For 1800 miles our bikes have been bobbing up and down on the back of our trailer, suspended idly from a hitch. Today they got their freedom. As we drove from Montana into Idaho, we saw a series of warning signs to put on our chains (applicable in the winter), test our brakes, and utilize the runaway truck lanes. Within about twenty miles we drove up into the Bitterroot Mountains 1,500 feet and back down 1,500 feet. Doesn't sound like the sort of area two old fat people should be riding their bikes.
We love to ride our bikes in IL and our favorite trails are on abandoned rail beds. Here we found the same opportunity on the old Milwaukee Line tracks. These tracks were an engineering marvel at the turn of the century, but like many rail lines, fell into disuse when the competition from trucks and planes put them out of business in 1977. Their loss was our gain.
The trail started dramatically with a ride through a two mile tunnel. We rode with flashlights, but the darkness gobbled up the feeble rays and we navigated by listening to the water dripping down the walls. We were dressed for the sunny 80 degree day, but by the end of the tunnel, we wished we had brought a parka. As we came out we laughed at the stripes of pale mud that streaked our backs like the stripes on a skunk. The trail continued downhill for another thirteen miles at the gentle 2% grade that trains need to make a go of it. There were ten tunnels in all and seven trestles high above the ground. From the distance I had my doubts as a height fearing rider, but the trestles were wide enough for a train and riding down the middle felt safe enough. The largest was 760 feet long and 220 feet off the ground. The route was punctuated by interpretive signs, explaining how the rails were laid and the life of the roustabouts from forty different countries who labored to put it in place. An especially dramatic sign described the highest trestle burning during a forest fire and the train going over it, unable to stop in time. Ambitious sorts made the trail round trip by riding the fifteen miles back up again, but we and many others took advantage of a shuttle bus to regain the heights we had coasted down. As we wound back up the hill, our driver pointed out a moose grazing on the creek banks. A great day!