There is a deep velvet sound of purring next to my ears, the light outside my tent is still dim. It sounds too quick to be a cat, only if a cat had chugged an entire energy drink. I tell myself it is another one of those goddamn red squirrel bastards because I don’t have the courage to imagine any larger of an animal. Another day with a case of the grumpies and the echoes of dog barks at this hour doesn’t make any better. I’m in desperate need of some quality calories but I slug back another instant coffee and peanut butter pita and listen to the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to try to get my mind right for the day ahead. Camp comes together quick and I’m muttering encouraging words as I get back on the bike, up on highway 77 towards Grand Marais (the Michigan one!) and hopefully for a hardy lunch. It has also been almost two days since I’ve seen the lake, which also deeply affects my mood. That big blue water is my main motivator.
I wind up in town around 11:30, half nuts from hunger and a need to use the bathroom. I pull my bike up to the first pub I see and on their door it says they don’t open until noon and I’m reluctant to wait but I peer in the windows and the Fox News blaring from all of their mounted flatscreens turns my stomach. I find another diner on Google Maps, one that looks like it has my sort of hippie food, I’m hopefully for a plate with a properly prepared vegetable. I bike five blocks to the diner, which is just a permenantly stationed mobile home build outward. I go toward the front door but that appears to not work and then I have to walk around to the back and then up a small set of rickity wooden stairs. I get inside and scan the menu and absolutely swoon with all the options. The place is packed with people and I’m ravenous. Within a few minutes, the host returns to the front and tells me that they are closing for the day. It is not yet noon. What? Oh yeah, we’re just done for the day. Like they just didn’t feel like cooking anymore so ya know, shut ‘er down. I’m too tired to be angry, I hop back on my bike and go to the first restaurant that I see, which is another pub. This one is packed with wandering retirees and although there are six full tables there is only one server in the entire place and she is busting it. I order a cup of coffee and a gyro and sigh when non dairy creamer packets are placed in front of me, followed by a weak ass cup of coffee. Oh, it’s gonna be one of those days. The gyro comes eventually, not too soon as one of the retirees in the table next to mine decides to espouse his EXTREMLY sophisticated ideas about foreign policy based on half read newspaper articles and general xenophobia. It is hard for me to chew and roll my eyes at the same time, so I finish up and pay as quickly as possible and head off towards the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. I’ve regretted the fact that this trip has missed a lot of the Beautiful Scenic Things and I’m excited to finally take in some official sites of splendor. I start rolling and I’m getting my levels balanced again, with a beautiful view of the lake and the sunshine with a beautiful autumn breeze. The leaves have started to change so there are patches of orange and yellow that soothe my frustrations.
At some point in my chill wander I end up wandering off the scenic road, a fork in the road and took the wrong one. I am a few miles in before I realize my dumb mistake and instead of enjoying soaring views I’m stuck in another day of miles among the trees. I try not to be petty about it, as I am still in a beautiful forest right that is paint brushed with autumn colors but still with a warm breeze so I don’t need to wear my wool layer quite yet. I honestly have nothing to complain about. The next time the road loops back towards the lake, I pull over at the next wayside and rest my bike and limp down a small flight of wooden stairs to a newly built observation deck.
I sit down and stretch out my legs and take photos of my swollen knees to send to my dad, hoping for a medical second opinion.
I enjoy the relatively clean flat space to stretch, from being hunched over on the bike to snug in a narrow single tent, it’s rare that I actually get to stretch out. My right knee is practically sloshy with inflammation and I’m frustrated by my inability to feel well and anxious of being able to keep pedaling. I do some half hearted yoga poses, deep breathe for about three minutes then remind myself I need to keep moving. I get back on my bike, the stretch only moderately improving my mood. I turn my headphones into Purple Rain and wait until Darling Nikki, which usually at least let’s me crack a small smile but nothing slides on my face. No deep sex howls or visions of Prince’s oily chest or black lace gloves remove me from my funk. I keep pushing and soon I see a sign PAINTED ROCKS CLIFFS – 15 MILES. And Musing is only 16 miles away! Oooooh weee! 15 miles? I could do that! It would be tough but I’ve made it through more difficult miles. I laser in on these miles with incredible focus, pooling all my pessimism to the bottom of my big toe and pushing with the image of big majestic nature scenes dancing my head. My knees are throbbing and the sun is descending quick but I know I can make it. Maybe I’ll get a magical sunset!
The miles pass and I reach the end of those tough 15 when I see another sign PAINTED ROCK CLIFFS–and the dumb arrow points to the right–6 MILES. Are you fucking kidding me? I abandon all hopes of a postcard view and refocus on making the last mile or so to Musing. Like most larger town on Lake Superior, the ride into Musing is marked by a hilly descent and I ride out every inch of that downward momentum and I’m surprised to find a bike trail at the bottom of this hill, which I use to ride into town. It stops randomly near a small factory and I return to the road for about a half block before getting right back on it. Oh, infrastructure. What must you be constantly built by small minded bureaucracies? Once I reach the center of town, I am cruising the main street and I see the most optimistic sign of the entire day: CAFÉ/BOOKSTORE. I cross both lanes of the street in a blink, lean my bike against the front window and walk in to such a delightful oasis. Right side is a small town café with ice cream and coffee and sandwiches and the left is a massive bookstore and the other room is packed with elders hanging out, listening to music. I make a quick joke and order a portabella mushroom sandwich with chips and a decaf coffee and then a hot fudge sundae plunked on top of a brownie raft. I leaf through a free paper from Marquette, filled with one of my favorite genres of writing: small town columns about nothing/everything. There is a five piece band toward the front of the store, lots of guitars and some violins and a bass, playing folk songs or the occasional hippie burnout anthem. No one here is under the age of 45 except for one teenager with her mom and grandparents and the serving staff. I am surrounded about books about the UP and Lake Superior, it’s own particular type of culture. During the last song of the bands set, one table breaks out a bunch of mini tambourines and the entire place claps and rattles along with the beat. I feel completely defeated. I keep rhythm by softly slapping my knee. I exchange a few words with a woman with long grey hair and a small bandage on her right cheek, which reminds me of Nelly. She wasn’t making much sense. I hope she didn’t have a concussion.
Ate a hot fudge sundae in about four gulps to the stares of the women at the table next to me. —-wrote a status about giving the fuck up while hiding tears from a room full of geriatrics. I predict my body only has 6 days left and I’ll end up somewhere between Ashland WI and Duluth. I request people to send me kind things.
I bike to a nearby cheap motel, $75 a night and the ice machine doesn’t work so nothing for my aching knees. They give me a room on the second floor where I can’t roll up my bike and tell me I can store my bike in their unlocked garage. My heart just about leaps through my chest at leaving this bike out of my eyesight, it hasn’t left my side for more than an hour in a very long time, but I have no choice. I lean my bike in the garage, close the door and say a quick prayer. I get up to the room and unpack and the smell that emits from all of my gear is horrendous. These are some deep stinks, I haven’t had laundry since Thunder Bay. The shower is hot, which my soreness enjoys and the soap doesn’t smell like disinfectant like some of the other cheap motels. I scrubbed off a good filth layer and then slid under the crisp sheets in the queen sized bed. I can’t figure out the TV, a remote with too many button and there isn’t a coffee machine in the room. As I stretch out under a soft down comforter I make myself do the calculations and during 24 days on the road (including one rest day) I have ridden 1,111 miles (approximately).
I post on social media, requesting words of encouragement or upbeat songs or anything to fuel me through these last few days in the UP. I receive messages from old high school buds playing our forgotten jams, cute gifs and kind words from friends and my relative Bzur shares my story with his bike riding group, who all provide such hardy encouragement. Bzur himself provides me with a hardy pep talk via messages, his can-do California optimism burning a citrus bright hole through my storm cloud. I’m exhausted….but I’m holding on.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 63 miles
SONG OF THE DAY: Your Love is My Drug by Ke$ha