Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bicycling the Paul Bunyan Trail From Bemidji to Brainerd (Part Two).

In the last post, I wrote about our trip up North via Jefferson Lines, our adventures in Bemidji and our trip down the Paul Bunyan Trail on our Brompton folding bicycles.

Wednesday we woke up at Embracing Pines B&B to the sound of a soft wind whistling in the tall pines. We had a wonderful breakfast while watching the hummingbirds flit about outside the windows:

The breakfast at Embracing Pines B&B.

After breakfast, Roberta finished up the watercolor she started Tuesday:

Roberta painting on  the deck.
Roberta's finished sketch.
We packed up our Bromptons and bicycled seven miles downhill with a strong tailwind to Walker. The Paul Bunyan Trail links up with the Heartland Trail a few miles north of Walker. There's a trail that runs down into Walker from the combined Heartland and Paul Bunyan trails, but be careful not to miss it. The signage on the Paul Bunyan trail is sparse and we found it easy to get confused (next time we're taking a GPS device). 

The view from the city dock on Leech Lake was gorgeous with blue skies and puffy, white clouds. Leech Lake is big lake ringed with deep green hills. However, the wind was blowing hard at 14 MPH with gusts up to 36 MPH, so there were very few boats on the lake. It was very difficult to sketch in the wind. Roberta did this quick sketch between wind gusts:

A windy day in Walker - Roberta Avidor
We were interviewed by Jackson Brunner, a reporter for Lakeland Public Television. You can watch his report at the IPTV website. While I was sketching on the dock, my wide-brimmed Tilley hat blew away. It wasn't that much of a problem since I brought along my Jefferson Lines hat which I wore for the rest of the trip.

After our interview, we biked south along the shore of Leech Lake to our next destination, Hackensack, 13.5 miles south of Walker. We decided not to pedal north back to the Heartland/Paul Bunyan Trail. If we had continued on the Heartland/Paul Bunyan Trail, we would have added 17  more miles to our trip including a hilly stretch of the trail dubbed "The Pyrenees" by some bicyclists we met on the trail. We were already running behind schedule, so we chose to bike on the Shingobee Connection Trail. To get to the Shingobee Connection Trail from Walker, we first had to pedal on the shoulder of Highway 371, which was not a lot of fun. We had gotten used to bicycling mile after mile in idyllic woods, prairie and farmland, so it was a letdown to bike alongside noisy cars and trucks. Fortunately, that stretch of the trail was short and we were soon back in the woods with only the sound of wind in the trees and insects buzzing around our heads. A few hours later we were in Hackensack.

Hackensack is a cute town, known mainly for its giant statue of Lucette, Paul Bunyan's legendary sweetheart. Hackensack is also, according to legend, the birthplace of Paul Bunyan Junior. Hackensack has a nice park with a great view of Birch Lake. We stayed at the Owls Nest Motel, a classic, northwoods, log cabin exterior, knotty pine interior motel. The pre-head on their sign says "We Give a Hoot". 

My sketch of the Owl's Nest Motel.
We were pretty hungry, so we walked next door to the Birchwood Char House & Bar. I ate their award-winning Birchwood Char burger which really was an awesome burger ("home smoked pulled pork, home made Pigs-n-Chicks BBQ sauce, and home made creamy coleslaw."). Roberta had the mushroom-Swiss which she said could also have won an award. Roberta sketched the award:

Roberta sketched the burger trophy in her journal.
After fortifying ourselves with burgers and beer, we were prepared to sketch the Birchwood's popular Karaoke Night:

Roberta's sketch of Karaoke Night.
My sketch of sketch of Karaoke Night.
Thursday, we biked our longest stretch of the Paul Bunyan trail, 32.5 miles to Nisswa. Before we left, I sketched the iconic statues of Lucette and Paul Bunyan Junior. 

My sketch of Lucette.
Roberta sketched the big white pine behind the motel with an owl in it:

Roberta's sketch of the pine tree behind Owl's Nest Motel.
We pedaled steadily through more scenic woods and fields until we came to Backus, where we bought burgers from Willard's Saloon & Eatery and ate them in a picnic shelter next to the trail. We met a family that was having a cycling reunion on the trail. Aside from this group, we saw only a few bicyclist on this section of the Paul Bunyan Trail. We continued on to Pine River where we stopped to fill our tires with air at a rest stop along the trail. We also biked into town for an ice tea. We continued on to Pequot Lakes where we stopped for ice coffee at Lakes Latte and cooled off for an hour. I sketched the Pequot Lakes "Bobber Water Tower":

I sketched the Pequot Lakes water tower in my journal.
We pedaled the remaining 9.5 miles to Nisswa, a charming tourist town bustling with people. Nisswa is in the heart of the Paul Bunyan-land lakes, cabin and resort region. We had dinner at Big Axe Brewing and turned in early at the Nisswa Motel, a nice place to stay that's only a block from the trail:

Roberta's sketch of the Nisswa Motel.
The next morning we had a big breakfast at the very busy Adirondack Coffee. I saw several bicyclists drop into the Adirondack for coffee (they made a special blend to honor of the opening of the Paul Bunyan Trail). The Adirondack also has amazing scones:

An amazing scone at the Adirondack.
 The Adirondack has a nice, shady outdoor area which I sketched:

My sketch of the patio in front of the Adirondack in Nisswa.
After lunch, we were back on the trail on the final 16.7 miles to our next destination, Whiteley Creek Homestead and Bed & Breakfast in Brainerd. The trail was mostly downhill from Nisswa passing through woods and alongside lakes:

Roberta takes in the scenery while pedaling her Brompton.
We began seeing more and more damage from the recent windstorm south of Merrifield toward Brainerd. A lot of trees were blown over on both sides of the trail, but this is the only one we saw blocking on the trail:

The only downed tree we encountered blocking the trail.
We left the trail at Beaver Dam Road and pedaled on the shoulder to Riverside Drive to 4th Street in Brainerd. We bought some foodstuffs from the Crow Wing Co-op on Washington Street (Highway 210). We biked the rest of the way along the highway, about 3 miles to the B&B. We turned off from the highway onto Whiteley Creek Trail, an unpaved road leading to the B&B. We were greeted by a flock of friendly chickens. A short time later we met our hosts Dick and Adrienne who gave us a tour of the picturesque homestead with its many antique cars and curios. Roberta and I hiked a short trail overlooking a valley. In the remaining daylight, I began a sketch of an old truck in front of a caboose. Roberta did a study of the chickens. We stayed in a comfortable, rustic cabin with many windows looking east into the woods.

Saturday morning, we sipped coffee in front of a fireplace on the veranda of Whitley Creek. A splendid breakfast was served and we met the other guests. Adrienne told a story about the recent windstorm and how her garden's scarecrow, a repurposed plastic Santa, barely survived the falling trees. I knew I had to sketch the brave, resolute scarecrow after breakfast, and I did:

Head and hand damaged, but still standing.
Meanwhile, Roberta sketched the chickens:

Roberta's sketch of the chickens.
Roberta and her models.
There was so much stuff to sketch at Whitely Creek and we hope to return in the near future. After noon, we packed up and pedaled back into Brainerd to catch the Jefferson Lines bus back to Minneapolis. I was sitting across the aisle from a passenger with a service dog which I sketched (good practice for sketching at the  "Paws on Grand" event the next day). Our bus had wifi, so I was able to post this sketch:
A service dog on a Jeffferson Lines bus.
We're back in our loft in Saint Paul's Union Depot and thinking of more multi-modal journeys. We want to thank all our partners and especially Jefferson Lines who made it possible for us to have a fun-filled road trip without setting foot once inside an automobile.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bicycling the Paul Bunyan Trail From Bemidji to Brainerd (Part One)

Last Sunday, Roberta and I took a week off to bike the Paul Bunyan Trail from Bemidji to Brainerd, Minnesota. Once again, we chose to travel car-free by Jefferson Lines bus and Brompton folding bikes. Unlike our other multi-modal excursions, this was the first time we were dropped off in one location and picked up in another. Previously, Roberta and I explored cities like Pipestone and Sioux Falls by bike, but stayed within bicycling range of the bus depot. This trip was a test to see if we could bike nearly 100 miles from one bus stop to another.

We packed up our bikes with our art supplies, clothes and other travel essentials and rode the Green Line LRT to Minneapolis and biked down First Avenue to the bus depot where we caught the 11:35am Jefferson Lines bus to Bemidji. As usual, our Jefferson Lines bus was clean and comfortable with plenty of leg room. Our bus driver, Clark was pleasant and informative about the towns we drove through on our way up to Bemidji. Some of these places we would bike through on our way back.

My sketch of our bus driver.
Roberta's sketch of our bus driver.
We arrived at our stop at Bemidji State University on time and unfolded our Bromptons and rode three and a half miles south to Country Inn & Suites hotel where we would spend two nights. Country Inn & Suites is a great place to begin a bicycle trip down the Paul Bunyan trail. Our room had a spectacular view of Lake Bemidji and the Paul Bunyan Trail running along the shore up to Lake Bemidji State Park.

In the evening, Roberta and I had a wonderful dinner at Sparkling Waters Restaurant. Sparkling Waters has an awesome bar and excellent menu.  I had an awesome bison burger and Roberta had the walleye ala meuniere (walleye fillets from the nearby Red Lake reservation). Roberta and I enjoyed sketching the festive decor of Sparkling Waters while we shared a dish of the restaurant's chocolate ice cream (nice and light, like a sorbet):

Roberta's sketch in Sparkling Waters.
My sketch in Sparkling Waters
We biked back the short distance to Country Inn & Suites and unpacked our art supplies. In addition to my journals, I brought a pad of Strathmore grey, toned paper and various pens and pencils. I planned to work mostly with a black ink Sakura Pigma Graphic Pen and Prismacolor and Faber Castell colored pencils. Roberta also brought her pens and watercolors. Roberta planned to work mostly on loose sheets of various watercolor papers, Annigoni, Strathmore Aquarius and Fabriano. Roberta did this awesome watercolor of twilight over Lake Bemidji from our hotel room.

Roberta's sketch of Lake Bemidji at dusk.
The next morning, we prepared for a full day of sketching and bicycling by chowing down in Country Suites sumptuous breakfast buffet. I especially liked the do-it-yourself waffle machine. The coffee was good and strong. Fully caffeinated and loaded with carbs, we biked into Bemidji to be interviewed about our journey down the Paul Bunyan Trail on KB101 radio (Paul Bunyan Broadcasting) by Heidi Boyd:

Roberta & I with Heidi Boyd at KB101.

After the radio interview, Roberta and I sketched the iconic Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox:

Roberta's sketch of Paul Bunyan & Babe.
My sketch of Paul Bunyan & Babe.
After sketching Paul Bunyan, I biked across the street to sketch Paul Bunyan's nemesis. a giant re-purposed Muffler Man statue dubbed Nanabozho and a case containing an embalmed wolf:

My sketch of Nanaboszho.
Roberta biked along the shore of Lake Bemidji and captured this view of the city:

Roberta's sketch of Bemidji across the lake.

By mid-afternoon, the weather in Bemidji turned hot and humid. We retreated to our hotel to cool off. In the evening, we biked to Brigid's Pub in Bemidji. Brigid's Pub has a great selection of beer and awesome pub food. Roberta had a walleye sandwich (also from Red Lake) and I had an awesome burger. I sketched the bar and Roberta sketched the contestants competing in the trivia contest:

My sketch of the bar at Brigid's Pub.
Roberta's sketch of trivia night at Brigid's Pub.
A thunderstorm rolled in overnight and the next morning, we ate breakfast in our hotel waiting for the rain to end. The rain stopped at 11am and we began our journey down the Paul Bunyan Trail. The trail starts off in rolling hills. The Paul Bunyan trail is a former Burlington Northern railroad corridor so the grade is usually gradual and from Bemidji, mostly downhill. We had a strong tailwind that also helped us avoid insects. We did not encounter many mosquitos, but we were pestered by biting flies. The flies left us alone after we doused ourselves with herbal insect repellent. The temperature was cooler, but the humidity was still high.

We biked a steady nine miles per hour on our Bromptons, stopping in LaPorte at 2pm for lunch. We bought sandwiches at Laporte Grocery and Meats just off the trail. After lunch, we biked the last few miles to our next destination, Embracing Pines Bed & Breakfast in Benedict, about five miles north of Walker. We had pedaled twenty-five miles and Embracing Pines B&B was a welcome oasis. Embracing Pines B&B is just a short distance from the trail. The Embracing Pines B&B has a log cabin, northwoods ambience.  After a short snooze, I sketched the cozy, knotty pine common room of the B&B:

My sketch of the common room at Embracing Pines B&B.
We had a wonderful breakfast the next day. Our hosts Dennis and Charlyne filled us in on the history of the Paul Bunyan Trail and local history.  Embracing Pines B&B is very bicycle-friendly and offers a shuttle service to the Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails. Embracing Pines has a deck with an nice view of the Kabekona River. Roberta sketched the tall pines around the house:

Roberta's sketch from the deck of Embracing Pines B&B.
The deck also has several bird feeders. The deck was swarming with ruby-throated hummingbirds. They seemed almost tame and it was a treat to be able to sketch hummingbirds up close:

My sketch of the hummingbirds at Embracing Pines B&B.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

News Report About Our Sketching and Bicycling Trip on the Paul Bunyan Trail

We are back from our awesome Jefferson Lines multimodal journey to Paul Bunyan land. We have a pile of sketches to scan before we put up a blog post tomorrow. In the meantime, watch this fun interview we did in Walker with Jackson Brunner of Lakeland Public Television:

Here is a map of our trip with all places we stopped and sketched. Click on the map to make it bigger:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Red Wing & Biking the Cannon Falls Trail

For our 32nd anniversary, Roberta and I wanted to go someplace close to Saint Paul where we could bike and sketch. We also wanted to give our Bromptons a fairly long test-ride approximately the distance of the longest stretch on our Bemidji to Brainerd trip at the end of the month. We decided on staying a night in Red Wing and bicycling the Cannon Valley Trail to Cannon Falls and back. We booked a room at the historic Saint James Hotel and bought two round Amtrak trip tickets.

Monday, we boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder (it was two hours late) with our Bromptons folded up and stored in the luggage compartment. It's a short trip to Red Wing from Union Depot and there's nice scenery along the way. At the Hastings Lock & Dam # 2,  we saw pelicans and turkey vultures waiting for lunchtime fish meal to come swimming over the dam.

It was real hot when we arrived so we ate sandwiches and tried to sketch, but both of us were too hot to sketch, so we gave up and had dinner at the Staghead just a block from the Saint James. The Staghead has good beer on tap and the food was good with fresh, local ingredients. We did a few sketches:

Roberta's sketch of the Staghorn.

My sketch of the Staghorn.

The next day was cooler, so we bought trail passes at the front desk at the Saint James after eating breakfast at Bev's Cafe where a lot of the locals go. We got on the trail and biked up the gentle grade to Cannon Falls. We ate lunch in Cannon Falls at Nick's Diner (a favorite of bicyclists). After lunch we sketched the falls. It was hot again and we didn't bring our chairs, but we did pretty good in spite of the discomfort:

Roberta's sketch of the falls.

Roberta sketched these kids swimming in the river.
My sketch of the falls and the cave.

We rode back to Red Wing and had dinner on the Saint James Hotel's veranda overlooking the river. Good food and drink and excellent place to sketch Barn Bluff:

The Amtrak train was an hour and half late. We love Amtrak, but it is so shameful that our nation has such terrible train service compared to other countries. If we can send a spacecraft to Pluto, why can't we fix our passenger rail service? It was so discouraging to read the following notice in the Red Wing train station:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Gearing Up for More Sketchy Adventures

We had a lot of fun sketching and bicycling in Sioux Falls last month. Lots of times people ask us where we got our bicycling or sketching gear. So, this post is about some new art and bicycling gear pictured here:

New stuff in front of Union Depot, Saint Paul.
The Brompton isn't new, but I recently got it tuned up at Calhoun Cycle which makes it as good as new. While I was picking up my Brompton, I purchased a nifty Banjo Brothers Metro backpack. The backpack is perfect for carrying all my sketching supplies, water bottle etc.

One new thing that fits real good in the backpack is a Niji roll-up pencil holder I got at my favorite art store Wet Paint. A  lot of my sketches are pen and colored pencil on Strathmore toned paper. Speaking of Strathmore, check out the sketch I did for their Pass The Journal project.

The other thing that fits good in the backpack is the Helinox chair I got from Midwest Mountaineering. It's compact and lightweight - perfect for bicycling and sketching.

I'll get to try out the new gear next week when we take Amtrak from Saint Paul's Union Depot down to Red Wing. We will stay overnight at the Saint James Hotel and bike the Cannon Valley Trail the next day.

At the end of the month, we'll be taking a Jefferson Lines bus up to Bemidji and bike down the Paul Bunyan Trail to Brainerd. This map has the basic itinerary:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Our Sketching Trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Warm weather has returned to the Upper MIdwest and once again Roberta and I are traveling to interesting places in our region to sketch. Our friends at Jefferson Lines suggested we visit Sioux Falls , South Dakota on same "Big Bluestem" route we took last year to Pipestone, Minnesota. Roberta and I had never been to Sioux Falls, so we were excited to explore a new city on bike and sketch our discoveries.

Wednesday, We took the Green Line from our home in Lowertown's Union Depot to the bus terminal in Minneapolis to catch our Jefferson Lines bus to Sioux Falls. I sketched our bus driver as we made our way southwest from the Twin Cities. Roberta sketched the rolling countryside outside her window. Our bus had wifi, so we were able to upload our sketches to Twitter (click on sketches to make them bigger).

We arrived six hours later at the Jefferson Lines depot just outside of Sioux Falls. We unfolded our Brompton bikes and pedaled our way to the Victorian Bed & Breakfast in the Cathedral Historic District on the hill overlooking the city. We grabbed a bite to eat at The Market, an awesome downtown eatery. After dinner, we biked a short distance to see the spectacular falls in Falls Park. The Big Sioux river tumbles over a jagged escarpment of red quartzite. At  night the falls are dramatically lit by multi-colored spotlights.  Rain started falling, so we were unable to sketch. We returned to the Victorian B&B and hoped we would have an opportunity Thursday to sketch the falls.

The sky, the next morning was overcast and gloomy. We were prepared for a day of indoor sketching at several museums. We walked next door to the Pettigrew Museum. The museum is housed in the former residence of Senator Richard Pettigrew, Roberta took the tour while I sketched some of the objects and curiosities in display cases.

We biked downtown to the Old Courthouse Museum. We split up. Roberta sketched the exhibit about the history of the purse. I sketched the Fawick Flyer, an old automobile fabricated by Thomas Fawick, a local inventor. I also sketched another curiosity, a tree trunk with a tornado-driven section of railroad track sticking out of it. I found Roberta with a crowd of children surrounding her, bombarding her with questions about her sketches. My favorite remark, "I didn't know you were real".

We left the museum and biked to the Falls Overlook Café in Falls Park for lunch. We enjoyed eating while gazing out at the park. The rain was coming down pretty hard when we left the café, so we biked back to the B&B. After we dried off, Roberta sketched a vintage fainting couch just inside the front door and added the fainting woman from memory.

After the rain ended, we biked to Parker's Bistro in the heart of downtown Sioux Falls. Parker's Bistro has excellent food, great service and a great selection of fine wines. Roberta and I sketched the lively crowd in the restaurant. They have a lovely patio dining area out front with live soft music, but due to the cooler weather, that wasn't happening that particular night.

The rain ended Friday morning, so after eating a delicious, sumptuous breakfast downstairs, we split up again. Roberta biked to Falls Park and painted this awesome watercolor of the falls:

I biked down to Fawick Park along the Big Sioux River to sketch a bronze cast of Michelangelo's David. The full-sized, exact replica of the original sculpture was a gift to the City from the Fawick family. The nude statue scandalized some of the city's more puritanical citizens at the time.

After sketching the stature of David, I biked south of downtown to check out the Sioux Empire Medical Museum in the concourse of the Sanford Medical Center. I love small museums devoted to esoteric branches of scientific knowledge. The Sioux Empire Medical Museum has an extensive collection of medical curiosities including a foot-powered dental drill and electric-shock therapy machines. I sketched the vintage iron lung attended by a nurse mannequin in period uniform.

I wished I had more time to sketch the other ancient medical devices, but Roberta and I had tickets to a Saint Paul Saints vs the Sioux Falls Canaries game at "The Birdcage".

Roberta and I like to sketch everywhere, and especially at baseball games. We sketched the Saints earlier in the week at the new CHS Field just a short walk from our home in Lowertown. It was a great night for baseball and there was a good crowd on hand to watch the Canaries win the first game. The Saints won the second game.

Our final day in Saint Paul was warm and partly cloudy, perfect for sketching outdoors. Roberta chose to paint the lovely Victorian B&B.

I biked back to the river to sketch the very nice bike and pedestrian trail on the opposite bank:

Roberta and I got together in the afternoon and biked to Philips Street for some excellent pizza at Fiero Pizza on the SculptureWalk.

After lunch, we had an opportunity to bike part of the extraordinary bike trail that rings the city of Sioux Falls on way back to the Jefferson Lines depot. We had a lot of fun sketching in Sioux Falls and look forward to returning to sketch things we missed.

If you take your travel bike on Jefferson Lines,  we think this is the best route for getting downtown: