Miles: 26.1 * Avg. Speed: 11.8 * Crashes: 0 * Wildlife: 1 (garter snake crossing the trail) * Hotel with Pool/Spa: Check! (and evidently free goodies too!)
For the last couple of days we’d been discussing a strategy for the next two days because I needed to leave the trip today to drive to Iowa for a funeral. Rather than plan on a set number of miles for this day, we decided on a time limit of stopping by 1:00 PM. We optimistically thought if all went well we might even be able to finish the Paul Bunyan trail today. It had rained overnight and the weather report said chance of rain today, but by the time we got going the skies were clearing. It turned out to be a nice day – except – the wind was back. I would almost say it was even stronger than the day before. The only thing that saved us was that we had several miles of gradual downhill on this part of the trail which was really nice.
As part of sorting out the next few days, we were trying to organize hotels a couple of days in advance and we had an awful time finding rooms! All the area hotels are booked solid – we even looked miles away from where we needed to be. We weren’t planning to stay in Brainerd, but the hotel situation forced us to. At the last minute, we found something that works for Friday too, so we have the next few days sorted out. By Saturday we might be sleeping in the van! (Down by the river!)
Our views on the trail were pretty much like the last 3 days. We saw a lot of trees and an occasional lake.
We could tell we were getting closer to a more urban area than we’d been seeing further North. The little trail towns seemed closer together and we saw more houses, traffic, roads and people using the trails.
As we closed in on the outskirts of Brainerd we passed within a mile of our hotel, but we decided it was too early to stop riding and we figured it was also too early for the hotel to allow a check-in. So we agreed to ride a few more miles. Just after that, we found ourselves passing over a highway on a bike bridge, then under another busy road via a tunnel.
Suddenly, we were riding in the city. We followed the MRT signs for a few twists and turns until we got to a corner where the MRT sign pointed left and the Paul Bunyan sign pointed right. Since we were following the Paul Bunyan at the moment and technically the two are supposed to be the same trail, we turned right. We went about a mile more and came to an intersection where the Paul Bunyan sign said cross…we did…and then nothing! There was an MRT sign but I thought it was definitely for riders going in the opposite direction than we were. Using both the bike GPS and my phone, I was able to locate where we were and I could see on the maps that the trail just seem to disappear at that corner. Jane suggested we ride along the road anyway and see if we found a clue, but I thought we were out of time for the day. There was a gas station on that corner so we got the address and “phoned a friend” to come pick us up.
I am able to map a biking route on the computer and download it to the bike GPS -and I had already mapped out the route through Brainerd. The problem is, I’d mapped it using a specific street in Brainerd as a starting point and since we didn’t start in Brainerd that morning, I hadn’t called up that route on the GPS we started riding for the day. I was assuming that the trail would be as well marked in Brainerd as it had been all along so I thought we’d find our way just fine by watching the signs.
As there are a lot of twists and turns on the MRT, this probably won’t be the last time this happens, but I hope to reduce the margins of error by mapping and downloading our route every day from now on. (As I was typing that last line I had a typo: “there are a lot of twits on this route…” – no not a lot…just one!)
We were only a couple of miles from the hotel where Laura picked us up so we went there and were allowed to check in right away (helpful). Both Laura and Jane were extremely gracious about this “day out” of the trip and Jane was kind enough to loan me her car. I grabbed what I needed to be away overnight and they got organized for a day and 1/2 of being stuck at the hotel without a car. Fortunately there were a few restaurants, a Target and other services nearby that they could easily walk to. As for me it was nearly an 8 hour drive to Iowa that night. I didn’t think to look for a hotel there before I jumped in the car. I’m familiar with the area I was going to and knew there were several hotels there.
The “no room at the inn” curse followed me to Iowa. It was late. I was tired. The guy at the second hotel I stopped at said everyone was booked and he didn’t know who had a room. As I drove down the road, I saw what looked like a cute little place at a glance (in the dark) -and the parking lot wasn’t stuffed with cars. I pulled over, Googled it, and called. They had a room! It might have been better if I’d just pulled in and taken a closer look before I decided if I wanted to stay there. By the time I did pull into the parking lot, I was beyond caring -just wanted a bed. Well, I got what I wished for – it will hereafter be referred to as the “Bates Motel”. It was really, really, really, downtrodden -but I will give it points for being clean at least. I just kept telling myself, “Its just for sleeping… its just for sleeping…” So our Catholic friends need to tell us who the patron saint of hotels is (a sub-responsibility of St. Anthony?) and our Protestant friends need to toss up a prayer that we’ll find a safe place to lay our heads each night from now on.
Miles: 35 * Avg. Speed: 13 * Crashes: 0 * Wildlife: 2 * Hotel with Pool/Spa: Check!
This morning came early for me after a late return to Brainerd the night before. Jane cut me a bit of slack and we left a bit later than normal, but I think I did a pretty good job of getting back in the routine. While I’d been gone, Jane did some research on the great mystery of the disappearing trail and she and I sat down and looked it over so that I could get my mental map straight. The signs we’d seen on the corner where we stopped on the other day actually were for our route. It was just that the direction the signs were saying to go seemed entirely counterintuitive to me. Jane and I had stopped within sight of our hotel at one point and then ridden on for a couple of miles. When Laura picked us up at the gas station, we were only about one mile from our hotel! The route was sort of doubling back on itself. We realized that we could easily leave directly from our hotel and pick up the trail just a mile or so down the road and so that’s what we did.
Since we were still on the edges of the city, it was nice to have the trail to ride on. We hadn’t gone more than a few miles before we saw this:
Now, I had just been thinking on the drive back from Iowa the night before that if I didn’t know better, I’d say Jane was born in Missouri because it’s the “Show Me” state. She really does exemplify the “seeing is believing” way of life. So, when I saw the trail closed sign with no extra suggestions about how to get around the construction, my gears started turning trying to figure out a Plan B. However, I was forgetting who my riding partner is… Jane took that sign as a personal challenge. She sees a sign saying “TRAIL CLOSED” and she’s all… We’ll see about THAT! Before I had time to even hit the brakes to stop and discuss Plan B ideas with her, she was already going around the barrier and seeing for herself. I was thinking, “This can’t be a good idea!” It turned out that there was quite a bit of road construction along that section of trail that had caused the trail to either be rerouted or repaved, but it was obviously in the final stages and we quite easily made our way through with no trouble. “See! No big deal” she said. Have I mentioned that one of the things I appreciate about Jane is how determined she can be?
Right after that area, the trail began to shake off civilization again. Because we’d chosen the Paul Bunyan trail, we hadn’t been riding anywhere near the Mississippi for the last several days. Our first glimpse came this morning when we needed to cross the river using the highway bridge. The trail had to loop under the bridge to get to the pedestrian/bike sidewalk over the river and then back under the bridge again on the other side to continue toward Crow Wing Park where the trail would end.
This section of trail was really fun for us. It was full of curves and wound along the edge of the bluff playing peek-a-boo with the river. There were several benches “with a view” along the way.
We had our first wildlife sighting – a flock of turkeys. They were right at the edge of the trail as we came around a curve and we were so surprised we didn’t stop fast enough to prevent scaring them a bit. They didn’t freak out, but they most definitely faded into the grass at the tree line. I just barely snapped a picture of one -and that had to be cropped and enlarged at that.
A few more twists and turns and we were closing in on Crow Wing park. I rode along thinking that my friends in the South probably can’t imagine a Mississippi that people want to swim in and play on; and that my Northern friends probably can’t imagine a Mississippi that is all work and no play.
Just before we arrived at the road into the park we saw a woman on the trail and asked her to take a picture of us. Just after that, the trail turned alongside the park entrance road and we came to the ranger station. Jane went in to ask where the official end of the trail was.
We had a mission to get a picture of ourselves by the 0 mile marker. The woman said it was just ahead but that it just sort of ended without a mile marker, but that there was a sign there. I was trying to convince Jane that the 0 marker was right there at the ranger station and we’d gone far enough…but… “We’ll see about THAT!” So, the trail ended with a whimper and no sign not much further past the ranger station.
It was like someone told us there wasn’t a Santa Claus! We decided to make our own celebration pictures at the only structure of interest in view – the outhouse!
There will be more bike trails along the way, but we’ve officially entered the phase of the MRT where the route will be a mix of just about any type of trail or road. We left Crow Wing by it’s entrance road and the next 10 miles or so were on a divided highway. Fortunately, it had a very wide shoulder and even with that the passing drivers often changed to the left lane as they went by us.
Our next rest stop was at a country store/gas station/post office at a little dip in the road called Fort Ripley. I thought it was pretty cute that just as you walk in the door there’s a little post office in there -postal boxes and all!
I use clipless pedals on my bike. The part that attaches my shoes to the pedal while riding is essentially a large plastic bump that isn’t especially comfortable or convenient to walk any distance on. They also make a very loud clicking sound when I walk inside places like the country store. As I clicked my way around the store and then to the register I could see that the clerk was trying to figure out why I clicked, so I said, “It sounds like I have tap shoes on. Maybe I should learn to do a little dance to justify the noise I’m making.” He laughed and I paid for my pop. Just then a woman walked up to the register and said, “That is the cutest women’s room I’ve ever seen!” I was like…OK, nice to know! Of course both Jane and I had to visit it after that and we both decided that the woman just hadn’t seen enough women’s rooms (or was on medication) if she thought that one was the cutest one ever.
Not long after that stop, the MRT shifted us onto a very lightly traveled road that ran parallel to the highway we’d been on and the closer we got to Little Falls, the more it segued onto small residential streets. Just before that, though, we passed by a lovely little historical site at a spot near the river called Belle Prairie. In 1872 a convent was established and a year later they opened a school for young girls. The convent burned in 1889 but the school, Our Lady of the Angels, operated into the 1960’s. The original school building has been converted to apartments now.
The site has a replica log cabin that was home to the original nuns.
Across the street is the church.
Another Mississippi River sighting!
Only a few miles left to go before we were at our stopping point for the day -just before the MRT crosses the Mississippi again and departs Little Falls. Our hotel was about a mile or so in the other direction. We called Laura to get her advice on whether the ride to the hotel might hold any difficulties for us. The morning plan had been for her to meet us where we stopped and shuttle us to the hotel -but we were open to riding it too. We ended up letting her shuttle us because I wanted to see a nearby park and it was easier to get there by car. The park was just below the dam at the bridge we were stopped at. They had a nice display about how the river was used for the lumber trade and other information about the different dams that had been built at that site.
Like many towns in the upper mid-West, Little Falls was a lumber town. We thought the above log jam story was pretty incredible. Imagine 7 miles worth of tree trunks jammed in the river!
It was interesting to see solid rock that the river must have carved its way through on its way South. The Little Falls tour book says that Thomas Jefferson sent Zebulon Pike up the Mississippi to search for the source of the river and that, in 1805, Pike arrived at a long series of rapids at the place that became Little Falls. I’m assuming the dam covers a good bit of the original rapids.
Our second wildlife sighting of the day was a heron standing below the dam in the swirling water. Lovely!
Our hotel was a nice surprise -we had a beautiful room in which to enjoy our well-earned rest.
However, there wasn’t much rest for the weary. Jane’s odometer had been funky for the last few days (even though she’s using the GPS, she also wants to make sure her own odometer keeps recording all her miles for her yearly total) so she needed a bike shop.
Also, to thank her for generously loaning me her car this week, I arranged a surprise massage for her. It was not easy keeping the secret as Jane was getting a bit annoyed every time we tried to divert her from doing something that would make us late for the appointment. I wanted to get her all the way to the salon before she understood what was up -but she’d about had enough of both me and Laura so we came clean. When she heard the news -all smiles! All was forgiven! I offered to share my appointment with Laura, but she declined. Jane and I both think we had the best massage ever. If you’re ever passing through Little Falls and need a massage – we heartily recommend the massage therapist at Hello Gorgeous salon!
While I was having my massage, Jane and Laura went to the bike shop. When they got there they realized that I had locked Jane’s bike on the rack and they didn’t know the combination. Oops! The bike shop owner was very helpful and took a look. I had already given her the battery from my old odometer earlier at Crow Wing, but simply putting a new battery in hadn’t seemed to help.
He tried resetting her odometer. Jane asked me to go back to the bike shop with Laura while she was at the salon. I took her bike off the van and confirmed that the odometer still wasn’t working correctly. The owner pointed out that the part that attaches to the wheel also needs a battery and it might need to be replaced. I think that took care of it! The owner had also recommended to Jane that we take a slightly different route on our way to St. Cloud – and she wanted me to talk to him about that, which I did. It was nice to have that local knowledge.
Both the massage therapist and the bike shop owner recommended the Black and White restaurant, which was just around the corner from the Salon. We figured when the only two people we talked to in the town both said to go there, we should! We did and it was wonderful. Jane and Laura shared a chicken sandwich and a spinach salad with chicken on it. I had a burger and sweet potato fries. Everything was simply divine -as Laura would say. We are relaxed and fueled and ready for tomorrow.
Categories: Pequot Lakes to Litte Falls