Minnesota Sampler: Covering a ’round trip’ from Baxter to Bemidji

Photo provided by the Brainerd Dispatch

A man in central Minnesota decided to walk this fall from Baxter to Bemidji in what looks like a human-sized hamster wheel. 

Renee Richardson, managing editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, chronicled the journey. 

“The wheel brings with it a monotony of measured steps,” Richardson wrote in a September story. “And moving it around curves and corners is a bit like asking the person using the stair-stepper to get down and move the exercise machine just five feet every now and again.” 

The newspaper’s coverage of one man’s ambition to make the 200-mile round trip is the latest subject for Minnesota Sampler, a periodic MNSPJ feature that spotlights great work by journalists across the state. 

Gary Walters, the subject of the stories, is known in Brainerd for annual challenges that raise funds for charities benefiting children, Richardson says. One year, he swam Lake Mille Lacs.  Another year, Walters lived on a water tower’s edge for nine days. 

He’s been doing this sort of thing for more than a decade, with Richardson nearby to tell most of the tales. She included a list of the adventures in a July article that introduced the big wheel challenge. Richardson covered the journey’s finale on Wednesday, complete with the video.

What gets me interested about the story is that, a lot of it is about conquering fear — he will pick a project that will be a real challenge, both mentally and physically,” she said. “Each time I think: ‘This might be the one he doesn’t finish.'”  

Richardson has worked for the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996. She graduated from Pacelli High School in Austin and earned degrees at University of Minnesota in Waseca, Central Lakes College and St. Cloud State University, at which point she interned at the St. Cloud Times.

While a lot of her work involves coverage of local government and new businesses, Richardson also likes writing about the lives of people around her — whether its an Iraqi war veteran’s struggles with P.T.S.D. or the memories of a local woman on the eve of her 100th birthday.

Those stories can help illuminate what a community is about,” Richardson said. “And they can help connect people in the community, which in this day and age is one of the most important things we can do as journalists. 

Photo courtesy of the Brainerd Dispatch