Trail of the Coeur d' Alenes

by Pat Miller

Karen and Pat’s Outstanding Cycling Adventure.

After several years of saying “You know, we really should”, Karen and I finally made it to Idaho to ride the fabled “Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes”, 77 miles of abandoned rail bed stretching from Mullen on the eastern edge of the Idaho silver mining district to Plummer near the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. This ribbon of smooth asphalt that nearly crosses the entire state in car-less splendor features numerous access points, gorgeous scenery and abundant wildlife. Close to the road in some locations but completely isolated in others as these old railroad right-of-ways tend to take the shortest distances (and easiest grades) between two points.

We arrived at our motel Monday afternoon (the Baymont in Kellogg
suggested by ET and Greg is a great suggestion!). As this was the day after the Valley of the Sun and I could still feel the previous day’s race I was hoping a gentle ride might help my trip stiffened limbs. We checked in around 2:30 and were riding east toward Mullen by 3:00 in the cloudless, 95° afternoon. Karen has been looking forward to this ride since buying her first road bike a year or so ago. Her enthusiasm kept the pot on the boil (as Phil Liggett might say) and I struggled in macho silence to hang on.

As an aside I have to tell you about the restorative power of the bicycle. My wife has gone in a few short months from a free-lance product tester for RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris whose idea of exercise was fetching the mail to an animal on the bike as well as becoming a road running gym rat! I have nicknamed her Blanche Armstrong!

Luckily a bolt was sticking out of the newly installed tourist rack into my leg making necessary a stop in Osborne to find a hacksaw blade for some on-the-road metal surgery. The trail started to pitch up a bit toward Mullen and the pace backed off to merely painful.
This stretch from Kellogg to Mullen is 20 miles one way with some 900 feet of elevation gain in the last 10 miles- gentle but steady. The quaint burg of Wallace is about half way and makes a great spot on the return for a root beer float. I had been to Wallace a couple of times during my college years at WSU (Yep- all the stories are true!) and it was nice to actually see what it looked like and remember it!

40 down, 110 to go.

Tuesday morning at 7:00 we were off headed west. The plan was to ride a big chunk of the remaining 110 round trip miles and move on to Plummer or Harrison to stay and finish up the ride on Wednesday. Once past Kellogg and Smelterville the trail finds the river and the scenery and wildlife start to take over. Osprey, songbirds, chipmunks, deer and the occasional moose inhabit the forest, flat lands and literal miles of lily pad filled ponds. Geese, ducks, herons and other waterfowl use the elevated rail bed through the ponds as their setting area and private bathroom. I’ll leave you to conjure up your own pictures.

There were a few other cyclists usually near the trailheads but we mostly had it to ourselves. There are lots of restrooms along the trail but very little in the way of potable water. Years of rail cars carrying heavy metal laden ore have left a scar on the corridor. The trail is safe to travel but camping is discouraged and the ground water a bit questionable. Carry more that you think you’ll need or plan to take a few side trips.

Our first view of the lake came at Harrison and we stopped for an espresso. Karen’s previous long ride was around 50 miles and we were thinking of turning around here which would give us 70. Something about the allure of the first century ride along the beautiful trail and conditions just made it easy to keep riding. So ride we did- around the lake toward the end of the trail at Plummer, 54 miles from our start in Kellogg. The last 7 miles into Plummer gains some elevation, maybe 700 feet and by now it was hot. Our efforts were rewarded by pictures of a momma and a baby deer, still with it’s spots! We were hoping for a nice lunch in Plummer but found it to be a rather disappointing little village neither clean nor friendly. Just a perception but after locking our bikes to three different eateries and changing our minds we left the heebie-jeebies behind and headed back to Harrison. The espresso shop was pleasant and had FOOD!!!!! We checked earlier to be sure they would be serving into the afternoon.
Comfortably sated and water bottles filled we head back toward Kellogg albeit a bit slower as the heat and miles started to take a bit of a toll. Near the spot where we had seen a young moose browsing earlier in the morning we found same moose taking a leisurely swim in the cool river. It was tempting to join in but like Robert Frost we had miles to go before we sleep or eat or swim.
108.4 miles down and we are back at the hotel. Karen has clocked her first century!! And what a great place for a first century! I am a hardened commuter used to and mostly comfortable sharing with cars but I have to say that two days and 150 miles of riding without ‘em was pretty nice! Only 5 hours from home is the longest paved bike/pedestrian path in the country and it’s a winner. We are planning to go back. An autumn ride with friends would be outstanding!!

Now it’s on to Boise to ride the Bogus Basin Hill Climb but that’s another story!!