. She came out feeling like a new woman.

The surprises didn’t end there. As we were leaving we ran into Mike and Renda again as well as Greg and Elisabeth and their toddler, Wolfie. G&E live in Yakima and we hadn’t seen them in ages. We rode together to Kellogg, then continued on alone to Wallace. We’d done 50 miles and gained 174 feet. We enjoyed dinner at a kitschy place called the Red Light Garage. The food was ok (they made us bean burritos), and the owner was very interesting. She owns three businesses in town! After a time, we toured downtown and walked back to our room to get ready for our big day.

Wednesday, July 6

We had chosen to ride from Wallace (without our extra gear) to the Hiawatha Trail and back. We weren’t sure how long that was going to be. All the route info we’d gotten was sketchy at best. We thought it’d be 20 miles to Lookout Pass, then 15 miles on the trail, then back. That sounded like 70 miles. But then we learned the head of the trail was 5 miles over the pass. Another 10 miles added to the trip. But we could get a shuttle from one end of the trail back to the pass, subtract another 20 miles. We were guessing between 50 and 75 miles, some on gravel.

We left Wallace at 8 am on the CdA trail. In 6 miles it ended in Mullen and we started following the Northern Pacific Trail. It was paved for about 4 miles until Shoshone Park. There we refilled water bottles and debated whether to keep on the NorPac or follow a cue sheet. We opted for the NorPac. The road turned into a forest service dirt road. It wasn’t too bad, but bumpy. We found the best route sign ever which convinced us we’d made the right choice and showed us exactly where we were and how far we had to go. We zig-zagged up the pass on the NorPac. Along the way we saw a grey wolf standing in the trail before he bounded to the bushes. It was much like hiking through the forest, something which Sheila really can’t do anymore. That was nice, doubly so with the warm sun on our shoulders. But it was a steady climb until suddenly we were at the ski area at Lookout Pass.

We went in to buy our Hiawatha tickets (for the trail and the shuttle) and finally got the straight scoop on the route. If we stayed on forest service roads, it was 14 miles to the trailhead, all gravel. If we got onto I-90, it was 5 miles of freeway and 2 miles of gravel to the trailhead. We’d come too far to back out, so we agreed we’d take the freeway. Otherwise it could have been an 85 mile day!

I-90 wasn’t a great ride, although it was all steeply downhill. The shoulder in Montana was covered in pebbly asphalt. It was like driving through gravel. At one point we were going too fast and hit a sandy gravel piece on the road. We almost lost control, so I made sure our speed was not more than 25 for the rest of the trip down. Lesson learned. The two miles up to the trailhead were pretty steady climbing on a nice gravel road. It ended with a 10% stinger for the last quarter mile!

Now it was time for the Route of the Hiawatha. It was part of the Milwaukee Line which went from Chicago to Tacoma. The trains were electrified through the mountains because it was so cold, boilers on conventional engines couldn’t stay warm! The grade was a gentle 1% most of the time so we were ready.

We had brought super strong flashlights with us to navigate the 9 tunnels there. The first one is 1.7 miles long, unlit and unpaved. You enter the east portal of the tunnel. It took us time to adjust to the shock. It was 40 degrees inside YEAR ROUND! It was 85 outside. There are running water gutters on both sides and water seeped through the concrete and dripped onto the riders. It was amazing. Our lights were perfect. We could see the “rain”, the ruts, and the other cyclists as if it were day. We had to ride around throngs of tourists who, unlike us, had driven to the trailhead and rented bikes to ride the trail. Mid tunnel we saw an unlighted museum-style sign. What was that about?

These  three images below were taken by our tandem club friend Jeannie Grippin. She did a great job of capturing the feel of the trestles. Thanks!

Once out the west portal we had about 14 miles of downhill gravel to ride. It took us through the last 8 tunnels and over 7 trestles, which ranged from 96-230’ above the ground. All provided wide-open views of the countryside. One interesting fact: many trestles leading to tunnels were actually filled in with rock from the excavation. So we rode over a bunch of former trestles. We just couldn’t tell because it looked like rock.

The riding was relatively easy, just bouncy. The trail changed from a smooth, pebbled surface road (which we shared with cars) to a rutted, 2-wheel track by the bottom of the trail. Interpretive signs along the way told the stories of the road’s construction, use, and about the wildlife. You can read all the signs online.

It took us 2½ hours to ride down the trail and we could have taken longer. We met other cyclists from ETC who were riding on rented single bikes. At one point well down the trail a single came by and asked if we had fancy lights. We replied, “Yes.” At which point she handed one of them to us. We’d used Velcro straps and duct tape to tie them to our handlebars and one had bounced loose. She picked it up and returned it at a road-sign stop. How nice was that?

At the bottom of the trail some riders turn around and ride back up. In fact, we ran into another pair of ETC members, Jim & Jeannie, who’d also rented singles and planned to ride back up. But we had rented space in the shuttle, a converted school bus, which took us back to the west portal of the big tunnel. We got out our lights one last time, put on our jackets, then rode through. This time we stopped at the sign mid-way. It marked the state boundary. It was also the high point of the tunnel. It turns out that Idaho and Montana were fighting over who got the water from within the tunnel. They solved it by peaking the tunnel in the middle and letting water run out both sides.

We again took the freeway back to Lookout Pass. It wasn’t bad although the afternoon heat was formidable and the shoulder was just as messy as before. It was just a steady slog up with grades reaching 6%. At the pass we scarfed down junk food (gorp, Snickers, and chips), refilled our bottles and headed out. We wisely opted to take 90 back down to Mullen rather than the 12 miles of the NorPac Trail. It was an inspired choice. The roadway on the Idaho side was smooth concrete with no debris at all. Soon we were doing 46 mph and loving it. Back in Mullen we caught the CdA Trail and swept down to Wallace. We turned 66 miles that day. Had a Hawaiian dinner, and slept soundly.

Thursday, July 7

We rose very early, ate huckleberry pancakes and hit the road. The return to Harrison was much quicker than the ride out. There was no wind, and I don’t think we passed 6 people until we neared Harrison around 10:30 AM. We were hoping for more moose, but the only wildlife we saw was a beaver. We grabbed a smoothie and dropped our bags at the Pedal Pusher bike store, then headed out to finish our day on the trail. We’d already done 50 miles but we added 16 to ride out to a great bridge over Lake Coeur d’Alene. It was exclusively for cyclists and walkers. In the picture you can see it is ADA accessible with small flat spots on the ramps up.

When we returned to Harrison, we were whupped. We’d totaled 316 miles for the six days. We were ready to be off the bike for a while and we were. Mike picked us up and took us back to Spokane. We cleaned up and prepared for the next phase of the trip.

Friday, July 8

Before leaving Spokane we wanted to tour the da Vinci exhibit at the Spokane Museum of Arts and Culture before driving to Missoula, Montana. The exhibit was fascinating for the engineering prowess the man exhibited. No wonder our tandem was named after him. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area before Labor Day.

In Missoula we stayed with our friend Bonnie. She showed us her new weaving projects, including a wall piece which acts like a tarot deck. Bill & Anna joined us for a Thai dinner. We tootled around town’s open air market but the big draw was our visit to the Garden of 1000 Buddhas in Arlee the next day.

Saturday, July 9

The garden is under construction. You can see the main statue of Prajnaparamita – the Great Mother of Wisdom – at the center of an 8-spoked Dharma wheel. That represents the 8 parts of the Buddhist path. When completed, each spoke will have 125 handbuilt buddhas. The whole thing will be surrounded by 1000 stupas carved of volcanic rock, symbols of enlightenment. Right now 840 of the buddhas are finished and stored waiting for placement. The ambitious project will culminate when the Dalai Lama visits, possibly in 2014. You can read more about the garden plans.

By that evening we were ready to go home. Sheila solved a problem with Bonnie’s email. I read a book. We packed the car and were gone by 6 AM PST the next day. Nine and a half hours later we were pulling into our driveway, tired, but invigorated by the friends we’d visited, sights we’d seen and the riding we’d done.

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2 Responses to “Our Mountain States Adventure”

  1. From Donna Taylor:

    Hi Spencer, your name appears on Thyce’s Caring Bridge, so I googled and discovered your wonderful website.
    You guys have been everywhere!

    I had to comment on this particular ride…
    Wallace Idaho is where I was born – 4 generations of my family lived there. Dad was Mayor in 1957-60.
    To see Wallace and the surrounding area becoming a mecca for bicyclists is awesome 🙂 It’s really beautiful.
    I can’t wait to tackle that ride one of these days…..when & if we ever get our tandem out of storage, that is. LOL

    It’s comforting so many friends are there for Thyce. His accident sent shockwaves everywhere. He’s such a good man. His sense of humor is awesome. He hasn’t changed a bit since he was 18. Well, maybe a little. 😉
    Hopefully, he’ll be back on the bike in the near future!

    Posted on Dec 13, 2012 at 1:56 am #

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  1. October 2011 eZine | Hoffman Graphics - Jan 12, 2013

    […] cannot believe the last time I wrote was in June! Where did the summer go? After a glorious week riding our tandem bicycle in Eastern WA & Idaho during July I’ve been keeping busy with projects. Here’s a quick summary of work completed […]