I woke up determined and appreciate my own impulse to pack seamlessly. I had visions of a real road warrior, with a slick routine, able to take down camp with two wrist flicks and a wink. I actually shoved everything into my panniers pretty quickly, but then again things are a lot easier when you’re not distracted by nibbles of banana or shoving a spoon of peanut butter into your face. My fast movements were motivated by visions of a greasy breakfast sandwich and another soothing dip into the wifi pool. I creep quietly through the resting RVs and roll the A&W. Although it is 9 am the same pulsing dance mix from the night before is shaking the house. There is a cluster of old men sipping coffee at one of the tables and I cannot imagine how their aged ears are taking this sound, which is borderline obnoxious. There is one woman at the front register and she is sprinting from drive thru window and coffee dispenser and back again. I order a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, hash browns and large coffee with two creams and two sugars, since they apparently don’t trust the consumer to dress their own coffee. I take a seat and start sucking at the wifi teat and a few minutes later the counter lady brings me my breakfast. I will not hesitate to say that this breakfast sandwich is one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. Not too greasy but substantial enough to make me feel fueled. It was a soft pillow of grease that laid light in my mouth and slid down easy amongst sips of milky coffee. I was so enamored I took a photograph.
I used the wifi to listen to a grainy YouTube video that my dad sent me as encouragement, Uncle Tupelo’s cover of “Willin'”. I clutched onto my phone and peered into the grainy video and remembered the lyrics as something my dad would croon as we would drive down the highway on family vacations to some bit of wilderness. It is a trucker anthem, speaking of perceiving indifferent to weather and weary and the credo of “weed, whites and wine” although my journey was more “gummis, coffee and peanut butter”. It allowed me for a moment to feel as if my journey was epic. A road weary warrior instead of a woman with knotted hair in dirty clothing, clinging to a small machine. I sit and drink my coffee and at one point one of the old men wave to me and I’m almost ecstatic at the first stranger in Ontario who doesn’t seem to be actively avoiding my gaze. THINGS ARE GOING MY WAY. And that’s when I first hear the sounds. Beyoncé calls the beat in. Love on Top busts out over the speakers and it takes every ounce of my composure to not leap out of my seat and cheer. But goddamn do I sing along and throw around my shoulders while firmly planted into the plastic molded seat. If I was grasping for a good omen, this song was it. It always makes my heart leap in my chest and reminds me of a dance floor years ago when a friend of mine was freshly in love and I watched her sing and wiggle to the entire song with the widest, most genuine smile. Although I am weary, I start the day with a Beyoncé bounce, bless.
I head to the supermarket in the strip mall to fuel up my bike, as the next stretch of highway veers away from the lake and becomes increasingly desolate. The supermarket focuses on generic foods that are packaged in bright yellow with plain black script in both English and French, which reminds me of Repo Man (punk film classic). I’m still overwhelmed by supermarkets, as nothing really looks that appealing and I’m forced to consider the calorie density vs weight of each item. I’m perhaps one of the few people that is scanning calorie information for the fattiest foods. GIMMIE MORE. I grab some whole wheat pitas and head to the cheese counter where I see that there is a small wheel of brie for only $8 CAD and that shit is triple cream. I can shovel brie like a champ, so I add that to my basket along with another generic spicy salami. I wander to the dried fruit aisle when in the middle a toddler slows stamps her way down towards the end, clad in a moose printed sweater and snowflake boots with pom pom tassels and i’m overwhelmed with the cuteness. This trip has made me more enamored with children and dogs then usual. They don’t ask me questions about my damn bike. I wiggle my fingers in her direction and then sneak past and grab some raisins. Next is the candy aisle where I grab a bag of fuzzy peaches and one of Swedish berries, which are as much morale boosters as they are corn syrup rocket fuel. A giant bag of trail mix with apricots and hazelnuts (que chic!) gets plunked into the bag next and also a tub of generic gatorade powder. Finally, I head to the pharmacy section and grab a giant container of generic chocolate flavored soy protein powder. I had watched my friends gab on about their protein powders earlier that day on Facebook and realized that this would be an easy way to get in more calories (and quality ones) with minimal weight. I pay for all my stuff, which is relatively cheap considering it’s in Canadian, and head out to my bike that is leaning near the front doors. I crouch and dump things out of boxes and tubs and empty them into plastic bags that get stuffed deep into my panniers. The gummis fill up the feedbag next to my handlebars and I push off with a groan with my freshly laden bike.
The first few hours are smooth as the highway bends away from the lake and deeper into the forest. The back-to-back fast food meals actually helped my body as it provided some much needed fats and salts and the traffic wasn’t too bad for most of the morning. By the time the coffee hit my bladder it was high noon and I was scanning for any sort of post that I could lean my bike against. It is hard to find a spot to pee that doesn’t require me lying my bike on the ground and having to hoist it back up again and reattach the panniers or try to push it down and over a small ditch and then back again once i’m done. I also scan for cattails or other signs of soggy ground, because more than once I’ve stepped off the gravel shoulder and a few feet later end up with soaked sneakers. This time I am able to lean my bike against a large bolder and I wander off and once I push past into the trees it is as if I have stumbled into a Bjork video. The ground was sponge soft with moss and pine needles and as I crouched to piss I was afraid of hitting a stray salamander with my stream. The highway noises were gone and everything was pulsing on it own rhythm. I am too quick to leave, mostly due to the deep hole that is burrowed near my right foot and looks like it could house an good sized mammal or that I could push my hand down into the forest floor and pull my torso through into Narnia. And also the quiet is too inviting. I have many kilometers to pedal before I arrive and this sort of a place beckons for hours sitting and feeling.
After my short vacation from the highway realities, the traffic starts to build again and my knees prickle with stress and I daydream of a weed cookie that could melt the ache. Or at least distract a little from the monotony. Each truck that zooms close by pulls my muscles tighter and I remember a story I stumbled upon during a Facebook scroll the night before of a woman biking out to Seattle to be with her fiance and she was hit from behind on a highway in Montana, leaving her in a coma. I thought of her with every truck blast. It gave me no council. I tried to focus on chewing on handfuls of gummis, the mashing of my jaws giving an outlet to my frustration and rage, while also providing a corn syrup drip that calmed me some. Past quaint alpine lakes the shoulder becomes minuscule and I keep pushing my earbuds further in and hoping that the music will drown out my fears and I could mentally float back to a hammock in a small beach town. At one lake I stopped and lean my bike against a guard rail and decide to shake out my limbs to some samba. I played the music loud and let myself shimmy and roll in the few inches of space between the rail and the asphalt. I could trick my body into happiness! Yes! I would try to be more discreet whenever a truck would roll by but the minute they were gone I would go back to my little dance with the Novos Baianos chilling my anxiety. I can never be upset while i’m dancing to a samba song and it is a special sort of super power. I use music medicinally while riding, to distract from the pain and the fear.
Back to the basics. Another set of distracted miles, deep in to sections of the highway where there isn’t much. The further I get away from Lake Superior I feel a sort of magnetic pull downward. It always offered me a comfort with it’s greatness. But now there is no physical reward for the truck creeps and I start to feel weary. I throw on the Purple Rain soundtrack in effort to distract my brain. I’d watched the film a half dozen times this year and I can always crawl back to my mental movie screen of Prince’s smokey eye winks and speaker humps and black lace guitar strokes to distract me for a while. The cars slowly disappear from the road and my strokes time with the rhythm and I can feel my muscles lengthen to each guitar wail. As Purple Rain plays and the last few minutes of shimmering cymbals and princely moans I notice a patch of bright color on the roadside up ahead. Considering my entire time riding in Canada I have been cruising the shoulders and seen not one bit of roadkill, a spare screw or coffee cup is the most eye distraction I could hope for. But there was a bundle of royal purple next to my front tire, a coil of discarded rope that must have flew off the back of a truck. It was in perfection condition. I steadied my bike and picked it up and lifted my eyes to the blue skies. The Sunday before the start of this foolhardy excursion, I had biked to Paisley Park with seven white roses and placed them next to the chain link fence around his estate, surrounded by water stained fan art and purple scarves and I asked for a little bit of guidance. I could never really believe in God or Jesus, but I’ve always been a devotee of Love and Beauty and Art and he was their champion. To hold in my hands a perfect purple rope on an empty road in the inland of Ontario made me a believer that my small request wasn’t forgotten. I tucked it securely into my pannier and continued onward with a small sense of safety.
White River has been a marked point on my map ever since Thunder Bay, when my host told me warm memories of the night she camped out at the foot of the Winnie the Pooh statue in the middle of town. Huh. The daylight was dimming and I was hoping to get there before it became too dark but each day my available hours of sunlight grew smaller as my pace slowed. It is a frustrating combination. The Thunder Bay host also told me that White River has an A&W so I was salivating for some succulent wifi and a double cheeseburger. I finally rolled in around 6 pm and saw that White River was nothing but three motels, two truck stops with adjacent restaurants. The A&W was attached to a gas station and placed my bike next to the window and walked inside. The entire dining room area was blocked off with plastic yellow safety tape and there was only two molded tables near the register. The register was being manned by a lanky limb-ed teenager, the first brown person I’ve seen for over a week. He has glasses and bounced and flung his hands and spoke quickly with a mild panic. Ah, this one is of my tribe. I order a double cheeseburger and onion rings and a root beer and ask about the wifi password. “THE WIFI IS DOWN”, he had no patience for the question. The dining room was quarantined, the wifi was down, oh, and the bathrooms were out of order as well! I could only imagine what had happened that day in this odd little town. I grab a seat and wait for my food when enters from stage door left a small crew of teenagers, some of them at the tail end of their growth spurt and made even more intimidating through layers of sweatshirts and sport jackets. There was a conventionally pretty girl among them, clung to the side of one of the taller boys. This was some Saved by the Bell shit. The cashier continued his high strung bounce and took their orders and it seems like they tried to lay some light insults on him but like most nerds he’s accustomed to this shit and didn’t really give it any weight. I sat there eating my cheeseburger with dirty hands and waited like a mountain lion in a bush. I was a pirate now, burned by sun and taut from miles on the road and if they tried any funny business I would trounce those kids in two seconds. Fuck it. But soon the crowd grabbed their food and slunk away. I finally got my long awaited order of onion rings and poured two packets of salt on top. Still salty about the lack of wifi. The cashier grabbed a spray bottle and towel and began to wipe down the tables around me when again from stage left walked in a teenage girl and her mother. “APRIL” the vibrating teenage boy ratched up to another level of bounce. One of the other teenagers in the back started to walk to the register but he shouted “LET ME HELP HER” and leaped over the counter and flung his cleaning supplies to one corner and steadied himself behind the cash register. In my entire life I have never seen a creature who has pumped the puppy dog love vibes harder and stronger then this teenager. Not one ounce of chill or expected cool, just swooning over the fact that she ordered two bacon ranch crunch wraps and the other teenagers pop their heads out from the service window and she is a bit timid in front of her mom but familiar and I am falling for all of these outcasts. Who talk about the one time they went to Subway together and the inside jokes fly fast and thick and much like the Grinch my heart grew three sizes. APRIL. He keeps saying her name. APRIL. She gets a bag of free onion rings and as she leaves with her mom she calls the cashier “juice”. He has a nickname! I look towards the counter to see if the cashier has melted into a puddle. He has not and quite frankly I’m surprised, as my heart was swelling into my toes. Yet again, the stage door is flung open and in wanders a cowboy, with dusty boots and hat and the teenage staff recognizes him immediately and fetch him a chocolate milk. He won’t take soda with him combo, just chocolate milk. He speaks in a small bursts of a thick accent and is soon greeted by a red faced friend and they tangle themselves into a rough hug and Quebecois French. I’m hesitant to leave this bizarre sitcom stage but I need to find a place to fling my body for the new few hours and although the Winnie the Pooh statue is cute and well lit, the park is just a well manicured green patch between parking lots and there are too many long haul truckers in this tiny town for me to feel safe in a flimsy tent. When the choice is spending 80 bucks Canadian on a motel room or sleeping terrified of possible rapists unzipping my tent in the wee AM hours, I always chose the solid financial investment of a motel room. Sometimes nothing is more valuable than four sturdy walls and a door that locks. I try the motel across the street but the price was over $100 and I’m too cheap, so they direct me across the street. The lobby is a small room that is stuffed tight with heavy wooden cabinets and chairs and every sort of Winnie the Pooh nick knack that has been made in the past twenty years. A preteen girl is sitting at the reception desk and she finds me an open room with an eye roll. I grab the keys and roll my bike into the room, which is the shabbiest of the entire trip. Missing towels, broken lamp and a lone bar of soap. The roars of late night semis aren’t muffled much and I take a quick shower and apply a sticky cocoa butter paste to all of my sores. I slide my nude body cautiously into the sheets, hoping that they aren’t dirty but without much hope or care. I slowly stretch into a diagonal so that my hands can cradle my phone while plugged into the power cord and I tap out notes in between lukewarm sips of chocolate protein powder, the lumps getting caught on the dead skin of my lips.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 91 km
SONG OF THE DAY: “Willin‘” as covered by Uncle Tupelo. Thanks Papa Haun!