DAY 6:

Woke up refreshed in my dreamland campsite but with a slight chill. My breath was cool white vapor and the bottle of Dr. Bronners had gone opaque overnight. I stoked up the lil’ stove and made a cup of instant coffee, which tastes like burned jet fuel but it works. With this view I’m not bemoaning the lack of espresso.

As I was shoveling in a spoonful of peanut butter, a twitchy red squirrel bolted through my sanctuary and knocked over my coffee in the process. It’s that PB lust, it’ll make ya loco. I was soaking in the vista and trying to process my building fears of the Northern territory. The Canadian stretch of the circle tour is the longest and remotest, which is intimidating as a solo female traveler. I’ve travelled plenty on my own, but mostly in urban areas where you can usually elicit the assistance of strangers or at least hope someone could serve as witness if something happens. But in parts of Ontario, there is NOTHING. In these situations, it isn’t advantageous to be perceived as female. I’m considering pulling the ol’ stuffing-hair-under-hat-wearing-baggy-clothes trick, as it has worked on dudes for thousands of years (I see you, Agnodice). Maybe I’ll even draw on a pervy little moustache a la John Waters

My body is starting to feel wear and tear and I’m fearful of my head cold building into a full blown sinus infection (as it has a tendency to do during travels). I’m still dealing with the hassle of Blood Management, which is also draining energy. I didn’t roll out until 11 am. I left behind a big dumb bag of oatmeal, because although peanut butter +oatmeal is my forever breakfast at home, I’m far too lazy to heat up water twice in one morning, because once the coffee hits I just want to start moving. Every time I unpack the panniers every item gets asked “now what’s your job again?” Those little things add up when my mileage climbs.

I roll out and although I’m on the Gitchi-Gami trail,which is lovely, I’m finding it hard to get into a rhythm. I keep wheezing at the slightest incline and once the trail section ends and I’m thrust back onto Highway 61, I make a big rookie mistake. I roll past a tiny gas station even though I’m low on snacks. The first rules is and will always be: eat/sleep/pee when you can, because the next opportunity to do so may not be as soon as you need. This is why I accept all free snacks, stash nut rolls in my backpack, head to the bathroom before leaving the building and cat nap like a champ. I’m a Boy Scout Be Prepared sort of motherfucker. And I broke my own damn rule.
For the next twenty miles I’m sweating it out on the smallest shoulder I’ve encountered so far, only passing by the occasional gift shop, most of them shuttered for the season. As my blood sugar dipped I encountered my first Trump lawn sign which then spawned another cluster and another, which was a gut punch to morale. The only light spot on those bleak miles was a bright yellow painted wooden smiley face on a hilly stretch in between Trump clumps. I liked to think it was some defeated rural hippie’s subtle protest. But the smiley didn’t stave off The Bonk. My steering got loopy and I was struggling to keep the bike on the shoulder through headwinds, rolling off into the gravel and wobbling hard.

The words floated into view like a mirage: MALTS. PIZZA. I veered over fast and prayed it was open. I flung open the door to a petite restaurant with a half empty bakert case and two round tables. I ordered a chocolate frosted donut, a cup for fountain soda and the “house special” pizza which happens to be the “Lauren favorite” which is pepperoni, mushrooms and onions. I ate the donut in two bites and chugged 2 glasses of cherry Pepsi without my body even flinching a bit.

The pizza was a greasy instant. The cook peered around the back and asked me how it was and I launched into a description of the bonk. She nodded without hesitation and explained that she used to sled race and that she would roll into checkpoints and her team would just hand her snacks and trll her to shut up and eat.(OH GOD I NEED THIS IS THERE AN APP?) She gets a little nostalgia glaze and starts to talk low. “Ya know, the worst day racing was when it was 40 below and I get into the checkpoint and tell my crew to put the dogs in the truck and pack it up I’m done and I NEVER quit and it turns out I got my *period* ya know and all those hormones and stuff and I had bled through all my layers…” she flings her fingers and gestures and just trails off. I needed this interaction just as much as the pizza, another wild one. She walks around the other side of the counter and points out where I can hook up onto the Gitchi-Gimi on the other side of the street. I tip my cap and hop back onto the bike and down the trail and less a half block away run into a liquor store a few meters off the trail. I pick up a four pack of Surly and then rolled into, ahem, Temperance River State Park ten minutes later. I phone in a campsite and roll my bike into the site and just sit down for a brief cry. I’m still exhausted and underfed and stoke up the stove for ramen. I eat the rest of the pepperoni and I soon notice the sounds of classical music floating into my camp from the neighbor’s site. I think it’s Vivaldi but it’s been years since I’ve listened to him. I ate my ramen and flung myself into my tent, trying to sleep but the caffeine from the soda keeps me buzzing and I scribbled down the day’s hard lessons. Today I learned that is trip isn’t fucking around. I can’t just power through with a spoonful of peanut butter and a glimmer in my eye. I have to eat well and out here there are no quick fixes. No last minute jaunts to a burrito joint, no nuked potato and shredded cheese. No shortcuts.


SONG OF THE DAY: Running on Empty by Jackson Browne. This one is for the dads.