From Darkness to Light

The Route of the Hiawatha

Story and Photos by Melinda Brinkman

I bike along in complete darkness, deep underground, somewhere on the border between Idaho and Montana. Armed only with a tiny flashlight to see me through, I begin to doubt my husband David, and wonder why I agreed to the trip.

Yes, I enjoy biking and the idea of fifteen miles on a slight decline in the beautiful, wooded setting of northern Idaho did appeal to me. David had explained there would be trestles and tunnels along the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains, and while I have no issues with the high bridges and amazing views, the tunnels are another story. I was not prepared for just how long and dark this first tunnel would be: 8,771 feet or 1.661 miles on a dirt path, with no end in sight.

Focusing on the flashlight, I pedal and listen to water dripping around me, occasionally feeling a droplet hit the top of my helmet. I remain calm, though, taking deep, steady breaths while I attempt to ignore the unimaginable amount of dirt, rock, and who knows what else resting above my head. “Stay calm for the children,” I remind myself, because I know if they see their mother freaking out, it won’t be long before they join me. I keep my attention focused straight ahead, pedaling, never stopping, while I search for some sign that this tunnel eventually will end. The experience gives new meaning to the phrase, “Look for the light at the end of the tunnel,” which I say several times, but my children either do not get it or don’t find it funny, because neither of them ever laughs.

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