Being good Amtrak travelers, and also knowing how short the stops are at these little towns, last night Martha and I were down by the door with our panniers and folded-up bikes 15 minutes before the estimated arrival time. The Amtrak person (I guess we could call him a conductor) seemed pleased to see us there waiting on him, since he willingly helped us lift the bikes down off the train. (He probably just wanted to save time so that they could move on, but we’d like to think he was being good to us.) And so, after arriving at Staples at 2:15 a.m. last night, we packed our panniers back onto the bikes and rode via street lighting and our bike lights about three blocks to the Super 8 Motel where we had reservations. Wasn’t bad at all. It meant that we got to bed around 3 a.m. and so our Fahrplan (itinerary) allowed us to sleep until 8:45 a.m. this morning in order to get a little rest before starting out today. The motel breakfast wasn’t bad; sat at a table with a couple coming back from a vacation, who lived here in Minnesota. They were clearly interested in our adventures and even acted like they might look us up in the August edition of the Rails-to-Trails magazine, where we told them we will be in a little feature article. Talking to people like them encourages me to write a book about our adventures and help motivate as well as offer suggestions to others who might be even somewhat interested in pursuing this great goal.
So back to our itinerary: Susan from Touright Bikes in Little Falls, and also a warm showers person Martha had located, picked us up at 10:30 a.m. and drove us to Crow Wing State Park, about 40 minutes away. She was a great help and a very nice person, and we enjoyed our ride and her conversation on the drive over. (She also responded positively when I was telling her about our possible future book, so that was encouraging.) We took our pictures, loaded up our panniers and started off around 11:45 .m.
The ride through the state park was paved, curvy, wooded, flat, and enjoyable. We paralleled the Mississippi River for quite a ways, which was great, and then crossed over it on a bike-safe bridge. Neat.
All was going well until we rounded a corner and found a fence with a “trail closed” sign where obvious trail and road construction was going on (lacking the workers, though). Not to be deterred, Martha used my cell phone (Verizon service is beating out ATT here in Minnesota) and called a bike shop in Brainerd that she had at one time talked to about shuttling us. He said that he had just gone around the fence a few days ago, following the dirt pathway, and eventually we would come back onto the paved trail.
A young couple arrived soon after we did, and so the four of us proceeded to ride onto the dirt trail. His advice worked, and after 10 or 15 minutes we were back onto the paved part and on our way into Brainerd. We shared with the other two riders the recommendation from Susan about “The Barn” in Brainerd where we could get scrumptious pies. Since they were camping at Crow Wing and just riding into Brainerd, we rode together into town in search of this restaurant. Good coconut cream pie, actually lunch because it was about 1 p.m. then.
Continuing on, we said goodbye to our young couple friends and resumed heading north on the trail. It was wooded with hardwoods and pine trees and very nice. Though it has a similar description to the Bizz Johnson (wooded pine trees), this was definitely different. Now we are in north country, not California mountain and plateau country, as we were then. The weather was a perfect temperature, and we could feel a soft breeze, so it was a great ride.
The only drawback was that for some spans of the trail we were very near the highway. We want to be seeing scenery that is unique to our perspective of the bike trail, not that which everyone in their cars is seeing. We also crossed several local roads, but there was never any traffic, so that was okay. We took one rest stop to eat our cheese that we had bought in Tomah, and then arrived in Nisswa, a kind of neat little town but also somewhat of a tourist trap with all their little shops, where we were originally planned to eat lunch. Instead of solid food, though, I got a strawberry smoothie and Martha got a fancy cold coffee drink. Another unhealthy lunch, but delicious nonetheless. A nice person in the local bike shop filled our tires for us, which was greatly appreciated and reinforced our perspective that bikers are just plain good people.
About ten miles this side of our destination of Pequot Lakes we started seeing some of the 10.000 lakes Minnesota is famous for. Great views of big lakes, and we passed by lots. It was one hour past our planned arrival time at the AmericInn Lodge, but we made it with time left for other activities. Our odometers said we had gone 39.5 miles, so we rode around the area to get to an even 40 miles for the day. Then we stored our bikes in their meeting room, unpacked and went swimming for a bit in their pool before dressing for a walk down the road to a dinner place and then back to the lodge area for a game of putt-putt. In both places were statues of Paul Bunyan, and of course we got our picture with him in both places. Now I’ll have to go home and re-read his story. It has been a great day.
If I seem to be writing more about this trail than the others it’s because I have been looking forward to this trail for a long time, partly because I am attracted to the name of the trail, partly because of its length and we get to spend three days riding, and partly because it’s in Minnesota, a state where I have many fond memories from my Masters program days. I have sad memories, too, though, of Jennifer Hydeen’s death in our car accident in August of 1970 as we were heading to Moose Lake for a summer vacation. She was a good friend, one that I hope I see in Heaven one day. Death is hard to accept for someone so young, but God is in control. Once again, I feel blessed to have energy enough and opportunities to be doing these bike rides.