After nearly a month in Minnesota, we finally pointed Pearl westward and entered North Dakota. Our main destination in the state was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the western part of the state, but in the meantime we had short stops along the way in Cass County in the eastern part of the state and in Bismarck in central North Dakota.
I'd found the Cass County Park at Brewer Lake online, and although it was a bit out of our way, it ended up being so worth the extra driving. It was 26+ miles off the interstate and a mile down a gravel road with plenty of washboarding, requiring us to creep along. By this time, I was regretting suggesting this place as this would be only a one night stay, and there were other more convenient options to the interstate.
The moment we drove in; however, we both realized what a hidden gem this small county park was. There are only around 11 sites, 8 with full hookups. We were assigned site #6 by the friendly staff, and there was only one other site in use on this Thursday night, so we had plenty of space and privacy. The campground is on an open lawn area, so if it were full, it wouldn't have been as private, of course. We don't know how busy it gets on weekends, but since it's in the middle of nowhere, probably not as busy as most lakeside parks.
The grounds are well-groomed, and the bath house is clean and well-maintained. There's nothing to complain about here other than the gravel road in.
Brewer Lake is small but very pretty, and Paisley was able to take a quick dip along the shore, which she loves. It would be great for kayaking if we had kayaks (someday!) We got great TV reception and two bars of Verizon 4G LTE. What a luxury!
We enjoyed walking around the campground and playing ball with Paisley since no one was anywhere near our site. We would have gone for a mountain bike ride on the surrounding gravel roads had we had more than one night here. Perhaps we'll get to return one day and do just that!
We'd hoped to ride part of the Paul Bunyan State Trail during our time in Minnesota. This celebrated trail is the longest continuously paved rail-trail in the US, at 115 miles total. We'd missed out on riding the southern terminus during our ill-fated stay in Crow Wing State Park earlier, but we had a second chance to ride a part of the trail.
The Paul Bunyan trail intersects the Heartland Trail just a few miles east of Akeley, where we were staying, so we hopped on it there. I knew from looking at the map that there was a hilly section coming up, but it started out nice and flat.
After a couple of flat miles, we reached this roller coaster section. It was a challenge even for me, but no problem for Barry! The hills actually continued for about seven miles by my bike computer, not just the 3.5 advertised. Barry thought this was some of the best cycling he'd ever experienced, between the gorgeous scenery, challenging climbs and exilarating descents,, and peacefulness (no cars and almost no other cyclists). That's saying a lot after all the miles he's ridden over the years!
Our goal for this ride was Hackensack. Total mileage to and from Akeley was around 43.
Finally we reached the end of the hilly, curvy section and merged with the straight, flat part of the trail, passing a couple of small lakes.
We passed a lovely farm with the most amazing garden. The hard-working gardener told us that gardening, for her, was not as hard as riding a bike. To each her own; I know how much work a garden like this would take. Stunning!
Her friendly dog came out to greet us as we took a few photos. Once he'd sniffed us and ensured we meant no harm, he trotted right back to his owner.
We reached our goal of riding to the city of Hackensack. The trail is a big deal here, as is Paul Bunyan. His sweetheart was born here, and her statue dwarfs the statue of Paul himself.
Next on the agenda, and even more important to us, goodies! Barry had researched online and found this awesome ice cream parlor, the Big Dipper, so of course we had to stop in.
The extensive flavor list made choosing almost impossible.
We bought two slices of strawberry-rhubarb pie and some delicious ice cream. Also a couple of cookies to take back with us!
After stuffing our faces, it was time to hit the trail back to Akeley. The miles back and the hills we had to climb in reverse would burn at least some of the calories we just ingested.
I helped a turtle cross the trail. Always love doing that, so long as it's not a Snapper!
Much tree damage was in evidence along the hilly part of the trail. This area was especially hard hit by the intense storms a couple of weeks prior that I have mentioned before in this blog. The damaged trees had been cleared off the trail, but the remnants remained.
In case you've been wondering where we've been, hope no one has worried. We have been just fine but camping in a spot with impossibly slow internet (Yellowstone!), so posting to the blog was not possible. We have a lot of posts in the pipeline, so please stay tuned, and thanks for your patience.
When we last blogged, we were in Akeley, Minnesota. Seems like that was an awfully long time ago! But what a wonderful time we had riding the Heartland State Trail there. Here's a great description of the trail from the Minnesota DNR's website:
"The Heartland State Trail was one of the first rail-to-trail projects in the country. It is a 49 mile, multiple-use trail between Park Rapids and Cass Lake. The trail is located entirely on a level, abandoned, railroad grade, except for a four-mile segment north of Walker which is on a low-volume traffic road....The Heartland State Trail also connects with the Paul Bunyan State Trail system and other regional trail systems."
During our stay, we were able to ride the entire length of the Heartland Trail in two separate days, riding west to Park Rapids one day and northeast to Cass Lake the other.
The trail is smoothly paved and near flat to flat. It is a true joy to ride, with beautiful woodlands, fields, lakes, and charming towns along the way, especially at the western end.
Our ride to Park Rapids actually had a purpose; we needed to go to a bike shop, and found one conveniently located right at the western terminus of the trail.
On the way back to Akeley, we stopped at the cute tourist town of Nevis for some delicious ice cream at Muskie Waters Co.
The next day we rode east and north on the trail. This was a longer ride, and Walker is the only city between Akeley and Cass Lake, so you need to plan accordingly and bring enough to eat and drink.
It got hilly at the end as the Heartland Trail officially ends two miles south of Cass Lake, but we forged onward in search of refreshment!
We finally found something yummy to revive ourselves in the city of Cass Lake (part of an Indian reservation), but we never did see Cass Lake. It is a bit north and east of the city, and we'd ridden enough.
On the way back we stopped off in Walker, the County Seat of Cass County. Walker is on the southwest shore of beautiful Leech Lake.
We'd hoped to pick up a couple of freshly baked scones at the Green Scene health food store, but they sold the last two right as we arrived. We were so disappointed as they looked amazing. Picking up our pouty lips, we pedaled back to Akeley.
We ended up with over 41 miles on the Akeley to Park Rapids ride and over 68 miles on the Akeley to Cass Lake ride. My legs were getting really tired! But we still had one more ride we really wanted to do before leaving the area and only one more day to do it in, so stay tuned for that one!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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