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TRAIL OF THE COEUR D’ALENES, IDAHO

PREAMBLE

Matt and I are seeking to regain some of the activities that brought us so much pleasure before his catastrophic health experience March, 2011.  The Downhill, Downwind, Fair Weather Cycling Club (DDFWCC) we had formed during our Pedal-Paddle adventures (consisting of 2 founding members) seemed a possible platform.  We solicited new members, and Jim, Patti, Abi, Jac and Will agreed to join us for a Rail to Trail multi day adventure, traversing the entire length of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes (Cd’A Trail) in Idaho.  http://friendsofcdatrails.org/CdA_Trail/index.html                                                                                                              The trail is 72 miles, and we hoped to complete it in 4-5 days.

The Players:

Matt had open-heart surgery performed 3/30/2011 but suffered a massive stroke from a blood clot during the procedure.  5 days later a percutaneous stomach tube dislodged and caused peritonitis, so he had emergency abdominal surgery to clean out the mess.  He has had a long and difficult rehab from these disasters.

Matt had begun to ride a recumbent tricycle last fall, but is still limited by endurance and left sided weakness.  His trike is now equipped with an electric assist motor, installed by Ecospeed in Portland.  www.ecospeed.com   If it weren’t for the cooperation and hard work by these men, he would not have been able to participate in this long distance adventure.  Love you guys!

Pam (me) has not been riding for over 1 year but is back on her mountain bike for this event.  I expect to be the slowest and the sorest rider of the group.

Jim (brother-in-law) and Patti(sister) are riding a tandem recumbent tricycle.  This is a new experience for them as they must coordinate pedaling together.  However, they’ve been an awesome team for over 43 years, so I think they will manage just fine.

Abigayle (Jim and Patti’s granddaughter) is 11 years old and has been in training for this ride.  I don’t think she’ll have any problems keeping up with us oldies.

Will (brother-in-law) is by far the most conditioned athlete of us all-a body builder and weight lifter.  No worries there.

Jac (sister-married to Will) bicycles 12 miles weekly from home to office.  Will and she will be our “anchors.”

tasha travels in style

Minor Player: Tasha.  She doesn’t get to run the trail, but she’s a great traveler and buddy.

The Adventure Begins:

Day 1, Aug 14,2012: Matt and I leave Salem ~ 1pm and stop for the first night at a rest area on WA 385 near Colville, WA.  Rest area is above the Interstate on a bluff that overlooks the Palouse country.  It is a lovely panorama of rolling wheat fields, but the highway traffic noise drifts up significantly.  Breakfast next am is in Ritzville at Jake’s-adequate.  We discover our auxiliary battery that supplies electricity to all the RV equipment when the Slipper is not running is dead!

Day 2, Aug 15,2012:  We drive to Spokane and begin the search for a new battery.  I am unable to find a Camping World so I look for anyone that might help us out.  I exit the Interstate in Spokane Valley at a promising area and start at a Les Schwab.  They look at my battery which is located under the chassis and decide it is a specialty battery, and they don’t have one.  They send us to Interstate Battery who look at it and say they don’t have one either but they call the maker (Deka) distribution center another 10 miles down the expressway.  The Deka distributer has the battery, and they will sell to me but they can’t  install it.  Interstate say they can’t either because it requires a lift.  Back to Les Schwab but they have no lift either.  They send me to an RV repair service, but they have no lift either.   They send me to a truck/trailer supply and service center another mile down the road.  Finally we are with the right guys to do the job we need.

Washington Auto Carriage offers to let us spend the night in their parking lot.  They are going to replace the battery first thing in the morning so we can continue our journey to ID.  We start out in their parking lot that night, but that industrial area develops a distinct odor that quickly becomes nauseating.  We move 4 miles down the interstate to Walmart and spend a comfortable night in their huge parking lot.  True to their word, the Washington Auto Service guys get us on the road by 10am Day 3.  Thank you, Terry and others!  I can’t recommend you highly enough. www.wacnw.com

Day 3, Aug 16,2012:  First contact with Jac and Will is made near Coeur d’Alene, ID; and we rendezvous at Old Mission State Park headquarters to obtain Matt’s special permit.  Cd’A Trail does not allow motorized vehicles, so we have arranged for an exception for his electric assisted trike.  From there, we drive to Shadowy St Joe NFS Campground for the night.  We drive into St Maries for great burgers at Salli’s (fondly remembered from our prior trip to the area.)  We spend a lovely calm and quiet night at the small, fairly primitive campground—water and paved pull-ins but no electricity or sewer service.  It sits on the bank of the St Joe River and has a boat put-in ramp and two new floating docks.  Will swims in the river, and Tasha has what I believe is her first experience with water deeper than puddles.  It looked like she was trying to walk on top of the water until she got back to solid ground.

new docks at St Joe River cmpgrnd

Day 4, Aug 17, 2012:  Breakfast at Salli’s then on to Pinehurst to register at By The Way Campground.  We get a back-in site right next to the only cabin, which Jim, Patti and Abi are renting for the next 5 days.  Finally we have our first shower since leaving Salem!  Will and Jac take a look at the minimalist accommodations and opt to move on to Kellogg where they find a good deal on a very nice room at G&H Guesthouse.

By the time we finish showering, the Texans arrive, and the party begins.  Dinner is in Kellogg at a pizza place below the trams moving up the mountain.  Neither Tasha nor I like those trams or their moving shadows overhead.  They are surprisingly threatening.  Tomorrow will begin the quest to ride the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.  Can we do it???

Day 5, Aug 18, 2012:  Up at 545 am so we can be on the trail by 730.  It’s cold!  Temps in 40s, so we’re bundled up in layers.  By the time we finish, temp is 90+.  This first section is Mullan, ID to Pine Creek Trailhead.  Pine Creek is just steps away from our campground, so we are strategically located for the first 2 legs of our journey, at least.  Total distance today: 22.7 miles in a little over 3 hours!  This segment  is the most downhill of them all, but steady pedaling is still necessary.  For someone like me who has not been biking for over 1 year, and for someone like Matt, who has not ridden for more than 1.5 hours at a time on his trike, we feel exhausted but exuberant that we have been able to do it at all. Aching knees and and a painful butt are the consequences of the ride today for me.  Matt says his throttle thumb gets tired (!!).

DDFWCC: front to back: Jim, (Abi is hidden),Patti, Matt, Jac, Pam.
Photo by Will

This first segment of the trail was one I would not ride again.  It parallels the Interstate for much of it, so there is lots of road noise–lots of road noise!  I did see one deer cross the trail but not much else in the way of wildlife.   The pine forest smells grand.

By 3pm, it is hot, hot, hot.  We get back to camp and collapse-Matt in the Slipper; Tasha and me on the shaded grass.  Nobody moves until it begins to cool ~7pm.  Then Jac and Will arrive and the party begins again.  Dinner and a couple bottles of wine later I level the Slipper on blocks for the night—not too gracefully but it is mercifully dark.  We settle in for a good night’s sleep.

Day 6, Aug 19, 2012:  Up again at 545 am for the start of the second leg.  Although I felt terrible yesterday, I have no knee pain this am and my butt is (initially at least) less sore as well.  Plus Jac has loaned me some padded biking shorts!  This section goes from Pine Creek (Pinehurst) to Black Rock Trailhead and is still downhill but a much more gradual grade than yesterday. Total distance: 17.5 miles.

Will’s pic of baby moose

will’s pic of coyotes

We are done in ~ 3.5 hours.  This leg is much more to my liking as it leaves the noisy interstate and winds along the Coeur d’Alene River.  The terrain is delightfully variable; sometimes pine forests and other times open marshy wetlands and shallow lakes.  Patti spotted a moose and calf.  Others saw a fawn.  Matt and Will saw 2 coyotes.  I saw the moose, thanks to Patti’s sharp eyes, osprey, eagles, and a swallowtail butterfly.  Matt left the rest of us in the dust while cruising on his e-assist trike–only Will could keep up!  Good thing he did or Matt would still be going.

The temp starting out is cool but less cold than yesterday.  It still is over 90 by the time we finish around noon.  Although exhausted and painful again (same areas), I recover more quickly this time, especially after a good solid lunch at Salli’s.  Siesta time back at the campground again until dusk when we all regroup and seek dinner in Kellogg.

I believe we are going to achieve our goal!

Jim & Patti, Matt, Will

Matt, Abi, Jac riding the trail

Day 7, Aug 20, 2012:  Early start again, but I totally mess up.  I leave Matt’s electric assist motor’s battery in the Ruby Slipper, which we leave at the terminus of today’s section, Harrison.  I don’t figure it out until we’re ready to take off at the Black Rock Trailhead.  That means Jac and I have to drive all the way back to the day’s finish to retrieve it and return to the start again-over an hour’s delay!  My name is mud for the rest of the morning.  I make amends by buying everybody ice cream at the end of the ride in Harrison.  They take  full advantage with double scoop bowls.

Another mother and baby moose are spotted today, although by the time I see them, mother is looking upset.   Moose are very big up close—and the mothers have a nasty reputation when they think their babies might be in danger.  I move on quickly.

Another 15.9 miles accomplished:  Today’s ride is long and flat and largely open area marshes and wetlands.  I never thought I would see pelicans in ID but there is a large flock on one of the lakes.   Jac and I stop to check out several mysterious fuzzy creamy fast-crawling caterpillars racing across the trail.  I try to capture them on film but they are too fast!  I swear!

following the Coeur d’Alene River

wetlands along the CdA trail for miles

As we near Harrison, on Coeur d’Alene Lake, swathes of pink and white waterlilies abundantly populate the waterways.  They are so thick it appears you could walk across them.  Overwhelmingly gorgeous!

masses of waterlilies

I suffer a small mishap along the way.  Here’s my story and it’s a good one:   I am riding along the trail, and a moose steps out of the brush.   I swerve to miss the moose and hit a bear, tumble down the hillside and into a tree*.

I have bruises, claw and tooth marks as proof, although they are healing fast and will leave only one small scar.  My bike suffers damage to the rear tire (discovered totally flat the next morning).  The moose and the bear are uninjured.  Don’t you just love nature!

Dinner tonight is steak and salad in front of Patti and Jim’s cabin, and I must say it’s the best meal we’ve had yet.  And only a short walk to our bed in the Ruby Slipper afterwards!

*The story is true, but the names and location have been changed.  A Montana news reported an MVA involving the moose, the bear and a woman driving.  All were uninjured.

August 21, Tuesday:  After much discussion and map perusals the night before (fueled with food and wine), we decided to alter our last day of Cd’A Trail riding.  We had originally planned to ride Plummer to Harrison, reversing our original direction of travel from east to west.  Riding west to east would to maintain our downhill philosophy as that route has 2% grade nearly the entire length.  We could then boast that we had ridden the entire Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes from Mullan ID to Plummer ID.  However, because of the limited road access between these two towns, the logistics of drop off and pick up would have required several hours of road driving before and after the 15.3 mile bike ride.  We compromised by riding an equal distance out and back between Harrison and Heyburn State Park on the other side of the lake.  We can say we rode the full distance of the Trail, although we didn’t see the last 7.5 miles between Heyburn and Plummer (I know, I know; that’s my OCD expressing itself.)

This day’s ride begins ominously as we start during a thunderstorm.  As we unload the bikes, mine has a flat tire.  Thanks, Jackie, for demonstrating and performing the daunting task of tube changing a rear tire.  We are finally on our way by 10 am.  The thunderstorm is over, and the trail is ours.  Spirits are high as we know we will finish our desired goal today!

This ride is entirely along the bank of Lake Coeur d’Alene and is as lovely and peaceful a ride as one could imagine.  Because of the unsettled weather, we have the trail all to ourselves.  There are plenty of distractions such as osprey, painted box turtles, and dramatic scenery to entertain us.  Probably the most interesting time passage is Abi’s list of “the stupidest things I’ve ever done.”  The list is quite long, lasting for miles, and usually involves her brother and her, dangerous heights and precarious physical attempts to defy gravity.  I have no doubt she will continue to add to the list in the future!

trestle bridge, southern end of lake

Matt, Pam and Abi on bridge approach
photo by Will

The turnaround point of the today’s ride is Chatcolet Trailhead in Heyburn State Park.  We cross a trestle bridge over the southern end of the lake.  The long undulating approaches on either end are challenging on the uphill and an exhilarating coast down the other side.   Having crossed the bridge once, we merely turn around and cross it again.  It seems a very fitting little climax to our 4 day trip.

view north from trestle bridge

 

The return ride to Harrison is uneventful, and we have just time enough to load all the bikes and duck into the local restaurant for lunch and victory stories before the next thunderstorm rolls in.  Distance today: 15.6 miles.  Our final evening meal together is steak and salad in front of Patti and Jim’s cabin.  Victory toasts all around!

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to have been able to return to the outdoor activities we have dearly missed this past 17 months.  It takes a lot more planning, equipment, and support from others for us to be able to do a trip like this, but for us, it’s like stepping back into a real life again, even if only for a short while.  Our heartfelt thanks and love to our family for sharing this “adventure therapy.”

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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.

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