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DAY 3:

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Red squirrels are the size of two nut rolls duct taped together but have the vocal power of a caffeine laced preteen girl. That throaty wake up call reminded me that it is HER TREE that my dumb tent is next to and she isn’t having it. I sputter out more dust and roll out of my bag to make the last batch of coconut curry noodles, for today is The Great Purge. My bike is groaning with excess weight and the first thing to go will be the pack of rice noodles which are fast cooking and calorie dense but too too heavy. Peanut butter can stay. Anything that I can spoon into my mouth without heating is worth it’s weight. I get rid of two books (rip my nerd heart in two, whydontcha), some t-shirts, a small lantern, sunscreen….oh god, so much dumb stuff

I decided to ditch my bulky eyeglasses case and DIY a replacement. Duct tape on duty again!

I fought a cloud of gnats for my noodle breakfast, wandering around the campsite with the hot pot in my right hand, spork in the right and shoveling furiously into my mouth. I would also like to take a moment to state that sporks are stupidly inefficient tools and it doubles my meal times and hopefully I’ll get better at using them but when you’re road hungry they are just goddamn irritating. I digress. The Purged Items were pawned off on an older gentleman firing up his grill next to his RV and when I handed him the books through a cloud of gnats he stated that “he knew someone who liked to read.” Right-o then! My bike was now leaner and meaner or at least less of a burden.

I also took my first shower of the voyage which means I bare ass sputtered under a lukewarm water spray while slapping peppermint Dr. Bronners on my stink regions AND simultaneously scrubbing the random articles I designated as laundry that day. Extremely glamourous stuff.  I figured out a rad way to get everything dry and sun bleached…

Now that I was freshly moistened and free of excess baggage, I was determined to tackle my biggest day yet: 80 miles to Jay Cooke State Park. A *short* gravel road escorted me to the Willard Munger State Trail which is just a total fucking gem. It is a bike trail of dreams with thick foliage and fluttering birds and pure tranquility. Compared to the previous day’s Gravel Inferno, this was sheer bliss.

That is a picture of a more manicured pine tree alley but the 80 miles I biked were pleasantly varied in the terrain. It rolled through sleepy small towns that would be lovely to wander through. Seriously, put this trail on your MUST RIDE list, especially if you live in the Twin Cities. It would make for a lovely long weekend bike tour, especially if you begin at St. Croix State Park. The only mishap was at one point I had to swerve to miss a deer that clumsy bounded across the path. I feel more chummy with deer now that I have spent more time on rural highways. Damn humans move too fast, it’s hard not to become roadkill.

A light rain fell the last three hours of the ride, a polite tap on the shoulder from Mother Nature making sure I was prepared for all weather. It was a refreshing mist, like those fancy beauty tonic waters that smell of rose or lavender or whatnot. I turned on SZA in my headphones and just melted into the pedals. The last two miles before Jay Cooke State Park are STUNNING.

I had to stop and take a proud mama pic of bikey on this bridge. Ain’t he handsome??

The cruise into the park was all downhill and “Rhymin and Stealin” was blasting and I was whole heart laughing the entire float down. Too happy. I stopped at the park office and dialed the 800 number for a site but can’t get signal so I just pay via cash and then I noticed this dude who had parked his car and just started wandering around. Dark clouds, 6:30 pm on a Tuesday night. Weird. He then starts rambling towards the campground (no gear in hand) and I’m getting creeped. I roll into the campground and striked up a conversation with this lovely couple with a big fire and old chubby pooch, just sitting next to their camper. We exchanged pleasantries and I mention the creeper loudly and decide to take the campsite close to them for safety, as by now it was 7 and no one had shown up for it. I put up my tent, fling all my belongings onto the picnic table and am about to make dinner when a giant camper rolls up. They have the spot reserved. I try not to despair as I flail about (with dignity!) and stuff my items into panniers ASAP but the lovely couple intervenes and gesture to a nook in their campsite where I can set up so I don’t have to scrounge for a new site in the dark. BLESS. I walk over all my stuff and spend the rest of the evening chatting with them and petting their grey snout dog named Penny. They’re from Iowa so they’re familiar with bike touring because of RAGBRAI and they tell me about their children and their semi jobs because they are semi retired and I don’t remember their names. They are someone’s parents and they are a delight. I drank gatorade for dinner and rolled into bed sticky because of all the pine cones that surrounded the site (SAP EVERYWHERE SAP EVERYWHERE). My nighttime socks still have pine needles stuck to ’em.

MILES RIDDEN: 81

SONG OF THE DAY:Impossible! from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (the Whitney Houston/Brandy version because duuuh).

ROADKILL REPORT: a spray of bluejay feathers. Fat mouse.