yooper

DAY 21:

Woke up hazy with a memory of a naked sprint and angry bowels. 7:30 AM. I can take a shower before the shop opens and rinse out this hangover. I unzip my tent and find my warm half drank tallboy from the night before and I grab it to take into the shower with me. I unlock the bathroom door and undress before I attempt to comb out all the snarls in my blond. I look in the mirror and my body is an odd combination of tawny red limbs and face to a pale body who has a bit of extra fluff on the left hip and cellulite blooms that pucker my bottom half. After spending an evening being reacquainted with the male gaze (lolz), looking at myself takes on a different shade. I note all the peculiarities and remind myself that my body, at this very moment, it is surely at its peak physical condition. Whatever form that this body takes now is probably the best it is going to be (barring an alternative future where I am a Pilates instructor). I make an odd peace with mirror image and sip on the beer as I head into the shower. 20 minutes and half of a miniature bottle of Pantene later, I begin anew. I slide on my best dress with shiny purple bike shorts underneath and call myself a looker. After packing up all of my stuff, I walk two suburban blocks to a Tim Horton’s and buy my last large double double and two maple donuts. The donuts are munched down before I arrive back to the bike shop and I spend the next hour in a hangover haze, sipping my coffee while wandering around the campsite, arms flinging to catch a patch of wifi where I can also sit and enjoy it. At the edge of the pump track, I can lean on the ramp and suck down steady wifi. I sit there, streaming new Frank Ocean into my headphones and letting my fingers fly over some postcards I’ve been meaning to write and mail before heading back to the USA. I’m half brain dead from light sleep and sugar calories when I feel something whiz past me and I realize that I had been sitting on the pump track and an entire crew of kids were starting their Saturday morning lessons. I move quickly back to my camp trying not to let the shame trail me as I pack up the rest of my stuff. I stop by the front desk of the bike shop to sign the guest book, express my thanks and ask for the quickest way out of town. With a pirate wink, I roll off down one of Sault St. Marie’s classic 4 lane roads towards the bridge and border. Along the way I get truck beeps and wolf whistles like I hadn’t heard the rest of the trip, the dress I have is attracting more attention than the sexpot oversized cargo shorts. Within 20 minutes I’m at the bridge and cruise my bike past as many cars as possible before entering the customs line. My handlebar bag is full of trail mix and there is a dance mix in my headphones and the hangover has made me cheerful so I’m standing with my bike and shoulder shimmying and finger popping while waiting to move along. I cruise up and pay the toll in American dollars and bike over the massive bridge, sun bright and stars and stripes whipping at the other end. Oh Canada. I never thought I would make it to the end. Adieu Trans Canada 17! Goodbye to bilingual road signs and exaggerated vowels! I’m returning home to the place where firearms flourish and maple donuts are rare. It’s been real.

I arrive in Michigan, giddy with cell service and refilling my snack pouch with gummis before heading off towards Whitefish Point. I am not new to the Upper Peninsula, it has been over twenty years since my last visit. My grandfather owns a cabin on a lake that is close to Tahquamenon Bay and I have visited a half dozen times during the summertime when I was younger. My parents actually had their honeymoon at that cabin and there is an epic photograph of my father with long blond hair and denim cutoff shorts, holding a massive pike fish in each arm. So arriving back here seems like a sort of homecoming. My first relief is the slower traffic and smaller highways that I’m riding on, a massive breath of air after weeks battling those narrow death escapes with semis. These miles are suns oaked and pleasant as I keep my headphones in and just enjoy the ride. I rarely had this level of inner peace while in Ontario. I link up to Lakeshore Drive which follows right along the lake and it’s is strikingly beautiful. The sides of the road are dotted with decorative mailboxes and one church that I pass has I sign out front that says LOVE MANY, TRUST FEW, AND ALWAYS PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE. This saying gets stuck in my thought loop for the next few miles as I turn over in my head all of the people/places/things that I left at home and that will be waiting for me when I return.  I eventually arrive at Point Iroquois Light and stop to read the roadside information, which tells that the real name of the point is Nadouenigoning or Place of the Iroquois Bones. In 1662, 50 Chippewa warriors surrounded and killed 100 invading Iroquois warriors, telling the two remaining men to return home and tell the Iroquois to never return. It was one of the more significant battles in Chippewa history and the signs describe how the bones were left on the beach and remained there well into the 1800s. Note to self: the Chippewa do not mess around.

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After gaining some historical perspective, I wander around the beach, taking off my shoes and allowing my toes a break from their typical cramped and sweaty situation into the soft white sand. I sat on a bench. I thought about the little girl who came here on a windy day and picked up a perfect round stone that looked like a goose egg. I bathed my eyes with the color of that crystal blue water.

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young me at the same beach. holding a smooth white rock.

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Back on the bike, I enjoy more sweet miles and the coolness of the forest once the road dipped inward. I end up passing Wilcox and my memory shoots back to fried fish dinners in a crowded restaurant with my family. I keep pedaling until I arrive at Bay View campground. I am able to scout a campsite on the shore side, with a small path to the beach and a cozy spot for my tent. There is an ample fire ring and I note that I haven’t been able to make a campfire the entire journey so far, no time or energy to haul firewood and light it up. I dump my panniers and bike back to the front of the campground to reserve my spot with a cash stuffed envelope and I run into the campground host, a man with Santa beard and belly in a smart cap, driving a decorated golf cart. We chat and he tells me that he used to bike tour when he was younger and then tells me about a pair of teenage girls that were at the campground the week before, as they were attempting to kayak around the entire lake. Yet again, I am humbled. I tell him that I’m off to sent up my tent then bike to Wilcox for fried fish. He nods with approval and wishes me a lovely dinner as I ride back to my site, set up camp and snug my panniers behind my rain fly before bolting off on the six mile ride towards dinner.

Without my typical load, the miles fly by and I’m gulping in the fresh pine air and enjoying every second. I arrive around 5 PM to Wilcox, a FISHERMAN WANTED (MUST BE TRIBE MEMBER) sign in the window and I hold open the door for the couple who was leaving and we exchange a smile and quick joke. I’m the only person there, but it’s early and tourist season has long passed. I snag a seat near the window so I can gaze at my bike, order a ½ pound of fried whitefish, French fries with a coke. My placement offers explanations of all 12 zodiac signs, which amuses me as horoscopes and tarot are the current craze at home and where ever you’re going there you are, I suppose.

20160930_171013My seat is also located underneath a framed poster titled Shipwrecks of Lake Superior: Graveyard of the Great Lakes. The map is dotted with little ships that declare the name, date and number of fatalities of each shipwreck. It also mentions the reported UFO abductions that have taken place around the lake. The wait for fish drags a bit and the fact that this poster is providing the only distraction from my hunger is not very helpful. Eventually the heaping plate of fried fish arrived, fresh from the oil hot and with the cornmeal crunch in the coating. I’m on my second Coke and hoping that I will be able to sleep tonight with the caffeine and lake ghosts and childhood nostalgia pricing together in my brain. I vanquish the entire meal in less then ten minutes, pay my bill then hop back on my bike as dusk descends.

Belly full, deeply content, I roll into my campsite to see that the host left a bundle of firewood, old newspapers and matches for me while I was out. He’s a mind reader, that one! My heart is sloshing to the brim with warm fuzzies. I start to gather small sticks to make the classic triangle kindling set up and preciously tuck a few shreds of newspaper inside and strike the first match. The paper catches but goes out quick. I try again. Same result. Third time is still a failure and I feel the shame of an entire troop of Boy Scouts. Luckily, the host was just swinging by to see how I was enjoying my fire and noticed my situation. He quickly tears all the newspaper, piles on more wood and lights the whole thing to great success in mere moments. Another lesson learned: no need to be timid when making a fire. GO ALL IN. Once the fire is blazing my host bids me good evening and scoots off in his magical golf cart. I poke at the fire for a bit before walking the few meters to the beach. I sit and watch the sunset pool over the horizon and sincerely just enjoy that very moment. The rare one. Once I am filled up, I walk back to the fire and sit until my eyes start to feel heavy so I empty out my water bottle inside the ring and crawl in my tent to sleep. I can faintly hear the waves roll onto the beach.

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DISTANCE RIDDEN: 38 miles

SONG OF THE DAY: “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen