Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lake Superior Soul Ride 2012

Sometimes in life, when an opportunity presents itself we have to go for it. After my first overnight bike adventure this June, I was bitten by the touring bug. It was a one-way trip, consisting of 150 miles the first day and 73 the second. It was brutally hot and windy, but with some friendly encouragement I completed my mission. I loved the planning. I loved the pace. I loved stopping for historical markers. I loved the sunrise from the seat of my trusty road bike.

Soon I go back to school for my final semester. I will graduate this December and will be seeking full-time employment shortly thereafter. This summer, my job requires me to work part-time from home, so I have the flexibility to go places. I do not have much in the way of funds. Therefore, if I want to go see Lake Superior I need to ride my bike. That works for me! I’ve had a lot weighing on my mind the past few months about the direction I want to take as a nurse, relationships, and self-love. As a little girl, I spent hours on the north shore of Lake Superior at my grandparent’s house, hunting for rocks or bits of smooth pottery. As a grown woman I find solace in The Big Lake. I wanted to dip my feet in its cold water, and sit among the sun-warmed, smooth rocks. I wanted to feel the sand between my toes. I wanted time away from home and all of its distractions, to deeply reflect on some recent revelations. I wanted to cast the events that have haunted me since my early years into the depths of the waters. I felt that coming to peace with some issues from my past would help me to become a more effective nurse, mother, and eventually a partner.

Trip planning began a few weeks prior. I laid out one route to Little Girl’s Point, near Ironwood, Michigan. I’ve been there before. Camping is convenient and agate picking is decent. However, I accidentally deleted my route! This caused me to seek other destinations. I settled on the Porcupine Mountains, near Ontonagon. The distance was perfect; approximately 130 miles each way. I know I am capable of that, although I have never attempted two rides over 100 miles in one week. In fact, up until this year, I had only done one century ride per year. Last year I did zero.

I decided to ride up in one day, spend the second day at the lake, and ride home the third day. I would have to find someone to care for Willow while I was gone, and had other obligations to address. I do not have much in the way of gear, so I wanted food I could eat without cooking and while remaining true to my paleo style. Planning for these trips is very fun. I make sure the routes go through small towns so that I can refill my water. I’m prepared to answer the call of nature in the woods, but it is nice being able to use a gas station restroom.

I am fortunate to have local friends who help me by outfitting my excursions. I called on them for a pannier rack, panniers, and a lightweight tent. The panniers and tent have traveled the world, sporting over 31,000 miles of adventure. The panniers are decorated with patches from such places as Newfoundland and Iceland. I felt honored to hang them on my bike.

During the trip planning I was spending time reading and reflecting on my own personal baggage. I loaded up Art with baggage to carry also. This was not to be an easy trip. I felt his weight and my own.

It was a mix of excitement, a strong sense of adventure, and nervousness as the trip grew nearer. I would have no lifeline to call if things went bad. I had to be self-sufficient.

Day #1 Up at 5:00am. I planned to be out the door by 5:45 so that I could see the sunrise as I pedaled. I showered and made a breakfast of eggs, bacon (of course!), acorn squash and black coffee. I sat and read an inspirational story on my front porch, savoring my breakfast, until well after 6:00. I decided it was more important to take my time than to rush out the door. I spend so much of my life in a rush; frazzled and exhausted. The sunrise wasn’t particularly beautiful that day anyway. It was a brisk 46 degrees out and I was going to ride all day. I finally shoved off a little after 6:30.

Mile 2: Road construction. It was the pulverized pavement/gravel blend and it was loose! My bike felt awkward and I nearly tipped over once. I was relieved when I got through it.

Mile 7: I go past this uninhabited lake often and I marvel at its beauty. On this morning it was filled with fog that seemed to be dancing in swirls. I stopped, turned around, and went back to enjoy the view. The morning was brilliant and the chill in the air was refreshing. I was wearing leg warmers with
my shorter bike shorts and it made a very goofy gap where my leg skin was exposed. I pulled my shorts down a little bit every time I heard a car coming. I stopped to try to fix the situation. It just kept happening. I noted the poor combination and vowed to not let it happen again!

Mile 26: First break. Espresso at the Red Canoe in Saint Germain. It was very delicious! One thing about these trips is that instead of saying I’ll refill water at mile "x", I take water wherever I can. Generally I’ll order a single shot of espresso and ask for a refill on my water bottles. Great service here, and if you’re into that sort of thing, there’s an ice cream shop next door.

Saint Germain is where I picked up the paved bike path. It offers relatively easy riding. It’s fun, with curves and short hills as well as scenery along the way. Of course it’s nice to be out of motor vehicle traffic. I stopped a couple of times to shed layers of clothing on my way to Boulder Junction. There were only a few other trail users out that morning. Some were cordial; some were in their own world.

Mile 51: When I arrived at Boulder Junction, the path was being occupied by the local flea market. I dismounted my bike and walked through the crowd of families, older folks, craftsmen, local farmers, and darting children. The booths offered trinkets, clothing, wooden decorations, birdhouses, local produce and many other items.

Mile 52: Stop #2. Dark roast coffee with almond milk and honey at Dancing Bear Coffee & Gifts in Boulder Junction. I plugged my phone in to charge and enjoyed the plush massage chair. I thumbed through a ridiculously funny book. I ate a small lunch outdoors with my bike. The day had shaped up beautifully. Perfectly warm weather and bright sunshine; it doesn’t get much better.

The county highways between Boulder Junction and Presque Isle are dotted with lakes of various sizes. Lily pads were in full bloom and random trees were starting to show golden and crimson. As I exited the small town of Presque Isle I delighted in a fast downhill, until I realized that with a full load, my bike wobbles at speeds over thirty miles per hour!

It felt very encouraging to see the "Welcome to Pure Michigan" sign. I thought to myself, "I rode my bike to Michigan!" Quick stop for a Lara bar and I was on my way. I had forgotten my map of the Michigan part of my trip. I knew M-64 would take me to the lake, but I like having other options.

Mile 76: Marenisco, Michigan. This is one small town! I stopped at the local gas and grocery store. It appears to be from the 1970’s inside and out. They sell a few groceries and have little area with 2 seating booths for people to sit and eat. I was tired mentally by this point. My shoulders were sore. My saddle had turned into a brick ten miles prior. I felt slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of 50 more miles. I looked at a map the kind clerk offered and purchased a Rock Star energy drink. At this point I popped in an earbud and put on some of my favorite music.

Mile 90: I perked up a bit, but found it difficult to get comfortable on my saddle. Large, rolling hills sprawled out before me as I rode along the west shore of Lake Gogebic. I knew I had to pace myself differently than ever before, because I had to repeat the trip on Day #3. I felt the weight of our collective baggage, and I knew I was not even close to my destination.

Mile 102: Bergland, Michigan. I remembered coming here in 2008 for Tour Da Lake. It’s a mountain bike ride around Lake Gogebic, with several stops along the way and a potluck at the end. I was in a group of riders that would sprint between stops and drink beer while other riders filtered in. It had been a very memorable day, with the sound of fat tires screaming down the pavement in a tight paceline. Today I was in need of a break from the breeze that had picked up. There was no wheel to draft on. I was having mental issues and there were 20-30 more miles to go. I determined I would not make it to the Porcupine Mountains in time to stop at the Visitor’s Center and talk to them about camping options. I knew there was a self-registration for backcountry camping and also Union Bay Campground was open until 11:00pm. My new goal was to make it there in time for sunset.

I departed Bergland, noticing how beautiful the rock was along the roadway with its hues of cream, rust and crimson. I nearly went off the shoulder of the road taking a photo, and as I snapped it saw the large and ugly graffiti polluting nature’s beauty.

Mile 112: A hornet stung me in the lower right arm. Goodness, that hurts! I saw it stinging me, full of anger. I wondered why it was so angry. I was just riding my bike. And then I got angry! I was angry at the hornet. I cursed out loud, and worried that my many allergies might include bee stings. I was stung last month at a local mountain bike trail, but in this situation I was in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. My anger and the pain distracted me from my aching legs and the wind.

I felt as if a tailwind had come up as I rolled towards Lake Superior. I was clipping along with relative ease once the bee sting subsided. My excitement to see the seemingly endless blue water was spurring me on.

Mile 121: First glimpse of the lake! Isn’t it majestic?? I wanted to jump and shout. Instead I rode along with an ear-to-ear smile. I was celebrating on the inside. I was pure joy. I rode my bike to Lake Superior.
Mile 123:
I stopped at a campground for prices but was unimpressed. I did not want to camp close to other people. I wanted solitude. I did not need any luxuries besides perhaps somewhere to charge my cell phone, which is also my camera. I continued on to Union Bay Campground and found them very helpful. They understood just what I was looking for and that I could not hike very far with my bike and his baggage. I purchased a two-day backcountry camping permit with the offer of being able to charge my phone there any time. I was given ideas as to which trails to hike that weren’t terribly hilly. From there I rode back to the turn for South Boundary Road, where I would be riding up to find a camping spot. I leaned Art against a road sign and descended the steep bank to the beach. This is what I came for. The cold water felt very healing on my tired legs. I marveled at the bouquet of rocks and the sound of the waves. I looked as far as I could see and the blue sky met the blue water on the horizon.

Because I had to go find somewhere to camp yet and set up the tent, I caught just the beginning of a spectacular sunset show and then climbed the steep bank back to my bike. The Union Mine Trail was a 1.75 mile climb away. My legs felt incredibly heavy.

Mile 128: I made it to the trailhead. The hiking trail was sandy and cumbersome while walking next to Art. Dusk was upon me and I thought about where I might have put my small camp headlight. There are certain parameters for backcountry camping that have to do with how far a person can camp off the trail or proximity to water. I noticed what looked like an old, slightly overgrown trail. I followed it over some sticks and through some brush, and it opened to a perfect spot for my borrowed Bibler I-tent. I set up camp, put on my compression stockings, and got cozy in my borrowed lightweight sleeping bag. This spot was perfect! I could hear the Union River bubbling its lullaby. As I was dozing off, a tree fell nearby! It was very unnerving as it shook the ground beneath me. I got up to make sure I hadn’t heard my bike fall or that the tree hadn’t fallen on my bike. All was well. I started dozing off again and heard curious critters flitting about. I spoke to them and felt thankful for the birds and critters for sharing their home with me. I proceeded to toss and turn all night long. The next time I will have a sleeping pad for sure!

Day #2  
Daybreak was upon me, but I tried to stay in my sleeping bag as long as possible. It wasn’t cold out, but I was cozy and in absolutely no hurry to do anything. As per my usual, I wrote my to-do list for the day, except this one was far different than normal: "Hike, massage legs & shoulders, find coffee, go agate hunting, write".

I absolutely love backcountry camping! It’s such a sense of freedom. No crowds. No youngsters shouting. Chickadees for neighbors. Curious squirrels scurrying among the trees. I located my breakfast and found a place to sit on the riverbank while I enjoyed a piece of jerky, some mashed sweet potato, a Lara bar and my thermos of still-warm coffee.

The Union River flowed over small rocks and curved to the left just past where I sat on a bed of pine needles. The soft patches of moss were beautiful hues of green against the rust-colored dirt. What a serene setting for breakfast. Once I was finished I re-organized my gear, made the decision to leave the tent set up and stick with this spot as a base camp, then hung Day 3’s food in a tree so that I would not have to haul it around with me. My body was sore from the miles of Day 1 and from the previous weekend’s cross-country mountain bike race. With everything organized, I grabbed my notepad and paper and set out for my hike. On the bank of the river I found the perfect rock to sit on.

My purpose on this trip included putting some thought into those things which make me happy, independently of anyone else. Self-love is important. I think I have it, and then I realize that I don’t. If I did, I would not be sticking around in relationships far too long, hoping for something that will simply never exist with that person. I would not devalue myself hoping to gain the love of someone who has no interest in giving love. I wrote down the things that make me happy, some of which are: riding my bikes, inspiring others, being the kind of friend who can be talked to and trusted with anything, being at bike races, being lean and muscular, hunting for agates… I could go on but those are some of the big things.

Recently I realized that I have had a relationship pattern my whole adult life. I tend to choose emotionally unavailable men. While outside of a relationship I feel quite independent, strong-willed, determined, and full of positive energy, when I am in a relationship I tend to focus on the other person and lose sight of myself. Then everything goes haywire! I wonder why that person doesn’t feel so strongly about me or why he is not as romantic as me. I choose this type every time, and every time it
does not work out. It seems it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know it won’t work from the beginning. I know he will not be there for me on a deep level. I go through the relationship like I used to race, turning myself inside out and trying my very hardest – except there is no trophy here. There is no love. It just is not that important to the other person. I distance myself emotionally and things fall apart. I get tired of trying. The realization was that it started way, way back, with a father who would show up out of the blue, make promises to me, and then not follow through. I might not see him for years at a time. I suppose now that if I choose men who are not emotionally available, and then it does not work out, and I leave the relationship, I will not be hurt. At least not to the degree as if I were to fall deeply in love and then be left by him. I have attracted distance into my love life, be it physically, emotionally, or both.

Now I have recognized the issue and my job is to work on changing the pattern. This is where self-love comes in. No more devaluing myself. I have a lot to offer in a relationship. The same stubbornness that makes me finish a long race or 150-mile day on the bike will be the same effort I put into my love life. I will no longer settle for someone who does not want or appreciate what I have to give. When someone tells me they do not have the time for me, or treats me harshly (to put it nicely), I will move on. I will be okay and I know that. I love me . I wrote down some personal goals to achieve those things which make me happy. I wrote down some of my values in a relationship, as well as deal-breakers.

Since breaking up with my fiancĂ© last February, I have been seeking out happy couples and questioning them. I often ask how they met, and what they think the key is to their happiness. The common theme is mutual support. They are each other’s #1 fan.

I feel a deep love inside of me, and a desire to help others. I often feel it well up within me and I feel I emanate positive energy. My desire is to use that energy to help others, especially my friends and future patients as a nurse. As I approach my final semester of nursing school, I wanted to spend some time thinking about where I would be able to use my positive energy to help someone in need. It came to me, actually in preparation for the trip and as the miles went on I felt stronger about it. Oncology. If I think battling my way through headwinds and rain is hard, it’s nothing compared to what a cancer fighter is going through. I willingly put myself through these things and part of the reason is for the opportunity to overcome adversity. I have had a taste of life-changing medical diagnosis; in 2000 I was diagnosed with "probable multiple sclerosis". One day I woke up with the sensation of my feet being asleep. It spread up to my waist. My depth perception was skewed. I had a hard time walking. I went through a battery of tests, revealing active lesions on my brain. I went through self-injections to delay the progression of the disease. It’s a whole story in itself, but suffice it to say that plays a part in how motivated I am in life. I know adversity. Physically, financially, emotionally…abuse in the forms of physical, sexual, and emotional reach way back into my childhood. It has shaped me into who I am today. Yet those fighting cancer are often in the very midst of adversity. I want to hold the hand of someone undergoing chemotherapy and radiate light to them. I want to learn reiki and offer complimentary healing through energy. I have it within me. My desire and passion is to use it for good. If I could be a ray of light for someone going through a hard time my life would be worthwhile. I do not seek praise. I seek to make a difference.

I actually began to write out my "Bucket List". It currently has fourteen items, most of which have to do with bicycling or learning.

I rose from my rock and writing to hike the Union Mine Trail. It is rich with history, and includes informational plaques along the way with details about the mine which was active there in the mid-late 1800’s. I find history fascinating now, although as a teen I slept through most of history class. There were old mine shafts, stone ruins from equipment, remnants of primitive roads, and quotes from Mr. Spalding, including one that made me chuckle. It was something like, "Murdered 700 black flies". I guess our forefathers dealt with pests, too. My huaraches (shoes) felt so natural and supple on the rooty, rocky, dirty trail. The Eastern Hemlocks loomed above me and I thought about days gone by in that area. The views of the river were incredibly beautiful, with small waterfalls and rapids along the way. I was hungry again. I tend to forget how hungry I am the day after a long ride.

Back at camp I ate and changed clothes. I headed to the Visitor’s Center to ask about the nearest coffee. I dropped my dead phone off at the Union Bay Campground to charge, and went to the Outpost where I purchased a patch to sew on my future panniers, some lunchmeat, and coffee. As I sat to drink coffee at a picnic table, I was approached by a 65-year-old mountain biker from Eau Claire. It turns out he volunteers for his local mountain bike race. I had to miss that one this year due to lack of funds, but I’ve enjoyed that race in the past. What a small world. He and his grandson were on vacation. We talked bikes, and he showed me their bikes with pride. He said he was too old to race and I argued that no, 65 is not "too old". I know a 60-year-old who could use more competition!

It was finally beach time. I rode to a place where no one was around. I looked at the vast blue water. The weather was perfect for a bathing suit and with the sun sparkling on the water, I ventured in. It is certainly Lake Superior. I was tentative, especially around my belly. I dipped down just a little. I splashed water on my arms and shoulders. I dipped down again, to my waist this time. I thought about a book that I’ve been reading called "The Flinch", and I submerged myself – to my neck. I did not want to deal with my crazy, fine hair when it gets wet. Once I was to that point I swam out a bit. The water was so refreshing. When I was back near the beach, I knelt in the water facing the shore. I closed my eyes and just let the feeling of the waves move me. They gently pushed me towards the shore. I was so grateful for that moment. Eventually I went back up on shore, head down and looking for the elusive agate. The sand was warm beneath my bare feet. The temperature was in the mid-70’s with a slight breeze. I found a giant log on the beach and laid down on it to dry. It felt so good to lay there and listen to the waves. I started to doze a little.

The man at the Outpost had asked me if I was going to ride up to Lake Of The Clouds. Oh, how I wanted to! My body was telling me to rest, though. I had come for the lake. I had to get home the next day and I was sore. I closed my eyes again and let the sounds lull me into a meditative state.

Some time later I rode back to Union Bay Campground and picked up my phone. I uploaded one photo and it promptly died. I was busy sitting in a pile of sun-warmed rocks near the boat landing so I just let it be. Once I had tired of rock picking I went back and put the phone back on the charger, I ate. It was only 3:30. There was to be an agate hunting program at 7:00 and for the first time in ages, I felt boredom. I cleaned and lubed my bike chain. I thought about drinking a soda but then I did not. I got a refill on my water and went back to the lake, where I spotted a large, sun-warmed rock that looked an awful lot like a recliner. I took another rest.

I picked more rocks and found some interesting, beautiful specimens. There were a lot of spiders scurrying out among the rocks as I disturbed them. Finally my phone was charged and I checked in with the world. I ate again, and it was time for the agate program. Mr. Wild, the Park Naturalist, was leading the group. It was interesting. All this time I had been hunting on shore but the best is in the water. I tried it out and it felt very good, especially on my sore legs. Prior to this I had just been going in briefly to feel the cool water on my feet and legs, but I would wade a bit and return to shore to look for agates. I picked rocks with a group of about 25 people, ranging in age from small children to retirees. My hunt was successful in the way of other beautiful
specimens but not agates. I did find an interesting fossil. Unlike the other folks there, I was not camping at the Union Bay Campground so I left early. At least this night I did not have to set up camp. I rode to the point where South Boundary Road turns up the hill, and just a little beyond there was a set of stairs down the steep bank. I hauled Art to the beach to wait for the sunset. When I got onto the sand, I wiggled the front wheel and the bike stayed in place. I kicked sand over the wheels and took a series of photos. I went in the water and found a small agate. I ate sardines. I found biting flies. And then, I savored the sunset. I knew that Art and I both would be returning home with less baggage.

I climbed the 1.75 miles to the Union Bay Trailhead with tired legs. I lay in the tent and listened to coyotes yipping. I closed only the screen door to the tent and had a view of the night sky. A shooting star brought a smile to my face and I settled in for another night of tossing and turning.

Day 2 miles, definitely more on the sane side:

Day #3

I woke before the sun. I broke camp in the dark, hoping to see the sunrise and allow time to take a different route home. Breaking camp is quick with the lightweight tent and very little gear. I was amused at using Art as a mountain bike down the trail, through sand, over roots. Coyotes were making their eerie noises when I got to the trailhead. I love being in nature. My soul feels at home in the woods, coyotes and all. I enjoyed the 1.75 mile descent on the road, to Lake Superior.

The sunrise was stunning! I stood by the roadside and ate a light breakfast. My mashed sweet potatoes had gone bad but it was not a big deal. I took some photos and headed east to Silver City. 

As I turned on M-64 to ride south about 20 miles to Bergland, I felt a headwind. Great. My knees hurt. My knees rarely ever hurt. I was about 6 miles in when I stopped to gauge the wind. If there was any, it was insignificant. My right arm was swollen and looked odd from the angry hornet on the trip up. I thought, "It’s going to be a long day." Then it started to

rain. I tried to see the beauty in the miles of forest, in the changing colors of the trees, in the roadside flowers…and when I thought I was maybe on a downhill and stopped pedaling I slowed right down. Mentally I was struggling. I stopped to put my earbud in my right ear and played Victor Schueller’s "Positively Empowered" podcasts. I was going to take a side road that would parallel M-64 and perhaps offer a more scenic view. It was my goal in my head, that if I could make it that far I would be doing pretty good and see some new scenery. I got there and it was loose gravel. It would be about ten miles, so I stayed on M-64. Gravel sucks the life out of my already tired legs. This was not the day for it.

Mile 22: By the time I arrived at Bergland I was having a pity party for myself. I had 110 more miles to ride and it was raining. My legs felt sore. I went into the gas station and bought a dried fruit and nut snack mix as well as a hot cup of hazelnut coffee. I rode to the Bergland Community Park where I plugged in my phone to charge and did some writing. The rain came down harder. I no longer felt like riding my bike. My seat area was sore and I knew getting soaked would not help matters, Chamois Butter or not. I proceeded to eat the entire bag of snack mix along with some other items from my panniers. I rationed out my food for the duration of the trip as I was super hungry and getting low on food. I drank coffee. I whined to friends. And then, I got back on the bike. I had no other option, and deep down I knew that even if I did, I had set out to do this and had no reason why I couldn’t. I took the eastern route along Lake Gogebic this time. It was slightly longer but more scenic. I remembered it from Tour Da Lake, and the memories of that day made me smile. The rain had let up a little and I started to enjoy the ride again. I listened to a podcast about overcoming adversity. Yes!

Mile 40: Quick stop for a packet of tuna and a "natural break". This was a pretty little place. My head felt much better. I was less than 100 miles from home and just had to get to Stage Coach Road, which by the map appeared to be not too far. I was warm and discarded my long sleeves as well as leg warmers. I enjoyed some of my homemade trail mix of coconut flakes, cashews, dried cherries and dark chocolate chips.

Ready to take on the trip, I got back in the saddle and listened to an interview with Tara Mohr about the way in which women tend to speak that makes them sound less empowered, or full of self-doubt. I decided to try to eliminate "just" from my speech, as in "I just wanted to say…" Heck, it should be "I want to say… Why make yourself sound unimportant right off the bat? Sometimes I think I’m too polite. I would not want to be rude, but I devalue myself too often.

My plan was to take Stage Coach Road to US-2 and then a short jog east would take me to a series of roads around small lakes, leading to Eagle River. I arrived at Stage Coach to see more loose gravel. It was a significant road in my plan, and chances were by the map I was using that if what I was seeing was gravel, so were the others, at least for quite a distance. I decided to take the same route that I took up at that point, because it certainly has water stops, and the paved bike path between Boulder Junction and Saint Germain is a good ride.

Mile 45: M-64. Fighting for 7mph. Gassed. Heart beating wildly. Did not look like an uphill, but the moment I ceased pedaling I stopped. I wanted to cry. I did not plan to stop until mile 60. I was working so damn hard, and had so far to go yet, and I wanted to throw my bike in the ditch and thumb a ride. I wanted to be done. I hurt in so many places, and I was exerting far more energy than I should have been. I thought perhaps my tires were flat but they were not. Not even a little bit! I thought I had a wicked headwind but there was just a slight breeze. I was so frustrated. I wanted to yell and scream! I put an electrolyte tablet in my water and decided I had better keep riding. The rain picked up as I neared US-2. I crossed the highway and got soaked as I descended Kimberly Road into Marenisco.

Mile 51: I pulled up to the humble, old little gas station and noted the sign on the door stating that they now sell wine. Oh, so tempting! Instead I bought black coffee, bananas, and peanuts. I plugged in my phone and sat in a booth with my foul mood. It took awhile, but slowly I had thoughts of gratitude creep into my head and heart. I reflected on how fortunate I am to have the physical and mental ability to do this trip. The radar looked like it would be raining for a long time, maybe even the duration of my ride, so I had better be grateful I can ride my bike in the rain. It’s just water, after all.

I was appreciative of the dry place to sit and collect my thoughts. I was grateful for my friends and their encouraging words. I decided to press on after a second cup of coffee. Ten miles to the Wisconsin border, and ten more after that to Boulder Junction, where I would stop for a break and pick up the bike path for some easy riding.

Mile 69: There are many secluded lakes along the route, and although it is a dreary day, this is one of them. I love the uninhabited wildness of these lakes. I was almost to Boulder Junction. The climb into Presque Isle had felt good. It was a steep hill and I powered right up. Raaaaawr! I missed the Michigan roads with their paved shoulders. Traffic on the county highways was busy today and it made me a little nervous.

Mile 73: I saw a sign stating it was 5 more miles to Boulder Junction. I was pissed off. My bladder was full and my belly was growling. "Five more miles?!" I whined to myself. I swung onto a gravel road where I relieved myself and ate sardines.

Mile 76: So it wasn’t 5 more miles. Oh well. I’d rather eat a tin of sardines sitting on a roadside bank of dirt than at a nice coffee shop anyway. On this day I would not enjoy the plush massage chair at Dancing Bear. I was soaked. The bag cover provided in Mark’s handlebar bag made me smile. In big letters that I could read from the saddle it said "BONUS!". Sure. Bonus rain. Funny. I sat and sipped a dark roast coffee with agave nectar. Rain had pretty much stopped by the time; just a drizzle. It was nice, cool weather which I definitely prefer. I picked up the bike trail. No flea market this time. The water sprayed a fine, cool mist on my legs when I rolled through puddles, and it felt 

By mile 90 I was thinking food. What would I eat when I got home? I posted on Facebook to find out how long my favorite grocery store, Golden Harvest, was open. I did the math in my head. I was just north of Sayner and if I hurried a bit I could get there in time to pick up some bison and coconut milk ice cream to go with butternut squash fries. That put the pep in my pedals! Not to mention it was going to get dark and I only have commuter lights. I hurried along, although at mile 97 I stopped to use a wayside bathroom and at mile 100 I stopped for a photo of my odometer. Century #5 for the season, done! I had only ever done one per season prior to this year.

I rode like I meant it. I had all the passion and energy I needed. I knew I could see this through, even though with about 20 miles to go my left calf started to feel tight. Towards the end I felt it might cramp. I just wanted to get home in time for groceries. I let that thought motivate me and held a faster pace than I had all day. 

Mile 122: I like this road graffiti

It felt nice to be on familiar roads. I had an energy about me. I was amazed at how strong I felt at over 120 miles.

Mile 128: I made it in time for groceries!! Great feeling. Almost home!

And then, quietly, I was home. My cat greeted me at the door. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and personal growth. I made it.

First Bike Adventure - June 2012


Mapping it out
Tomorrow morning at dawn I will set out on my bike adventure. It consists of approximately 215 miles. Mostly county highways and roads but also a good amount of crushed gravel rail trail. Before I depart I want to make some notes as to the journey and my reasons for wanting to embark on such an adventure.

This is something I've been wanting to do for years. The idea of heading out on my road bike with everything I need (which is really very little) and sleeping under the stars appeals to me. I like living like a gypsy, if only for a couple of days. I like sightseeing on 2 wheels. It's the perfect speed. So much can be missed in a car, and it's hard to cover much ground on foot. On my bike I can enjoy the scent of a cedar swap and see the wildflowers by the side of the road in detail. I plan to stop along the way for all historical markers as well as several streams. I'll ride early in the morning and well into the evening so that during the heat of the day I can soak up some atmosphere in a small-town coffee shop if I happen across one.

My summer employment plans were derailed. At this time, due to financial constraints, my racing is on hold. Rather than be all depressed about my situation and before I just go find any minimum-wage job to get by, I want to take this adventure. I'm about to take my final semester of school and then get a real, full-time job and learn about being financially comfortable again. It's been a long time!

Making Art into a touring bike
Of course I would not want this trip to be anything but meaningful on a deeper levels. The reasons I am doing this include:
-My sister, Becky Sann, who is severely handicapped and will never know the joy of riding a bicycle.
-My childhood best friend, Coni Norton, who was murdered when we were 17. This past week my ex's girlfriend came across a letter Coni had wrote to me in high school as well as some photos of the 2 of us. Damn it, I miss her. She meant so much to me. I'm riding with her on my shoulder. I can only imagine the amazing woman she would be today.
-My battle with autoimmune disease. In 2000 I was numb from the waist down like my legs were asleep. I had a hard time walking for an entire month. I questioned whether I'd be able to function normally again. MRI showed active brain lesions. I gave myself injections to slow the "Possible Multiple Sclerosis". I believe my healthy diet and lifestyle have sent whatever it was into remission. I've only had slight symptoms at times since then. I fight back when it happens. I will not give in to it!
-Because I know that I'm physically and mentally capable. I'm certain there are others in this world who would do this if only they could. I can. And I will.
-My battle with obesity. I've come a long way. I am grateful for where I am and have my eye on where I'm going.
-I am working on learning to live in the moment.

Mmmm... bacon
Rather than dwell on the destination (which will be quite nice I'm sure) I have been relishing the planning. The mapping. The scavenger hunt for supplies to do this on next to no budget. The packing and repacking to whittle down space and weight. Figuring out how to mount the borrowed pannier rack to my bike with no rack mounting provisions - using my neighbor's "junk" stash of hose, clamps, nuts & bolts. The unknown of where I'll sleep tomorrow night. The generosity of those who are helping me make it possible: My kids who are caring for the animals. Elvis Bauman for the pannier rack. Terry Gibbs and his friend for the water filter. My neighbor, Harry, for his supplies. Ben Koenig for his awesome lighting system and a spare tire "just in case". Denise Coppock for the rice muffin recipe. Laina for her iPod for when mine runs out of battery or when I need some Florence to sing along to. Randy Wegener for his constant support and creativity, and in advance for some meat on the grill when I arrive :-) The ride will be enjoyed in the moment. The ups and downs are inevitable.
Above all I will approach this with a heart full of gratitude. For my body. For my bike. For my amazing friends. For the sunshine. For the rain.

Inspirational quotes
My bike will be decorated with inspirational/funny quotes. If you'd like to add one, shoot a message my way and I'll scribble it on tape to secure to my bike for when the going gets hard. I'll be checking in only once or twice each day due to a short-lived phone battery. My intention is to arrive in Beechwood, Wisconsin Tuesday evening before dark.

The Ride:

As described in my previous note, I decided to take a bike adventure to exceed 200 miles in 2 days. I borrowed and scavenged the equipment I would need to get it done and set out the morning of June 18th, 2012. Here are my trip notes:

4:00am: My alarm goes off. I'm sleeping halfway dressed to go. It's raining out. The tailend of a thunderstorm that was moving through and disturbing my sleep. I made a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and dates. Got everything loaded on the bike rack. Woke Laina up for a goodbye hug and a departure picture.

4:40am: Just about ready to roll. Walking the bike down the driveway because the road is all torn up yet, and I tipped my bike slightly. The whole load fell off. Got it all secured a little better. Hopped in the saddle and heard Laina holler, "Happy birthday!!". She's so funny.

A few miles down the road is a nice climb. What a way to start! On the descent I heard something hit the pavement. My stainless steel thermos of coffee. Now it has character. Got that secured better too.

50 minutes in, Just north of Enterprise on County Road G I saw a rather large animal crossing the road and I stopped. It was a decent-sized black bear. It stopped to look at me. I've never been that close to a bear in the wild before. I reached for my phone to turn it on and take a picture, because it was just standing there so beautifully. I was scared but I wasn't at the same time. Before the phone loaded up it continued across the road. Good bear. I noticed my legs trembling when I started to pedal again.

Rain clouds looked ominous, so I stopped at the gas station in Elcho to put my sleeping bag in a garbage bag and use the restroom.

Mile 47
From there I took 45 south to County Highway B. I enjoyed the scenery; a little old almost-forgotten town, a golf course, and several farms. Just west of Antigo I made another stop. This time for sardines, bacon, and rice muffins. I was about 47 miles in. The wind against me but that was my only gripe. I was making good time and physically feeling quite well. No rain yet.
In the small town of Aniwa I was supposed to find a bike trail that connected to Mountain-Bay, according to the map. I asked at the 1-pump gas station but they had never heard of it, and said no one really bikes in that area. Where the map said to get on the trail I saw just a grassy, unmowed snowmobile trail. That would not work with my road bike. I continued on back roads, some gravel and some paved. I passed "Bogus Rd." and laughed out loud. Bogus. The trail was bogus.

From there I had to take Highway 45 for a brief period of time, to N, to Bluebird Lane. When I got to 45 I stopped to put my high-visibility gear back on. Lots of traffic, lots of semis. It's a bit of a thrill, but I was happy to be done with it as soon as I could. Bluebird Lane was a bit hilly. I noticed a goldfinch flying alongside and then just in front of me for quite awhile. I've never really paid attention to their flight pattern. This one seemed to be leading my way. Pleasant little bird.

Around mile 73 I arrived at the Mountain-Bay trail, which parallels Highway 29. I was going to take an extended rest at Joe Bikeler's coffee/bike shop in Shawano. Now, I've been on some rail trails. They're typically crushed gravel and easy enough to manage on a road bike. This one had plenty of hard-packed dirt, and with the rain that had moved through in the morning I found my roadie tires pretty squirrely! Interesting ride! The payoff was shade and no traffic, so I stuck with it.

Mile 80 I came across a scenic covered bridge and stopped for photos. That was near Bowler. Found a gas station for a restroom break, banana, and cold water. Back on the trail, I was startled by an odd sound as a pair of sandhill cranes crossed in front of me, audibly upset. I stopped to let them cross. One started heading my way so I got out of there, apologizing for disturbing their home.

I came across a couple near Shawano - the only other people I saw on the trail - who were on their way from Michigan to Seattle. Their bikes were all decked out with racks and bags. I can definitely see doing that later on in my life. They informed me that the bike shop is closed on Mondays. When I got to Shawano I was at mile 103. It's been 4 years since I've done a solo century. Actually at mile 100 I did a little "Woohoo!!" in my mind. I needed a break so I hopped off the trail and went in the direction of town to find a coffee shop. There were a couple of guys working on something out in a yard so I asked them for directions. They invited me to stay and play volleyball with them that evening. Ha! I thanked them politely and stated after 100 miles I was in no condition to play volleyball.

Next stop was not the coffee shop after all. It was a small park with a shade tree - sardines, bacon, rice cakes and almond butter. Phone conversation with Randy who advised me to continue to Bonduel and find shelter there from a severe thunderstorm that was to hit in about an hour. I was pretty much sick of the rail trail and it's leg-sucking wet gravel by then but the thunder in the distance prodded me to Bonduel. I walked down a grassy hill at an overpass, hopped on my bike, and rode into town. There was a home with 3 little kids out in the yard yelling something at me. I stopped and they yelled "There's a BIG storm coming! You have to get out of the storm! The lights might even go out!" I thanked them for telling me about the storm and asked if
they knew where I might find a restaurant. The pipsqueak little boy offered their house. He was adorable :-) At that point their mom walked over and told me I'd find a restaurant just up the road. Rooster something. When I arrived there were no cars in the parking lot. It was totally a mom-and-pop kind of diner. I peeked my head in the door and asked the waitress if they would be open for awhile. She responded that yes they would and to bring my water bottles in so she could fill them up. Toni. *Awesome* waitress. I sat there and ate, drank coffee, and charged my phone while the storm passed. It was perfect. Other customers had come in the meantime and they were full of questions. Apparently it's not a common thing to do?

My conservative goal was to make it to Angelica, about 112 miles in, and find a place to spend the night. All I brought was a sleeping bag. I wanted to sleep under the stars. I knew I would not sleep much anyway but needed to shut my eyes for awhile. With Randy's help, we came up with that I could probably make it to Seymour. If I was really doing great I could make it to Freedom, around 150 miles in. That way day #2 would only be about 60 miles and I could take my time.

I was feeling pretty good after the diner. I altered my route and took Slab City Rd. I was greeted with a rather large hill, and then another. The downhill before crossing 29 was absolutely a thrill though! I felt the fatigue on the next large climb and eeked down into my granny gear. Thank goodness for triples. 7mph up those hills. Seated climbs to conserve energy. I wanted Freedom. Not Seymour.

French Rd. to Seymour. Dusk and time to put on the night gear. Thankfully my mom sells high-vis equipment so I was set. I had 2 blinking lights on the back, reflective vest, band on my ankle and band on my pack. Commuter headlight on blink setting and mega-headlight (Light & Motion Stella) from Ben Koenig. Sunset was peaceful with it's hues of pink over golden fields. Now I know where "America the Beautiful" came from. We really do live in a beautiful place. Riding after dark felt pretty incredible. The cooler temperatures perked me up. Fireflies ushered me into Freedom. I was ready to be done riding for the day. With a little guidance from Randy I found a place to throw down my sleeping bag, complete with the luxuries of a bathroom to clean up a bit. I got everything ready for the next morning, then watched stars and heat lightning while I drifted off. Note to self: pack something you can use for a pillow the next time! Between my sore body, pounding head, and not being able to get comfortable using a hat for a pillow, by 4 I was sick of tossing and turning. I was reaching for ibuprofen when my alarm went off. By 4:40 I was back in the saddle. 150 miles in. A new record for me in one day. 60 or so to go!

Morning was clear. The birds were waking up the sun. I was cruising past farm fields in the direction of pinks and yellows. Flocks of birds scattered around farm fields. One bird seemed to chase me a bit, cackling as if I'd invaded it's space. You never get that experience in a car. In fact you miss out on so much in a car. Biking, to me, is the perfect pace to see the world. I experienced the sights so much more fully. I could smell the earth and the trees. I could feel the damp air on my skin. Around 5:30 a fuschia-colored ball rose into the sky. I stopped for pictures and to just take it in.

From there the traffic was fairly heavy into Wrightstown and there was no paved shoulder. Crossing the Fox River felt like a milestone to me for some reason. It was a rush, speeding down the hill to the bridge while another cyclist was climbing up and giving the nod. Speeding over the bridge and letting the momentum carry me up the hill on the other side, almost all the way. I stood and gave a few pedal strokes to the top. A couple blocks later I was greeted with a smile and a "good morning" from an elderly man out for a walk.

Not long after I came to the Fox River Trail. More gravel. Great! I shed my reflective gear. I grabbed a bite to eat and some blackberries that were ripe along the trail. I knew I would be meeting up with someone very special - the only person I'd want riding with me on this trip. A few miles up the trail I thought I saw a rider coming my way. Sure enough. Who else could it be?? There she was! Margaret hopped off her bike and greeted me with a wonderful hug. Ah... my best friend. We visited all the way back to her house, stopping mid-hill to pet kittens near a farm. At the house I visited with her and her hubby over coffee. She fed me eggs and bacon. It was hard to leave!

Back on the bike at about 11:30am it was *hot*. The whole trip up until that point I had not felt like I was frying or anything, but I did then. The roads were not marked so several times I had to stop and verify I was on the correct route. To do so I would seek out the tiniest bits of shade from the sparse trees. It's very flat, windy, and bare. I felt very exposed and vulnerable. Sweat dripped off of me. I took several breaks to stand in shade and eat, drink, take my helmet off, whine..... I was feeling worn out on the hills, slowly going up in my granny gear. I felt like it would never end. I had anticipated 60 miles but it was looking like at least 70. The headwind was relentless. I wanted to just stop. I wanted ice. I thought about going to the Birkie with Laina. I thought about sparkling snow in the woods. I turned left on "Little Kiln Road" and found it ironic. More like "Big Kiln", thank you very much.

In New Holstein I stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and water. The air conditioned building felt so good, I purchased some almonds and a meat stick and hung around for a bit. I knew that mentally I could finish this trip but I worried if physically it was stupid. I'm familiar with heat exhaustion. With the wind and heat I knew I was working harder than I should for such a distance. I called Randy to whine some more. He broke the rest of the trip down into 3 sections for me. I had about 21 miles left to go. So, I kept on. Stopped at the Sheboygan Marsh restaurant for a small Coke and ice water to fill my bottles. I drank some and poured some on me. I wanted to be out of the wind more than anything. I knew my next stop was about 7 more miles -
Fudgienuckles in Glenbeulah. The name is just so funny, I had to stop in. I ordered a Pepsi. Keep in mind I have not had that stuff in years. I didn't care. It tasted really good right then. The bartender asked how far I'd ridden and at that time it had been 213 miles. The people at the bar made a big fuss over how amazing that was. It felt funny to me, and kind of surreal. I didn't stick around for long - just long enough to suck down that ice-cold Pepsi and make the final 9 mile trek.

Leaving Glenbeulah the terrain starts to be beautiful again. I welcomed the hills of the Kettles because they came with trees, and shade, and wind protection. Also I knew that I'd be done shortly. That was a great motivator! At mile 220 I heard a very funny-sounding bicycle horn behind me. I turned to look (WTH?) and there was Randy, driving home from work and figuring I'd be somewhere along that stretch of Highway
A. He drove alongside me for awhile. It was such a good feeling to be almost done and have someone to share that with. I felt relatively strong. As we got to his road, he backed off and let me enjoy the last few moments solo. It was the first tailwind I'd felt for the entire trip. I know I was smiling and not just on the outside. I felt like I was flying, 24mph effortlessly, thrilled to have actually accomplished this crazy goal in my 4th week back on the bike after being injured for a long time. It was the absence of what I love that made me appreciate it more. I did it because I CAN. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle.