I made two mistakes when planning this goddamn excursion. First, I didn’t give myself time after my last day of work to just eat a burrito, have all the feelings and tie up loose ends. I instead declared that I would roll out Saturday morning, freshly scrubbed and ready to go! Second, when my friend decided to accompany me for my first day, I agreed.
Friday night I was rushing to REI for last minute gear, writing emails, cleaning up tamale dishes, rotating batches of laundry and shoveling in mouthfuls of cake, already nostalgic for my officemates of almost two years. The dining room table covered in random supplies that I was yes-no-maybe-ohchrisywhatamidoing. I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 6 am, realizing I slept with fists clenched tight that I needed full force of mind to loosen. My friend arrived at 8:30 AM, energy drink pumped and on a deadline. He told me I had thirty minutes to get ready. Huh. I told him he could switch my bike seats if he needed something to do. I keep writing and working on household tasks and I come out to the living room to see that he has packed my bags. Uhhhh. I tell him that it isn’t okay and I need to repack them. He says that we don’t have time and I’m just nervous. I walk over to the bike and realize it is too heavy and start to pull of stuff but he stops me, saying that he worked hard packing them and I shouldn’t undo them. I’m not happy and tell him I can’t carry the fullt loaded bike downstairs and he insists and carries it downstairs for me. I’m anxious, upset and by the time we’re on the porch I realize I didn’t go through my supply checklist and I WASN’T READY. Again, he tells me it’s nerves and I’m trying to fight my pounding heart and this pushy behavior. We begin to walk down Portland avenue towards the Greenway and he tells me I shouldn’t walk my bike and at this point I finally yell LOOK I WILL WALK THIS BIKE TO FUCKING MICHIGAN IF I WANT TO. If you haven’t realized it by now, I’m a People Pleaser to a fault. But my compromising my security and confidence in my month long tour in order to bend to this dude’s overnight bikepacking fantasy? A total low point. We hit the Greenway and I’m miserable. I keep thinking of turning around but I told everyone that I’d be starting on Saturday and what if I waited a day? I’d be a liar and a phony and besides he said it’s just nerves it’s nerves right? We bike onwards and I’m slow moving on this groaning bike and he’s zipping ahead and by the time we reach White Bear Lake I pulled over, thinking of buying a tallboy but knowing what I needed instead. I told him thanks for the company but I’d be heading out alone, so long, farwell. Once the shouting stopped and he finally road off, I stood there in that liquor store parking lot, shaking from exhaustion and fight or flight reeling and I came to a conclusion. This is MY BIKE TOUR. If I decide to pull a solid gold bathtub while blasting Raspberry Beret on repeat or saw my toothbrush in half and slurp gels from a pouch duct taped to my forearm, so be it. But this is mine and I will accept ZERO unsolicited input from here on out. You know what else evaporated in that parking lot? Any shred of fear of being alone. I felt 1000 pounds lighter and kept biking northward on the Sunrise Prairie trail, which is just nicely paved but runs right next to Highway 61 so it’s farmland on the left and auto exhaust/generic small town on the right. It is nice to be separated from traffic so the most you’ll run into is crunchy grasshoppers. I was clipping along until my bike stopped abruptly with a heavy thud. I leaned it against a tree and started inspection. What was it? Oh that Expert Bike Packer didn’t tuck the overstrapped mess and one of the straps flew into my disk brake. Fuck.
I unpacked the beast and flipped him over and did what any seasoned mechanic would do: start yanking. I frantically message Tae, the Q to my James Bond. He is my technical advisor on all things bikes and he gave me a brief disk brake tutorial before I left (he is a gem). I keep pulling, this time with my Leatherman and cuss and snip fabric and pray and soon I dislodge the nylon scrap. Re-load the bike, this time with minimal strap nonsense and I ramble onward.
I turned right onto MN-95 and was now hugging onto a narrow shoulder. A mile or so in traffic on the opposite side of the street becomes thick with sooped up, need-a-handle-to-haul-my-ass-inside pickup trucks, hauling trailers with florescent jet skis and scraped paint dunw buggies. It was a slow rolling parade of giant chrome hubcaps and men in cheap aviators leering out rolled down windows. It wasa gasoline menagerie and traffic was stuck bumper to truck nuts. I feel positively speedy next to these lumbering lugs. Haha! BIKES WIN, MOTHERFUCKAS! Soon I come across a plywood sign advertising HAYDAYS PARKING and realized that I had stumbled across a festival which can only mean one thing: day drinking. The narrow shoulder seemed even smaller and every time I heard those grunting tire burps I hoped they were coming from the ridges on the yellow center line and not the shoulder border. I stop at an intersection where cops are directing traffic to let partygoers cross and two men red faced from drink and sun grin at me and one states “there is a lot of testosterone flying around.” NO SHIT. Those ten miles were precarious so by the time I rolled into Wild River State Park, I was grateful for the safe haven. But the Haydays crowd had packed the campground and so I was directed to the Overflow site. “If it doesn’t look like a site, then that’s it”! Perfect.
My friend Liz warned me when borrowed her tent that I should look up instructions before I go. I mentally scoffed, “I’ve set up a tent before, I got this, no big deal.” I WAS WRONG. Flying blind trying to set up this tent after riding all day was near impossible and I ended up pacing around, cellular high in the air, attempting to butterfly net a signal so I could at least see a picture of the damn thing. Twenty minutes leaping and I got a fuzzy image pulled up and I scrambled to clip and snap it all in place as darkness grew. YAAAAS QUEEN exhaulted through the cool air when the last stake was pounded and shelter secured. Next up: figure out the stove! Oops, break the handle after two minutes fiddling! Yeesh, spill out too much fuel when trying to get it to light! Another ten minutes of problem solving and I primate delight at the magic of fire! I faintly remember ramen. I unzip and fall onto sleeping pad. And lo! the chorus of university students begin! They start with A Whole New World and progress to that song from Mulan and I am surprised at their vocal talent but still wish their end. I float in and out of consciousness, my snores and their shouts thrusting me awake. When two walk by and one starts “are you using condoms?” “Welllll I have an IUD…” HEY CAN YOU BE QUIET? LIKE, YOUR WHOLE CAMP TOO? I stop short of giving gynecological advice (omg gurl condoms for realz). I fade to black soon after. One day down and many more to go….
MILES RIDDEN: 65
SONG OF THE DAY: “Solo” by Frank Ocean
ROADKILL REPORT: pressed and dried striped skunk, fresh squirrel and a deer puddle.