NISSWA — Adventures To Go is exactly that.
Pick up a kayak or a bike — just like a person would pick up carryout food — and take it to go on an adventure. And what better place to take an adventure than in the Brainerd lakes area as it's filled with lakes and bike trails most everywhere you look.
Tad Erickson opened Adventures To Go three years ago. It’s conveniently located at the intersection of Highway 371 and County Highway 77 in Nisswa, next to the waterslide at Nisswa Family Fun Waterpark. The location is near several lakes, as well as the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
For as long as Erickson can remember, he’s always had an interest in recreational sports. His first job was fixing bikes at the local hardware store, as well as fixing the neighbors’ or his friends' bikes. Then adulthood came. Erickson started his career, where he currently serves as the senior transportation planner for Region Five Development Commission and he started his own family with his wife and their two small children.
Life became busy, making it challenging for Erickson to continue his passion in adventure recreation — so he turned it into an opportunity instead and started Adventures To Go.
Erickson said the first year was spent getting his limited liability company or his LLC going and finding a permanent home office in Nisswa. He had to go through a permit process with the Minnesota Department of Resources because he was renting watercraft equipment that would be going in and out of potentially impaired waters.
Erickson said he can't take credit for the name, as Julie Anderholm, who was from the North Central Region Small Business Development Center at Central Lakes College, came up with the name. The business center’s mission is to improve economic growth in Minnesota by providing assistance to small businesses to start up or expand a small existing business.
“This name absolutely fits this business to a T,” Erickson said. “Obviously, it’s adventure and recreation. I set this up so I could rent all this equipment out so all people have to do is pick it up and go.
“I also rent this equipment off site as well, which came in particularly handy during COVID by having a contactless delivery.”
At Adventures To Go, people can rent not only bikes or kayaks, but can rent inflatable paddleboards and kayaks, which all come with a life jacket, paddles and the pumps.
Erickson said when he first opened he found there wasn’t a high demand for youth bikes, so currently the business has 15 adult bikes that he rents. He also started with four kayaks, but recently purchased five more, plus he has one inflatable kayak, also known as a tandem kayak. He also has five paddleboards.
Adventures To Go also rents out inflatable water floats, mainly the lily pad mat. Erickson no longer rents the six-person pink flamingo inflatable that was once seen at the Nisswa location.
“The pink flamingo has been a little bit of a learning curve,” Erickson said. “We rented it out and it stands 9 feet tall. It is a perfect, awesome party addition for any kind of bachelorette party, family gathering or for when you have the grandkids coming. However, it’s been a lot of setup and we’re having some maintenance issues so we are actually discontinuing that, but we have other floatables that we rent.”
Erickson said his main focus of the business is renting the bike, kayaks and paddleboards.
Mainly, customers have found Adventures To Go by going online looking for businesses that rent equipment in the lakes area. Customers find Adventures To Go and then typically call him to let him know what equipment they want to rent and when. Erickson then rings them up and gives them a code for the lock to the piece of equipment they plan to rent.
“Most people have found out about us online and some through word of mouth,” Erickson said. “Customers have ranged from men and women and ages range from grandparents to grandkids and sometimes both. ... It’s a mix I would say between the tourists and the locals who come to rent here.”
Tiffany Tougas of Brainerd rented kayaks a few times from Erickson for her and her daughter, Madison Plante, also of Brainerd. The mother-daughter duo have taken the kayaks out on Pelican and North Long lakes.
Tougas said it is nice and easy just to rent the kayaks when they want to go. She said they don’t have to worry about storing a kayak, or transporting it, which is nice.
“Another nice thing is they provide the life jackets and all the equipment, it was all included,” Tougas said. “It was pretty much a worry and hassle free (experience). You just pick up your kayak and go to the lake.”
Tougas said they plan to rent the kayaks more in the future.
Typically customers pick up the equipment at the business, but Erickson has made arrangements with customers to drop off the equipment at a particular arranged location.
When the pandemic hit, it did not impact the business negatively.
“I had this set up initially so I could rent these out without me physically being on site,” Erickson said. “So when COVID happened and things began to shut down, we were already doing a lot of things remotely and without contact, so that worked pretty seamlessly. And we’ve continued to do that.”
Erickson said the first year things were slow and then 2020 came, the year of the pandemic, and he noticed, like everyone did — more people definitely wanted to be outside and wanted to be more active, doing recreational activities.
“Things picked up (because of this) and it hasn’t stopped,” Erickson said. “This area in general is growing and the interest and demand for outdoor recreational sports is growing. So I ... anticipate (my business) to continue to grow.”
Just this past summer, Erickson opened up a second site that makes it even more handy for people to rent from Adventures To Go. Erickson worked with Train Bell Resort in Merrifield, which has direct access to the Paul Bunyan State Trail and parking lot, along with direct access to North Long Lake.
Erickson said he has always had the mission to keep his prices low, but competitive. He wants to be able to offer everyone the opportunity to get on the lakes. Not everyone can afford to be on the lakes and being in the Brainerd lakes area, it’s all about the lake life, Erickson said.
“We wanted to keep those prices so that you could get on the water and experience that, at an affordable price,” Erickson said. “All our products are priced that way to keep it affordable for everyone.”
Obviously, Adventures To Go is a seasonal business. Erickson said when he first opened the business it was basically open June, July and August. However, he said the demand is greater now and he starts renting bikes already in April and May and is renting out bikes and kayaks into September and October.
People rent the equipment by the day — not the hour.
Bikes are $29.95, plus tax;
Kayaks are $37.95;
Paddle boards are $37.95;
Lily pads are $29.95.
Adventures to Go
City: Nisswa and Merrifield.
Number of employees: Only Erickson.
Interesting fact: Adventure To Go’s rental equipment has been used on over a dozen different lakes throughout the region.
Other outdoor outfitters
New to the Crosby area is a business called Cuyuna Outfitters. Cuyuna Outfitters rents kayaks, inflatable paddleboards and glass-bottom kayaks. They also rent off-road, ultra-light campers that fit two adults and two children. It also has a bunkhouse style that sleeps five and the off-road campers can sleep up to four with the addition of a rooftop tent.
Chad and Sarah Katzenberger and Patrick Stoffel and Julie McGinnis partnered up to purchase the building at 10 Third Ave. SW., Crosby, in March and opened the rental portion of the business over Memorial Day weekend.
“We were anticipating that there would be a huge need and we were like unbelievably right about that,” Sarah Katzenberger said. “It’s been insane.”
Katzenberger said their clear-bottom kayaks are a big draw for their rental business.
“We get calls all the time about those and I feel like that has been what’s really propelled us to get our name out there,” Katzenberger said. “We started out with just a handful of them and quickly realized that these are going to be really popular so we doubled our fleet size and they’re pretty booked up all the time right now.
“The mine pits are so clear that it’s like a totally different experience than being on some of the major lakes. ... It’s been fun as they can see the fish swim under them and loons, so people have been really responsive to that.”
Katzenberger said when they bought the building for Cuyuna Outfitters, it had to be renovated, which is an ongoing project. The four partners worked as fast as they could to get the back part of the building open, so they could immediately start the rental part of the business as summer was in full swing. Their goal is to have everything complete to include a retail store with a grand opening sometime next spring.
Katzenberger said with COVID-19 it was hard to get inventory on some of the major brand kayaks they wanted to rent. They reached out to Crow Wing Kayaks in Crosslake to see if they could purchase some of their kayaks to rent out for their business in Crosby. Katzenberger said the Crosslake business told them they wanted to expand their business to Crosby, but were just too busy with customers in the Crosslake area.
“This is one of the coolest things,” Katzenberger said of working with the Crosslake business. “It’s been fun to have this local business connection. People will rent from us and then eventually go buy a rig from them.”
Crow Wing Kayaks is locally owned. They manufacture the kayaks offsite and then they are customized in the Crosslake shop, its website stated.
During the winter months, Katzenberger said Cuyuna Outfitters will rent trek skis, snowshoes and cross-country skis and other winter equipment.
Cuyuna Outfitters does not rent bikes, as Red Raven, which is just a block away, specializes in bikes. Red Raven is also owned by Stoffel and McGinnis.
Contact the business by calling 218-838-1982; emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org; going online at cuyuna.com/gear-n-guides/cuyunaoutfitters; or stopping by the business at 10 Third Ave. SW., Crosby.
Boats and Beyond Rentals
Boats and Beyond Rentals in Nisswa has been around for 15 years and is owned by Jay and Melissa Chaney. They rent pontoons, ski and fishing boats, personal watercraft and water accessories, such as water skis and tubes.
“For our business, we were pleasantly surprised last year when we found out that we’re a pretty COVID-proof business,” Jay Chaney said. “It was business as usual for us. We started 15 years ago and we really haven’t missed a beat last year and we certainly didn’t miss a beat this year. We probably turned away more customers than we have in the past.
“So many people want to be on the water and be outside and to be socially distanced on a boat. That was our slogan in the summer of 2020.”
Chaney said they have 20 boats in their rental fleet and they are rented out every single day. He said if they get a last minute cancellation, it usually isn’t tough to rent it out again.
Regarding inventory, Chaney said they run a pretty tight schedule on how they purchase new boats for their rental business. He said they order their new boats way in advance so they didn’t have any trouble getting them.
“I really feel for the businesses in the restaurant and the service industry as they took it tough,” Chaney said.
The Chaneys put out a letter on their website stating:
“We would like to let everyone know that our priority is for you to be safe and to make vacation plans as you are able. If you have rented from us in the past, you know that our equipment is always clean and ready for your family to enjoy, to the best of our ability. We will continue to serve our clients in a responsible manner until we are told otherwise.
“With all of the uncertainty, One thing seems to be universally agreed upon … Outdoor activity is not only one of the best avenues for stress relief and adventure but also one of the safest ways to pass the time and enjoy friends and family.
“We have been here for 14 years to ensure a memorable experience for you and your family and our wish is to continue to do so.”