July 10 2009 by Jason Fogelson
After a very pleasant breakfast buffet at the Best Western Salmon Rapids Lodge, we loaded up Monty and headed out of town.
I've got a thing about backtracking on a trip. I hate doing it. I want to discover new vistas, new roads, new towns. Rather than retracing our steps 50 miles to rejoin US 12, as had been our earlier plan, we decided to follow US 95 north all the way up to Coeur d'Alene. We figured that we might experience less of the Nez Perce Trail and beautiful unspoiled nature, and take in a little more of small town life. It turned out to be a great decision.
US 95 is hardly a superslab. For much of its length along Idaho, US 95 is one lane in each direction. Speed limits go up to 65 mph, and as low as 25 mph when passing through towns and past schools. The road is well cared-for, as all of the roads we saw in Idaho were. The topography of Idaho is widely varied, and changes quickly from rustic canyons to gently rolling plains to lush riverside forests. Tiny towns give a hint of the frontier days, with brick buildings, general stores and utilitarian architecture. It was fun to ride through towns and imagine living there, in close proximity with nature.
Lewiston, Idaho sits at the end of the Nez Perce Trail, where US 12 and US 95 intersect. Lewiston is the second-largest city in northern Idaho after Coeur d'Alene, with a population of 30,000 or so. Its location on the Snake and Clearwater Rivers made it an important timber town and mill town, and it still retains an early industrial flair. We chose to drive through Lewiston, and stopped up on Lewiston Hill to get a bird's eye view of the town before moving on. We had a close encounter with a large family of Mennonites (we think), who stopped to enjoy the view with us. The women and girls wore traditional handmade gingham garments with head coverings, and the men dressed plainly. We tried to do the math to see how the male-to-female ratio worked out, and were left with a distinctly "Big Love" feeling about the group. We rode off without further investigation.
We stopped for lunch at Dad's Diner in Potlach. A classic roadside diner with 10 booths and five counter seats, Dad's Diner is the kind of eatery that travelers have been trusting for lunch ever since the highway system opened up. We met another motorcyclist, a man in his 50s in full sportbike regalia, who was traveling in the opposite direction, and shared a few pleasantries before saddling up again. The day was too beautiful for talking - days like this were made for riding.
After 260 miles on US 95, we arrived in Couer d'Alene and checked in to our hotel, the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Inn. Taking advantage of the reserved motorcycle parking, we quickly unloaded Monty, changed into our swimsuits and went to soak in the indoor hot tub. Miles soaked off and dust rinsed from our skin, we were ready to explore downtown Couer d'Alene, or CDA as the locals know it.
Coeur d'Alene is the largest city in northern Idaho, with a growing population of about 40,000 people. Just across the border is Spokane, Washington (population 195,000), which lends Coeur d'Alene its hip, young feel. Downtown Coeur d'Alene is all brick buildings full of art galleries, antique stores, coffee bars and restaurants. The former mining town now feels like an artsy resort. Golf, skiing, fishing, camping and boating are all within easy reach. We happened to arrive downtown just as the weekly farmer's market took over a cross street. Strolling through Coeur d'Alene was an instantly relaxing and welcoming experience.
After a few hours of walking around downtown and gallery-hopping, we decided to return to the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Hotel and eat at the lobby restaurant, Mulligan's. The convenience of a restaurant right inside the hotel trumped our spirit of adventure, especially since it meant that Monty could stay parked, and we could avoid putting our boots back on and eat in our slippers. Luckily, Mulligan's turned out to be a very good choice, with healthy portions and a home-style menu.
The trip back to our room was mercifully short, and sleep came quickly.
Next: Day 3: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to Whitefish, Montana.