After five short hours of sleep, I crawled out of bed about 8:15 AM and attempted to wake up by taking a quick shower. Joyce and I went downstairs for breakfast and then packed our gear for the day. Susan, a Warm Showers member from Little Falls, MN met us in the lobby and helped us load our bikes in her truck. We were extremely grateful that Susan & her husband, Dave, agreed to transport us from Staples to the southern terminus of the Paul Bunyan Trail at Crow Wing State Park. Susan and her husband own Touright, a bicycle shop in Little Falls; honestly, they should be charging folks for shuttle service, but we’re delighted that they offered to transport us for FREE. Susan explained that several Warm Showers members helped her husband on his bike trip from coast to coast, and they want to return the favor.
Susan dropped us off at Crow Wing about 11:30 AM, and we took a few pictures of the three of us with my new selfie-stick ($19.99 from Groupon). She patiently waited while we mounted our panniers and gear before waving good-bye and wishing us a good ride. Joyce and I rode about a mile south to the entrance of Crow Wing State Park and then turned around and headed north toward Brainerd-Baxter. This portion of the trail had many small hills and lots of curves. The paved trail passed through pines and young Aspens with intermittent patches of yellow wild flowers.
About four miles south of Baxter, we encountered a barricade indicating that the trail was closed due to road construction. I decided to call Easy Riders, a bike shop in Brainerd, for advice. They gave us detailed directions on how to navigate through the construction area, and about 10-15 minutes later, we were back on the paved trail and crossing the Mississippi River on the outskirts of Baxter.
On our 12-mile ride to Brainerd, Joyce mentioned that Susan had suggested that we stop at The Barn for homemade pie. So, we deviated from our itinerary in search of carbs & calories! A young couple biking with us from Crow Wing heard us talking about the diner, and they decided to follow us. We stopped a local rider, and asked him for directions. The Barn is located on Washington Street about a mile off the Paul Bunyan Trail, but the side trip was well-rewarded. I gobbled down a huge slice of lemon meringue pie, and Joyce had coconut cream. After our brief sweet stop, we followed a less-traveled side road back to the Paul Bunyan where we headed north toward Merrifield. About halfway to Merrifield, we took a short break to eat the cheese we had purchased the previous day in Wisconsin.
The temperature was about 80 degrees under blue skies, and I was glad that I put on sunscreen this morning. Although it was warmer than yesterday, there was a nice breeze which made the heat much more tolerable. There were wild flowers in the sunny spots along the trail, and young aspens and pines lined both sides. We rode through Merrifield and on to Nisswa, a tourist town located at the southern end of the lake region.
As we approached Nisswa, we biked past lakes of various sizes on both sides of the trail. I quickly figured out why many Minnesotans spend their summers here. Sailboats and power boats dotted the larger lakes, and summer homes lined the shores.
Nisswa was a quaint town comprised of about 20-25 gift shops selling everything from lake apparel to antiques. If my sister, Mary, was with me, we probably could have spent a whole day browsing the little shops; however, I resisted the temptation and settled for a mocha frappe instead 🙂 . Joyce and I were concerned that our heavy panniers may be causing our tires to lose air so we stopped by a local bike shop and asked them to check our tires before getting back on the trail. They graciously agreed and did not charge us.
We left Nisswa about 4:30 PM, and the temperature was noticeably cooler. On the six miles to Pequot Lakes, I pedaled ahead of Joyce (keeping her in my rearview mirror). I sang praise songs and soaked in the beauty of the trail and surrounding lakes. I stopped at the Chamber Office in Pequot Lakes and waited for Joyce. We picked up a map of the entire Paul Bunyan Trail (so far, the maps that we found included only the southern portion of the trail) and pedaled another 2 ½ miles to the AmericInn, our hotel for the night. The lodge is located within sight of the Paul Bunyan Trail and is situated between A-Pines restaurant and a 9-hole, par 3 golf course with an 18-hole Putt-Putt course.
After a 40-mile ride, Joyce and I checked into the hotel, locked our bikes in a meeting room downstairs, and carried our gear to our room. We decided to take a quick swim (Joyce swam laps while I soaked in the hot tub) and then head to dinner at A-Pines. Our Blue Ox burger and homestyle fries renewed my energy so I agreed to play 18 holes of putt-putt (Joyce won by 2 strokes) before returning to our hotel.
The putt-putt course was different than most that I’ve played. There were actually sand traps, rough, and water holes with penalties for missing the greens 🙂 . The golf course also had a unique maze that provided Minnesota-themed clues along the way to help participants find their way to the other side.
Tomorrow, we plan to bike 50 miles from Pequot Lakes to Walker…I can’t wait! This region of the trail passes numerous lakes and contains a 9-mile hilly section through the Chippewa National Forest 🙂 .