Woke up at 7 am, hopeful for continental breakfast and some quality time in the sauna. Oooh, would that feel great on my sore muscles! I head toward the dining room to snag a quick breakfast and there are swarms of children, it is packed. The food options are terrible, just a lone waffle machine that is being fought over by a pair of siblings and other dry carbohydrates: cereal/bagels/toast. I toast a plain bagel until it is barely blond and fill up a cup with coffee and flee back to my room. I start to munch on the bagel while I go over to my bike, which is sunk to carpet with a very obvious rear flat. NO SAUNA FOR ME. I just sigh and turn on Ocean’s 11 on the TV and start cranking on my bike while sipping coffee. I was never deeply confident with my mechanical skills before leaving on tour and maybe this is because I am all out of petty insecurities, but I change the flat without much fuss. My first time changing a rear tire on a bike with gears! I find the culprit of the flat, a tiny silver staple poking out of the rubber of the tire. I don’t know whether I should feel misfortunate on having a flat on my last day of tour or if I should be thankful this didn’t happen until I arrived safe and sound to the hotel last night. The weather is absolutely gorgeous outside and I chug one last cup of coffee before leaving right at check out time at 11 am. In the parking lot I run into a grey haired hippie couple in a minivan and they wave and told me that they drove past me last night and were happy that I arrived in Ashland in one piece. I tell them that TODAY IS THE LAST DAY and they are so enthusiastic and cheer me as they roll out of the parking lot. It is a boost of confidence that makes my afternoon miles feel light and breezy.
I stopped near the lake a few miles in and ate a power bar while just marveling at the lake, realizing that soon I would be back in the city and I wouldn’t have her comfort anymore. Highway 2 is busy with apple festival folks and fall color gawkers driving home, but traffic never gets too obnoxious. Surprisingly, my body isn’t in too much pain and I’m just trying to soak in all the final miles with the flaming leaves and tall birches. The miles flow by and eventually I stop in the afternoon for some snacks and a 4 pack of Surly Furious, as I imagine by the time I get to Duluth most everything will be closed. I realize how comfortable I am in gas station parking lots and how I walk with my shoulders tall and strut with such strange confidence.
Later in the afternoon I was cruising down the highway when I notice a car in front of me slow down and then pull onto the shoulder. It was odd and when you’re alone on a bike, odd means “I’m going to unzip my fanny pack and find my knife”. I get my fingertips on the knife and keep my head hi as I pass the car with good distance (don’t want to be snatched!) and from the front window I hear “HEY LAUREN!!” I look and it is my dad’s friend Peter in the drivers seat with a few other guys in the car. I blink hard and readjust from my fight or flight instinct, confused at seeing someone I know. He tells me he is on the way home from Bayfield where he was sailing for the weekend and that he saw me on the side of the road and thought “hey, I wonder if that is Lauren….” and wouldn’t you know it, it was me! He gets out and gives me a big hug, the second one I’ve received this entire trip. I almost cry talking to him, I’m just so excited to see a friendly face. My brain is still mushy from last night’s adrenaline rush, so I make awkward conversation with everyone in the car, but they seem to understand. It’s hard to form sentences after spending so much time alone in your own head. I let them go on their way as I have many miles still until Duluth and Peter offers to take a photo of me while I bike down the highway. I smile and hop on my bike as they drive forward a little bit and then Peter leans next to the car, snapping photos as I ride by with a very big smile.
I rolled into Superior, Wisconsin around dusk, I’ve visited once before but it was a few years ago so I’m not super sharp on where exactly I am. Because it’s Sunday evening everything is closed and the streets are empty and I keep pulling over to glance at Google Maps, trying to figure out how I am going to get across the bridge into Duluth. I remember someone telling me there is a pedestrian path that can also be used for bikes but I can’t seem to find it.
I keep getting turned around and I’m starting to feel the miles of the day. I am trying to stay positive but nothing makes me more anxious than riding around empty streets at dusk. I did get a beautiful sunset, but my mind was too focused on trying to get into Duluth before dark to really appreciate it.
I eventually took Highway 2 over, as I completely missed the nice pedestrian/bike path that exists. If I could ask for one thing, it would be that cities loudly label their bike path entrances and exits, I don’t understand the rationale for keeping them half hidden. I’m aware as I bike across the bridge that this is likely illegal and definitely dangerous, but I’m beyond the point of concern. This is my goddamn finale.
I wanted to feel more emotion when I finally saw the sign announcing Duluth. I wanted to feel complete or whole or accomplished but I couldn’t even squeeze out a few tears. I was holding onto two completely contradictory thoughts: I never thought I’d make it and I always knew I would. I try to snap a decent photo of the sign and then finish the bike across the bridge.
Once I made it across and past my other personal finish line (the Bent Paddle taproom), I was downtown and a bit lost on exactly how to get to Allyson and Sarah’s house. I pull over to search Google Maps when I hear this annoying deep thud of speaker system cruise by. I wrinkle my nose but don’t think anything of it as I finally figure out my route and push off down the street. Then I notice the car in front of me and it starts to slow down, which causes me to stop. The car stops completely and watermellon scented vape smoke pours out from the windows. I try to wave them on but the car stays still. I unzip my fanny pack and reach for my knife and start to shout WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT and I’m shaking, realizing that I don’t have the energy to fight if someone steps out of that car. Slowly the car rolls forward and once they move around the corner. I realize I need to get the fuck out of downtown immediately. I try to bolt but I am at the base of the Very Large Hill that is Duluth and my friends’ house is at the top, about twenty blocks away. I start biking but soon realize that even on my lowest gear, I’m just tiring myself out and not moving much. I get off my bike and shove it up the hill, breathless and pouring sweat inside my wool layers. Since I’m on a major street I’m still worried about that car finding me and I don’t know Duluth well enough to sneak around. I try to use the adrenaline to my advantage but I am so incredibly tired. I finally make it to the top of the hill and I am gasping for breath when I look up and see the night sky thick with stars. It is incredibly gorgeous. I try to breathe it all in and not let that stranger in the car ruin my night, my big dumb finale.
I walk into the familiar house with Sarah in the kitchen and get a warm greeting from Romeo the cat and Ellie the dog. “wWe honestly didn’t think you’d make it”, she says. We both drink a beer in the kitchen as I try to make conversation like a normal human and fail deeply. I eventually stumble upstairs to take a shower and it takes me an actual five minutes to figure out that the hot and cold water knobs are reversed, I just sit there letting ice cold water splash onto my toes as I try to understand what is happening. I feel deeply embarrassed for wasting so much water and just take a quick shower to get the road dirt off. I slide back into the guest room and sigh as I lay down on the big fluffy bed, thick with winter blankets. I don’t even bother to check my phone before I fall asleep.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 78 miles
SONG OF THE DAY: “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill