Bemidji to Walker
Miles: 37 * Avg Speed: 11.5 * Crashes: 2 * Wildlife: 1 * Hotel with pool/spa: check!
The MRT is routed the best way possible along the course of the Mississippi. An alternate route that can be taken is the Paul Bunyan Trail. It goes more or less North and South for about 110 miles. We decided that it was a good option for us. We liked the idea of being on a trail and we liked the idea that it is a bit of a shortcut. It also passed directly behind our hotel in Bemidji and we caught it right outside our door. There are pros and cons for riding a bike trail. The Paul Bunyan is really in great shape from what we saw today and had some nice scenery, but the “con” is the monotony of basically riding in a straight line.
It is also a bit depressing when you get onto a long low grade hill – I almost would rather just climb a hill and get it over with! We saw a deer standing on the trail, but it ran before I could get a picture.
Jane had forgotten her snack bar that she was planning to eat during the ride and just when she was feeling a bit low energy, we arrived at a crossroads and lo and behold there was a small grocery just next to the trail.
We had picked the Northern Lights Casino as our stop for the night and that meant taking a side trail off of the Paul Bunyan. The Shingobee was marked on the trail map, but some internet research said the trail was in the process of being paved. We spoke to a couple we saw loading up bikes at our rest stop and they confirmed for me that the Shingobee was indeed paved and good to ride.
They also said that by using the side trail we’d skip a really tough section of the Paul Bunyan trail – win/win. They went on to tell us with considerable pride that they had been working on riding all of the Paul Bunyan and the Heartland Trail and were close to having done all the segments, saying “Not bad for us being in our 70’s!” Not bad at all.
The Shingobee trail was a bit of a mishmash and hard to find on my maps, so I was being really cautious to make sure we didn’t make a mistake that would add miles to our ride. There were segments along roads and some trail segments. Jane came up to one spot where we were switching to the road and a moment of indecision caused her to stop fast and drop her bike. She didn’t fall -just the bike.
As we found our way along the Shingobee, I knew we were getting closer to a point where we’d have to leave the trail and get onto a main road, but I wasn’t quite sure what side road would put us in just the right place. We were riding along and had to go up a very short, but steep, hill when my bike and gravity caused a bit of a problem. About 3/4 ths of the way up the hill, I wanted to shift my front derailer to the lowest gear and the chain slipped off, leaving my legs spinning uselessly. I couldn’t get my feet out of the pedal clips fast enough and without momentum forward the only choice was to bow to the laws of physics and fall over sideways, which I did with much regret. I was nearly standing still at the moment, so the only thing really hurt was my dignity. I was laying there on the side of the trail feeling a little sorry for myself and still firmly attached to the bike by my feet thinking… wait until Jane sees this! When Jane caught up to me, I had finally gotten one foot out and she was jumping off her bike to come and pick my bike up off my body and and maybe me, I said… “Wait a second, I want a photo of this!”
We both feel like we’ve had several instances of what I might call “serendipity” already on this trip. The “things appearing just when you need them” experiences. About a mile before my crash, we’d passed a man walking on the trail. After Jane scraped me up off the trail, we walked the rest of the hill, which ended next to a road. I took the opportunity to look at my maps again and try to figure out if we needed to turn onto this road (to get to the highway, which we could see just down a small hill) or continue on the path to the next crossroad that would also possibly allow us to get to the highway. While we were still discussing the options, the man walked up (turns out he’d parked his motorbike on the grass next to where we were standing while he walked), I asked him about the trail ahead and he said we needed to turn now and that the Casino was only about 1/2 mile away. He added that the trail continued off into a different direction that would have put us further away from our trip’s end. What perfect timing to help us get where we needed to go. A short ride -along a very busy road compared to what we’d been experiencing- and we arrived at the end of our ride for the day. We rode 37 miles. The fun thing about the choice for lodgings tonight is they are having a promotion. If you join their club you get a discounted hotel room and some “fun” money for the casino and for food.
Our night in the casino didn’t last long! Our “fun” money went fast in the slots. I played some blackjack and ended up with an extra $10.00. Laura and I decided to use the food vouchers for the buffet there. The original price for 2 at the buffet would have been $24.17 – we paid $4.50. We ended up having an early night because we were tuckered out.
Walker to Pequot Lakes:
Miles: 35.4 * Avg. Speed: 11.1 * Crashes: 0 * Wildlife: 1 * Hotel with Pool/Spa: check! *Highlight: Jane hit a top speed of 31.5 going down a hill!
Jane checked the weather the night before and saw that there was going to be increasing winds later in the day for our ride so we decided to try to leave a bit earlier today to try to beat the wind. Good try! It was already windy as we pedaled out of the casino parking lot around 9:00 AM. We joked all day about how great it was that we started extra early today so we could beat the wind! (Instead it gave us a beating.)
I had done my research the night before about how to get back to the trail (thinking it would be at a different point than where we’d left it the day before). It involved a bit of backtracking toward the way we’d come. It turns out that the road I figured would be the closest way back was the same one we emerged from yesterday. I hadn’t known the name of that road at the time -but this morning I knew the name of the road I was looking for…and when we turned onto it, I’m sure I had a really surprised look on my face when I recognized the “hill of doom” where I’d fallen the day before. Jane was looking at me with a teeny bit of a stink eye because she thought I might have taken us further backwards than necessary. It turns out that once we re-joined the trail there, we didn’t see any cross roads or other ways the exit the trail for several miles. We were lucky that the man had come along the day before when he did to give us directions to the casino.
We were originally planning to ride 45 miles today, based on the mileage information on the trail map. There was a mistake in our calculations because we used the distance from Walker proper and we were already several miles beyond that point, and, our hotel ended up being situated a couple of miles North of Pequot Lakes proper. While we were really ready to go for 45 miles, this ended up being a blessing in disguise because the wind was a headwind all day and quite relentless. I mentioned before that it’s a bit depressing to ride up a long slow grade on these trails. It’s beyond depressing to do that with a headwind. We feel like we went 45 miles today! The trail was closer to civilization today and went through more small towns than before which alleviated the boredom a bit. The scenery is lovely -but doesn’t change much.
Our wildlife sighting for the day was a big, fat porcupine! It was waddling down the middle of the trail and didn’t seem worried at all. We were coming up on it from behind so I tried to make noise to alert it to our imminent arrival. It really didn’t seem to be all that upset about meeting us. I didn’t pull my camera out because I was so sure it would run off before I could even get the camera turned on once it saw us. Nope, it waddled off the trail, taking it’s own sweet time.
Due to the lack of the right food choices at the Casino for Jane, she ate a protein bar before we started riding and planned to get breakfast at a point about 20 miles down the trail. Laura was going to meet us there. Due to our mileage miscalculation, that stop -Hackensack- came sooner than planned at 10 miles. We stopped to take a picture of the statue of Lucette – who is supposed to be Paul Bunyan’s wife.
There was a smaller statue of Paul Bunyan near by. There are A LOT of Paul Bunyan statues in this area as this is Paul Bunyan country.
Unfortunately, all of the restaurants in town were closed today. Our next chance for food was 9 miles further down the trail at Backus.
When we got to the next town, Backus, I was ahead of Jane and stopped to get a picture of Mr. Cobber’s statue. I saw her coming down the trail and waited so she could be in the picture.
There’s a very tall-tale story about Mr. Cobber and his devotion to corn on a plaque. It said his wife’s name was Tasseltop -and it went downhill from there. The only place open in town was the local bar, Willard’s Saloon & Liquors, and as it happened they did serve a simple eggs, toast and bacon breakfast.
That wasn’t exactly what Jane had in mind, but she needed to eat something so eggs, toast and bacon it was. We called Laura when this was decided and it turned out she was only about 5 miles away. She met up with us and had breakfast there too.
With the wind making us work so hard, anytime we took a break, as soon as we got riding again we immediately began to look forward to our next break. After Backus, our next stop was a town called Pine River, another 9 miles. They had a nice rest area for bikers with a service stand for air and bike tools in case the riders needed to fill tires or make a repair to their bikes.
Neither of us has ever seen anything like that on a bike trail before and thought it was pretty neat.
After a good rest, we hopped back on to ride 6 miles to our next destination, Jenkins. While we usually don’t stop to rest unless we’ve ridden at least 10 miles, we welcomed another rest there, saying to each other -Only 3 miles to go, thank goodness! We left Jenkins and as we were riding along only a mile or so later, I said… “Is THAT our hotel?” Sure enough – we’d arrived- and none too soon as far as I was concerned.