Another puke scented morning in Terrace Bay and I repeat the previous morning’s limp across the park lot/plate of french toast and sausage and mugs of coffee. I take one last scalding hot shower and sip on kerig coffee as I blast pop bangers from my battered cell phone and re-organize all the gear that had been sprawled throughout the room in my decadent 48 hours of sloth. I inspect my body in the florescent light of the bathroom and note the bruised knots and rough patches. The tawny contrast between my arms and my pale hands looks like I am permanently gloved. My posture is square and my butt has a mighty-ness that can fight crime yet still I am puckered with constellations of cellulite. Somethings refuse to go away. The burst of music is helping my mood, which is still sour from poor nights of sleep and I force myself to dance around and loosen up and to feel some FUN. I almost forgot what FUN is. I finally roll out around 10:30 am and it isn’t long before I start into another stretch of climbs.
My knees start to ache heavily by the second hour. I’m already antsy after spending a day just lounging in bed but my body doesn’t feel properly rested. Apparently, two microwave chicken pot pies wasn’t the recovery dinner my body desired and I feel as if I am pedaling through thick sludge.
As the kilometers roll by my mind scrolls out a list of grievances. Against the tiny shoulders of Trans Canadian Highway 17. Against my ridiculous ambition and lack of planning. Every single argument from the last 24 months. Each foot of incline. Once every component of my frustrations was picked apart, I started to fantasize about an exit. I could rent a car in Marathon, Ontario! From there I could drive to the Apostle Islands and camp out in sweet luxury, listening to the mellow sounds of the lake lapping onto shore and drinking a cold beer and throwing my cell phone away for good. I imagined the miles zipping away with only the slight tap of my foot. What was all this pain for anyways? Was I learning anything? Can I really fail at something that is just made up? This isn’t a race. WHO CARES if I make it all the way around the lake! I’ve been biking for 14 days! What a stupid goal anyways. Just a giant loop.
I finally reach a gas station on the outskirts of Marathon around 3 pm and I’m determined to throw in this towel. A sign on the door of the gas station warned that the bathrooms were out of order. I go inside and the store is small with sparse shelves and low lit coolers and I search hard to find a snack. I start to chat with the clerk, a twenty something dude who seem less irritated by my presence than most I have met so far in Canada and I feel emboldened to ask him questions as I surf around the store. He shares with me the wi-fi password and I’m pacing through the only aisle and pick up a bag of “fully dressed” flavored chips. I rip the bag open and upon first chew figure out that “fully dressed” is a flavor combination of BBQ and salt n’ vinegar and it hit my tongue like a garbage fire. I passed them off to the clerk, who seemed equally unenthusiastic about them, and I started to work my way into a bag of good ol’ jalapeno n’ cheddar chips.
I inquire if there is anywhere to rent a car in Marathon and he gives me a vague answer about a garage that rents snowmobiles and I might be able to get a truck? Since I speak fluent Minnesotan, I translate this into a hard “no”. The exhaustion is making me bold. I ask him if there is any message board where people post rides, as at this point I’m considering hitching all the way to Sault St. Marie, which is the closest mid sized city and half American and would for sure have some budget car rental place I could find. He mumbles about the Marathon buy/sell page on Facebook and I ask him to add me to it but it turns out he’s not an admin so an admin has to approve it because apparently in a town of 3,000 people, they really got to keep the security tight on Facebook groups. At this point we almost have a back n’ forth going on, so I venture to ask him about Marathon and where I should go eat. He recommends the Chinese place but warns that it’s a bit expensive and he tries to stretch it to two meals by bringing home leftovers. I keep prying, asking about what happened to all of these town on the highway, why there are so many empty gas stations and abandoned motels. He tells me that Marathon was built around a paper mill, but that closed about 6 or 7 years ago and the only other industry is a gold mine with three sites, but now only one of the sites is still operational. Many people in the town have packed up and left, like his parents who ended up in a small town of 300 in Newfoundland. He tells me that he likes it where he is, that he knows the forests and it is comfortable for him. It is one of those moments in which I become very aware that I am a privileged city slicker. I thank him for letting me pepper him with questions and pay for the chips and a ice cream sandwich which i cram into my face as I walk out the door.
I take a few deep breaths and realize I’ll just have to stay in Marathon tonight, whatever is available. I vaguely remembered some signage about a city managed campground, but since it is already late September and the provincial parks are shut down, I’m not particularly hopeful. 15 kilometers past the gas station I am on the main stretch of Marathon and there are a few restaurants and bait and RV stores and the main stretch is lined with bright flower boxes, each sponsored by a different business like the local Subway. Everything is neat but not really bustling. I roll to the bright and shinny A&W near the strip mall because I know that A&W have free wifi. Oh, sweet sweet wifi. There is a thumping dance track that is echoing throughout the restaurant and the few people inside are indifferent to the grooves. There is a burly construction worker and then an older woman, a bit crumpled, with a small child ahead of me in line, I expected more people considering it was a Friday night. The woman speaks in French with the child and is warm and outward seeming. Due to my deep grump, I’m not interested in exchanging with her and this makes me feel a bit guilty. She struggles to speak English at the register and the teenager manning the counter seems confused by her order. I maintain a large space between myself and her, whereas at home I would be one to assist any sort of communication error (I never forget what it’s like to stumble in a foreign tongue). I finally get up to the counter to place my order and notice a caddy stacked with plastic tubs of butter, jam and CHEEZ WHIZ. I still don’t fully understand this CHEEZ WHIZ thing. I order a double cheeseburger, fries and root beer, hoping that the caffeine doesn’t keep me awake as I’m hoping for sound sleep tonight. The mug is frosty and I drink deep. I grab a handful of salt packets and pour them over each bite. The food simply evaporates, it doesn’t even add weight to my stomach. My mood improves slightly but I’m reluctant to head back out to my bike and to lose the wifi and to be alone with my thoughts that just keep telling me to flee. Flee. I unfurl my map and stare hard at the lines snaking towards Sault St. Marie. I start to break down the days into chunks and I write them in my journal trying to give myself control and a bit of determination. Four more days til Sault St. Marie and American cell phone service. Eight more days through the UP and then I will be in Duluth again. Plotted out bites and a rough budget. It can be done. What’s four more days?
After ten minutes of rest I head back out to my bike and pedal towards the campground run by the city. I toss on my sweatshirt before I leave, the autumn chill has started to become noticeable. I expect the campground to be bare but when I arrive I am pleasantly surprised by the fleet of RVs that are there and I bike past them towards the more “rustic” grounds close to the lake and I secure the first spot, always close to the bathrooms. The lake is visible from my patch of green and I quickly make camp, tossing out the tent with a twitch of instinct and dissembling all of my gear. A young man walks by and I am aware in an instant that my outfit is eccentric and I must seem a loon. I remember that it is a weekend night and that probably he’s here to party with friends. Parties! Oh, I remember those. I am lazy and don’t assemble a bear bag, I just stuff all my edibles into the most sturdy pannier and leave it under the picnic table. I cram a handful of gummis into my mouth and roll into my tent, cushioned by my sleeping bag. I spend my time trying to sort through emotions and remember the person who started this journey 14 days ago. I wasn’t worried about a ride that probably wouldn’t manifest. I was asking my body if it could continue. As a pirate queen. My limbs were sore from the sun and the hills but I knew they were already transformed. When it grew dark I wandered out of my tent again, towards the bathroom. I studied myself for a long time in the mirror. I wasn’t romanticizing the suffering. Or maybe a little. It was just another night where I felt completely alone and overly proud of that fact. I was letting myself be my own Odysseus, telling myself it’s own legend and knowing that Greek heroes don’t just snag a ride home. The only way out is through.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 81 km
SONG OF THE DAY: “Helpless” by Neil Young. Ya didn’t think I’d get through Canada without one Neil Young song, didya?