606. Rails to Trails

Rails To Trails Conservancy

Once upon a time we were a nation that didn’t ever think we’d be connected by anything faster than a horse, and not the horses you see at the Kentucky Derby mind you, walking horses, horses carrying things and people, horses plodding along. It took Thomas Jefferson 10 days to get from DC to Philadelphia. Change was not going to happen quickly. Then came the steam engine and the railroad.

History of the Railroad

Now we don’t rely on railroad transportation so much anymore since everyone has a car & there’s planes and all. What to do with all that infrastructure? Bam… rails to trails.

I was vaguely aware that there was a movement to turn old railroad beds into trails but didn’t know it was a concerted effort with a non-profit behind it.. The “Rails to Trails Conservancy.” Here’s what they are all about:

At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we believe that every person—regardless of race, gender, geography, income, age, ability, sexual orientation or expression, or other minority status—deserves access to free, accessible and safe places where they can walk, bike and be active. We believe trails have the power to transform communities and create joyful, vibrant public spaces that are equitable and inclusive.

We got the chance to use a Rails to Trails project called “The Route of the Haiawatha,” a very unique trail built on the bed of a mountain pass line that moved people and goods from Idaho to Montana over Lookout Pass. It was the main line that connected Chicago, Spokane, and Seattle; called the Milwaukee line after the name of the railroad company that built it.

At the start of the Route before entering The St. Paul’s Tunnel

The railroad pass is on the Bitterroot Range of northwestern Montana and the Idaho Panhandle. The Milwaukee Line crossed under it in the St. Paul Pass Tunnel, also known as the Taft Tunnel, completed in 1908. It’s 1.66 miles long!! The tunnel was bored and blasted through rock and at its deepest point, we were told, you are a mile below ground… a mile!!!

And then you are biking along with a weak headlamp through spring runoff that drips on your head in places, water rushing in the gullies along each tunnel wall, barreling through puddles and potholes. It’s a surreal dreamlike experience with the movement of pumping legs, beating hearts and trusting technology that built the tunnel in the early 1900’s. Here’s something funny President Taft said when visiting the building of the tunnel…

During construction, a small boom town named Taft cropped up on the east portal of the tunnel. It’s said that the mining town was visited by President William Howard Taft who described the town as “a sewer of sin” and “a sore on an otherwise beautiful national forest”. Out of jest, both the town and tunnel took his name.

Here is what it looks like riding through the Taft/St. Paul’s Tunnel…

Click Here Ma!!!

And here’s what it looks like when a bus is coming through one of the tunnels heading the other way…

The Great Standoff

And finally this is my butt… with tunnel mud on it, tunnel butt…

Rails to Trails, a good thing, my butt… not so much.

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