Sketching and Traveling by Bicycle, Bus and Train


Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #33, published in February 2015. Words and illustrations by Ken and Roberta Avidor.

The road trip is an American tradition, but does it always have to be by automobile?

My wife Roberta and I have been car-free for years, but until recently, we were more inclined to travel out of town in fossil fuel-gulping, CO2-gassing jet planes and rented cars. Then we sold our three-story house in Minneapolis and moved to a loft in the Union Depot, a newly-renovated train station in downtown Saint Paul’s Lowertown district. Moving to a transit hub with easy access to local and long-distance buses and trains opened up a new world of travel options for us. We planned to travel by bus throughout Minnesota and record the sights and our experiences in our sketch journals.

We’re fortunate to have a regional bus company, Jefferson Lines, with regular service to the Union Depot. Like Amtrak, Jefferson requires full-sized bicycles to be boxed up. However, they treat folding bicycles as regular luggage as long as they weigh less than fifty pounds.


Brompton to the Rescue!

We purchased Brompton folding bikes, which are lightweight and sturdy. Brompton also has a good selection of bags and accessories; we packed our bikes into Brompton B-bags. We packed our clothes in garment bags that Roberta made and draped them over the bikes inside the B-bag. This helped protect the bike. We packed our art supplies into our Brompton S-bags, which attached to the front of the bike frame.

Traveling by train, bus and bike has facilitated sketching, our favorite pastime. When train and bus service returned to the Union Depot, Roberta and I decided to travel throughout Minnesota and record the sights and our experiences in our sketch journals and on our blog.


Bound for Duluth

Our first bus/bike/sketching excursion in Minnesota was to Duluth from the Union Depot via Jefferson Lines’ “Rocket Rider” bus. Jefferson Lines buses are a great way to travel without a car, clean and comfortable with plenty of legroom. We biked and sketched along the Lakewalk, a paved trail with lots of great scenery. Along the Lakewalk, we stopped to sketch at Leif Erikson Park, Congdon Park and Lester Park. We sketched a thick fog rolling in on the deck of Fitgers Restaurant. We also found a lot to sketch in Canal Park—the famous lift bridge from the deck of Grandma’s restaurant and the fishing boat turned-snack shack called Crabby Ol’ Bills. The Duluth Depot has many historical items to sketch, and there were many attractions in Duluth we did not have time to sketch.


On to Pipestone!

We chose Pipestone for our next Minnesota sketching excursion. It was our first trip to the little city, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it had many visual attractions as well as some unique architecture to sketch. The city gets its name from the red quartzite Native Americans have quarried and carved into ceremonial peace pipes (calumet) for hundreds of years. There are several fine old buildings in Pipestone built with the distinctly ruddy stone. We sketched the sights around town and in the nearby Pipestone National Monument. We also sketched the activities staged for Pipestone’s “Paranormal Weekend.”

We stayed at the Calumet Inn, a nice landmark hotel with a lot of character. It is rumored to be haunted by a ghost named Charlie who once worked as a handyman in the Calumet Inn until a fire on Valentine’s Day 1944 transported him between the worlds of the living and the dead.


We biked several blocks north of the hotel to the Pipestone National Monument. The monument is a treasure trove for artists with a waterfall tumbling over towering pillars of red quartzite and vistas of restored prairie. In the visitor center, craftsmen carve pipes and other items out of quartzite.

Pipestone is also a great place to bike even if you don’t bring your own. Rental bicycles are available for $5 a day at the Ewart Community Center. The Casey Jones State Trail begins on the edge of town near the big grain elevator and runs straight and level through the cornfields. In the distance, bicyclists can see the towering wind turbines of Buffalo Ridge.


We look forward to traveling by Jefferson Lines to other destinations throughout Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest.

Back to Top