Biking The Up North Forest Trails

The trail dinners sizzled from their foil when I flipped them on the rack above the open campfire, and I set off to prepare the picnic table for serving. I searched around for the paper grocery bag filled with paper goods. “Has anyone seen the bag of paper goods?” I said.

The kids determined that they had only unloaded three paper bags. I looked desperately at Paul. “Are there any other bags in the car?” He shook his head.

I opened the tailgate and searched for myself; he’s right. Panic set in. Just a little panic—OK, a whole lot of panic. Thinking of eating trail dinners directly off the foil might not be too bad but eating without utensils might be a little too much roughing it. No brown paper bag appeared at the side door either; instead, I found a soft, yellow fabric one—stuffed with rags.

“Why did we bring the rag bag?”

Here we began our camping and biking trip to end a most unusual summer—prepared with enough rags to clean a whole campground but without the basic necessities to get us through our first meal. Although we think we would prefer to hike or canoe into our campsite, this may be why we are still in the car camping stage of family life. Even though we wanted to ignore the town down the road, their local Supervalu saved us from our emergency.

Despite our annoyance at bringing too many of the wrong type of things and not enough of the right ones, the unseasonably cool weather and long afternoon showers, and our impatience with each other, camping together is a quirky way to remind us to be grateful for permanent shelter and personal privacy.

It is the other part of our adventure that pulls us together and prompts these kinds of trips. We love to bike as a family on Minnesota bike trails. We live near the Paul Bunyan State Trail, a paved 100-mile bike trail created from an abandoned rail line, and connect on short rides around the Brainerd Lakes Area.

We explore the rest of the state on longer bike trips. Last weekend, we set up camp in the Norway Beach campgrounds in the Chippewa National Forest near Cass Lake and rode nearly 19 miles on the Migizi Trail. The first ten miles of this trip took us through what is called the Ten Section Area of the Chippewa National Forest, where old growth, large diameter red and white pine trees stand alongside Pike Bay. Their height humbled me; yet, surprisingly, as we rode under their canopies and over the reddish needles, the trees sheltered our family.

Our children’s endurance had obviously grown and except for an unfortunate incident with my bike, we didn’t have to prod each other to keep going until the next stop. In fact, 12 or so miles in, as we rounded the south side of Pike Bay and connected to the Heartland Trail, we were all still able to laugh when we nearly ran into a porcupine in our lane. We stopped for plenty of pictures with him and giggled at his baby-like waddle while he crossed the road.

Even though we saw this up-close look at a porcupine and hidden views of Minnesota forest and lakes, the “fresh-tasting” water at a rest stop on Highway 2 won for the kids’ most talked-over highlight of the ride.

The now-humorous ending to the whole trip came when we again tested our endurance in repacking our gear and bikes and discovered our vehicle had a dead battery.

I say humorous because we couldn’t do anything but laugh at the response from the campground host when we asked for his help to jump start it.

“That’s too dangerous to do with modern-day vehicles,” he said. “I won’t put my car in that kind of jeopardy.”

A neighbor camper next to us offered his big red truck with two batteries for our service, which stopped us all from singing the R.E.M. song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

Certainly the trees will change, strangers will refuse to serve and others will give, but our children, too, will also grow. And while that growth is obvious in their endurance to make bike trips easier, it also means that the canoe trips Paul and I plan for “someday” will be a whole lot lonelier than the simple car camping ones we have now.

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