Friday, August 28, 2015

Biking Idaho's Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes

The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is a 10 foot wide paved trail that runs for 72 miles from Mullan to Plummer in Idaho following the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way, which in turn traced a path used by the  Coeur d'Alene tribe -- a name given to the local Native Americans by the French traders which is translated to the "discovered ones."

There are 20 trailheads and signage such as this is available along the trail. 

About 12 miles follow the shore of the beautiful Coeur d'Alene Lake. The eastern segment runs along the Coeur d'Alene River and later parallels Interstate 90, crossing under it several times on the way to Mullen. Wayside Rest Areas are available at regular intervals, many with restrooms as seen below -- a very user-friendly trail indeed!

This bridge over Coeur d'Alene Lake goes up in small increments with level sections between, and I was told it was to allow wheelchairs to more easily make it up and down the grades. It also made for interesting bike riding -- a very different experience. Called the Chatcolet Bridge, it was newly reconstructed in 2004 just before I biked over it. Formerly lower in height by 20 feet, the bridge used to rotate 90 degrees to allow boats to pass through the waterway, but now it is in a fixed position and elevated to allow boats under it.

Below is a view from the bridge looking down as it steps down section by section.

After 12 miles, the trail heads inland though the terrain and scenery remain just as lovely...

Whitewater Rafting Alaska's Nenana River

This raft trip with Nenana Raft Adventures travels 11 miles through Nenana Gorge of the Nenana River, which is the eastern border of Denali National Park. There were 12 major rapids rated at Class III or IV, several of which had six foot tall standing waves which stopped us dead when we hit them, forcing us to dig in with our paddles to get going again. To complicate matters, the Alaska Railroad tracks run on a ledge above the river, and derailments over the years have deposited railcars, rebar, rails, and other obstructions into the water, which is why we were required to wear helmets.

I've rafted dozens of rivers and the Nenana required more serious apparel than any other I've been on. We were all wearing full-body drysuits (not wetsuits - heavier and warmer), river booties, life jackets, and helmets, and though the water was extremely cold and was regularly inundating us, we remained warm and dry. The cost for this three hour trip was a very reasonable $60 in 2004 ($95 in 2015.)

These next photos give an idea of the terrain and narrowness of the Nenana Gorge through which we were venturing.


Unfortunately, we were so busy paddling through the rapids, I was unable to capture the immensity of the rapids on my camera. This photo is of a much smaller rapid where I could quickly take a one-handed shot. I wish I had photos of the class III and IV rapids and the standing waves we hit!

This is the photo the raft company's professional photographer took as we paddled by, but this rapid, though providing easy access for their photographer, was not one of the bigger, more impressive rapids.

Biking Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail

The Burke-Gilman Trail is named for two of the twelve investors who in 1885 set out to establish a Seattle railroad. The trail follows the old railroad right-of-way and the original 12.1 miles of the trail connecting Seattle's Gas Works Park and King County's Tracy Owen Station in Kenmore were dedicated on August 19, 1978.

The trail was later extended west through Seattle's Fremont neighborhood to Eighth Avenue NW, and now it also reaches east to Redmond by means of the Samammish River Trail. I biked 27 miles roundtrip on the trail and thoroughly enjoyed the ride as I followed Lake Union, Fremont Canal, and Lake Washington, traversed the University of Washington campus, passed through parks and various residential and commercial areas, and enjoyed good views to numerous sights. A map is available here.

I parked at Gas Works Park, and after looking at the old machinery and piping, rode both directions on the trail which is a mostly level, wide, asphalt path, in good condition except for occasional heaves/buckles in the pavement. Some sections were very busy with walkers, joggers, and bikers, especially the section through the university campus.

This view is across Lake Union. This is the only trail where I've seen signs telling bikers to announce when they are passing, but despite the signs, no one except for me ever did, so always be alert on this trail!

Biking Virginia's New River Trail

New River Trail State Park is Virginia's longest linear state park, traversing 57 miles through four counties and three towns following the right-of-way of the Norfolk Southern Railroad which donated the land. The trail has numerous trailheads with parking, washrooms, picnic tables, and maps, and the multi-use trail is available for bikes, hikers, and equestrians. It runs from Pulaski on the north to Galax on the south, with 39 miles paralleling the New River, 12 miles along Chestnut Creek out of Galax, 1.5 miles on Claytor Lake (a wide point of the New River), and the remainder through rolling pasture land. Trailheads are well marked with directional signs to assist in finding them.

The namesake New River is actually considered by geologists to be the second oldest river in the world (the Nile is the oldest) and flows north from North Carolina, through Virginia, and into West Virginia. It was originally called Wood's River but was renamed in the early 1700s by local settlers. The trail crosses the river three times on long trestles, with this shot taken at the Ivanhoe Bridge at milepost 30.3


Two old tunnels remain on the route, 135 feet long and 193 feet in length. The trail surface is sometimes hard-packed dirt and sometimes crushed limestone and is generally in excellent condition, although a few areas were a bit chewed up by horses. Watch also for occasional rock outcroppings, fallen rocks, and downed tree limbs. I came upon a state crew spreading new gravel and their work was noticeable with many miles of perfect conditions. The section south of Draper for 15+ miles is especially scenic as it travels on a ledge with the New River below on one side and towering bluffs on the other, both sides lush with greenery, and with infrequent signs of civilization evident. 



The northern-most crossing of the New River (Claytor Lake at this point) is on the lengthy, iron-framed Delton Bridge and offers good views of the water. A smaller iron bridge is also used to cross the New River at its confluence with Chestnut Creek at Fries Junction, twelve scenic miles up from the Galax Trailhead on the south. Thirty smaller bridges are also on the trail.


Biking Knoxville's Trails

Knoxville, Tennessee, has developed some wonderful municipal biking trails for its residents. Below is the Neyland Greenway which follows Neyland Drive and the Tennessee River. This paved trail passes through Volunteer Landing where parking, concessions, and washrooms are available.  

The trail also takes riders past the University of Tennessee stadium, arena, veterinary medicine campus, and part of the Knoxville and Holston River Scenic Railroad.


This caboose is part of the Rambler Train and its restoration is explained here.

The impressive Knoxville skyline is featured in this photo. The trail bounces from the river side of Neyland Drive to the other side a number of times, with some of the crossings protected by traffic signals. 


 The Third Creek Trail begins near the western end of the Neyland Greenway, just west of the university stadium. A parking area is provided at the start of the trail and several other lots are along the trail. This Greenway is very scenic with lovely wooded areas, views of the creek, some rolling terrain, going through several parks and eventually past some industrial, residential, and commercial areas.



Numerous markers along the trail commemorate the donation of the land for the Greenway by various individuals and businesses, demonstrating a wonderful partnership between citizens, businesses, and municipal government which other communities would do well to emulate. 


Knoxville Greenways Map: Click to enlarge

NOTE:   Months after posting this page, I received a very nice email from the person running the bike trails in Knoxville, thanking me for this page and inviting me back in the future to see the additions made to their trail system. I hope to accept that invitation and bike Knoxville again, especially since my sister and brother-in-law are moving to nearby Nashville soon.

Biking Florida's Gainesville -- Hawthorne Trail

The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park runs 16 paved miles between these two Florida towns on old railroad right-of-way, which was purchased by the state in 1989 from CSX Transportation. The Peninsular Railway built the line in 1879 which then ran from Waldo to Ocala. Hawthorne was variously known as Walt's Crossing, Jamestown, and finally Hawthorne, the last two honoring a local landowner, James Hawthorne.

The four trailheads are listed on the map below (click to enlarge.)

The trail passes through the topmost segment of the 21,000 acre Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, A U.S. National Natural Landmark, once the stronghold of the Alachua band of the Seminiole Tribe. The next two photos are of the forested section of the preserve.

There is a short side trail taking you to this overlook so you can gaze into the Prairie Preserve.

The trail also passes through a section of the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area... well a delightfully curvy and hilly section called The Hammock and Big Sink. The photo below is coming uphill out of The Sink.

Prairie Creek drains Newnans Lake with the water heading to Paynes Prairie and passing beneath the trail, giving a wonderful view (and a boardwalk hike) to see the cypress swamp...

I generally park at the western terminus in Boulware Springs City Park. When I first began biking this trail on vacations here in the early 2000s, the paved trail only headed east to Hawthorne.  With my mountain bike, I also was able to turn right and bike west toward Gainesville on the double track seen below. It crossed a few roads and eventually narrowed to single track, and in one place I had to bike down to a creek, carry the bike over the creek, push it up the steep embankment on the other side, and then follow a single track west. And I would find several of these narrow paths, most of which led to tents and shanties of homeless persons living in the woods. The trail is now paved all the way to Depot Avenue, and from there a left turn tales you to Archer Road and the University, and a right turn puts you on the Depot and Waldo Trails.

Biking Florida's Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville is biologically, geologically, and historically unique. Naturalist William Bartrum called it the great Alachua Savannah when he visited in 1774, and in 1971 it became Florida's first state preserve. It offers 20 distinct biological communities and has a rich array of wildlife habitats, supporting alligators, bison, horses, and over 270 species of birds. The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Bike Trail traverses its northern end and mountain biking is allowed within its southern confines.

Paynes Prairie Preserve is just a few miles south of Gainesville on Route 441 and offers 20 miles of mountain bike trail, much shared with horses. Though prairie occupies the majority of the 21,000 acre preserve and its 20 distinct biological communities, there is lovely forest as seen below which contains most of the biking trails.

The Cones Dike Trail goes 4 miles out into the prairie/wetlands area where I saw free ranging bison, deer, cattle, egrets, vultures, and an alligator. The first half mile or so has much loose sand, but then bumpy grass terrain begins as seen above. The views are magnificent and expansive and few venture out this far, so solitude is guaranteed.

Near the visitor center is this five story tall observation tower...

...providing views like this...

Canoeing Florida's Juniper Run

Juniper Springs Recreation Area is located in Florida's Ocala National Forest, 22 miles east of Silver Springs on State Road 40. The Ocala is the only subtropical national forest in our country. Local lore tells of someone trying to use dynamite to kill and collect fish in the spring. This caused the spring to collapse and fill in with boulders and sand, and only a trickle of water remained flowing. In the 1930s, a CCC crew was sent here to clear the rock and sand by hand. They then constructed a concrete and rock pool around the springs, and the recreation area facility was begun.

The canoe launch is just yards from the source, Juniper Spring, just to the right of this photo from the launch platform... 

...and the first several hundred yards are very narrow, as seen in the photo below, until a second spring, Fern Hammock, adds water through its creek. Canoes are available for rental (15' and 17') and the $33.00 rental fee (2015 price) includes pickup at Juniper Wayside Park, about eight miles downstream, and the shuttle back. You have the option of using your own canoe or kayak and then paying just for the shuttle back.

I've done this paddle four times, and the first two times, since it's a designated wilderness area, dozens and dozens of fallen trees were left where they had fallen, making the entire run a gigantic obstacle course. The paddle is advertised as NOT for inexperienced paddlers, for reasons exemplified by this photo. I took a canoe by myself and was constantly negotiating around complex combinations of fallen trees. In addition, the stream constantly twists and turns and has very few sections that run straight for more than 20 feet. Underwater obstacles abound and are often impossible to see until you hit them. I never capsized but did have several close calls, and others who were paddling this day did tip over. It is a very beautiful and interesting trip, but don't let your attention wander! Since then, and following a brush with a hurricane, crews have entered the wilderness and cleared the obstructions, though new storms of course create new downfalls.

This boat below got wedged under the tree trunk and had to try several times to get unstuck. If one panics in a situation like this, you'll no doubt wind up wet, and you might have noticed from these photos, there is virtually NO place to get up on the river bank to get the water out of your canoe so you can shove off again.

As the stream widens, you have more room to maneuver, and the scenery remains majestic the entire run of the river.

Around each frequent bend in the river, the scenery continues to astound your senses. I think by now it's obvious why this is such a popular canoeing venue -- and why I've done it four times!


I saw numerous turtles, a number of deer, and this heron which calmly posed for this photo. The final mile or so leaves the semi-tropical environment and opens up to savanna and marsh as seen here where sandbars become the biggest obstacle to avoid. The literature advertises a dock half-way where you can rest or have lunch, but it was closed due to its unsafe condition. There are very few places to conveniently land since most of the shore is dense vegetation, and the presence of alligators and snakes might make you think twice about going onto shore.