Panhandling? - Grampies Go Panhandling Summer 2013 - CycleBlaze


When grandchildren Avi and Violet moved to Montana, we became regular commuters between our home on Vancouver Island and the foothills of the Rockies, at Missoula. Because of the Interstate Highway, I-90, the fastest way to do the trip is through Washington State, then Idaho, and on into Montana.

When, in 2011, we decided to bicycle over to Montana, (and then continue across the continent, to Montreal!) we planned to follow I-90 as usual. One problem, though, was the city of Spokane, just west of the Idaho border. Out beyond Seattle, the Interstate is fairly sparsely travelled. But in Spokane there are lots of on and off ramps, spelling trouble for bicycling.

Now, two years later, we are much much smarter, but back then we had no idea there could be a dedicated bike path anywhere in America. It was only while trying to Google Map a way through Spokane that a thin grey line popped onto our radar. This turned out to be the Centennial Bike Trail, that runs from west of Spokane to the strangely named town of Coeur d'Alene. Coeur d'Alene is French for the "heart of the awl", and is a reference by French traders to the tough nature of the local Indians. The name is given to the town, and also to the large lake that extends to the south.

The next thing we didn't know is that the region from Coeur d'Alene east to the mountains that form the boundary with Montana was (and to some extent still is) a major silver mining district. Silver and gold was discovered here in the 1880's, around Mullan - on the eastern edge. Transportation in the form of narrow and then wide gauge rail was pushed through, out to Helena Montana in the East and the Palouse prairie area to the west in Washington.

The rail bed was built up from mine tailings, and those tailings turned out to be contaminated with arsenic or other heavy metals. The whole corridor became heavily contaminated. Shipments only ceased around 1992, at which time the local native people sued, for remediation and control. The Environmental Protection Agency seemed to join in, and clean up began in 2000. The ties were removed, soil was removed, and the whole thing was covered in a thick layer of ashfalt.In this way, a paved trail was created for 117 km from Plummer, Idaho (near Coeur d'Alenes) to Mullan.

By the time we arrived on the scene with our Google Maps, there was a dedicated bikeway literally from Spokane to beyond Mullan. That is, right across the Ihaho Panhandle!

From Plummer, the trail runs through a lovely lake district. Then to the east it parallels I-90, passing the former mining towns. Finally, from Wallace it ascends to Mullan, the last town before Lookout Pass, on the other side of which is Montana.

In 2011, this is how we came, and made it to Avi and Violet in Missoula. Now we want to bring them back, and introduce them to touring, in this miracle pathway one valley over from their own.

(p.s. This story would not be complete without mention of Harley and Nancy Johanssen, and their son Peder. We met Harley and Nancy down by Plummer, and they invited us to visit them at their house in Mullan. We reached Mullan with a broken wheel, and in a snow storm. The Johanssens put us in a bed by a woodstove, and later dragged our bikes in a trailer, all the way to a bikeshop in Missoula. You can read about it, starting here. )

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