Words and photos: Julie Huck
Originally published in Issue #19
I’m a crazed mountain biker. I live to fly down dirt trails and check out new routes with my B.O.B. trailer in the mountains of western Montana. Some of my friends get it, and like to explore with me. Others are a bit hesitant to join us in fear that they’ll get in over their heads and end up lying bloodied on the side of a remote trail.
Now I need to reveal a bit more information: I’m a 50-plus-year-old woman (how did that happen?) who also likes to garden and knit. Funny how all those things fit together. One snowy winter evening, while my friends and I were sitting around sipping cups of hot tea during our weekly craft night, I broached the subject of doing a bike trip together. Suspicious eyes peered over cheater glasses, giving me cold looks. Knitting needles ceased to click and the needlepoint was put aside.
“No, really, it will be fun!” I said in desperation, conjuring up my most optimistic voice. “There’s that new rail-trail over in Idaho that I’ve heard good things about. We could just do an overnight bike trip and have a nice dinner out.”
Their glances warmed, slightly. They were thinking: this is still months away, surely she will lose interest and forget this crazy idea. But I didn’t forget, and I was able to deflect almost all of their objections.
“How will I carry all my stuff?” I have extra panniers and I’ll haul some of your gear in my trailer.
“I don’t like to camp!” They have a nice little lodge there.
“I can’t ride as far as the rest of you.” You can do shorter mileage.
“My ass is going to kill me!” Well … I couldn’t fix everything.
I had them. One and all. Now it was time to get to work.
With a little internet research and some phone calls, I secured quaint lodging, made sure there were good places to eat and downloaded a map of the trail. Our Thursday evening craft group was going to try a bike overnight trip on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Located in the Idaho panhandle, this 73-mile-long ribbon of pavement follows a gentle grade along the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, which empties into majestic Lake Coeur d’Alene.
The trail itself travels primarily through small towns but is located only 45 miles from Spokane, Washington, and has become a Mecca for weekend warriors, casual cyclists, and families testing the waters of cycling adventures with the kids. Completed in 2005, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes begins in the minuscule town of Mullan, Idaho, and ends in Plummer, Idaho, near the Washington state border.
The trail takes you past forested mountainsides and wetlands teeming with waterfowl and wildlife. From Mullan to the charming burg of Harrison, the trail drops a mere 1,000 feet, so it’s smooth sailing on your way down, and not too much climbing on the return trip.
According to the State of Idaho Parks and Recreation website, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes was “created through a unique partnership between the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Union Pacic Railroad, the U. S. Government, and the State of Idaho.” The partnership emerged from a settlement with Union Pacic Railroad to clean up the natural resource damage caused by years of transporting toxic material along the old rail line. Fortunately, this well-maintained trail breathed new life into the small mining towns that dot the route.
For this adventure, my friends and I dubbed ourselves the “Craft Group Bicycle Travelers,” and we pieced together a wide range of gear-carrying contraptions, from my sturdy B.O.B. trailer and old panniers that traveled Europe in the early 1980s, to small backpacks. Our bikes ran the gamut from gnarly full-suspension mountain bikes to sleek road machines. Since we weren’t carrying camping gear, we could pull off a wild variety of setups without purchasing additional equipment.
We packed up our gear early on a Saturday and then headed out of Missoula, Montana, for the two-hour drive over the mountains into Idaho. The more-experienced riders started their riding day just outside of Kellogg, Idaho, at mile 18 of the route, and our less-experienced riders drove a bit further before beginning their trek. We soon met up again on the trail and spotted our first moose.
The miles clipped by, but we found ourselves pausing to view the incredible scenery and wildlife, braking for a box turtle crossing the trail and craning our necks to get a better look at nesting bald eagles feeding their young. We spotted muskrats backstroking in the many lakes we passed. The trail wound back and forth across the river, eventually pulling away from the nearby road, leaving us with an occasional great blue heron soaring overhead and the peaceful sounds of shore birds.
After collapsing under the shade of a grand tree rooted on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s shoreline, we pulled still-slightly-chilled cocktails from our packs and toasted our first cycling adventure together. Then, a few of us continued down the trail, sans gear, and over the roller-coaster half-mile Chatcolet Bridge spanning the lake. A stair-step ramp leads up to this elevated bridge, so climbing isn’t too difficult, but man, it’s fun to roll back down. So fun, we did it twice!
We stopped at the top to watch a pair of osprey build their nest before continuing on to Heyburn State Park. (I made a mental note that this forested area would make a great campsite.) We turned around just before the trail went up to the Palouse prairie and the terminus in Plummer.
After a restful evening at the Lakeview Lodge in Harrison, Idaho, we had a leisurely breakfast at One Shot Charlie’s café, then headed back towards home. Smiles abounded. My friend Kathy let out a small yelp as twin moose calves climbed from the surrounding marshland onto the trail. We all busily snapped photos while keeping an eye out for mom, who was surely nearby.
We are now in the planning stages of our next Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes event. Looking forward to the possibility of sighting bald eagles, turtles, moose, and black bear, we can’t wait to spend two days immersing ourselves in the outdoors by bicycle, and getting to know each other better.