August 4 - Hiawatha Trail
Sunday was the big day! We finally did the Route of the Hiawatha that is a nearly 15 mile “rails to trails” consisting of a gravel surface starting in Montana and ending in Idaho. The beginning elevation is over 4000 feet and the first thing you do is go through a tunnel that is 1.7 miles long. Since we had previously experienced that tunnel, we decided to start at a point just past it which made our trek about 12.6 miles. We had never actually done the entire trail so this time we wanted to do the parts that we had not done before.
The first time we did the trail, we were both on bikes. It was on Memorial Day (opening day) about 8 years ago and the temperature was 34 degrees with sleet. We both had lights on our bikes (the tunnels are not lighted), but the lights were barely adequate. As soon as we entered that first dark, wet tunnel, I started having a panic attack. Not only was my light not good, but my glasses fogged up and with not being able to see, combined with water dripping all around us, I just about lost it. As soon as we made it out to that 1.7 mile tube of darkness and Hollie saw my mental condition, he came up with a plan. We would ride slowly, with him in front and my light would focus on the reflective strip of his jacket. That worked fine---until he disappeared. I just kept going and when we got out of the tunnel, he eventually arrived. He had crashed. He was dirty, but not hurt. So, that was our first experience. We then continued down the trail for a total of 7 miles where we then took a shuttle bus back to the lower end of that 1.7 mile tunnel. We were lucky that there was a large group of riders with very good lights and they got in front of us and we made it back to the top without me having another panic attack.
A couple of years later, we were in the area and I wanted to do that tunnel again, just to prove to myself that I could. Our experience was nearly as bad, just not the same. Our plan was that I would walk that first tunnel and Hollie would drive to the next trailhead and I would run/walk down about 3-4 miles and then back up to the trailhead to meet him. Everything was going fine until I got to the trailhead where he was supposed to meet me and he was nowhere in sight. I waited and waited, not knowing what to do. I did not have my cell phone with me and we probably would have not had a signal, so I just waited. After awhile, I concluded that I just needed to wait until he showed up. There was an empty shuttle bus parked at the trailhead and I got in it to stay out of the cold and sleet. Eventually, he came walking through the tunnel. He then told me that when he had tried to drive to the trailhead, the road was blocked by a wall of snow so he had driven back up to the starting point and came walking down to find me. We then walked back through the tunnel to get to the truck. On the trail that day, we were the only peole out there.
This year’s experience was relatively uneventful. On the previous two visits, we had done that first tunnel a total of 4 times, so we figured we didn’t need to do it again, but we did want to cover the remaining 12.6 miles. Neither of us have been training for such a long run/walk, but we considered ourselves to be in good enough condition to make the distance. We did just that, with me walking and running and Hollie walking. I would run until I got to a tunnel or trestle and then I would wait for Hollie and walk some with him. I ended up running a little over 7 miles. The highlight of the trek was when we were on the highest/longest trestle (230 ft high and 850 ft long) I looked down and spotted a deer and her fawn grazing near the creek below us.
There was one strange thing that happened while we were on the trail. One of the trail monitors stopped us and wanted to know why we were not wearing helmets. I just laughed and said because we are not riding a bike. He then told us that the US Forest Service requires that everyone who uses the trail has to wear a helmet and we then had to sign a waiver. Can you imagine how funny I would have looked running down the trail, wearing a helmet? I guess this is just another case of a silly government regulation.
Once we got to the bottom, I discovered that I had lost one of our shuttle passes for the bus that would take us to the top. I had to convince the driver to let us both on the bus.
I would highly recommend this trek. It is very beautiful and he experience of 1going through 10 unlighted tunnels and over/across 7 high trestles make it well worth the effort. As for me, I have now done the entire 15 miles (over the course of 3 visits) and I will probably not do it again. I can now mark it off my bucket list.