Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wallace, ID: Biking to the Center of the Universe

A 15-mile bike ride, downhill all the way, through gorgeous forests with incredible scenery, along the path of a historic abandoned railway route, through 10 train tunnels and over 7 sky-high trestles, with a shuttle to take you back to the top when you're done?  Yes, please!

We drove 100+ miles out of our way just to experience the Route of the Hiawatha, the "crown jewel" of the rails-to-trails project that is converting old railway lines into usable biking and hiking trails around the country.  Being in their Hall of Fame means it is one of their top 15 trails in the country!

Before the beauty, though, comes the shocker: within the first 30 seconds of starting the route, you are plunged into terrifying darkness.  For 8,771 feet -- that's 1.6 miles!!!  We quickly understood that the Route of the Hiawatha is NOT for you if:

you are scared of the dark
you are scared of really long distances in the dark
you are scared of closed-in places in the dark
you are scared of not seeing any entrance nor exit in the dark
you are scared of bats in the dark
you are scared of riding a bike on a severely rutted dirt path in the dark
you are scared of icy cold water dripping on you in the dark
you are scared of crashing your bike in the dark

Other than that, you'll be just fine!!

Yes we had (required) headlights on our bikes ... but those tiny pinpricks of light were no match for a (I cannot emphasize this enough) 1.6 MILE LONG tunnel through a mountain with zero natural light! The first photo was taken using a flash, and the second photo was taken as we exited back into the light!  Otherwise, screw up your eyes tightly, and that blackness is what we saw as we creeped along as slow as a slug for 1.6 miles!

Maybe I'm being a little dramatic, but it was really scary!  And yet, completely exhilarating.  We were laughing hysterically at ourselves.  Definitely a memory we will not soon forget! 

We emerged triumphant from the Tunnel of Terror

And though there would be six more tunnels on the route, none were as long (though they were equally as dark)

The scenery in every direction was breathtaking

Looking down on one of seven sky-high train trestles we would be crossing

Now we know where the dripping water in the tunnels is seeping from

Don't look down!  :-)

See Philip?

Gorgeous views as far as the eye can see

The Forest Service had placed exceptionally well-done interpretive signs about the history of the railroad that originally used this route

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime biking experience!

But if downhill biking is not your thing, the nearby "Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes" offers
75 miles of flat, smooth asphalt completely removed from the highway through some of the most gorgeous Idaho backcountry.  

Philip rode from Plummer, Idaho to Wallace, Idaho, while I drove the RV a different route.

This epic ride has it all!  Riding alongside lakes and rivers ....

Plenty of rest stations for weary travelers  ... (or just drop your bike anywhere, you're all alone anyway)

Bridges and crossings ....

And most importantly, critters!  Deer and eagles and moose, oh my!

Back in Wallace, tired but happy, we journeyed into this old mining town, where every single building in the town is on the National Historic Register.

Wallace is known as the "Center of the Universe."  How is this, you might ask?

This concept had its impromptu origin in 2004 as a sarcastic critique by an international crowd of Silver Summit attendees of the EPA's lead-headed 2002 Record of Decision which said, in essence, that if a thing cannot be disproven, it is thereby proven. The anniversary of the Mayor's proclamation that Wallace MUST be the Center of the Universe because you can't PROVE otherwise has naturally been celebrated ever since.

This location is signified by a fancy manhole cover.  There is also a spot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which claims to be the Center of the Universe based on a certain acoustic phenomenon, but I like this reasoning better:  "Prove It" ... "No, YOU disprove it, neener, neener, neener" -- like kindergarteners arguing on a playground.

Philip has always accused me of thinking I am the Center of the Universe -- now we know it's true!

Our travels onward from Wallace took us to Winthrop, WA.

This is another mining town (think: Tombstone, Bisbee, Deadwood) that has rebranded itself with old-timey Western flair that somehow avoids being corny and is simply charming.

Winthrop's excellent and renowned Shafer Museum is a series of buildings showing what life was like "back in the day", and I don't mean the 70's -- well. maybe the 1870's!

 After a bit of retail therapy and procurement of (not-quite-)necessary baked goods, we're back on the road!  

Next, the Lucky Charm will bask in the glory of 60 miles of the very first scenic highway in the United States, the North Cascades Scenic Highway!   We'll be awfully close to Canada and looking forward to gorgeous, glacier-caused scenery that is similar to what we enjoyed during last summer's trip to the Canadian Rockies.  Thanks for riding along!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

McCall, ID and Pullman, WA: A Couple of Foxy Destinations

We'd heard McCall, Idaho was a great place, but did not expect it to be one of our FAVORITE places we've visited yet in the Lucky Charm.  With an abundance of fabulous outdoor recreation and an adorable lakeside town, we were charmed!  Also, it was here that I spotted and photographed only the second fox I've ever seen in my life (I married the first one, hee hee)!

We've been reviewing and rating campgrounds and RV parks since day one.  McCall's Ponderosa State Park was the first (yes, I said the FIRST) place to receive a perfect 10!  From the wonderfully wooded and private site ...

to excellent hiking trails and abundant beauty ...

to old-timey delights like popping corn over an open flame ...

Ponderosa State Park was a camping dream in every way!

It is set right on Payette Lake, just five miles from town, visible here from the top of Brundage Mountain (on the top of which we got spectacularly lost, but let's not get into that):

 Where this Arizona boy was enjoying the remaining snow and celebrating being away from Phoenix's 115+ degree summer days!

Payette Lake is perfect for using our new inflatable kayak 
(we highly recommend the Sea Eagle brand, by the way)

and waving at the tourists going by on Payette Lake Tours.
(We may be working harder, but also having a lot more fun!)

Back in town, McCall has an ingenious method to get everyone across the street safely.
The help-yourself-to-a-flag system!

Our most important mission was to find "Ice Cream Alley," one of the top homemade ice cream shoppes in the country which is literally located down an alley and yet remains wildly popular despite poor visibility.

Online reviews warned of long lines.  "C'mon," I thought, "how bad can it be?'  And looking down the alley it didn't seem too bad.  Then I rounded the corner of their hut.  Dammit!  But, I got in line, cuz: Ice Cream.  And the fresh huckleberry was pretty amazing!

Moving along to Pullman, WA (just over the Idaho border), the main attraction was a spectacular network of biking trails through gorgeous rolling farmland (cuz we had to work off the ice cream!).

Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID are only 7 miles apart, and yet each has its own university (Washington State University "Cougars" or "Cougs", and University of Idaho "Vandals", ohhhh kayyyyy why???)   

The rivalry is such that if you want to tip at the counter of a local coffeehouse, there are two jars (one for each school) and you have to drop your coins into one or the other!  Can you imagine the anarchy if ASU and U of A were only 7 miles from each other?

A discovery along the way is the way-cool "Artisans at Dahmen Barn," a collective space which hosts working artist studios, gallery exhibits, live music concerts, art and culinary classes, and more.

The three-story Barn features 13 studios with 25 resident artists, and the gift shops sells items from more than 200 artists.  

We may or may not have pretty much paid the mortgage on the place with our purchases, including a lamp made out of old binoculars that you will soon see at 16 Spur Circle, and this handmade Lucky Charm bracelet! The RV approves.

The Barn was built in 1935 and used for commercial dairy operation through 1952.  It then sat empty until 2004, when the delapidated building was donated to Uniontown, with the stipulation that it be stabilized and put to a community use.

The owner of the farm spent more than 35 years building the amazing wheel fence, which started with him building a gate out of rake tines.  It now contains 1,004 wheels, many donated by his friends.

The property has been featured in articles around the world, including National Geographic, and one visitor to the Barn reported seeing a photo of it on a wall in a restaurant in China!

That's our report from McCall ID & Pullman WA, where fields are wide and dandelions are huge!  

Up next, Philip rides the spectacular 72-mile "Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes" and we both ride the "Route of the Hiawatha", the crown jewel of rails-to-trails, which is more my style with being 14-miles all downhill and then a shuttle back to the top.  :-)  See you soon from Wallace, ID!