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A family bike ride through the Taft Tunnel wasn’t fun, but it was memorable

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Father and daughter, Nick Baker and Katie Baker-Casile.

As part of the 2022 StoryCorps mobile tour, Katy Baker-Casile speaks with her father, Nick Baker, about the time they biked through the Taft Tunnel (on what is known as the Hiawatha Trail). According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “What is today the Route of the Hiawatha was also known as one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. When the Milwaukee Railroad was operating, the trains traversed through eleven tunnels and over nine high trestles, covering a 46-mile route that crossed the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. The Route of the Hiawatha’s most well-known feature is the long St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel, which burrows 8,771 feet (1.6 miles) under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line between Idaho and Montana.”

Nick Baker: Adventure isn’t always fun.

Katy Baker-Casile: [Laughs] It’s true. What are some of the adventures you remember taking us on?

Nick Baker: Oh, yes. Well, between the time the Taft Tunnel, crossing the Idaho border, was renovated into a Rails to Trails facility... It was an abandoned tunnel, two miles long, with the water seeping into it. Kind of scary—

Katy Baker-Casile: Very dark.

Nick Baker: Very—that’s right. There was no electricity in there. There was no electricity to run lights or anything else for that matter. So it was a favorite spot for adventurous bicyclists, because you’re not going to run into a car on it. At least you didn’t then. But in any case, the Taft Tunnel ran from Taft, Montana, to Avery, Idaho. And it’s about two miles of bad trail, with puddles as much as six inches deep on it. So it sounded like the perfect adventure. So the kids, six and eight—that’s right, isn’t it?

Katy Baker-Casile: Yeah, I think we were.

Nick Baker: So I thought it’d be a great trail to take the kids on. Well, the kids didn’t think so. But they didn’t have room to complain at the point when we were halfway through, so they did it. And I’m not sure how long it took you to forgive me for it.

Katy Baker-Casile: Once it became a good party story. [Both laugh]

Nick Baker: I’d like to think that you felt a sense of accomplishment from doing it.

Katy Baker-Casile: Definitely. Especially since we actually rode it on the way back instead of just whined.

Nick Baker: Oh, that’s right. Yeah.

Katy Baker-Casile: Yeah. And when we popped out the phone, we went through the tunnel. There was a guy there with a campfire, and he let us dry our socks before we headed back. Remember that? [Both laugh]

The 2022 StoryCorps mobile tour is recording at the Missoula Public Library, giving Missoulians the opportunity to preserve their conversations and stories for future generations. StoryCorps Missoula is brought to you in part by Clearwater Credit Union, Partners Creative, and Montana State Fund.

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