Matt is the author today with his take on how pedal-paddle came to be. Enjoy!
How we discovered pedal-paddle trips.
Like most things, we more tripped over pedal -paddle trips than “discovered” them. “Discovered” is a little too purposeful. Last winter, Pam got involved with some kind of dance around exercise program like Jazzercise. It may have been Jazzercise for all I know. At any rate, the woman teaching the thing talked Pam into getting in shape to enter a local mini-ironman contest held each spring. That meant bike riding, swimming, and running. The next thing I knew, Pam had a bike, an exercise club membership and was planning to ride or swim every day. This will surprise no one who knows Pam.
The swimming seemed harmless (if boring) enough, but biking seemed to me a seriously dangerous undertaking. It’s not the bikes. I’ve owned and ridden bikes since I was six. It’s the riding alone on city streets or isolated bike paths that is dangerous because now you are talking about unstructured interaction with the public in isolated locations-never a good thing. So I got a bike to ride with Pam, figuring I needed the exercise and two frumpy baby-boomers are a lot harder target than one. We also still like each other’s company, but that’s phoofy stuff.
Be that as it may, we started riding bikes and enjoyed it. About the same time, our neighbors, Suzanne and John (also frumpy baby-boomers), got some kayaks and started paddling the rivers and estuaries around this part of Oregon. That sounded like fun, so we got some kayaks as well and started taking day trips around the local area. We put kayak and bike racks on the Ruby Slipper and my old pickup so we could use either or both vehicles to stage local kayak or bike trips. Pam came to her senses and blew off the ironman event.
That summer, Pam’s sister, Jackie, and her husband, Will, were planning to visit the Northwest to scout potential retirement spots. (You guessed it: they’re frumpy baby-boomers too). Will was scheduled to attend a conference in Bozeman, Montana. Pam planned to fly to their house in Marquette, Michigan, meet Jackie; and the two of them would load up their Subaru with dogs, camping gear, boats and the like and drive to Bozeman. Meanwhile, I would load the Slipper with our dog, Jedi, and all our toys; and everyone would meet in Bozeman and then start visiting towns in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. OK, well, that’s the way the trip evolved. It isn’t like anyone planned it from scratch.
A week before Pam was to fly to Marquette, Jedi, our 14 year old Husky, had what the vet later thought was a stroke. The dog was a mess. End of life issues were right there in our frumpy baby-boomer faces. So we rushed Jedi to the vet who gave him a massive dose of steroids-then we cancelled the flight to Michigan, called off the trip to Bozeman and settled down to watch our dog die. But he didn’t die. In fact, he got better and better. By the time the Bozeman rendezvous date rolled around the damn dog was back to walking in the dog park and chasing squirrels in the yard. On the spur of the moment, the day after I was scheduled to start for Bozeman, we decided to load up and head for Jackie and Will’s first Northwest port of call, Sandpoint, Idaho.
We spent the night just north of Walla Walla, WA in a tiny campground at the Louis and Clark Trail State Park on the edge of the Palouse country (where they invented contour plowing so they could have miles and miles of rolling hills covered with nothing but wheat). Anyway, the park is right on US Highway 12. Some of you will recognize Hwy 12 as the incredibly beautiful two-lane run across Idaho and over the Lolo Pass to Missoula, MT. Long distance bicyclists, it turns out, love Highway 12 (just like real bikers, the ones with “colors,” love Highway 212 over the Bear Tooth Pass to Red Lodge, MT). As a result, Louis and Clark Trail State Park is full of bikers (spandex, not motorcyclists) all summer. The day of our visit was no exception. It was impressive to see the heavily loaded bikes manned by skinny kids dressed in spandex uniforms crawling along the narrow two lane road. Especially impressive given log truck traffic and half-crazed RVer’s racing them for the summit. Pam and I made a no-bike-riding-on-highways pact right on the spot.
The next day, we called Jackie and Will to tell them we would catch up with them in Sandpoint. That’s when we found out they’d called off the whole thing when we told them about Jedi. They were working around the house in Marquette while the Ruby Slipper fully laden with kayaks and bikes roared up the western shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene headed for a campground (Round Lake State Park) just south of Sandpoint where we had a reservation for the night. In retrospect, the fact that we needed to make reservations should have been a big clue for what we found.
It had been many years since I’d been in this part of Idaho, other than to blaze through on Interstate 90 headed for Montana. Approaching Coeur d’Alene from the south along the lake on US Highway 95 and then north to Sandpoint is truly a trip from the sublime to the ridiculous. Small towns and peaceful surroundings give way to the kind of suburban and exurban traffic, crowding, ugliness and shopping mall architecture almost unknown outside of California until well into the last decade. Halfway between Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint is a giant amusement and water park with acres of parking and all the cars and people necessary to fill it. The NASCAR refugees scene at the campground so scared us when we got there, that we cancelled the reservation and fled south again to a little town, St. Marie’s (pronounced Saint Mary’s) near the far southern tip of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
We fled in that direction because on the way north we’d stopped at a rest area along Hwy 95 near Plummer, ID. Completely unbeknownst to us, Plummer is the western terminus of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, the longest paved bike trail in the country. We didn’t even know there were such things, but while Jedi stalked ground squirrels (they were in no real danger), we read all about how these nasty mining companies had been forced to give their railroad right of way to the government as part of a settlement for polluting this part of Idaho with heavy metals. The government paved the right of way and turned it into a bike path. Ain’t that America?
According to the rest area signs, the thing runs for more than 70 miles from Wallace, ID down to Plummer. Along the way, it runs along the Coeur d’Alene River and the lake shore-over old rail trestles and through little towns. It sounded really neat and we agreed we’d check it out when we got a chance. We didn’t know “the chance” was later that same day when after wading through hours of urban traffic and development we ended up in that overcrowded campground filled with big RVs, bump-out travel trailers, portable satellite dishes, screaming kids and noisy power generators that apparently make up the general camping experience for many. Yes, we fled. We fled all the way to the little town of St. Maries. Fifty miles from Coeur d’Alene and a world apart.
North of St. Maries, we found a little forest service campground (Benewah Lake Campground, Chatcolet) at the very southern tip of Lake Coeur d’Alene. It was small and half empty, quite bucolic, idyllic, peaceful-well, maybe it was just a little campground enough off the beaten path to afford some sense of refuge. Whatever, in St Maries we soon found a great hamburger and biscuits and gravy restaurant to supplement our Slipper fare (I know, I know, but in my mind, at least on vacation, I’m still 17 and, for a day or two, can eat as I please). We began to relax.
We found another forest service campground (Shadowy St Joe) on the St. Joe River-and we found pedal-paddle. It was right there to trip over. The river and the end of the lake were wonderful kayak places. The lake there was too shallow and weed-choked to be of interest to power boaters. The St. Joe had long since been forgotten by all but local fishermen. Birds loved the place. So did we.
We only had a couple of days. And we still had an old dog with us. So we’d kayak for a couple of hours a day. Then we explored the area. We took our bikes down to the place where the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes crossed the tip of the lake on an old railway trestle and rode up along the lake to the little town of Harrison, Idaho. We ate ice cream cones sitting by our bikes looking out over the lake. It was nice. The ride back along the lake shore on the paved smooth uncrowded trail was a joy. That afternoon, we threw our kayaks in the lake for a short paddle. Literally hundreds of swallows shared space with osprey and Great Blue herons-and us. It was a perfect blend of discovery, activity and contentment.
That night we started to talk about how we could take pedal-paddle trips all over the United States once we were retired. We started to think about traveling logistics: how to find kayak and bike places in one locale; shuttling kayaks and bikes without outside assistance; multi-day excursions or mini-trips of a few hours. We headed home the next day with a mission: put together the equipment and techniques that would allow us to leap-frog along any waterway and/or bike trail with the Ruby Slipper as our base camp as we travelled.
Yet to come: the first pedal-paddle trips and the Baby Bootie.