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Cheetos Surprise; Trail of the Hiawatha; Cold and Wet in July; Big Ed; Bang Bang!

It was t-r-e-a-t time for Rudy and Gretchen yesterday. We now give them little half-pieces of Cheetos because we ran out of Pupcorn, and the ingredients are very similar. I picked up the bag of doggie treats, gave them their rewards, and decided to nibble a couple myself to satisfy my cravings. I popped a couple in my mouth and started chewing… What the heck? It tasted partly like delicious Cheetos and partly like bitter tree bark. I spat out the foul mixture in the sink… it was half orange and half grayish-brown… I had forgotten that mixed in with the treats were Rudy’s Dasoquin, a chewable medication for joint pain. It took a half glass of orange juice to get the bitter flavor of Rudy’s meds out of my mouth. Now I know why Rudy sometimes spits out his medicine while hoping for the cheesy treat that always follows it. Guess it serves me right for eating his Cheetos… sigh.

While walking the puppies one morning along Clear Lake, I spied this beautiful milk thistle (Silybum marianum) growing in a marsh. It is said to be edible (roots, shoots, bracks, stems and leaves), but not being hungry, I offered some to Rudy and he declined to partake. (Just kidding, in case there is an SPCA director reading this blog.) I took the picture with a macro lens I got just before we departed. 

On my last bike ride, I had to take a photo of this sign that a beachfront landowner had erected to notify visitors of his feelings about trespassers… 

On that same ride, I passed this baseball diamond with a high fence topped with razor wire. Boy, they sure don’t want anyone playing on that field after hours, do they? Well, it turns out that this was part of a juvenile corrections facility. It was a pretty depressing place, with nary a soul in sight.

We departed the Spokane area on Monday and headed through Idaho to Montana. Our first stop was at Lookout Pass, elev. 4,730 ft., where we got tickets for a unique mountain bike trail. Starting in Montana and ending in Idaho, the Route of the Hiawatha is a 15 mile trail that follows an old Milwaukee Railroad grade through the Bitterroot Mountains and some beautiful, rugged scenery in Idaho Panhandle National Forest. You pedal through 11 tunnels and across 9 high railroad trestles, some towering 230 feet above the rivers and gorges below. Here is Biker Babe about to enter the first dark hole, St. Paul Tunnel, which is 1.7 miles long and unlighted. It takes about 10 minutes to transit this tunnel, and the temp dropped from 75, sunny and dry outside to 40, pitch-black and damp inside. By the end you are chilled to the bone (perhaps that is why jackets are suggested?). 

You are also required to have a bright light mounted on your bike or helmet to avoid collisions with other cyclists, hikers, cars, elk, deer or moose, the last three of which do not normally don headlights or reflective strips. Paraphrasing the Greek historian, Thucydides, a collision with a 1,200 pound moose could ruin your whole day. Here is Suzanne about to exit the first tunnel… But really, how often do you see deer on this trail? Suzanne spotted one big doe trotting down the trail within a mile of leaving that first tunnel. Cyclists are not even allowed to start on the trail until trail rangers make a sweep to make sure the tunnels are clear and moose and elk have been shooed away.

The trestles were built in the early 1900s , and a few were destroyed in the 1910 Great Burn, a catastrophic forest fire in which 86 people died, mostly firefighters, and over 3,000,000 acres burned. It was the greatest loss of firefighters until the Muslim terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In one incident, one train from Avery, Idaho, with 1,000 passengers aboard had to seek shelter in one of the tunnels, remaining there for a week until the fires and heat outside subsided enough for the crew and passengers to walk out to safety.

At the bottom of the trail, a 1,000 foot plus drop from the start, you have two options; (a) is to pay $9 per person and bike to ride an old yellow school bus up a dusty fire service road to a spot near the exit of the first tunnel; (b) is to turn around and start climbing in low gears back up the 15 mile grade that you just descended. I wanted to head back up the trail, but being a gentleman, I didn’t want My Lovely Bride to be totally exhausted at the end of the day. (Perhaps I was being a bit selfish, but she had promised me a very special meal, and I certainly didn’t want to miss that!) Besides, she was a bit wet from the rides through the wet tunnels. 

So we arrived in time for the last shuttle bus of the day, and met Ed, who is one of those “characters” you never forget. A former high school baseball coach from San Francisco (pop. 1,840,000), Ed now lives in Kellogg, Idaho (pop. 2,105), horses bikes on and off the shuttle in the summer and runs a ski lift in the winter. He has more stories than you can shake a stick at, and some of them may have an element of truth to them… but most of all, he is a really nice guy.

This is how the bikes are hung on hooks in the back of the schoolbus. It’s a pretty clever arrangement, and maximizes the space available for people and bikes. It was a dusty ride back, but My Lovely Bride surprised me with a delicious meal of Bang Bang Shrimp with Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. (I’m sure glad I selected the shuttle option, or we might still be on that 15 mile uphill climb with the moose!)

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