I had some unfinished business here. After cycling half each of the Paul Bunyan and Heartland Trails (do you want a reference to the previous story here?), I just had to return to complete what I started. Hopping on my bike just past the golden spike that marks the spot where these two trails split below Walker, I set out to cycle the remaining 75 miles of the Paul Bunyan Trail.
The morning fog burned off as the sun rose higher in the sky, promising a warm day as I piloted my bike down the trail. Even looking at the map, I could tell this early section was a departure from the rails-to-trails path that characterizes this route. Cutting through the Chippewa National Forest in a stand of stately pines, I wound around curves, dipped and climbed hills and delighted in the wild roses, daisies, buttercups and red columbines that dappled the trailside with color. I was tempted to feast on the bountiful tiny wild strawberries, but refrained when I noted that the plants were laced with poison ivy. My initial concern that this stretch would be too challenging quickly faded, and I savored the 8-mile joy ride.
Reaching the rail corridor, the trail resumed its typical personality. I could see miles of flat straight trail ahead, now bordered by deciduous trees forming a welcome canopy to shield me from the sun. Boggy land, ponds covered in lily pads and lakes comprised my scenery as I pedaled the quiet trail. The Paul Bunyan Trail is popular with cyclists, walkers and in-line skaters throughout the summer months but given its 123-mile length it never feels crowded.
Cycling up to the fishing pier and swimming beach in Hackensack, I met Lucette, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart. Towering over Birch Lake Park, she was my first introduction to the ubiquitous statues and carvings I would find on this part of the trail. While the northern miles favored wilderness and towns hidden from the cycling path, I soon found that today’s ride would take me straight through the center of many vibrant communities, all eager to share in Paul’s legacy. They also catered to cyclists, with easy access to visitor centers, restrooms, drinking water and tempting restaurants.
I couldn’t miss Colonel Cobber in the center of Backus. The giant cornstalk, created by a local chainsaw artist, loomed overhead, flanked by a sign that filled me in on his elaborate history and introduced his wife, Tasseltop. Heading over to a flower-filled park just beyond, I discovered a small plaque marking a time capsule. Buried in 1996 for the dedication of the Paul Bunyan Trail, its contents will be revealed in 2046.