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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Hiawatha Bound

~Saturday, August 29, 2020~

Day 76

So excited for our bike trip on the Hiawatha Bike Trail. The last time we stayed in Wallace, over 4 years ago, we ran out of time to do it, as we were on our way to Glacier National Park. I remember nearly crying that we had missed the opportunity. We made sure on this little trip of ours that we would 1. Get back to Wallace, 2. Ride the trail, and 3. Go back to Blackboard Cafe (which in the end, we did not get to do).

Unfortunately, we had to move sites this morning to the end of the park, on the opposite side of the river, which delayed us a bit. So we just did the basics of leveling one side and unhitching, and will set up the rest in the evening. Since we could not bring Sadie we made sure she got in a good walk/swim before we left. We had to remove the hitch assembly on the truck to put the bike rack assembly we normally have on the back of the trailer. Then we tried out our new bike pump which worked great, and we were on our way. I also wanted to firm up our reservations in North Florida for the early part of January. We’re in. Leave it to me to ask about alligator issues, in which she told me they had 2 small one’s in the pond at the moment, 3 to 4 feet long, that the wranglers were scheduled to pick up sometime this week. Good to know.

I didn’t realize how far the trailhead was from Wallace. The drive was about 20 miles to Lookout Pass Ski Area, where we picked up our helmets and passes for the trailride and the return shuttle. Most of the helmet and bike rentals are done here. There was a little glitch with them finding our reservation, but it all worked out. Then for about 5 miles, we drove to the East Portal parking lot/trailhead area where at that point, you’re in Montana, where you’re also changing time zones with 1 hour ahead. Oh shoot…..did we just lose an hour of bike time? The last shuttle leaves around 5:45, and according to Montana time, we were starting at 2:30, and we didn’t want to rush through the amazing scenery. Luckily, the time is based on Idaho time. Yeah!! The scene in the parking lot was hectic as a lot of kids and adults were either exiting their trip or just getting started. But it is Saturday after all.

I looked like I was heading out to play a game of tennis, as I wore all white today.

I guess by the end of the trip, I really wanted to show off the mud from riding the tunnel sections of the trail?! Camera, check. Headlamp, check. Helmet, check. Backpack, check. Jeff’s bike light, check. Inger’s bike light, not checked. I forgot my battery detail. It all worked out as the headlamps were good enough and with Jeff always ahead of me in the tunnels. We can’t wait to see the photos/videos we took, but can already tell, they will not do justice to what we saw.

The dense, forested, awesome, 3-dimensional scenery of the Bitterroot Mountains was unbelievable. So spectacular against the bright blue sky.

We’re so lucky there’s no smoke here from the fires in the west. Within minutes, the trail takes you through the longest tunnel, The St. Paul Pass Tunnel (also known as the Taft Tunnel), which is 1-½ miles long, and only gets colder and damper the deeper you go. This was only the first of 10 tunnels. The very gradual 15-mile, 1.6% downhill grade, is a slightly bumpy, gravelly unpaved 15 mile trail. In its heyday, this trail once a hugely traveled train route and known to be the most scenic 46 mile stretch of railroad in the country. When the Milwaukee Railroad was operating up until January 1970, it traversed the Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana, through 11 tunnels and 9, high trestles. It’s amazing to think with less than 1000 foot drop, that it took the trains 13 miles to traverse these mountains. We stopped at nearly every interpretive sign along the way, taking pictures of some that we thought were the most interesting. It was so sad to read about the 1910 fire, the largest in U.S. history, that wiped out over 3,000,000 acres of beautiful forest here. The cause of the fire was never officially determined. We stopped for lunch near one of the trestles and before you knew it, we’d come up to the end. We had seen quite a number of people biking back to the trailhead, which would have been fun, but not in the cards for us, as we got too late of a start. We figured we wouldn’t have gotten back to the tunnel until around 6:00, so we changed our minds about that. As we approached the end, there was a long line of people we thought maybe were all looking at a bear or someone who had fallen. Nope, this was the long line for the shuttle back to the first tunnel. The time went by fairly fast as one of the trail volunteers passed out candy to everyone, and entertained us with his historical intellect. Great personality!

As we loaded the bikes on the school bus, the shuttle bus driver singled me out, seeing my Giant’s t-shirt. He was from the Bay Area as well. I think the comment was, “You wouldn’t be wearing that shirt if it had been a year or two ago”, when their seasons were quite dismal. As we loaded, they asked that the mask wearers load the front of the bus, and non-mask wearers load the back. Taking these rough roads back to the parking lot has got to be very monotonous for the drivers, and as we witnessed with our driver handling them swiftly (a little too fast for my liking). Thankfully, we were able to take the “Taft tunnel” (the St. Paul tunnel), once again, but this time with more bumps and more water. As a result, we just had to take pictures of our bikes and ourselves at the end of our trip. What an amazing experience. So glad we got to do it, and can’t wait to do it again hopefully next time with friends and family.

When we returned to our campsite about 7:00, we were greeted by one excited pup. Time for a much deserved walk and a big dinner for our sweet Sadie. We ran into our Spokane, Washington neighbors we met yesterday who gave us some suggestions of what to see in Montana. We also met another fellow RV’er who had just done a river rafting trip in Missoula, Montana through Missoula Adventures. She said it wasn’t too difficult, as it is mostly Class III rapids. We will definitely be doing that one. As we were finishing up our leveling the trailer and hooking things up, we met our neighbors, also from Spokane. Very nice family, and think I met another talker who has me beat. They’re taking the bike trail tomorrow.

For dinner, we were going to go to Blackboard Cafe, but we both were just not feeling up to going out, and just wanted to hang at the campsite. So we ate in. I made a pasta concoction from the odds and ends in the fridge, which turned out to be pretty good. Exhausted from the day, and very little sleep from the night before, I called it a day. Finally heading to Montana Chickee tomorrow.

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