I wake up still feeling buoyed by all the virtual support that poured in last night as I sat in the fluffy hotel bed, hunched over a tiny cell phone screen. There is a warm fuzzy energy, gleaned from very single person who has sent me heavy metal rippers, encouragement texts, throwback high school jams and sweet messages. Regardless of the emotional uplift, my physical body is still absolutely tired and just want to snug back into the fluffy down comforter and take a lazy rest day instead of biking through rain. Then again, when I have been daunted by drizzle? I drink down the morning protein powder in lukewarm water and pack up my panniers, a little anxious about my bike left overnight in the motel’s garage. When I get to the garage door, my heart is pounding but ol’ bikey is still there, waiting for me to come scoop him up. I get him suited up for the day ahead and we ramble across the street to a bagel shop for some breakfast.
Bagels are a high school nostalgia food, and when you grow up in the Midwest, it is a jaw aching bread chew and sweet cream cheese memory. I order a toasted blueberry bagel (ONE, WHY ONLY ONE) with cream cheese smear and a large coffee which I dress with cream and sugar until it is as pale as my familiar double doubles. I slurp and chew while sighing over my tattered paper map, imagining the soggy day ahead. A middle aged couple sitting at a nearby table notice by neon rain jacket and hit me with a standard whatchadoin’. The woman’s eyes grow tea saucer wide when I tell them of my journey and it is one of the few moments which I remember that bike touring is absolutely absurd to the general population. Maybe it’s even absurd to myself at this point, but I need to buy my own lie. I end the brief conversation with a smile, swing the last bit of coffee and pirate swagger out that front door. YOU’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND THE OPEN ROAD, NORMALS! The rain is spitting and I cinch my jacket hood close as I begin the daily grind.
Luckily, most of the first few hours is a gentle downhill cruise, but my body doesn’t feel any relieved by it. The only light moment of the morning comes when I spot another biker outfitted with lightly loaded mountain bike with a frame bag, on the other side of the road, climbing upward to my easing downward. We throw out a quick wave to one another through the rain drops and I feel grateful that I’m on the slope down while that poor sucker is grinding up hills. Ah well, he looked young and rugged.
The road sticks close to the lake and l’m stopping at almost every wayside there is and I’m finally able to drink plenty of water instead of my typical sips because I know there will be blessed state-funded bathrooms along this scenic road. Even with the rare hydration and the companionship of the grand lake, I’m still feeling plum tuckered out. My typical psychological tricks are losing their potency.
I regret leaving that bed but I know that if I rest my body, it’s likely I’ll just give up completely or get cut off due to cold weather. Time is running out, both in the ability of my body to withstand and the deep smell of winter creeping in the breeze. I stop to eat peanut butter and a pita by the lake for lunch while sitting at that weather beaten picnic table, I feel a deep longing for home. I miss the faces of my friends, cups of coffee on the Mayday patio, the dumb geese in Powderhorn Park and the neighborhood taqueria and it’s beef tongue burritos. I just want to be around PEOPLE.
I decide to keep moping on the bike and after a few more hours of heavy heart pedaling, I finally link up to a bike path.
The bike path is slick, likely funded with some tourism dollars and it rolls along next to the lake and straight into the town of Marquette, a university town smooshed together with a quaint UP tourist vibe. I arrive in the early afternoon to a house on a hill close to campus and get a tour of my warm showers host for the evening, a student climbing cooperative.
First thing I notice when I step inside is how nice and new their things are. I’m used to junkyard punk house with a half dozen scrap part bicycles piled on a sloping porch and random beer cans chucked in hallways, but these young folks have a sizable library, pristine climbing shoes stacked by the door and even their “free box” of of unwanted goods is full of lightly used items that would cause a passive aggressive fight at any clothing swap. I am suspicious of the silver glint of parents cash glimmering from every corner, but I’m too tired to really care to form emotion about it. My host takes me through the house, rattling off procedures and there are quick introductions and awkward waves to people wandering in and out of the house. I quickly find out that this collective is really hyped on water management and I get a 10 minute explanation of the yellow mellow/brown down system for the bathroom toliet and they only flush with grey water collected in buckets from the kitchen sink and only hit the lever when it is absolutely necessary. Oh, and there is a clicker on their sink that I need to hit after each piss pass so they can calculate how much water they save with this system. The place houses about six people ( I honestly have no idea who actually lives here) and two dogs, two cats and a tank of fish in an indoor permaculture system. There is an entire section next to the house that is being built into a greenhouse and even this space is fairly neat for being in progress. My last boyfriend was one of these sorts of crunchy types, so I flip a tiny switch in my brain and let the memories flood in. With a breath, I divorce myself from sharp thought and instead sink into the moss mind of used TEVAS, tempeh stir fry and obsessive outdoor activity. Back on the physical plane, the entire first floor is completely open and one section has a climbing wall corner, with thick carpets and mats that provide cushion and that is where I will be sleeping. I shove my panniers in one corner of the house and immediately set to putting in a load of clothes into the washing machine, I don’t dare calculate how long it has been since they have had a proper wash. The washing machines are snug in the bathroom between shower and toilet and by the time I load all my stench clothes inside, I realize that there is no detergent. I try to talk to one of the housemates to see if they buy any in bulk (they feel like the Tub Of Dr. Bronner’s types) but they are in the kitchen arguing about the ethics of keeping fish in the permaculture system “in captivity”. It is a heated discussion considering it is afternoon and they are exchanging snot thick emotional arguments about the value of life which veers youth quick into whether a person has a right to take their own life. Flinging around discussion of suicide between turns of a grilled cheese sandwich on the stove, so incredibly sloppy. A good friend of mine was lost a year ago and he was one of the reasons I decided to go on this big dumb lake quest. I felt a deep twinge of anger at these young people and their absolute ignorance to this sort of grief and loss. That they are still able to discuss tragedies in the theoretical, instead of knowing the fading of a friend into a haze of memory. I decide to just walk to the co-op and buy these damn kids some laundry detergent, a sort of repayment for letting me crash for the night.
The co-op is only one block away but by the time I round the corner, I start to feel woozy. I obviously need to eat, as I’ve only packed away pitas and bagels today, nothing to fuel angry muscles. I feel overwhelmed in the co-op, with all the piles of fresh vegetables and the bulk bins and the massive beer selection. I know I can’t make any decisions until I eat and so I just buy a jug of laundry detergent and a dark chocolate bar. I shuffle over to the chairs next to the front windows and wolf down every bit of chocolate, praying that I don’t pass out. I still feel very woozy when I finally pull myself up and I wander back to the house with the jug of detergent, determined to do some damn laundry. I place a load in the machine, plop on the couch in a daze and one of the housemates, offers me a cup of herbal tea. Her words aren’t warm, robotic from what must have been a summer of strange visitors, but I take her up on the offer and soon I’m sipping a hot cup, surrounded by the animals of the house. The pup on the floor is in twitchty paw snoozes and the cat plunked to my right on the couch just mew yawned and covered her face to block the sunlight.
I spot a Barbara Ehrenreich book on the shelf and dive in, as I know she is an incredible writer. Ten minutes into my book, a young dude comes in and sit on the couch opposite mine and starts conversation with an ease of someone who is not yet bored by small talk. I’m almost started to hear myself talking, as I’ve been screaming inside my own head for days. I ask about his studies and he is passionate about environmental management and anthropology and genuinely expresses interest in the Peace Corps (in 2016! isn’t that a marvel!). He is so incredibly earnest it makes my teeth hurt. We float out of conversation when his friends arrive and I stay plunked on the couch until I gather up every scrap of energy. I stand and declare to the housemates that I was going to walk to the corner to the Little Cesars and consume an entire Hot N’ Ready pizza and maybe get some beer (YEAH) and the alpha male of this motley group (of all the blond dreadlocks, his were the largest) loudly scoffs at me and shouts that he doesn’t understand how I could eat that gross cardboard food. “That isn’t fuel, it’s just garbage.” Yeah well fuck you, dude. I can barely walk due to exhaustion so I’m pretty limited in what I can get. This young buck is lucky I don’t have a scrap of fight left in me. I just blankly nod and walk out the door.
I decide to get beer first since it is an uphill walk to the liquor store and I trudge up those entire mighty five blocks. I spend 10 minutes dumb looking at all the beer I don’t recognizing, trying to remember what type of beer I liked and attempting to quick read all these different labels while lightheaded. After finally just pulling a “fuck it” and grabbing a six pack, I head to the register and the clerk asks to see my ID. MY ID. Still snug secure in a gallon plastic bag in one of my panniers. I try to squint my wrinkles and try a quick joke but the clerk is stern, I imagine from the amount of dumb stories slung by local college students. I abandon the beer and walk back down the hill towards pizza when I realize that the college kid is right and I should probably find some more substantial eats. I search on my phone for Mexican food, still daydreaming of Minneapolis burritos, and I decide on a Tex Mex place near the center of town. When I arrive I realize that the place is stodgy with white table cloths and heavy drapes and servers who call me “amiga” and I am extremely uncomfortable as I mow down all the chips and salsa and wait for my massive platter of enchiladas to arrive. The enchiladas arrive cheese drenched with minimal flavor and I regret not just going for the $5 pizza. The plate is clean in an awkward eight minutes and I start the walk back to the cooperative when I notice a frozen yogurt parlor. Typically, I’ve very neutral in the face of frozen treats but at this point I’m trying to eat more calories and maybe cheer myself up a bit. I walk inside and to the left of the door is a table of six stupidly handsome men in expensive suits playing a game of UNO. I’m intrigued, confused and aroused but try to focus on dessert. It is one of those frozen yogurt places where you pay by the pound and so I load up a bowl with chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt and stack it with crunchy caramel bits, snickers, marshmallow creme and white chocolate syrup for good measure. I chat with the cashier, as I can tell she is as bored as I am and I ask her about working in a tourist town (hard to get a day off!) and then I gesture toward the heat in the corner with a crude joke and she tells me that those men are in town for an NFL playoff game, hence the nice suits. Emboldened by the sugar flowing through my blood streaming and wearing my cleanest dress (this is a very relative clean), I wander over to the dude pool and try to chat them up. If I have but one mantra in life, it is SHOOT YOUR SHOT. You never know if you are someone’s type of cute! My usual tricks fall flat to this group of tight suits and I can only make one of the pair of cheekbones smile, he is Swedish blonde and seems to understand I’m only out for a laugh. I look down at my fast melting fro yo puddle and my dirty lime green rain jacket and decide to slink out the door with a small scrap of dignity.
I head back to the house and all of them are flopped on couches, watching anime on a large screen TV in the living room. Still trying to make the best out of a terrible night, I stand at the imaginary mic and swing a few jokes out into the crowd about hitting on a hockey team and yet again, the Dude with the Blond Dred grunted a “ugh why would you want those guys they are the dumbest and worst.” NO YOU ARE KEVIN. YOU ARE THE VERY WORST. At least Peace Corps guy generously provides a few laughs at my banter and then I just wander back to the climbing corner and fall face first into the piles of old rugs. I listen to the burbles of the permaculture system as my body sinks and I spread my limbs outward and sleeeeep.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 45 miles
SONG OF THE DAY: “Wagon Wheel” for I am in the North Woods surrounded by the flannel and activewear clad masses and they demand their anthem.