The original plan for our Fall camping trip was to drive all the way to New Hampshire, arriving in time for the birth of our first grandchild. When the parents-to-be gently requested that we arrive AFTER rather than before the baby, we found ourselves without a firm destination and six weeks to kill.
After a short visit with David’s folks in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and a close eye on the weather, we drove east on I-90 and found ourselves in Wallace, Idaho in need of a quick stretch of the legs. While we wandered around the quirky town, posters caught our eye advertising the 19 mile Hiawatha scenic bike trail. Well the day was young, and we figured, why not?
We purchased tickets and rented mountain bikes at the Lookout Pass Ski Area. After driving a few miles further into the Bitterroot mountains along the Idaho/Montana border, we joined lots of other riders on the last day of the Hiawatha’s season.
A few hundred yards beyond the parking lot is the first— and longest— of 10 tunnels, the 1.7 mile long Taft Tunnel. Built in 1908, it’s a cold, wet, black seeping hole that literally slices through the border between the two states. Inside, the former railroad bed is bordered with deep troughs to carry the icy water out of the tunnel. Peddling towards us in the pitch black was a singing woman, creating an ethereal acoustic experience.
For the next two hours, we took in the scenery, stopping often to read the numerous illustrated historic signs all along the gentle 2% grade. Seven sky-high trestles are interspersed between the dark tunnels, each of which is surprisingly crudely built once you go beyond the openings. The only light is what you carry with you, and the faint beam is barely enough to illuminate the walls. Peddling in the damp and cold gave us new appreciation for those who have to work underground.
At the end, we caught a school bus shuttle back up to the Taft Tunnel which we peddled through again to reach our point of departure. Cost for both of us, including bike rental, day use fee, and shuttle: $118, including tax.
You can read more about the fascinating history of the original Olympian Hiawatha train which “took nearly 9,000 men, Italians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Austrians, Belgians, Hungarians, Japanese, French, Canadians, Spaniards, Irishmen, Swedes, Norwegians, and others all working together from 1906 to 1911 to construct this Pacific extension.”.