Intoxicated by the blood rushing mix of double doubles still thumping in my veins late into the night, the violent creaks of trees straining against the torque of strong wind and whipping leaves and the rush of rain above my head. These forces create a monstrosity in my head, a dark syrup of lust which I cannot recognize as anything but primal. Unable to define them as dreams but more as visions as they appear vivid behind my eyelids. I eventually find an edge which I grasp and pull myself towards the morning and the rain slows to a gentle patter and I cannot believe that those two trees didn’t snap in two. Tiny slugs are crawling on the mesh screen of my tent and when I open my mess kit they are inside there as well, stuck to the orange plastic of my cup and in the bottom of the rubber lined bag and I accept their dominance in this, their kingdom of wet. I spend a few minutes pickin’ and flickin’ ’em onto the slick grass and touch my socks that I had hung up to dry inside my tent the night before and they are just as waterlogged. Back on my feet they go, along with my damp rain jacket and cargo shorts, I’ve only a few items that are still dry and I can’t use them until the rain is over. I roll out around 9 am, Ontario becoming a Groundhog’s Day nightmare of murderous cars, sugary carbs and rain rain rain.
The highway starts to dip towards the lake and I clench the handlebars through some winding curves as the rain mutates from a quiet mist to something I can feel pinging on my sleeves. I cinch tight my handlebar bag full of gummis and remind myself to keep drinking water, which seems silly when I am so wet. On the mountain sides the occasional trickle have now started to gush into miniature waterfalls and pocket of bright red leaves on trees seem to flash warning. The rain grows more ferocious with each kilometer and even after tightening each opening of my jacket, the wind find any spare centimeter and creeps in with a wet spray. The raindrops are thick on my glasses and I eventually zip them into my pocket so I’m blinking through the storm. None of my cheery songs or “gosh isn’t this awful!” faux optimism can combat this weather. After a few hours of struggle, I pull over to a picnic area and it is empty save for a pick up truck parked in one corner of the lot.
I immediately take shelter in a solid wood kiosk that holds pamphlets about the park and features giant maps of the park under thick plastic on either end as well as a small shelf and collection box for fees. I begin to unpack my panniers to find dry clothing as I have started to shiver deep and I need to get warm fast. After pulling everything out I realize that my thick oatmeal colored sweater is nowhere to be found and I’m searching my brain for where I must have left it but it doesn’t matter. It was my warmest piece of clothing and now I’ll just have to make do with layering what I have. I grab my stove and start heating up water for some ramen and let my body adjust to rest, I’m still weary after spending the morning biking in brutal rain. I eat the ramen with more salami and it just makes me more hungry and the broth heat in my stomach reminds my limbs of how cold they really are. I start to shiver again and I know that I need to bring my body temperature up as soon as possible and consider breaking open my emergency blanket that I have stashed at the bottom of one of my panniers.
I sprint the few feet to where my bike is leaned up to grab my sleeping bag and pad. I let the pad inflate as I drape my dripping wet gear from the shelf and collection box and then peel the wet layers off my body and change into my wool long sleeve shirt and pant which I usually reserve for bedtime. I seal up the pad, unfurl my sleeping bag and stuff myself inside, still shivering. After a few minutes of trying to remember tropical beaches and mentally push memories of humid Carnival days into my toes, a minivan rolls into the parking lot and it parks near the beach. A man gets out and wanders around for a few minutes and looks towards my makeshift hovel and eventually gets back into his van and then as he is leaving he idles near the kiosk and waves me over to his open window, waving a candy bar in one hand. “Here, I want you to have this. A day like this, you’ll need to keep your sugars up!” It is a generic slab of milk chocolate with almonds, something purchased for a high school band camp fundraiser. “I just got it, it isn’t old or anything” he affirms although I have zero concern about the chocolate quality. I thank him and he has a Deep Concern face as he closes his window and slowly drives away.
As a sit snug up in my sleeping bag, more cars drive into the lot and again perform the same series of motions as the first visitor. Step out of car, wander around for fifteen minutes then back in their toasty warm vehicles, never once looking over in my direction. I can see a bit of the beach through the trees from the kiosk and it looks to be gorgeous. The rain sputters on and off and I consider getting back on my bike for a few more kilometers, especially since this isn’t a sanctioned camping area, but I have a chill to my very bone marrow and I imagine it would be much more irritating for park staff to have to deal with a hypothermic bike tourist than one who discreetly camps for one night. I heat up another pot of water for cheesy noodles, slowly feel warmth coming back to my body and waiting for the rain to completely stop so that I can set up my tent.
While I’m cooking my pot of cheesy noodles, two young dudes appear with a chocolate lab on a leash and head towards the parked pick up truck. One of them waves and approaches my squat in slow strides and starts chatting with me. He is wearing thick framed glasses and has long wavy brown hair and is the closest thing to the boys at home I’ve seen in a long while. I ask what the heck they are doing outside on a day like today and it turns out they are forestry workers, they get cash for each tree they measure so while I was out there feeling the weather’s fury on the road, they were clutching onto trunks deep in the woods. He asks where I am from and when I tell him I’m here from Minneapolis, he tells me that he likes to go skiing in Lutsen and I remember that for a north woods fella like him, Minneapolis is a giant metropolis. He also mentions that the year before he meet a woman on a unicycle about 30 km away from where I sit and that she had biked all the way there from Montreal. OH REALLY. Wellllllll, fuck. Just when I was feeling like a bad ass. I bet she scooted around on her unicycle while wearing a cute beret and singing jaunty songs or some nonsense like that. UNBELIEVABLE. Anyways, I was really attempting a low key flirt. I don’t know if it was his soft hair or that thick cozy sweater that he had on, but he looked like….he was heading to somewhere dry and warm. Visions of a roaring fireplace and a bowl of soup warming my hands danced in my head. Oh take me with you, prince of the trees! Just as my charm started to set in, the other dude rambles over with the chocolate lab puppy, who had the signature lab walk of just a muddling pile of limbs tripping over one another and shoving his neck as far forward as possible to keep maximum tension on the leash. Lab puppies always seem to be on the verge of exploding when they spot A) new humans or B) ground level food scraps and I was scoring high in both categories. His owner was a gruff man with one of those beards that seems like it rambled out of the woods and attacked it’s owners face, only leaving a space for eyes out of mercy. There was a cigarette poking out of a small opening in the beard and a few sounds tumbled out, I think it was the name of the puppy. He stayed a few paces away from the kiosk, as if I was a stray raccoon that he spotted in the backyard and didn’t want to get too close in case I attacked in a rabid frenzy. The flirty mood between me and the soft haired one died and they soon said their goodbyes, climbed into the truck and rolled off. Don’t say I didn’t try to snag a fella, Uncle Bob.
The rain had stopped so I ventured out from the kiosk and scouted a perfect spot to place my tent for the night. There was a grove of trees halfway between the parking lot and beach which featured a soft forest floor without any puddles and the overwhelming fresh air smell that seems to dive deep into the lungs. I quickly set up my tent and transfer all of my things from the kiosk to underneath the rain fly, although I leave behind the soggiest of my clothes to continue to dry out, although I’m a little nervous to keep them there as tourists roll through every thirty minutes and since each scrap of gear is precious, I can’t afford lose anything to someone with sticky fingers. But at this point I desperately need one or two pieces of clothes to get decently dry so that I can wear them tomorrow, so I push my anxiety aside and start exploring the beach.
Katherine Cove is absolutely gorgeous and was worth every ounce of stinging rain to get here.
There is a small point structured with thick rock which can be accessed by a small path through the trees. As I’m wandering along, a scrap of violet appears on the forest floor and I cackle as I shove aside branches and stoop towards that lovely bit of color. It is my favorite fungi, the Cortinarius violaceus, which I first found on that Superior hiking trip last fall.
I keep low and keep my eyes to the ground as I wander further off the path and I find so many fungi friends, I clap my hands with glee each time and take terrible cell phone photographs that can’t capture their beauty but I am so delighted by them.
The mycology fanatic in my life once described mushroom hunting as “land snorkeling” and it is one of the best ways to describe the slow hovering and admiring these gems. Oooh, and I spotted some more slime, but I got lost trying to loop back and find an extra goey patch so these little dribbles are all I could photograph.
I eventually stop fan girl-ing around all the mushrooms and head back towards the beach where there are a few picnic tables and bolted wooden benches facing the lake. Only one has a dedication.
Damn. What a way to live a life. Is there any memorial better that a small metal plaque on a bench that faces the great Lake Superior? Why bother with a tombstone!
I sit on the bench and watch the sun go down while I rip into the Good Samaritan’s chocolate bar, which is impossibly delicious with such rich chocolate and crunchy almonds. I save a chunk for breakfast and then wander to my tent to read while in my sleeping bag, headlamp pointed onto the page. Snug in my bag when I hear a truck pull up and hefty male voices spill out of the doors and then there are footsteps outside of my tent. “oh look, a bike!” a man declares as if he found a dollar on a barroom floor. THAT’S MINE, I respond in one tough breath and he huffs “okay, okay, you’re fine where you are.” I didn’t know I needed his permission, as he obviously is not a park ranger, but there ya go. I wait until the footsteps push of towards another direction and I wonder if my voice sounded female or if he could spot a scrap of hot pink or anything on my bike that could give away my identity. I unlatch the safety on my can of bear spray that I keep next to my knife near the door of the tent. I try to keep reading but my mind is racing. Eventually the men’s voices move towards the parking lot and darkness deepens around my tent and finally finally finally I hear them as they zoom off. The rain starts as a whisper as I exhale and shut my eyes.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 40 km approximately
SONG OF THE DAY: “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from My Fair Lady—“warm face/warm hands/warm feet ooh wouldn’t it be loverly!”