Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
There's the comforting dark you sleep in, for instance. The kind your eyes eventually adjust to, so that even if you get up in the middle of the night with a hankering for one more fistful of Nutter Butters, you may stumble a tad, but you should be able to find your way to the cookie jar.
And then there's the not-so-comforting dark. The 1.7-mile-long-railroad-tunnel-bored-through-a-mountain-on-the-Montana-Idaho-border kind of dark. A dark that's so complete and encompassing, you feel as if you're wearing it.
On a recent family vacation, my wife, Jen; sister, Kath; son, Baker; and I experienced a taste of the latter in the Taft Tunnel at the start of the 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha trail. It's generally regarded as one of the country's premier, middle-of-the-mountains rail trails. Whereas the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which stretches from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend to Vantage is certainly a wonder in its own right — and has its own 2.3-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel — much of that route parallels Interstate 90 with its attendant tractor trailers, SUVs and other motorized vehicles in sight much of the way. Once out of the Taft Tunnel, the Hiawatha weaves its way through the folds and ridges, mountains and creek valleys of Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains. It's nothing but trees, wildflowers, trees, rock outcrops, and trees, as far as the eye can see. Lots of trees, too.
"Look at that tapestry of grandeur," Kath said to me at one point, as we stopped and took it all in from one of the trail's seven high-trestle bridges. Often given to humorous hyperbolic irony, Kath, who lives in New Jersey, was being neither hyperbolic nor ironic now. It was a tapestry of grandeur.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said.
A grand plan
The Route of the Hiawatha, named for a famed train, the Olympian Hiawatha, follows the Milwaukee Road (the informal name for the old Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad line), which is the same line that the John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows. The Milwaukee Road, which connected Seattle with Chicago, was the last built of the transcontinental railroads, having been completed in 1909, but was the first to be electrified. This section of the route remained in use until 1980 when competing transportation options — interstate highways, air travel, etc. — led to its abandonment. The Hiawatha is one of several amazing bike trails that crisscross Northern Idaho's panhandle. The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, from Plummer, near the south end of Lake Coeur d'Alene, to Mullan, at the edge of the Bitterroots — not far from the Trail of the Hiawatha — is a paved 72-mile-long slice of heaven for road bikers, in-line skaters, and other nonmotorized users.
Opened a little more than two years ago, the route follows the old Union Pacific Railroad line along beautiful Lake Coeur d'Alene's shoreline, as well as the chain of lakes strung along the Coeur d'Alene River to the mountains at the state's eastern border. Interpretive signs tell the story of the area's rich silver mining history. In fact, much of the trail's asphalt lays atop the old rail bed, which was built on mine-waste rock and tailings. The 12-mile Northern Pacific Trail, which is gravel and involves some rugged climbs, connects the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes over Lookout Pass to the Route of the Hiawatha.
Farther west, the North Idaho Centennial Trail runs for 24 miles from the Washington-Idaho border — where it connects with Washington's Spokane Centennial Trail — east to the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, eventually ending about six miles east of town. Following the Spokane River for much of the way, the Centennial, like the trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, is paved and offers rest areas and restrooms, as well as interpretive signage detailing the area's history.
Similar to much of the John Wayne Trail, the Centennial pretty much parallels I-90 within a couple hundred yards and less. In Washington state, the trail continues west for 37 miles.
Once out of the Taft, the gravel ride is slightly downhill or flat all the way to Pearson. The Taft isn't the only tunnel — there are nine in all — but most are short, a couple hundred yards at the most. Then there are the seven 200-foot-high trestle bridges, which, viewed from a distance, appear daunting. But once you're on them, the chest-high guardrails offer assurance that one is safe from taking an Evil Knievel-esque plunge.
Most bikers on the Hiawatha ride it one way — downhill, from the Taft Tunnel to Pearson — then catch a shuttle bus back to where they started on the Montana side of the Taft. (Though because the grade is a mostly gentle 2 percent, a 30-mile out-and-back roundtrip isn't out of the question.)
That's what we did. We rented bikes, helmets with high-powered headlamps, and a bike rack from the Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, which operates the trail. They also run the shuttle bus.
He didn't like the tunnel at all, and, in fact, wouldn't ride after the first couple hundred yards. So we walked it, despite Jen and I pointing out that this only prolonged our time in the tunnel. (And allowed the perpetual 50-degree temps inside the tunnel to chill us to the bone.) Once we exited out the Idaho side, he was done. Baker was riding no more that day. (And this is an active, roller coaster-riding, soccer-playing, mucho bike-riding kid.)
So we told them nothing about the deer we came upon licking the minerals off the inside walls of one of the tunnels. Or the various railroad artifacts — e.g., an abandoned cabin, stacks of old railroad ties — from the trail's days of yore.
Or about how, when you're on one of the high trestle bridges, you feel like you're hovering over the forest in a hot-air balloon, and that the limbs of the pines far below look like wedges of green that spiral 'round and 'round. And we certainly didn't tell them about the moose we saw — the first-ever moose sighting for me and my sister — from the shuttle bus on the ride back.
On that shuttle, we met the Jordache family from Los Angeles.
"It was very relaxing today, and the views from the trestles are spectacular," said Leah. She and her husband, Costin, found the Hiawatha so spectacular, in fact, that they were back for their second day in a row, pulling 8-month-old Roman in a bike trailer.
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Big training weekend just three weeks out from the Boggs IV 8-hour race down in NorCal. Yesterday, was five and a half hours up on Galbraith, broken up at the two-thirty mark by a broken chain. Back in town for a new one then right back up again for another three hours. Bonked with about 15 minutes to go. It was a good reminder that I'm probably good for four hours with Power Bars, Gatorade, etc., but after than I need real food--a sandwich, hot dog, cinammon roll, anything.
Today was another two-forty five with John Clark and Steve Vanderstaay. Great fun. A little new snow, cool temps, but thankfully no wind. Just a fun ride.