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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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 fiancé 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
Day 2 miles, definitely more on the sane side:
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.
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.
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 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 invigorating.
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!