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.


  1. WOW! You guys are GREAT artists, that is awesome. Thank you for sharing and thank you for the great read.

    I am currently on the road traveling the USA via bicycle as well and would love to connect, come check it out: http://www.travelwithmitch.com

  2. Loved reading and seeing your travels through your sketches.


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