Like canoeing the Little Spokane or camping at Priest Lake, riding the Hiawatha Bike Trail is quickly becoming an Inland Northwest must-do activity. If you have yet to ride the 15-mile trail, it's time to dust off that two-wheeler, put some air in those tires and drive east until you hit the next big state after Idaho. Less than two hours from Spokane will put you at the trailhead. Four years ago, the first 13 miles of the scenic trail opened to the public, and last year work was completed on the centerpiece of the project: The 1.8 mile-long St. Paul Pass or Taft Tunnel. The cavernous tunnel burrows for almost two miles under the Bitterroot Mountains and crosses the state line.
"When you start, you're in Montana and when you get in about halfway, you're in Idaho," says Wyn Edholm of Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area. A good flashlight or headlamp is mandatory equipment.
With the opening of the tunnel, cyclists now have additional options. Riders can start at either the Montana or Idaho end of the trail and can go one way or round trip. They can also continue riding up the trail an additional 12.2 miles to Lookout Pass. Most people start at the East portal of the Taft Tunnel (elevation 4,160 feet) and ride the gradual 2 percent downhill grade for 15 miles to Pearson (elevation 3,175 feet). If, at this point, the idea of riding that 2 percent grade for 15 miles back up the hill is not what you want, a shuttle can return you and your bike to the trail head.
The route has been called one of the most scenic stretches of railroad right-of-way in the country. Formerly the Milwaukee Road route over the Bitterroot Mountains, its flagship passenger train, the Hiawatha, transported passengers through 46 miles of spectacular scenery. It was constructed between 1906 and 1911 at a cost of $260 million. Bankruptcy stopped the trains in 1977. The move to turn rail into trail was spearheaded by the Taft Tunnel Preservation Society, and, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, was able to open the trail in 1998. Today, bike riders will get an appreciation of the engineering feat as they pedal through 10 tunnels and pass over seven high trestles, one of which is 850 feet long and 230 feet above Kelly Creek.
Edholm says the best way to experience the trail is to take your time and make a day of it. New this year are 44 interpretive signs along the route that tell the history of the railroad, forest fires, mining and Forest Service management practices in the area. She says you can expect to see wildlife, like the cow moose and her calf that have been hanging around this year. The trail has been free of snow for a while, so the gravel trail is in good shape. Now that the Taft Tunnel is complete, the next phase will be to open the remaining 31 miles to St. Regis on the Montana side. It includes one more tunnel and two trestles. That section, however, will be a multi-use trail when it opens.
All riders need lights for the tunnels and must wear a helmet; children under 14 must be supervised, and there are no pets allowed. Leave Rover at the doggy-sitter.
Cost: (day use) Adults, $7; children (ages 3-13), $3. Shuttle bus: Adults, $7; children, $6. You can purchase trail passes either at the Lookout Pass Lodge or from a trail marshal along the route. Bike rental: Reservations can be made at Lookout Ski Area (208) 744-1301, ext. 11. Other info: (208) 744-1301
Frisbee Flingin' Fun - Rule number one: Don't call it "Frisbee Golf." Rule number two: Don't ever, under any circumstance, call it "Folf."
"A lot of people call it 'hippie-golf,' " explains Archie Bond as he sinks a 10-foot "putt" on the third hole of the new Downriver Disc Golf Course. "So be it," he says. "They're missing out on a great sport." Bond is a 45-year-old Masters Pro disc golfer who has been playing the sport since 1977 when he started the Black Hills Flying Disc Group in Rapid City, South Dakota. He also held the world record for something called Maximum Time Aloft with a throw of 16.8 seconds. Now he plays three or four times a week at Spokane's first and only Disc Golf Course. The course, which was officially opened in March 2001, is located along the banks of a wide, slow bend of the Spokane River at the old site of Rivercrest convalescent home. The course was designed by Gordy Crafts (of Gordy's Sichuan fame). Crafts is a California transplant who's been playing the sport for more than 25 years. When he moved to Spokane in 1994, he quickly realized it was not exactly a hotbed of disc golf activity. With no official courses in town, he'd call friends to play at provisional courses, like Audubon Park or Finch Arboretum. One of the places he'd play was the Downriver site, which at the time was used more for drinking and partying than anything else.
Crafts and some buddies formed the Spokane Disc Golf Association (call: 363-1056) and wrote a proposal for the city to use the property as a disc golf course. (The club also volunteered to haul truckloads of garbage out of the area.) The city liked the idea, and, since last spring's dedication, the course has become increasingly popular. In fact, on July 20-21, the course will host a Washington State Series Pro Tournament.
Nationally, there are more than 1,100 official Disc Golf courses, with new courses opening at the rate of 100 per year. It's one of the fastest growing sports worldwide and is gaining respect as a competitive sport while shedding its image as merely a slacker's time-passer. Last year, it was an official sport at the World Games in Japan and is under consideration to become an official Olympic event.
"It's growing so fast, it's almost out of control," says Steve Simmons, owner of Stimpi Ridge Disc Golf Supplies (call: 838-4331). Simmons can be seen most weekends in the golf course parking lot selling equipment from his camper. He calls it his "rolling pro shop."
The game is played much like regular golf -- but instead of hitting a ball into a hole, players throw discs into chain baskets. The holes are much shorter; a typical hole is about 300 feet. Good players can throw the discs up to 400 feet. Beginning players can use just one disc, but experienced players may carry up to 10 discs in their bag. As in regular golf, players use different discs, including drivers, putters and approach discs. The Downriver course has 21 holes, averaging 315 feet in length. Every hole is a par three. It's a technically diverse course through Ponderosa pines and along the river that requires accuracy to stay out of the water. And if you hit this water hazard, your disc is on its way to the Pacific (or at least the Nine-Mile Dam).
The beauty of the sport is evident to those who play. With no tee times, greens fees or loud pants, what's not to like? "This is it," says Crafts. "I've never found an easier way to meet people and just enjoy life than doing this."
Summer School - In the coming weeks, whether you prefer climbing, hiking or paddling, both Mountain Gear and REI have the instructors and the equipment to get you started.
John Schwartz of Mountain Gear explains that his store offers a two-part rock climbing series. "Discover Rock Climbing," the initial class -- next offered on July 30 and August 6 from 6-8 pm; $20 -- teaches would-be mountaineers about the proper uses of harnesses, carabiners and other belaying equipment. Then you can advance to the "Intro to Rock Climbing" course (July 20 from 9 am-3 pm; $50). The Intro class, says Schwartz, is offered partly in the store and partly at a local climbing site. Here the emphasis is on setting a top rope properly, along with moves (long reaches and overhangs) and more information about belaying.
Perhaps, however, when it comes to the four elements, you prefer treacherous water over unforgiving rock. In that case, consider Mountain Gear's kayak and canoe classes. In "Get Started with Sea Kayaking," hopeful floaters will learn about sizing paddles and PFDs (personal floatation devices), basic strokes, and both wet exit and self-rescue. You can get started in sea kayaking -- also known as "tour kayaking" -- on July 13 from 10 am-2 pm and on July 14 from 11 am-3 pm ($50; $35, if you supply your own kayak). "Intro to Kayaking," a three-day course offered July 16 and July 18-19 from 6-8 pm ($90), progresses from classroom instruction to successful Eskimo rolls in the water. Once that skill is mastered, proceed to the "Moving Water Kayak Class," offered on July 25 from 6-8 pm and on July 27 from 10 am-4 pm ($120), with plenty of personal instruction provided. Finally, in the "How to Canoe" course (July 23 from 6-9 pm and on August 3 from 9 am-noon; $20), learn a variety of strokes: forward, reverse, sweep, and high and low braces.
Mountain Gear is located at 2002 N. Division. Visit www.mountaingear.com or call 325-9000.
The folks at Recreational Equipment, Inc., have also lined up a couple of outdoorsy events.
Gene Ward, a former U.S. Air Force instructor, will lead a "Wilderness Survival" class, July 18 at 7 pm (free). He'll teach you how to pack a survival kit and how to stay alive in emergencies.
In addition, Marla Emde of REI wants children who love the outdoors to know all about Kids' Day (July 27 from 10 am-4 pm). "All kinds of kid-friendly vendors and exhibitors will be showing their wares targeted at the 4-to-12 age group," she reports. "Last year, we had the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, county health representatives, the DARE bike guys and Spokane County Parks and Rec. The Audubon Society brought some really great stuffed birds."
Navigate your way to REI at 1125 N. Monroe St. Call 328-9900.