The original point of going to Idaho – and the reason I drove for an entire day with two bikes nervously strapped to my car – was to take a bike ride on The Trail of the Hiawatha.
I’d had visions of training rides all spring, culminating in this summer ride along 17 miles of mountainous railroad track converted to bike trail. In fact, I’ve gotten very little bike riding in, and none whatsoever in the month immediately before the trip.
I feel silly schlepping two bikes for a day and then not riding them, but when the day of the bike trip arrives, I realize, I’m going to feel sillier if I have to be airlifted out of there, or perhaps pulled out on a dogsled.
I ask the waitress. She tells me, honey, little kids do that trail. It’s not hard.
Have you ever done it? I ask.
No, she says. But little kids do it. You can do it.
I load the bikes back on the car, and realize the reason they’ve been making me so nervous: one of the straps on the bike rack was not tightened properly. I’d managed to tighten every strap multiple times and miss that strap, every single time. We drive to the trailhead and I manage to spend the entire drive looking out the front window.
Okay, maybe I glanced in the rear mirror once or twice.
We buy box lunches and bottled water and a backpack to put them in. We buy trail passes and shuttle bus passes for the return trip. Someone helpfully suggests that we need headlamps for our bikes, too, so I rent one for each of us. Nobody seems to care that we are unprepared; instead, they just tell us what we need and show us where to get it.
We get to the trailhead, and start to bike through a two-mile long railroad tunnel. It’s completely dark, and quite cold. Water drips on us; it feels like the mine. But we have jackets and we’re moving, so we’re not too cold, and we can hear people ahead of us singing Thriller.
It’s creepy in a fun way.
We go slowly and gradually our eyes adjust. Before we know it, we’re at the end of the tunnel and biking on a gravel path.
We don’t have to pedal much, because the trail starts at the top of a mountain and ends at the bottom: It’s all downhill.
We go across trestle bridges and through more tunnels. We sing zombie songs in the tunnels, and say hello to the intrepid uphill bikers who occasionally pass us. They say hello back. We take group pictures for people, and they take pictures for us.
As we neared the end, I realized: If The Departed had not left, I would never have gone to the Seattle Bike Expo and chatted with the man who gave me a bike map of the Idaho Panhandle. I would not have planned a road trip, because I could have afforded much more. I would not have strapped bikes to the back of my car, because it can’t be done in my kind of car.
I would never have seen this:
Do you see that little bridge off to the right? Yeah, we biked that.