Trails and Passes - Grampies on the Go - CycleBlaze

April 26, 2011

Trails and Passes

It's less than a week until we set off, but we are still discovering basic facts about our route for the first 1000 km and major chunks are still under review.

The first big change, already decided over a month ago, was to abandon Stevens Pass as our way through the Cascades. In fact, last night's news showed the entire Highway #2 over the pass covered in snow. They say the snowpack in the Cascades is still at mid-winter levels.

Our alternative was Snoqualmie Pass. We crossed it yesterday in the van, in driving rain with the mid-day temperature just above freezing. There was lots of snow on the sides at the summit, but at least the road was clear. We were excited to think that we could traverse much of Washington, including the area of the Pass on the John Wayne Trail. The trail is described in detail in a book we picked up in Spokane. Though the book is dated 2009, it does not mention the numerous tunnel closures and detours that we now know are along the trial. It could mean we just have to follow I-90, with its heavy truck traffic and noise. This week we will try hard to learn if the detours make the trail a no go.

The next pass to think about was the Fourth of July pass, just beyond Coeur d'Alene Idaho. The Centennial Trail which we will take from Spokane ends at Coeur d'Alene, but there are a number of trails from there through the Idaho Panhandle. Our current plan is to head South to Plummer and to pick up the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene. This ends at Mullan, before the steepest part of the Lookout Pass. While the roads to Plummer also have some long steep bits (like one hill - 10 km of 5% grade) they seem less brutal than the Fourth of July, and certainly they are quieter.

Lookout Pass which marks the Idaho/Montana border is the next one in that first 1000 km that we are thinking about. Again, we passed over it in the van yesterday. It had snow on the ground but not on the road, so it's OK, I guess. The situation with trails in the area is a bit complicated. There is a trail (Northern Pacific Multi-use Trail) from Mullan to the top of the Pass, but we think the trail condition may make it unsuitable for us. There is another way around the Pass, on the Trail of the Hiawatha. That involves a 1.6 km pitch black tunnel, and we would have to reroute off the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene onto the Old Milwaukee Railroad Route out of Plummer. Again, we do not think (but don't know for sure) if that trail's condition would work for us. We are using 700 x38 Schwalbe tires, but we are tourists, not mountain bikers! As well, the trailhead we looked at yesterday seemed to be deep in snow and the trail itself may be impassable, even in two to three weeks when we would likely be headed through.

These issues of trail locations and conditions seem to set us a little bit apart from other CGOAB bloggers who do not seem to have had as many concerns about these things as we do. We love the idea of traffic free routes, back in the bush. But despite the fact that many trails follow old rail lines, they are often fragmented, and can begin and finally deadend in the middle of nowhere (from the point of view of long distance travellers.) It is not as if the information about these trails is secret but neither is it readily available all in one place nor are the sources of information obvious (to us at least). Our issues with the use of GPS are related to this as well since even bicycle specific GPS units or websites do not seem to be set up to route for long distance bike travel using dedicated trails in whole or in part.

Our final routing decision (in the first 1000+/- Km of our trip) is how to route our travel through Glacier Park. Only two options seem to be available and since our preferred choice, the Going to the Sun Road, is still snow covered and will probably be barely passable if even open to traffic when we get there in early June we will circle the southern edge of the park on Hwy 2 and head north to Canada on the Park's Eastern boundary. If the road is opened but dicey to use on a bicycle we may rent a car in West Glacier and take a day to go through the Park and back-so we can cross that bit off our bucket list.

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