The Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails are well highlighted on our Lake Country map. The Itasca and Bemidji State Parks, the Migizi Trail in the Chippewa National Forest along with the bed and breakfast we planned to stay was clearly marked.
Our Fourth of July vacation was neatly planned. We fun time for our twin daughters, biking and hiking for mom and dad, neatly set, perfect, no flaws, then life has a way of changing our best laid plans.
My husband Tom was ready to be my bicycling partner until brother-in-law drops off the boat that I realize his ulterior motive for the trip is fishing some these 100 lakes.
Weather forecasts high temperatures in the 90s. High winds at Cass Lake and Bemidji cause widespread damage. Storm damage closes Itasca for a day dropping huge trees unto the trails.
Day one: We arrive to Leech Lake to catch a fun festival of kids’ games, live music, and the smell of the Walker Rotary Fish Fry and front row seats at the fireworks. Perfect.
Our bed and breakfast hosts inform us Itasca State Park is open but the Migizi Trail is closed for months.
Day two: We head to Itasca State Park. I can’t wait to bike through the pillars of white pines and walk the Headwaters.
My visions of biking the Wilderness Drive disappear when faced with the practicalities of family life – everyone is hungry and it is really too hot. Tom sees my disappointment and offers to take the kids to the beach while I bike part of the trail.
I bike back through Bear Paw campground awed that no one was hurt by the big trees blown over in the storm. I meet Tom and the girls and we eat dinner at historic Douglas Lodge. It is cool inside the log building and the good food served on white tablecloths is nice in the casual atmosphere. Then we put the boat out on Lake Itasca and stay on the water through the long summer twilight. A pair of trumpeter swans glides away from the sound of our voices, we watch an eagle perch in a pine, and a family of loons pops up and down around us, the young already almost as big as their mother. I am glad for the boat that took us to this far end of the lake.
Day three – we are to meet the Hubbard Bike Club for a ride on the Heartland trail. I rise early and peek outside in anticipation. A clap of thunder booms and it is pouring rain. I climb back into bed.
A rainy day is a good one for town so we explore Bemidji, visit my old campus, and then go to Bemidji State Park. This is the end of the Paul Bunyan bike trail and it taunts me as we park right next to it. In our rain jackets we explore the beach and the perfectly damp Bog Walk. Finally the sky begins to clear so we put the boat in and motor across Paul Bunyan’s footprint. At the outlet of the Mississippi Tom casts into the reeds and above us the new wood on the bike trail bridge shines as the sun breaks through.
Day four: I insist we the Heartland Trail today. We peddle between Nevis and Dorset and even the kids find their rhythm and enjoy the shaded path through the countryside. We reward ourselves with shakes at the Dorset House Restaurant and Soda Fountain where we watch six strong young women scoop ice cream treats for a steady stream of bicyclists and vacationers. My husband finds a local to tell him where the fish are biting and we spend another long summer evening in the boat. The girls pull in one Sunfish after another while Tom dances around taking off fish, baiting hooks, and smiling.
Last day: determined to get on the Paul Bunyan trail I ready my gear the night before and wake early. The trail is right outside and I wonder which way I should go – left through Walker or right into the country. At the trailhead I meet a bicyclist and ask her advice. Theresa Felix is on a training ride, she’s doing a triathlon soon, and she invites me to ride with her through town. We get to know each other and she tells me about the trail’s development until we reach her turnoff on the far side of town. I ride back at a fast pace and arrived just as my family finishes breakfast.
On the drive home I spread the map across my lap. I noted what was planned and unplanned. The girls are quiet in the back seat watching a movie when my husband quietly says, “We should have fish for dinner tonight.” It was a good trip.