The Route of the Hiawatha – Day 6

We slept a little later today because we couldn’t pick up our rental bikes until 9 AM. We had reserved two step-through (women’s) bikes and two men’s bikes; however, the people who last checked out the women’s bikes had not returned them yet. Reluctantly, Joyce and I agreed to use boy’s bikes, and the store owner gave us free drink holders, lights and a bike rack to compensate for not getting the bikes we’d requested.

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Bikes on Truck

We loaded the bikes in the truck bed and drove to Lookout Pass where we picked up our trail and shuttle passes. When we arrived at the trailhead, the trail monitor gave us some quick tips about riding through the tunnels, etc.

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Gearing up for the Tunnel

We put on our head lamps and turned on the lights mounted on our handlebars before entering the Taft Tunnel. The tunnel is 1.7 miles long, and the Montana/Idaho border lies somewhere in the middle. I was thankful that I had two lights because it was pitch dark in the tunnel. I aimed my head lamp straight ahead and my handlebar light at the ground.

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Reward on the other Side

It took about 15-20 minutes to ride through the tunnel because we were following a little girl and her grandparents. We just took our time, and I kept talking to Ed so he wouldn’t get claustrophobic. The average temperature inside the tunnel is 42 degrees (brrr..) year round, and the chilly water which dripped on us from above made it feel colder. Needless to say, I was grateful to make it to the sunshine on the other side where a small waterfall was gushy down the side of the mountain.

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Curved Trestle

We continued down the 15 mile Hiawatha trail, which has a gentle 2% grade. The gravel trail crossed seven trestles and passed through nine tunnels on the gradual descent to the bottom.

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View from Trestle

The views of the Bitterroot Mountains were breathtaking! I could almost imagine a steam locomotive puffing its way through these mountains and was grateful that someone decided to convert the track to a trail so that we could enjoy this beautiful scenery.

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Ed, Martha, Joyce, Ron

We stopped several times to take pictures and to read the historic markers but finally realized that we had to pick up our speed if we were going to make it to the 1:15 shuttle back up to our car. When we approached the bottom, they were already loading bikes onto the bus. We had about 15 minutes to eat our picnic lunch, and then we hurried to the shuttle.

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Ed’s Last Look at Trail

The bus dropped us off on the south side of the Taft tunnel so we quickly turned on our lights and approached the entrance to beat the crowd from the shuttle. Fortunately, there was no one in front of us and Joyce set the pace as she led us through the tunnel. When we returned to the truck, we loaded the bikes and headed to the eastern terminus of the Coeur d’Alene. In order to complete the entire 71 mile trail by Friday, we had to ride the Mullan-Kellogg section today. We planned to ride 7 miles to Wallace, and then take the silver mine tour and eat dinner before riding the remaining 10+ miles into Kellogg.

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Wallace Train Depot

To our surprise, the trail had a slight downhill grade. We sped along at about 15 mph and arrived at the Wallace Train Depot Museum ahead of schedule. While we were riding, our husbands drove to Wallace to tour the Oasis Bordello (no, this was NOT an interactive exhibit:). They met us at the train depot where we toured the restored train master’s quarters. Afterwards, we drove over to the Sierra Silver Mine ticket office where we boarded the 4:00 trolley car for the historic ride through Wallace en route to the silver mine.

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Silver Mine

I thoroughly enjoyed the mine tour and learned the basic process for drilling core samples and tunneling through the granite walls. Although the mine we toured did not find silver, another company undercut them and found it 1500 feet below, During the tour, our guide demonstrated several of the painfully loud tools that the miners used. I can’t imagine tolerating that much noise all day. The most memorable demonstration was when our leader lit a candle, turned off all of the lights, and showed us how the original miners used to work by candlelight.

After the tour, we met Ed for dinner at the Smokehouse Saloon. As I mentioned earlier, Ed is claustrophobic so he decided to skip the mine tour. We ate our barbecue dinner and then returned to the train depot to resume our bike ride to Kellogg. Ron decided to join us on this portion of the ride. Again, the trail had a slight downhill slope so our 10 mile ride into Kellogg was a cinch. Since it was approaching dusk, we were hopeful that we might see a moose but they evaded us again:( The cool air and the gentle breeze made riding at this time of day very enjoyable. Before we knew it, we arrived in Kellogg. Ed decided to meet us so we wouldn’t have to ride up the steep hill to our condo. Personally, I was grateful for the ride because my calves were getting a little sore. A quick dip in the hot tub helped our sore muscles:)

This was a good day, and I agree with the marketing literature, the Route of the Hiawatha is the most scenic rails to trails ride in the country (or at least of the ones that I’ve ridden on so far).

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