Exhausted sleeps. When the body is still raging and trying to figure out how to rebuild and recover which churns out a sort of hot ache that it is difficult to sleep through, although sleep is vital. The pain in my knees appears now within an hour of waking, before I even get onto the bicycle and everything is stiff. The rain fell throughout the night with a few rumbles of thunder and it continued this morning. I rolled out of the tent in just my rain jacket and sneakers and grabbed the food bag and went back to the tent to make breakfast. I mixed up a “backwoods mocha” of instant coffee, chocolate protein powder and stale water and sliced a banana onto a pita and smeared it with discount peanut butter (which honestly tastes like 40% peanut/60% powdered sugar) and drizzled the whole mess with honey. I chewed and slurped while listening to Purple Rain and considering the rainy day ahead of me. I had created this cozy little spot and couldn’t I just enjoy it a little? Snug in my sleeping bag and not wanting to move beyond my pile of sweet snacks.
But listening to “Darling Nikki” always makes me goofy and compared to yesterday’s mental dark clouds, I was feeling chipper. I slide on my big dorky cargo shorts ($5 thrift store purchase) because the nylon seems like it wouldn’t get too soggy and I gentle pack up my gear, trying to keep the few dry items away from the wet. My socks from the day before were still soggy after hanging them in the mesh pouch above my head, but I put them on anyways. With only three pairs to work with, I want to make sure I always had some fresh ones.
Before i leave I need to empty my bowels without the blessed convenience of a toilet. I grab my plastic trowel, dig a small pit and squat uncomfortably. The very second that dark matter came from my body, a high pitched panicked SQUEEEEEE echoed throughout the forest. Oh dear god. I am shitting in some squirrel’s living room, in the center of the rug, by the way she is screeching. I finish quickly and squirrel noise stops the second I do and I toss dirt over my shame and continue to carry extreme anxiety regarding DIY pit toilets. Sometimes the animal kingdom will directly remind you how rude humans are, stomping around and shitting where they please.
By 10 am I am on the road and cranking out miles to stinging rain. My heart felt lighter than yesterday and I just started laughing at the rain, at the absurdity of things not going my way, the deep pain in my knees that were turning ruddy with the cold wet weather. I decided to whip out my cell phone and record a little video of me singing a silly tune as the winds blew strong. I couldn’t grump my way through an entire day in the rain, so I’d have to embrace a saccharine cheerfulness, even as I cinched the wrists of my rain jacket and tightened the flapping hood as nature tends to be a bit sadistic and will blow harder if you seem defiant. I’m excited to get to Wawa, as it appears on my map to the largest town until I hit the border and I just want to shovel in as much terrible fast food as possible and hopefully find a hand drier so that I could un-soggy myself. I’m excited to get to Wawa, as it appears on my map to the largest town until I hit the border and I just want to shovel in as much terrible fast food as possible and hopefully find a hand drier so that I could un-soggy myself. I roll into the welcoming center, which is marked by an oversized statue of the Great Sky Carp, which is the namesake of Wawa, which is apparently the indigenous name of the Canadian Goose. Is the Canadian Goose just called a Goose while in Canada? I never asked.
I look around for someone to take my picture with this monstrosity and I spot a middle aged couple walking around all the informative signs. I limp up to them with my loaded bike and ask if they’d mind snapping a few smart phone shots. Imagine the sad soggy puppy that I must have looked with wet feet and a silly hat. They agree in an instant and introduce themselves as Anita and Uncle Bob from Illinois, retirees traveling around the Great Lakes in a rented RV. They are wonderfully cheerful and Uncle Bob struggles with his iphone before passing it off to Anita, who is the more tech savvy of the duo. Giggles echo across the parking lot as I pose with the Big Dumb Bird.
I joke about my dreams of handsome Justin Trudeau jumping out of the woods (he was spotted in cave a few weeks before) and gush about his dreamy figure and Uncle Bob starts in “oh, he is reminds of me of Patrick”. Whose Patrick? “That handsome guy….Matthew something.” Matthew Mcconaughey? “Yeah, that one! I’m not allowed to talk when he comes on the TV. I call him Patrick. He looks like a Patrick.” Woof. Yes he does. He is one of my favorite Patricks, with those cheekbones. Uncle Bob jokes that I might find a hubby out here on the road “ya never know”. Exhibit A, Bob, look at those cargo shorts. Ain’t nothing happening with those cargo shorts. Anita gives me a big hug, even though I smell like a mix of urinal cake and wet dog and it was the first bit of human touch I received since leaving Duluth two weeks prior and I almost burst into tears. Uncle Bob tries to give me cash for a nice meal because he is an uncle to his core and I refuse because I am stubborn and I give them the name of this very blog so that they won’t worry if I get munched down by bears or to find out if I find a Patrick of my very own. My whole body shook as we all giggled together in the rainy mist and it was the warmest I had felt in days. I waved as I biked away, brimming with gratitude for my minutes with these two goofballs.
Wawa was the not the buzzing hub that I had hoped it would be. I roll through the main drag which is dotted with FOR SALE signs and hotels hinting of 60s glamour showing decay. I discreetly take a few photographs, it seems exploitative to find charm in economic abandonment. The decline in tourism in these areas is devastating and I imagine the Big Bird Inn glowing with a fresh coat of pink paint, cars filled with young families and dreamy honeymooners, it’s glory days.
I search for the ubiquitous Ontario truck stop, dreaming of slabs of French toast but I arrive quickly to the edge of town and have to turn around, recognizing that I will be calorie loading at Tim Horton’s. Without cell phone signal, I am dependent on free flowing wi-fi for communication with worried loved ones at home, so even if there were mom and pop restaurants available, I’m would be reluctant to stop there as I cannot miss an opportunity to re-charge my cell phone and message my dad that, yes, I am still alive.
Tim Horton’s parking lot is packed and I scootch between massive pick ups and lean my bike up against the large windows so that I can sit comfortably inside and keep an eye on it. I order a large double double coffee, chicken sandwich, two maple donuts and an old fashioned donut. I chug the coffee while a table of elders gossip in French a few feet away. I speak two other Romance languages which gives my ear some grace when listening to French and I can understand snippets and the lush tones remind me of Brazilian family reunions I attended long ago, a novice student sitting and listening and learning what I could. After polishing off all the simple carbs, I limp up to the counter to order a second double double and to ask the teen staff to fill all of my grimey water bottles and pouches. They only slightly scrunch up their noses as they handle all of my road dirt caked gear but they seem concerned about the amount of coffee I’ve consumed in a short amount of time. I imagine in my caffeine haze that I must seem like a swashbuckling pirate to these young lads, new to the ways of the world, but in reality I am an odd woman in shorts three sizes too big, dripping rain water onto their floor. When I get back to my seat to enjoy the last three sips of coffee, an old man approaches and chuckles at my soggy state and tells me that the rain is supposed to be leaving soon. I stopped reading weather reports around day 5, knowing that old men will always tell you everything you do not want to know about the current wind gusts and looming clouds and besides, no one can predict the whims of mighty Superior. I reluctantly get back on my bike, away from the warm and dry of the Tim Horton’s but first I stop into a cheesy general store a few blocks away. It features another Big Dumb Bird statue out front and that hokey log cabin rustic look that denotes that trinkets are afoot. But once I am inside I realize I have hit the tourist jackpot, as they have an entire section of barrels filled with an assortment of gummi candies that you can purchase by the pound. I almost fall to my knees with glee. There are gummi frogs and gummi sharks and gummi dinosaurs and cute red and black berries and fuzzy peaches and it takes every ounce of willpower to not immediately start stuffing everything into my cheeks. I fill a flimsy plastic bag with each of God’s creatures and like Noah who has survived the great flood, I take my gummi menagerie to the register, pay an absurd amount of money then carefully pack the stash into my panniers. Corn syrup gold. I leave Wawa with cautious optimism.
I forgot to mention that Wawa is where the road bends back towards the lake, which is the first glimpse I have seen of her since two days prior. I imagine this may have contributed to the dark feelings of the last few days as she has been my anchor and a calm presence as I grind through the miles, as well as a very physical remind that I am not lost. There is a stretch of construction outside of Wawa, but instead of the typical bone rattling minescule shoulder shared with irritated drivers, this time I am treated to a luxurious handful of miles where there are stripped barrels providing ample space for my slim bike and even though the rain begins to fall again I blow kisses at the hazard yellow workers who are directing traffic and feel absolutely giddy for the short break from the zooming trucks. I arrive at Lake Superior Provincial Park, hoping to spot a sign for a campsite but nothing appears and as the sky grows dark I realize that I’ll have to find somewhere on my own.
I find a pull over spot off the roadside and it has just a muddy sign and a set of portable toilets and a lone jeep parked. I figure it is a put-in spot for canoes and although I’m worried about the sort of nutjobs that canoe in this weather, I decide to settle in as the rain clouds keep getting fatter. The whole gravel lot is mostly flooded and the only dry patch is uncomfortably close to the shitters, so I choose the second best site which is a tiny space under two young trees, locked together and squeaking and bending with each wind gust. Not ideal but better then laying my head into a puddle. I set up my tent just in time before the storm hits and all my panniers are snug inside the rain fly and we are sealed shut in our nylon nest. I chew chunks of cold salami and a half brown avocado, wishing for garlic salt or chili lime spices. A slurry of chocolate protein powder completes the meal and I pull off my wet socks to reveal pruney toes that sting when touched by the cool air. I pull on my pair of thick fuzzy socks which pulses an indescribable pleasure through my body. Stuffed in deep into my sleeping bag, I flick on my headlamp and read a few pages of James Baldwin as the trees above my head creak harder and I try to push out of my head the image of a broken branch splitting my tent in two.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 55 km
SONG OF THE DAY: “Space Oddity” by David Bowie
HAPPY PLACE: the counter at Caffetto with a large cup of strong black coffee and friendly faces brushing up and saying hi every few minutes as I scribble in my notebook.