Friday, August 1, 2014

Into the Abyss - What a Ride...

Before we got to Idaho we started to research things to do in the area.  One thing that stood out was a "Rails-to-Trails" conversion that stretches from Montana all the way over to Washington (not that the Idaho Panhandle is all that wide).  Rails-to-Trails is the term for converting an abandoned rail line into a hiking/biking trail. The grades are gentle and all of the expensive tunnels and trestles that the railroad built are already in place.
We decided to ride the Route of the Hiawatha as it is considered the most scenic part of the route and offers a shuttle to take you back to your vehicle.  The route is about 15 miles long, goes through 8 tunnels and across 7 tall trestle bridges. We were required to have lights on our bikes because of the tunnels, so we visited a sporting goods store the previous week and bought what we thought we good lights. More on that later.

The days had been warm here, so we decided to start out early and beat the heat.  Turns out that a front had blown in and it wasn't warm at all. In fact, it was downright cold! We were wearing our bike shorts and tee-shirts, and had each brought a long-sleeved cotton shirt for the sun.  It turns out we were woefully underdressed, but after driving an hour to the trailhead we decided to go for it. Brrrr!
Into the Abyss
We started at the East Portal in Montana, and the very first thing that we did was enter the St. Paul Pass Tunnel.  This tunnel is 8771 feet long, which is 1.66 miles.  The tunnel is about 12' wide, and doesn't have a single light. Our brand new bike lights cast a puny little cone of light out in front of the bikes, but did nothing to actually light up the tunnel.  So I led the way with Teri close behind, and we peddled, and peddled, and peddled though that cold, wet, dark tunnel for about 20 minutes until we finally saw the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel".  It was an interesting experience, to say the least!!  At the halfway point we crossed back in to Idaho, but we didn't see the sign because (have I mentioned this already?) it was really dark!
Inside of the Tunnel - Flash Picture
As we approached the end of the tunnel we heard the sound of water running, and emerged next to a beautiful little waterfall.
Once out of the giant tunnel we continued on a gentle downhill grade through a number of smaller tunnels (as short as 178' and as long as 1516') and over spectacular trestle bridges.  The highest trestle was 230' above the creek below.
Railroad Trestle
In spite of the cool, cloudy weather, we enjoyed beautiful scenery throughout the ride.
It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the lower trailhead where the shuttle was parked.  We made sure to get there on time as the shuttles run on 90 minute intervals and we didn't want to wait in the cold for the next one!
So we boarded the shuttle and got taken (almost) back to the truck. I say almost because they drop you back at the end of the long tunnel, and you get to ride back through to the beginning, This time there were quite a few people coming down as well as a few going back with us.  With extra riders and brighter lights around us, we could actually see the inside of the tunnel this time.

We may try it again when it isn't 40 degrees outside and cloudy. It was an interesting and beautiful ride.



  1. What an adventure! I can't imagine being in that dark tunnel. Good for you two!

  2. What fun! We'd love to do that with you sometime!

  3. That looked fun. We are headed to Idaho next summer. maybe we will check it out.

    1. Where are you going to be? Is it a volunteer job? If y'all are around Coeur D'Alene, give us a call!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. We have a job at Camas NWR for the summer. It is near Idaho Falls.

    4. That’s a ways off from us. We’re almost to Canada. But, maybe we will have an opportunity to get together, you never know! Camas sounds like a great place. We look forward to hearing about your experience there.

    5. Yes it will he a ways from you, but hoping to cath up with you somewheres. we don't have a start date, depends on the amount of raifall they have. We do know the biologist, we worked with her our first year at Arapaho NWR.

  4. Penny - I am so sorry - I accidentally deleted your comment!