My day started about 5:30 AM; I woke up early and started working on our blog. After Joyce got up and took her shower, we walked down to breakfast. I was glad to see some REAL food: scrambled eggs, sausage and raisin bread. After breakfast, we decided to play a quick game of ping pong. Since it rained last night, the outdoor table was slightly wet, but we played anyway. I was leading by a few points and then I got cocky and started trying to slam the ball. Joyce came back and beat me by two points 😦 .
We returned to our room, packed our gear, and headed downstairs to retrieve our bikes. After securing our panniers, we rode over to the A-Pines convenience store to purchase a sandwich and chips for lunch on the trail. Today, we planned to ride from Pequot Lakes to Walker; our ride started about 8:45 AM.
Our first stop was about 16 miles north in Pine River where we took advantage of the nice restroom facilities in the Visitor Center. We noticed more people on the trail this morning; I estimate that we probably saw 20-30, including riders biking both north and south. Most of the riders were Minnesotans, and they were extremely friendly, providing directions and trail advice. It was obvious that they were extremely proud of the trail network in their state.
Today, we noticed swarms of mayflies, a few dragonflies, and several butterflies. I was also bitten twice by horse flies (even through my bike gloves) 😦 . This portion of the trail seemed ideal for growing ferns and a variety of wildflowers, including a Lady Slipper (Minnesota’s state flower), which Joyce spotted. There were new and old growth aspens and several different types of pines. Two interesting obstacles on the trail included a slowly-moving turtle and a grouse desperately trying to get out of my way.
After Pine River, we pedaled another 9.3 miles to Backus where we ate our picnic lunch beside Pine Mountain Lake. Finishing lunch, we rode 7.5 miles to Hackensack, home of the statue of Paul Bunyan’s girlfriend, Lucette Diana Kensack.Truthfully, from some angles, she resembled a man in woman’s clothing. Perhaps northern women had to be more rugged in Paul Bunyan’s time 🙂 . After photographing Lucette and Paul Jr, their illegitimate son, we biked over to the Big Dipper for an ice cream cone.
About 7 miles north of Hackensack, we reached a fork in the trail. The left fork leads 7.5 miles through the Chippewa National Forest to the Heartland Trail, and the right fork (Shingobe Connection Trail) is a shortcut to Walker, our destination for the night. Although we understood that the left fork was hilly with some 8% climbs and sharp curves, the purist in us wanted to take this route. However, the pragmatist side of us realized that the weight of our panniers would make it extremely difficult to navigate the hills. Truthfully, we’ve discussed this choice for over a month and finally reached a decision today. We decided to take the shortcut to our hotel in Walker, unload our heavy panniers, and then ride back to complete the difficult portion of the Paul Bunyan Trail.
Less than a mile into the Shingobe Connector, we realized that we made the right decision. Both of us had to dismount our bikes and push them up a steep hill. The rest of the connector was not as steep, but there were several more uphill sections. The 6 mile ride down to Walker included amazing views of Leech Lake and a few highway stretches. We arrived at The Chase on the Lake about 2:30 PM and unloaded our panniers. Our room was not quite ready, but the front desk clerk agreed to store our bags for us. We walked out on the dock, ate an apple, and discussed whether we should make the loop through the Chippewa Forest in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
We decided to ride back down the Shingobe Connector to the fork, and take the Paul Bunyan Trail leading west. Although some of the hills were quite steep, shedding our heavy panniers made the climbs significantly easier. Thankfully, there were more downhill sections than uphill, and I reached speeds of almost 25 mph on the downhill portions! Majestic conifers lined the winding trail, making this one of the more scenic parts of the Paul Bunyan Trail so far. Downshifting to 4th gear made the climbs simpler, and I thoroughly enjoyed the roller coaster ride through the forest.
Reaching exhaustion after riding almost 60 miles today, we approached the Heartland State Trail. After a quick drink and snack, we turned north and rode the predominantly flat 6.2 miles back to our hotel in Walker. On this tree-canopied portion of the trail, the Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails share the same path until a few miles north of Walker. Joyce and I reminisced about the thirty trails that we’ve ridden, sharing our best and worst moments during the last three years. Before we realized it, we arrived at the southern fork leading back to Walker. As we pedaled into the parking lot at The Chase, our odometers displayed 64 miles – a record single day ride for us!
We checked into our room, reclaimed our panniers, and changed into our bathing suits for a quick swim before dinner. I decided to take advantage of the hot tub to massage my sore muscles, especially the kink in the back of my neck. After a relaxing swim, we decided to eat dinner on the outdoor patio at the hotel. We chose the build-your-own hamburger special, and I drank two glasses of Pepsi to quench my thirst. After dinner, we explored the hotel looking for the bowling alley (I guess the cold winters require creative inside entertainment at these northern resorts).
Due to the cost and late time, we decided to forgo bowling in favor of the free s’mores at the beachside campfire 🙂 . The sunset over the lake was stunning! Returning to our lakeside room about 9 PM, we worked on our blogs and went to bed. Tomorrow is our last day on the Paul Bunyan Trail; I’m excited about completing our goal of riding all of the Hall of Fame Trails, but I’m sad at the same time.