“Those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate, even inaccurate idea, by hearing it spoken of as a ‘lake,’ and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sounds positively ludicrous. Though its waters are fresh and crystal, Superior is a sea. It breeds storms, and rain and fogs, like the sea. It is cold in mid-summer as the Atlantic. It is wild, masterful, and dreaded as the Black Sea.” Rev. George M. Grant, 1873
I don’t know when the idea, fully formed, popped into my head. I cannot remember who was the first person I told that yes, I was going to do it. I am known for dreaming up schemes and never completing them but this one stuck. Maybe it was Lael Wilcox’s smile that convinced me. Or that black wool cycling cap and handlebar feedback that I won about a bikepacking event back in the winter of 2015. Or a zine on biking the Pacific Coast that I read over and over. Or a blog post about a journey to San Francisco. Another woman’s year of striving and this one’s terrible bike tour. There were many deep seeds planted in my mind for about five years until the decision became obvious. I would bike from Minneapolis to Duluth (inspired by Lael Wilcox’s ride from her home in Alaska to the start of the TransAm race in Oregon) and then from Duluth I would ride clockwise around Lake Superior, through rural Ontario and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a bit of Northern Wisconsin then DONE! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
The real reason for this trip was that I was absolutely struck with grief. A friend had died suddenly the year before and a romantic relationship dissolved painfully and I was stuck gripping onto a life that I didn’t want. I needed to leave Minneapolis to provide some distance between myself and the odd pit I had dug myself and the only way I could focus on getting up and out was to remove all distractions. A desolate rural highway on a bicycle seemed to be a perfect solution.
To say I was unprepared for this trip is a deep understatement. I had only ridden one century before, on my single speed out of early morning rage and frustration. I had never gone bike camping and felt only moderately comfortable cranking on bikes with gears. I had no set route, I just grabbed a free paper map of Lake Superior in Duluth and used that to find my way, coupled with last minute Google map searches and asking tourist weary locals for their suggestions. Completely unfamiliar with sport nutrition, I survived on ramen noodles and gummi candies and instant coffee. This is the Bike Tour That Shouldn’t Have Been. I was unaware how important cheesy mantras are to completing any sort of difficult task, that you really have to genuinely believe in the inevitability of your own success to get anywhere.
I never considered myself an athlete or a writer. Now I have enough evidence to the contrary then when I am filled with doubt, all I have to do is look at my tattered map of Lake Superior, stained with coffee drips and marked with shaky ballpoint pen, to refute any anxiety gremlin. I know how to swallow fear and push onward, that I am capable of pushing out another 40 miles when I think I’m not able to go another city block. That my breaking point is much higher that I could ever conceive before.
Last week, I decided to start swimming again, which I hadn’t done for over 15 years. I was flailing and wheezing through the laps, trying to places my limbs in poses that were long forgotten, breaststroke, backstroke, CRAWL. I had made it through nine laps and that internal imp wondered if I could make it to an even ten. PSSHHHH YOU GOT THIS, answered a sweaty sunburnt voice in the back of my head as I pushed off the side of the pool, gliding through the water to the next edge.