Friday, June 23, 2017

Northern Idaho and the Hiawatha (at last!)

If you look at a map of the State of Idaho, you'll notice there are no connecting freeways between the north and south sections of the state.  It's all back roads.  And even worse - it's 2-lane back roads.   

According to my Dad (native Idahoan), when the federal government proposed the interstate highway plans in the 1970s, Idaho citizens had no interest in connecting the north to the south.  My Dad said it was an industry difference.  The northerners were miners and loggers.  The southerners were farmers.  Why would the two ever need access to one another?  It made sense.  

Except I found out there's A LOT more to the story.  

It's a fascinating history involving betrayal, theft, religious persecution and revolutionaries.  And even more shocking - it's not over.  There's still tension, especially when the state legislature is in session.  In fact, if northerners had their way, a lot of them would chose to annex Idaho north of Lewiston and join with the State of Washington.  Who knew Idaho had such drama?

It was so intriguing that after our trip I spent almost a week reading everything I could find on the subject.  But it's such a massive, debated history that this isn't really the time or space to detail the parts I found most exhilarating.  

Getting back to our trip - we ended up taking the back roads into the wilds of Northern Idaho.

But what back roads they were!!!  Through McCall, Riggins, Hell's Canyon, Winchester State Park, the Salmon River, Lewiston, Moscow, Coeur d'Alene and finally to Kellogg where we stayed.  The trip took 8 hours each way with lots of logging trucks in our way.  Lots.
Forgive the poor quality, taken-behind-my-dirty-cracked-car-window photos, but I was spellbound.  This is Idaho?  Really?    


#1 - Route of the Hiawatha

I've already documented far too much on this blog my excitement to ride the Hiawatha.  It was a huge adventure, so please excuse the longer than normal descriptions.  I'm anxious to record the details because we hit a few bombshells.  

Small history - the Route of the Hiawatha is a 15-mile trail through the Bitterroot Mountains saddling Idaho and Montana.  It used to be an old railway line owned by Milwaukee Road in the early 1900s.  After several bankruptcies and natural disasters (one of the biggest forest fires of the 20th century), the company abandoned the line in the 1980s.  Since then, it has been reclaimed, rails removed and originals tunnels and bridges restored.      

First bombshell.  The day we reserved our tickets ended up being rainy and cold.  Bleh.  I was slightly seething.  WHY ME???  But there was nothing we could do except pray the rain wouldn't last long.

The other bombshell happened literally 1 minute after we got on our bikes and stood in front of the first major tunnel, the Taft Tunnel.  (Over 100 years old.  2 miles of darkness with small rivers running down each side.  And you have to bike through it TWICE).  Bubbs got off his bike and declared he couldn't ride his bike on dirt surfaces because he only liked smooth roads.  

"But," he told us reassuringly as he patted his bike seat, "Don't worry Mom.  I can walk my bike the whole way."  

I realized then that in spite of all my diligent preparation, I had neglected to take Bubbs off roads.  All his training had been on smooth sidewalks and roads.  He had never biked on dirt paths.  Gah!!!

After a quick glance at Greg, we both realized poor Bubbs was going to get a crash course in mountain biking because there was simply no way we could get through 15 miles with our youngest son WALKING his bike.  But unfortunately, he had to learn in the pitch black tunnel with the scary rivers and cold temperatures.  Scared to death, the little guy kept stopping and stressing he would accidentally turn his bike into a side river in the dark - in spite of all our head lamps.

It took us a loooooong time to get through that first tunnel.

We all arrived on the opposite side of the tunnel feeling cold, wet and a little shell shocked.  We ambled on together for another 2 miles when the third bombshell dropped. 

James had forgotten to pack his sweater in his camel-back.  (we blame his vanity)

I was on the verge of freaking out.  Seriously.  I have biked through too many rain showers and felt the crippling stages of hypothermia enough to know that no goal is worth risking my children.  Even for the Hiawatha.  So Greg and I had a quick meeting of the minds.  And I fully confess that if it hadn't been for my brave, strong husband, we would have turned around.  It's because of him that we kept going.  Greg saved the day.

So after passing out Greg's extra jacket to James and warming up hands all around, we pressed forward.  


The tunnels were freezing, the mud was splattering our legs, and worst of all, the sodium chloride they keep on the trail to minimize dust was ruining our chains!  But the rain DID stop and we warmed up enough to take in this awesome, stunning trail.  We laughed.  We sang crazy songs.  And we didn't even come close to taking enough pictures.    

One minor miracle.  At the end of the ride when we returned back through the Taft Tunnel, Bubbs nailed it!  No stops.  No fears.  And he chatted almost non-stop to me the whole way back.

I will never forget this day.

Warming up and trying to not worry the kids will get hypothermia.  Greg kept us calm.

FINALLY, it stopped raining!!!

At the finish line!  Eating lunch and already making new friends.

What makes me most happy is that I did this with my children.  If I ever get the chance to repeat Hiawatha (highly doubtful) it will never include our whole family again.  They're growing and getting busier.  Time is passing too quickly.  But on this trip, I rode with my favorite people.  My darling babies.  My strong husband.  Happiness.

"Life is just like an old time rail journey...delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride." 

-Gordon B. Hinckley (attributed to Jenkin Lloyd Jones) 

We all took something home from Hiawatha.  A key chain for James.  Andrew and Bubbs added another shot glass to their collection.  Pretty Girl got a magnet.  

I took this.  

Right outside the Taft Tunnel are building foundations that were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1910 (the largest forest fire in US history).  Several of the survivors took refuge in the Taft Tunnel itself.  You can see these foundations in the video above - to the right of me.

Something about that area tugged at me.  Those people - then and now.  The views were absolutely expansive, but I could feel a great potential for loneliness, especially in the winter.  This brick has no doubt been witness to some of that.  

Don't tell anyone I added it to my collection. 

#2 - Kellogg, Wallace and Mission State Park

We spent the next day exploring the northeastern side of Idaho - which included the small mining towns of Kellogg and Wallace.  We found out that Wallace is the only town in the United States listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places - we're talking about the whole town here.  In other words, the ENTIRE downtown can't ever be changed or torn down.

It's an amazing story.  When the freeway was being built in the 1970s, the plan called for the road to run right through downtown Wallace - wiping out the town.  When the construction crew arrived to demolish the buildings, they were met with an army....or grandmothers.  Not kidding.  A team of lovely, little ladies held up the federal government for 17 YEARS!  Wallace was backed by the significant royalty income from the local mining and mineral operations.  So during those 17 years, the grandmothers went to work registering every downtown building with the National Registrar's Office without the Federal Highway Administration having any idea what they were doing.  When the case finally came to court, the judges ruled in favor of Wallace because the National Registrar trumped the Highway Administration.  The grandmothers won!

I wish we could have spent more time here.  

Our home base was in Kellogg and also the spot where we ate pizza the first night.  We rented a condo at Silver Mountain Resort.  We were a little snug with 1 bedroom, a pullout bed and a single cot.  But the kids loved the amenities.  Mom and Dad loved the cheap meals we made instead of eating out. 

We also spent a rainy afternoon touring Idaho Mission State Park.  It's the oldest church in Idaho.  A beautiful building, but I was more enthralled with the grounds and view. 

#3 - Coeur d'Alene

We spent our last couple days in Coeur d'Alene.  There was so much to see and too many bike paths to chose from.  We ending up riding the Coeur d'Alene Centennial Trail and for several gorgeous morning hours I felt like I was in Switzerland.  We spent the afternoon hiking Tubbs Hill on the bay and walking around the pier.  

We ate dinner at The Snake Pit - the oldest restaurant in Idaho.  We found out mid-meal that while it IS the oldest restaurant in Idaho, it was also a bordello - which was great fun hastily explaining that one to our children - ha!!  But delicious BBQ, side dishes and pie.  We all loved it!

The funny part is that morning we all got grouchy with each other - too much change is coming and sometimes the stress gets us unhinged.  But looking back now, all I can remember is how much fun we had in Coeur d'Alene.  Grateful our family can navigate the lows along with the highs.     

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