Tough broads make great history

I come from a long line of tough broads.

My mom, who raised four pretty successful kids, alone for the most part, while my dad was on the construction trail.

My Gram, who mothered 12 kids and set to become an adventurer and traveller after her husband died in 1977.

Any number of MacIsaac women who could scare the bejeesus out of you with one luck but make the meanest damn pie you ever tasted.

And so, I like to hear stories of other tough broads.

Like Lady Jane Fortune who reigned over Kamloops in its early days.

Or the mother and daughter Estby duo, Helga and Clara, who walked from Mica, near Spokane, Wash., to New York City, on the promise of a $10,000 prize.

Thus, it was a terrific surprise to learn about more tough broads on a mountain bike trip last week.

This was no normal mountain bike. It was the Route of the Hiawatha, a 15-kilometre easy downhill that was once one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the United States.

It starts with a two-mile ride through the Taft Tunnel, a.k.a. the St. Paul Pass. Thanks to the eight tunnels, cyclists aren’t permitted onto the trail without head lamps and headlights on their bikes.

The two miles under the Bitterroot Mountains were dark and cold. We were surrounded by the sound of water, running along the walls of the tunnel and dripping into the drainage ditches on either side.

We rode carefully over the smoothed gravelly surface, taking care to stay in single file and well away from the ditches where members of our friends’ group wiped out a few times a week before we tried.

We emerged into the daylight and catapulted probably 25 C on the thermometer, welcomed by a lovely waterfall.

Waterfall after tunnel on mountain biking trail

The next 13 miles course through the tunnels and over seven rail trestles (terrific for someone with a slight fear of heights) and heads downhill at a 1.7% grade. According to the trail’s website, we start at 4,160 ft. elevation and drop to 3,175 ft.

The scenery was incomparable.

Mountain scenery

Rail trestle turned into a bike path

Meadow of daisiesMy chief concern for My American was my penchant to stop and take pictures. Of EVERYTHING.

He was, much to my glee, more than patient, even stopping with me at most of the signs to learn about the history of the trail and the rail company.

And the women without whom the men would never have survived their wild west shenanigans.

There was Cora (Ma) Van Antwerp, the first station agent at Falcon. The sign describes here as “crusty but respected.”

A lifetime resident of the area, Harold Theriault, left behind a story of Ma:

A runaway car full of lumber sped by Falcon after escaping from a work site and derailed further down. She chewed out the Adair operator because he failed to notify her of the runaway in time for her to halt it at Falcon. She wanted to salvage the lumber for her own use. Shortly thereafter, the Adair operator called her to say that another runaway car had just sped by Adair, so Ma blockaded the track making it spill its cargo. The recently chastised operator didn’t tell her, however, that it was the slop/garbage car from Roland that was the runaway!

You can bet that pissed her off!

Then there’s the tale of Ione (Pinkie) Adair. At 26 years old, she could ride, shoot and cook.

OK, so I’m pretty good in the kitchen and I’ve pretty much mastered my mountain bike but I ain’t ne’er held a gun.

Pinkie was hired to cook for 74 men — 60 of whom were prisoners — on hand to fight the 1910 Fires, capitalized on the signs because they devastated the area and are a monumental time in Idaho history. According to the University of Idaho Library, the fires took the lives of nearly 90 people, leveled entire communities, burned almost three million acres of timber, and set U.S. Forest Service fire policy for the next six decades.

Pinkie was almost one of the statistics.

On August 20, heavy smoke descended into their camp. The ranger ordered everyone to take blankets into the river and cover their heads. They all did as ordered and ran for the water as the fire roared and trees crashed to the ground around them. But Pinkie would not stay. She scrambled up and over the riverbank and disappeared.

Thirty miles away, Pinkie finally staggered into Avery, Idaho, as the last train was leaving. The engineer spotted the exhausted young woman with singed eyebrows and tattered clothes and told her to climb aboard. Clinging tightly to the caboose, Pinkie rode to safety.

They were different times and women played different roles, facing different challenges.

Pinkie and Ma remind me of that one great quote you see on fridge magnets, bumper stickers and maybe evenT-shirts:

Well-behaved women seldom make history.

It’s Laurel Thatcher-Ulrich whom we thank for those pearls of wisdom.

And to the women like Pinkie and Ma, Helga and Clara Estby and Lady Jane Fortune, who give me my inspiration to be a rabble-rouser and a pot-stirrer.

Or maybe just an adventurer with big dreams.

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