Wind whips, rainy spatters start and the cold keeps me bundled in my sleeping bag for breakfast, enjoying a peanut butter, Nutella and banana pita. Mmmmm, sugar. It was a damn damp night and everything is quite soggy. When I finally unzip and head to the bathroom, I have to pivot around puddles around my campsite and my tent is completely soaked. I try not to let the crummy weather get into my head as I prepare for the day. I drink down a bowl of instant coffee, another bowl of chocolate protein powder with the last few sips adding the turmeric and black pepper, which seems to be helping as my knee isn’t baseball sized anymore.
I decide that there is no way in holy hell that I will be able to bike up to Copper Harbor and instead shoot for the Porcupine Mountains. I don’t know what exactly is passing through my head thinking that I could make it to Lake of the Clouds, but everybody needs to have a goal, however as delusional that may be. I still want to see all of the best bits of Lake Superior, but time keeps pressing down in the form of spent muscles and cold temperatures and I see the end closing in, whether it involves a Duluth finish line or not.
I shake off my tent and carefully pack it so it doesn’t get too much moisture inside and strap in the rest of my gear for a blustery day. I start biking and about an hour in I realize that google maps, my mortal enemy, has taken me on a long windey hill for no good reason. Even when selecting for bike routes in this part of the world, the app just pushes me off on random logging roads and has zero consideration for MY KNEES. I curse myself for not actually routing this dumb bike tour or learning how to read an actual map and then the REAL WIND starts to kick up. I try to put on some music but nothing will distract me from the level of awful. I wait until the cold is unbearable and then I slip on the stretchy black gloves I stowed in my fanny pack. I have very few smart planning moves during this trip, but I am sure glad that I held onto these gloves even when I got rid of most everything else in my panniers. Today, these 99 cent knit beauties are saving me.
The temperature is maaaybe in the 40Fs at this point, with the wet and wind making it feel much worse. I never check the weather report on my phone, as things move quick next to the lake and it is much wiser to always been ready for a sudden downpour than to expect sunshine and get soaked. On one of these terrible hills, I spot a woman running out to the mailbox and she is practically sideways bracing herself against the wind. I see her and smile and try to crack a joke and she looks at me like I am absolutely insane and darts back towards the house without even a wave. At this point, the delusion I have built around myself these past few weeks is fully apparent. I am the emperor without clothes. The idiot against the wind. I grab one of the nice, whole wheat tortillas in my bag and eat it quickly. Today I cannot afford to lose momentum.
The wind keeps whipping and I get some close buzzes by passing pick up trucks on empty back roads, which stir up my anger. I’m barely able to clutch onto my bike and some idiot in a weatherproof couch cave on wheels can’t bother to move over a bit? Fistfuls of gummis from the handlebar pouch and a gut rumble FUUUUCK YOOOOU to the exhaust clouds of rude trucks is the best I can do to soothe myself. I pass by lines of super straight trees, telltale signs of logging country. Soon the road curves and the trees fade away and I’m in a stretch of farmland, which is something that I haven’t seen much of during this tour. A V formation of geese honk overhead, flying towards home. I have Juana Molina playing in my headphones as the wind whistles and whitetail deer bound by to the thump of a bass guitar. A few more miles and there is group of black cows twitching their fuzzy ears and sticking close together. HELLOOOO COOOOWS, I shout into the window and they barely roll an eyeball in my direction.
I am almost energized by the relentless storm, determined to win against this giant wall of wind. I need to be eating more but all my focus is poured into moving my feet up and down, watching the miles go by inch by inch. I finally arrive in the town ofEnd Ontonagon Provincial Park at the edge of the town, which is well maintained. The road in I can see lake superior spitting with tons of waves, absolutely nuts, it is the sea.
I finally roll into the campground which is placed right next to the lake and as I roll past I notice some RVs parked near the shore, which is just bonkers. The head office is a freshly built wooden shack and with neat shelves of brochures and local maps tacked up on the walls. The man at the desk offers me a cup of coffee and gestures towards the plastic Halloween pumpkin filled with candy on the counter. Every wind slap of the day must be showing on my face. When I mention that I rolled up on a bike, he just starts to laugh and hands me a styrofoam cup of weak folgers, which was hot and welcome. He tells me that there are camping spots across the road that will be much quieter and I sigh with relief as I pay $15 and head back out once more. I head to the port a potty a few yards away and when my bare butt hits the metal toilet seat, I begin to laugh as I am absolutely weary and this has been the dumbest day.
As soon as I cross the road the winds hush to almost a whisper and I can hear myself think for the first time since this morning. I find a quiet spot towards the back and notice a power box where I can juice up my cell phone and solar panel charger. I am an electric outlet vampire, sucking up every bit of charge on my half dead devices and this electric box is an absolute relief. I shake out my tent and the wind zips off the last bit of moisture from the soggy morning.
I set some water to boil and then make a FANCY fish curry stew using a package of ramen noodles, a tin of Portuguese sardines (with all the oil) some dehydrated coconut milk and a bit of Vietnamese curry powder that I have carried this whole way. Oh and some chunks of fresh jalapeno for more heat. It is one of the best meals I’ve had the entire month.
After eating dinner I walk to the main bathroom and it is brand new and spotless. This campground is extremely well cared for and it seems like such a luxury after a long day. I stand next to the line of hand driers on the wall and slap the buttons and angle the hot air into my sweater and jacket for a sort of DIY sauna. I think of my friend in New Orleans, dancing in sweaty bars and I try my classic cheering up technique of awkward dancing. I turn up the music in my headphones and shimmy my ass and drop it low to the ground gingerly, as I don’t know if my knees will be able to twerk it back up to standing. Slowly, I pull it back up, the drum beat kicking up tired limbs. I passed my own test. If I can still work it low and come back up, I’m not down and out. Not yet.
I make it back to my tent, missing the hot air of the bathroom hand driers and slide into my sleeping bag. I feel my body go soft as I melt into the pine needle tender floor and listen to rumble of Lake Superior echo through the trees.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 75 miles
SONG OF THE DAY: Juana Molina’s Tiny Desk Concert. I ripped this MP3 from YouTube and has been in heavy rotation ever since.