Introduction - Idaho Trails 2019 - CycleBlaze

Introduction

This is an 8-day motel tour of a popular network of recreational trails in the inland northwest U.S. The route is mostly in northern Idaho but the tour starts and finishes in Washington and crosses the Bitterroot mountains into Montana.

Lodging reservations give the 8-day tour a fixed date, September 8-15. The 325 mile (520 km) route has less daily climbing than most of my tours, so it doesn't include a rest day.

Elevation varies from 1900 feet (580 m) in Spokane to 4750 feet (1448 m)  in the Bitterroot mountains. Half of the route is on gently graded bike trails that follow the Spokane river and abandoned railroad beds.

The clockwise route begins in Spokane on the Centennial trail, upstream along the Spokane river from downtown Spokane to Coeur d'Alene. Then around lake Coeur d' Alene on roads and east on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. When the paved trail ends I switch to the unpaved Northern Pacific Railway trail which crests the Bitterroot range into Montana.

The turnaround point is the village of Saltese, Montana. Then Route of the Olympian climbs back to the crest to re-enter Idaho on Route of the Hiawatha which has 7 trestles and 8 tunnels including the 1.7 mile long Taft tunnel. Then down the St. Joe river on a Forest Road and back to Spokane via the lakefront portion of the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the rolling wheat fields of the northern Palouse.

The trails are mostly on abandoned railroad grades, immersing cyclists in the region's railroad history with trestles, tunnels, and historic railroad/logging towns. My lodging includes a 1920 railroad employee apartment in Avery, a 1915 lumber mill boarding house in Harrison, and a 1905 hotel in Wallace.

Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha are popular family tourist attractions. To avoid crowds and children I scheduled the tour to begin the Sunday after the labor day holiday. At this latitude the second week of September is typically the last reliably warm and dry week of summer, but this year it turned out to be the first cool rainy week of fall.

On the map below it's easier to visualize the route if you click the drop-down box in the upper right and select "Terrain" view.

The north blue line is the Centennial Trail along the Spokane river. The longer south blue line is the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. The middle third of the black line is Route of the Hiawatha, from East Portal to Pearson.

Red: paved roads. Blue: paved trails. Black: unpaved roads and trails. Elevation spikes are tunnels, not real.
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This is a good year to tour in the Pacific Northwest because there is very little wildfire activity. Smoke was terrible the previous two years.

The tour started in the middle of a big city, across the river from downtown Spokane. To minimize traffic I scheduled the tour to pedal out of Spokane on Sunday, then pedal back into Spokane the following Sunday.

I did not invent this route. The eastern loop is similar to the famous Bitterroot 300k bike route. My tour duplicates the route and overnight locations of a journal made by Marti Fine on another web site. Marti deserves all the credit for designing a longer loop that adds rail trails to the east into Montana, plus a loop west to Spokane.

Cyclist and Bike

I am 58 years old and started the tour with a weight of 186 pounds (85 kg).

The bike is a 2007 Bacchetta Giro 20 short wheelbase recumbent with Euro-Mesh seat, Ventisit seat pad, Terracycle underseat rack, and very worn Arkel RT-40 underseat panniers.

Trestle on Route of the Hiawatha
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Getting There

Spokane is an easy 1 day drive from my house in southwest Oregon. 513 miles, mostly on Interstate highways. The total trip was 10 days, a quick escape for a relatively easy bike tour.

My short wheelbase recumbent easily fits in the back of my Toyota Prius.
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Two weeks before the tour I bought a monthly pass to park my car in a lot just north of downtown Spokane, one block from the Centennial Trail. It was nice to know where to park in advance after delaying my previous tour for a day because I couldn't find a place to park my car in Salida, Colorado.

My Spokane home before the tour was the Ramada Inn a mile east of downtown. $110 for a Saturday night, not bad. It has an indoor pool and hot tub that I didn't use. And a hot breakfast buffet that I did use.

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