…It’s the way you ride the trail that counts -Dale Evans
Bemidji, MN to Hackensack, MN – 45 miles.
At Bemidji there’s a choice of two MRT routes. The “official” MRT actually continues to follow the Mississippi in a big “fishhook” shape for about 270 miles circling around to Brainerd, MN. OR you can hop on the Paul Bunyan Rails-To-Trails bike path and get to Brainerd 110 miles later. Paul Bunyan it is!
I was trying to arrange things so that we could reach Brainerd in two days -riding 50 miles each day. I forgot that the Paul Bunyan shares some miles with another long bike trail in the area and also that about 30 miles away from Bemidji there’s a short local trail (the Shingobee) that loops around near the city of Walker, cutting off about 5 miles versus staying on the Paul Bunyan through there. I’m all for the path of least resistance.
Riding on the Paul Bunyan (or any trails built on old railroad lines) can be a bit monotonous as you pedal down what is essentially a fairly straight tunnel, but there are flashes here and there of pretty views of lakes, forests and farm fields. The first half of the Paul Bunyan has very few towns situated right on the trail, so it was mostly very rural scenery. The good thing about bike trails is that we can keep up a pretty good cycling pace, not having to deal with car/city traffic or too many road crossings. The bad thing is that it is mostly flat and you have to keep stomping the pedals or you don’t make much progress. The exception was the Shingobee trail, which did have a bit of twists and turns and a couple of fun downhills where we could stop pedaling for a minute or so.
The benefit of taking the Shingobee side loop at Walker is that you get to ride into the town instead of passing outside of it. Mike and I took advantage of being in Walker by stopping for lunch. I didn’t see the main street the last time I was here, so it was fun to see how cute the business district is. Walker is situated on a very large lake, so it is an attraction for people who enjoy hunting, fishing, boating and other outdoor activities.
Our stop for the day was in the town of Hackensack, MN. It is the home of Paul Bunyan’s rumored sweetheart Lucette. As we rode into town, I told Mike we needed to stop and get a photo, so we were focused on looking for the statue until we heard a “HEY!” Turns out that Laura had gone down to Hackensack’s city park to pass some time before she could check into the hotel. She happened to look up just as we were passing the picnic pavilion she was sitting under and called out. We would have ridden right past her. So we had to pose for some pictures, then after taking a short break we all went to see about checking into our hotel.
Our hotel is called the Owl’s Nest and is a reminder of times past when these type of roadside motels hosted vacationers. Laura asked how old the hotel is and the owner said they really only knew it’s history back to the early 1970’s. She said there was a restaurant called the Owl’s Nest on the site in the past, but it burned down. It really does look like something from way before the 1970’s to me.
Total miles after today: 80.5
Hackensack, MN to Brainerd, MN – 48.5 Miles
Today we set the bar pretty high for so early in the trip. We expected to ride about 50 miles to Brainerd, MN. I always seem to forget (until I’m there) is that bike trails take more work sometimes than roads. There isn’t much opportunity for coasting.
The nice thing about the Southern half of the Paul Bunyan trail is that there are more towns along the way to break up the long miles. Our route today took us through six little towns along the way. Our first town was Backus, about 9 miles from Hackensack. The point of interest here (as it was 3 years ago) is the statue of Colonel Cobber.
I think he’s been a bit gussied up since my last visit. There’s a long story about the Colonel’s contributions to creating the town of Backus, along with help from his wife and Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox themselves. It’s a long story with lots of “corny” references. That’s about all you need to know about Colonel Cobbler, but if you want to read the long version of the story: Colonel Cobbler’s story
Our next stop was Pine River. We took a rest break there.
I pointed out the bike repair station to Mike. Jane and I saw it last time and thought it was a great idea.
There was also a painted ox out front of the Chamber of Commerce. Evidently this project involved 25 Babe the Blue Ox sculptures, customized by different artists in different towns in the region surrounding the Whitefish Chain Lakes. The Paul Bunyan trail skirts this area.
Nearby they had an old horse-drawn fire engine on display in a windowed building.
It all gave us something to look at while taking our break.
Six more miles down the trail was Jenkins, which is known as the gateway to the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. We didn’t see much of Jenkins as the trail passed on the edge of town.
We planned to have lunch Pequot Lakes, which is about 3 more miles down the trail after Jenkins.
I’d Googled the night before and picked a restaurant that I knew was visible from the trail. When we spotted it, we pulled over, locked the bikes and went on lunch break.
We were making quite good time, so we were a bit early -but ready to fuel up. When I walked into Lucky’s, I immediately knew I’d been there before. The last time I rode on this trail, we’d stayed in Pequot Lakes for the night and ended up in the same place for dinner. I hadn’t remembered the name from 3 years ago or the outside of the building. It was just chance that we walked in there today for lunch, although there wasn’t much else to choose from right on the trail.
After lunch we hit the trail again….
Another 7 miles down the trail was Nisswa, a small town that was really hopping today. I think people were enjoying the last days of summer.
I’d decided that since the day was going to be our biggest so far that ice-cream would be in order. We got cones at the Chocolate Ox. I’m afraid to admit that mine was a bit larger than it should have been, but I enjoyed every bite!
Back on the bikes, we only had about 15 miles to go by then. We were starting to feel the burn. We put our heads down and didn’t stop again until 6 miles later in Merrifield, which didn’t look like much more than a gas station and a few buildings. We should have taken the time to go to the gas station and fill up our water bottles. We both were down to our last gulps just as we got to the finish line. You’d think after our experience on the Danube Trail a few years ago where we went a good part of the day without water that we’d make sure that never happened again!
I told Mike that my estimate was that our mileage for the day would be less than the expected 50. We planned to stay at the same hotel in Brainerd as last time and I remembered that it was a mile or so before downtown Brainerd. I said that at 48 miles I was going to start looking for our hotel. I knew that when we got to the area where the hotel is that there was only one paved “spur” off of the trail to the road beside it, which would get us off the trail and to the hotel (although you can’t see it from the trail). We’d just come around a curve and started to see signs of “civilization” at the 48.5 mile mark according to the GPS. Mike was out ahead of me and rode right past a little paved “spur”. WAIT ! I yelled. I stopped to see if this was, in fact, where we needed to leave the trail. I was pretty sure there was only one little “exit” from the trail in that area, but others could have been added since I was last here. I knew that the hotel is located near a Target and as I looked up the side street I saw the Target sign. We’re HERE~ YAY!
A couple of long blocks and we rode up to the back side of the hotel just in time to see Laura unloading the van. She’d only just been allowed to check in and was starting to unpack the car. We were just in time to lend a hand. As soon as we settled down, Mike and I went to the pool and used the hot tub – it was wonderful to have the heat and bubbles on our sore muscles! After a quick dinner, we had an early night so that we’d be ready to ride again tomorrow!