big payback

DAY 19:

I awake to sunshine warming the inside of the tent and the soft sounds of calm waters licking the shore. I shake a few ants out of my plastic cup, notice that for the first time in a few days my rain fly is DRY and munch down the rest of that delicious chocolate bar. I spend a meditative few minutes on the bench down by the beach, eat two bananas and offer deep gratitude to the lake for her lessons and her mercy. My clothes are still in the kiosk (!!!) and are somewhat drier but nothing close to what I was hoping for. I strap them onto the top of my sleeping bag so that they can flutter in the wind and catch some strong sun. I push off further down Highway 17 through Lake Superior Provincial Park.

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Today is fucking gorgeous. The temperature is just cool enough that I won’t be sweating through water and a light sweater is all I need to keep away the chill from the breeze rolling off the lake. An hour into my ride and I stop and make an instant coffee with the last bit of water in the pouch and eat a peanut butter smeared pita while taking in the incredible view.

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Once all the calories and caffeine hit my belly, it is a merry cruise. Traffic is light and my mind is able to wander freely and I try to list off all the professional writers I know who write “serious stuff” but also write about food. Roxane Gay, Laurie Colwin and of course Nora Ephron, who once wrote an entire essay flaming her former boss Dorothy Schiff and then ends the piece with a recipe for beef borscht. Timeless. Effortless kilometers fly by and I soon end up at the Lake Superior Provincial Park visitor center in Agawa Bay.

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It is a brand new building with a spacious lobby, stuffed animal filled gift shop and a vast museum/educational section that leads to an enormous wooden porch and walkway that juts out to the lake. I buy 15 minutes of internet access and two Kerig pods that I can juice into hot coffee with the machine in the lobby. I have a deep dialogue with the adorable baby with their parents in the gift shop. After so man days without deep human conversation, I can really only interact with babies and dogs without getting overwhelmed. I log on to a desktop computer located near the spinning racks of books and I feel a certain nostalgia for my afternoons spent in internet cafes in Brazil, writing long emails to friends and family back home and keeping a close eye on the timer at the top of the screen. I log onto Facebook and see that my friend Mariah is rolling out on her own bike adventure today, she rode around Lake Superior last summer and provided me words of encouragement as I planned my trip and throughout this entire journey. Another cherry onto top of this hot fudge sundae of a day, knowing that she was out there pedaling along. A few more messages to friends, a quick message to some possible Warm Showers hosts and I log out and start browsing through the books.

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A local true crime thriller, oooooh! I flip through and discover that it is a juicy tale, of homosexuality, intrigue, a love triangle and MURDER. If I had room in my panniers, dear reader, I would have bought it in an instant. I instead buy a patch and pin, I used to collect them when I traveled to different state parks as a kid and a batch of postcards. I refill my coffee with the second kerig pod and wander to the Adirondack chairs on the porch and proceed to write some pretty smug postcards, especially the one to my old office. It is amazing how a bit of sunshine and caffeine will make you forget the knee aching, soggy butt hardships and pretend that everything is rainbows and tailwinds. I fill up all my water vessels with fresh water, which I didn’t have since the Tim Horton’s in Wawa and filled up my handlebar snack bag with the fancy trail mix that has hazelnuts and dried apricots and shifted around the drying clothes on the back of the bike. And we’re off!

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The leaves have finally started to show their fall colors and the highway has started to become speckled with swaths of bright red and deep orange. The road keeps close to the lake and soon I am cranking through the classic up and downs of the superior shoreline, each time I fly down a skull cracking incline I cry out HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS and seek protection from each of the orixás and hope that my drying t-shirt doesn’t fling off into my chain and make me pâté on the pavement. My knees start to ache and even the incredible views can’t keep my mind off my body for very long. This stretch of Highway 17 between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie is one of the most desolate parts of the entire circle tour, with minimal gas stations or rest stops. The ranger at the visitor center told me that many people who stop in are looking for something substantial to eat but all they really have is coffee and chips. I spot my first bottle of urine early on in the day and by mid afternoon I have counted five and that is only on my side of the highway. These gleaming yellow beacons serve as a way to measure the time and grinding kilometers as I groan up hills.

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Toward the end of the afternoon my sunshine delusions have been knocked down a few pegs by the climbs and I’m just pushing myself forward, hoping to get to somewhere suitable to camp. I pull off on a rough road and soon my tires are inches deep in sand and I pull my bike towards the beach, hoping to find a spot with a bit of privacy where I can set my tent but the entire area is thick with irritating flies, which is odd because I’ve barely dealt with bugs the entire trip. I try to lean my bike up against the only trees I can find, scrawny things but as soon as I let go of the handlebars it topples over and my panniers fling off and I’m knocking sand everywhere and my mood has boiled over to straight fussy. I decide to continue on down the road, hoping that my knees will behave long enough so I can make it to Pancake Bay, which has a provincial campground. I have minimal hopes for this campground, as the few campgrounds I’ve visited in Ontario were already closed and seemed to offer only the most basic services. Nevertheless, I keep pushing into my pedals and my knees screamed with pain and slow exhausted tears rolled down my cheeks. Finally, finally, I arrive to the Pancake Bay campground and head to the front office to pay for a campsite, which at this point I considered a novelty after so many nights of stealth camping. At the front desk, the ranger pulls out a map to indicate what campsites are available and it is enormous. She begins to rattle off information about the showers and coin operated laundry and I’m dizzy just thinking about such luxuries. I use my typical strategy and choose a site within limping distance of the bathrooms, as I don’t want to put my body through any more work once I dismount the bike. I slow cruise to the beach and the place is packed! There are RVs brimming with life, of slow playing radios and BBQ grills! A few folks wave as I bike by!

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view from the campsite

Each campsite I had their own beach access trail and my site was dry and clean and covered with soft pine needles. I unpack all of my panniers onto the picnic table, thrilled about being able to properly lay out all my gear and re-organize everything that I have been hastily packing during wet weather the last few days. I put a pot of water on to boil and head over to the beach for a few minutes to sink into the view before sunset.

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While standing on the beach I notice a couple further down, walking a fluffy golden retriever. They walk toward me with big smiles and I immediately tilt my body downward towards the dog and make cute noises. After a few seconds I remember the other humans and wave and smile and then slowly start to walk to my campsite. Minutes later as I’m stirring a pot of cheesy noodles and chewing the last hunks of the dreaded plastic brie, the couple comes up next to my table. “I see you like my dog, Charlie” the man voice is loud but cheerful, “here, watch him for a bit while we go for a walk.” He thrusts the leash into my lap as the dog sits next to me and begins to lean on my knees. Charlie isn’t a young pup, he has a few years that show in his graying muzzle but his coat is thick and curly and I stroke him gently while murmuring words onto the top of his head. He listened patiently, mostly concerned about the return of his owners, as I asked him questions and poured out silly love. The great thing about dogs is that unlike humans they do not question your affections or goofy emotions but instead have a built in hunger for these precious things and gobble them up. I feel such an enormous sense of relief, to unburden all of these stopped up emotions that I’ve carried for so many kilometers. And Charlie responded with a few sweeping tail wags, brushing the dirt onto my ankles. The couple returns and introduces themselves as Mike and Diane and invite me to their campsite later for some wine and cheese. I’m reluctant to accept because I’m still dusty and don’t know if I’ll have energy once the sun goes down, but they are insistent. And Charlie wags his tail. Oh, how can I resist that charmer! I promise to see them later.

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i am a poodle

I quickly polish off the cheesy noodles and then start in on the snarls in my hair, dragging my comb through 4 days of dirt and tangles. My bleach blond frays into a giant poof and I march to the showers to scrub off the grub layer. 20 minutes later and I’m Dr. Bronner’s (ALL ONE) fresh and in my cleanest clothes and the sun is dipping into the lake as I start to walk to Diane and Jack’s campsite. As I pass next to an RV with a bright blue light up maple leaf hanging from their retractable awning, a stout man calls out to me and recognizes me as the biker who rolled through earlier. I give him my five minute speech about the bike tour and he responds with a tale of a moose as big as a car! that he and his wife had spotted earlier and that he is a butcher by trade and is able to butcher them and did you know this is their first vacation in a long time, there was an illness but now they are here and they are grateful. His wife pops up from near the picnic table and both of them offer me shots of whiskey and cans of beer but I tell them that I’ve made other plans. I finally start back on the dark trail, skip in my step as I feel like the goddamn belle of the ball! Compared to awkward conversations in small town gas stations, this kindness is so heartwarming.

I walk for a few minutes and squint into the dark but soon find a roaring camp fire and a familiar dog. Diane and Mike warmly welcome me and pour a large plastic glass of boxed red wine and give me hunks of Costco white cheddar and banana chocolate chip muffins and my lap is overloaded with treats. Charlie is plunk down right next to me and Mike jokes about his disloyal dog and how he’ll latch on to any woman in the room. Really though, he’s just a sweetie and he’s wedged into the only spot between my chair and the fire pit. Soon I see a bit of orange flame and the silly pooch’s tail has caught fire. I gently stomp it out and shove him to a spot farther away from the heat. Mike and Diane are both freshly retired and from the Toronto area and talk to me about Trump (an American shame), the back story to Justin Trudeau (his mom was a wild child who danced at Studio 54 on the eve of elections), the perils of canned beef stew (not made for the human digestive system) and their international adventures and recent romance (they make glowing teenage eyes at each other all night). The conversation lingered late into the night and I sipped wine and talked about my travels and as my yawns grew deep, the whole crew walked me back to my campsite with tipsy giggles and flickering flashlights. I’m asleep as soon as I zip the tent closed.

DISTANCE RIDDEN: 80 KM

SONG OF THE DAY: “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young

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grind

DAY 15:

I woke up determined and appreciate my own impulse to pack seamlessly. I had visions of a real road warrior, with a slick routine, able to take down camp with two wrist flicks and a wink. I actually shoved everything into my panniers pretty quickly, but then again things are a lot easier when you’re not distracted by nibbles of banana or shoving a spoon of peanut butter into your face. My fast movements were motivated by visions of a greasy breakfast sandwich and another soothing dip into the wifi pool. I creep quietly through the resting RVs and roll the A&W. Although it is 9 am the same pulsing dance mix from the night before is shaking the house. There is a cluster of old men sipping coffee at one of the tables and I cannot imagine how their aged ears are taking this sound, which is borderline obnoxious. There is one woman at the front register and she is sprinting from drive thru window and coffee dispenser and back again. I order a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, hash browns and large coffee with two creams and two sugars, since they apparently don’t trust the consumer to dress their own coffee. I take a seat and start sucking at the wifi teat and a few minutes later the counter lady brings me my breakfast. I will not hesitate to say that this breakfast sandwich is one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. Not too greasy but substantial enough to make me feel fueled. It was a soft pillow of grease that laid light in my mouth and slid down easy amongst sips of milky coffee. I was so enamored I took a photograph. 

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mylovemylovemylove

I used the wifi to listen to a grainy YouTube video that my dad sent me as encouragement, Uncle Tupelo’s cover of “Willin'”. I clutched onto my phone and peered into the grainy video and remembered the lyrics as something my dad would croon as we would drive down the highway on family vacations to some bit of wilderness. It is a trucker anthem, speaking of perceiving indifferent to weather and weary and the credo of “weed, whites and wine” although my journey was more “gummis, coffee and peanut butter”. It allowed me for a moment to feel as if my journey was epic. A road weary warrior instead of a woman with knotted hair in dirty clothing, clinging to a small machine. I sit and drink my coffee and at one point one of the old men wave to me and I’m almost ecstatic at the first stranger in Ontario who doesn’t seem to be actively avoiding my gaze. THINGS ARE GOING MY WAY. And that’s when I first hear the sounds. Beyoncé calls the beat in. Love on Top busts out over the speakers and it takes every ounce of my composure to not leap out of my seat and cheer. But goddamn do I sing along and throw around my shoulders while firmly planted into the plastic molded seat. If I was grasping for a good omen, this song was it. It always makes my heart leap in my chest and reminds me of a dance floor years ago when a friend of mine was freshly in love and I watched her sing and wiggle to the entire song with the widest, most genuine smile. Although I am weary, I start the day with a Beyoncé bounce, bless.

I head to the supermarket in the strip mall to fuel up my bike, as the next stretch of highway veers away from the lake and becomes increasingly desolate. The supermarket focuses on generic foods that are packaged in bright yellow with plain black script in both English and French, which reminds me of Repo Man (punk film classic). I’m still overwhelmed by supermarkets, as nothing really looks that appealing and I’m forced to consider the calorie density vs weight of each item. I’m perhaps one of the few people that is scanning calorie information for the fattiest foods. GIMMIE MORE. I grab some whole wheat pitas and head to the cheese counter where I see that there is a small wheel of brie for only $8 CAD and that shit is triple cream. I can shovel brie like a champ, so I add that to my basket along with another generic spicy salami. I wander to the dried fruit aisle when in the middle a toddler slows stamps her way down towards the end, clad in a moose printed sweater and snowflake boots with pom pom tassels and i’m overwhelmed with the cuteness. This trip has made me more enamored with children and dogs then usual. They don’t ask me questions about my damn bike. I wiggle my fingers in her direction and then sneak past and grab some raisins. Next is the candy aisle where I grab a bag of fuzzy peaches and one of Swedish berries, which are as much morale boosters as they are corn syrup rocket fuel. A giant bag of trail mix with apricots and hazelnuts (que chic!) gets plunked into the bag next and also a tub of generic gatorade powder. Finally, I head to the pharmacy section and grab a giant container of generic chocolate flavored soy protein powder. I had watched my friends gab on about their protein powders earlier that day on Facebook and realized that this would be an easy way to get in more calories (and quality ones) with minimal weight. I pay for all my stuff, which is relatively cheap considering it’s in Canadian, and head out to my bike that is leaning near the front doors. I crouch and dump things out of boxes and tubs and empty them into plastic bags that get stuffed deep into my panniers. The gummis fill up the feedbag next to my handlebars and I push off with a groan with my freshly laden bike.

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forest floor: soft n’ squishy

The first few hours are smooth as the highway bends away from the lake and deeper into the forest. The back-to-back fast food meals actually helped my body as it provided some much needed fats and salts and the traffic wasn’t too bad for most of the morning. By the time the coffee hit my bladder it was high noon and I was scanning for any sort of post that I could lean my bike against. It is hard to find a spot to pee that doesn’t require me lying my bike on the ground and having to hoist it back up again and reattach the panniers or try to push it down and over a small ditch and then back again once i’m done. I also scan for cattails or other signs of soggy ground, because more than once I’ve stepped off the gravel shoulder and a few feet later end up with soaked sneakers. This time I am able to lean my bike against a large bolder and I wander off and once I push past into the trees it is as if I have stumbled into a Bjork video. The ground was sponge soft with moss and pine needles and as I crouched to piss I was afraid of hitting a stray salamander with my stream. The highway noises were gone and everything was pulsing on it own rhythm. I am too quick to leave, mostly due to the deep hole that is burrowed near my right foot and looks like it could house an good sized mammal or that I could push my hand down into the forest floor and pull my torso through into Narnia. And also the quiet is too inviting. I have many kilometers to pedal before I arrive and this sort of a place beckons for hours sitting and feeling.

After my short vacation from the highway realities, the traffic starts to build again and my knees prickle with stress and I daydream of a weed cookie that could melt the ache. Or at least distract a little from the monotony. Each truck that zooms close by pulls my muscles tighter and I remember a story I stumbled upon during a  Facebook scroll the night before of a woman biking out to Seattle to be with her fiance and she was hit from behind on a highway in Montana, leaving her in a coma. I thought of her with every truck blast. It gave me no council. I tried to focus on chewing on handfuls of gummis, the mashing of my jaws giving an outlet to my frustration and rage, while also providing a corn syrup drip that calmed me some. Past quaint alpine lakes the shoulder becomes minuscule and I keep pushing my earbuds further in and hoping that the music will drown out my fears and I could mentally float back to a hammock in a small beach town. At one lake I stopped and lean my bike against a guard rail and decide to shake out my limbs to some samba. I played the music loud and let myself shimmy and roll in the few inches of space between the rail and the asphalt. I could trick my body into happiness! Yes! I would try to be more discreet whenever a truck would roll by but the minute they were gone I would go back to my little dance with the Novos Baianos chilling my anxiety. I can never be upset while i’m dancing to a samba song and it is a special sort of super power. I use music medicinally while riding, to distract from the pain and the fear.

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Back to the basics. Another set of distracted miles, deep in to sections of the highway where there isn’t much. The further I get away from Lake Superior I feel a sort of magnetic pull downward. It always offered me a comfort with it’s greatness. But now there is no physical reward for the truck creeps and I start to feel weary. I throw on the Purple Rain soundtrack in effort to distract my brain. I’d watched the film a half dozen times this year and I can always crawl back to my mental movie screen of Prince’s smokey eye winks and speaker humps and black lace guitar strokes to distract me for a while. The cars slowly disappear from the road and my strokes time with the rhythm and I can feel my muscles lengthen to each guitar wail. As Purple Rain plays and the last few minutes of shimmering cymbals and princely moans I notice a patch of bright color on the roadside up ahead. Considering my entire time riding in Canada I have been cruising the shoulders and seen not one bit of roadkill, a spare screw or coffee cup is the most eye distraction I could hope for. But there was a bundle of royal purple next to my front tire, a coil of discarded rope that must have flew off the back of a truck. It was in perfection condition. I steadied my bike and picked it up and lifted my eyes to the blue skies. The Sunday before the start of this foolhardy excursion, I had biked to Paisley Park with seven white roses and placed them next to the chain link fence around his estate, surrounded by water stained fan art and purple scarves and I asked for a little bit of guidance. I could never really believe in God or Jesus, but I’ve always been a devotee of Love and Beauty and Art and he was their champion. To hold in my hands a perfect purple rope on an empty road in the inland of Ontario made me a believer that my small request wasn’t forgotten. I tucked it securely into my pannier and continued onward with a small sense of safety.

White River has been a marked point on my map ever since Thunder Bay, when my host told me warm memories of the night she camped out at the foot of the Winnie the Pooh statue in the middle of town. Huh. The daylight was dimming and I was hoping to get there before it became too dark but each day my available hours of sunlight grew smaller as my pace slowed. It is a frustrating combination. The Thunder Bay host also told me that White River has an A&W so I was salivating for some succulent wifi and a double cheeseburger. I finally rolled in around 6 pm and saw that White River was nothing but three motels, two truck stops with adjacent restaurants. The A&W was attached to a gas station and placed my bike next to the window and walked inside. The entire dining room area was blocked off with plastic yellow safety tape and there was only two molded tables near the register. The register was being manned by a lanky limb-ed teenager, the first brown person I’ve seen for over a week. He has glasses and bounced and flung his hands and spoke quickly with a mild panic. Ah, this one is of my tribe. I order a double cheeseburger and onion rings and a root beer and ask about the wifi password. “THE WIFI IS DOWN”, he had no patience for the question. The dining room was quarantined, the wifi was down, oh, and the bathrooms were out of order as well!  I could only imagine what had happened that day in this odd little town. I grab a seat and wait for my food when enters from stage door left a small crew of teenagers, some of them at the tail end of their growth spurt and made even more intimidating through layers of sweatshirts and sport jackets. There was a conventionally pretty girl among them, clung to the side of one of the taller boys. This was some Saved by the Bell shit. The cashier continued his high strung bounce and took their orders and it seems like they tried to lay some light insults on him but like most nerds he’s accustomed to this shit and didn’t really give it any weight. I sat there eating my cheeseburger with dirty hands and waited like a mountain lion in a bush. I was a pirate now, burned by sun and taut from miles on the road and if they tried any funny business I would trounce those kids in two seconds. Fuck it. But soon the crowd grabbed their food and slunk away. I finally got my long awaited order of onion rings and poured two packets of salt on top. Still salty about the lack of wifi. The cashier grabbed a spray bottle and towel and began to wipe down the tables around me when again from stage left walked in a teenage girl and her mother. “APRIL” the vibrating teenage boy ratched up to another level of bounce. One of the other teenagers in the back started to walk to the register but he shouted “LET ME HELP HER” and leaped over the counter and flung his cleaning supplies to one corner and steadied himself behind the cash register. In my entire life I have never seen a creature who has pumped the puppy dog love vibes harder and stronger then this teenager. Not one ounce of chill or expected cool, just swooning over the fact that she ordered two bacon ranch crunch wraps and the other teenagers pop their heads out from the service window and she is a bit timid in front of her mom but familiar and I am falling for all of these outcasts. Who talk about the one time they went to Subway together and the inside jokes fly fast and thick and much like the Grinch my heart grew three sizes. APRIL. He keeps saying her name. APRIL. She gets a bag of free onion rings and as she leaves with her mom she calls the cashier “juice”. He has a nickname! I look towards the counter to see if the cashier has melted into a puddle. He has not and quite frankly I’m surprised, as my heart was swelling into my toes. Yet again, the stage door is flung open and in wanders a cowboy, with dusty boots and hat and the teenage staff recognizes him immediately and fetch him a chocolate milk. He won’t take soda with him combo, just chocolate milk. He speaks in a small bursts of a thick accent and is soon greeted by a red faced friend and they tangle themselves into a rough hug and Quebecois French. I’m hesitant to leave this bizarre sitcom stage but I need to find a place to fling my body for the new few hours and although the Winnie the Pooh statue is cute and well lit, the park is just a well manicured green patch between parking lots and there are too many long haul truckers in this tiny town for me to feel safe in a flimsy tent. When the choice is spending 80 bucks Canadian on a motel room or sleeping terrified of possible rapists unzipping my tent in the wee AM hours, I always chose the solid financial investment of a motel room. Sometimes nothing is more valuable than four sturdy walls and a door that locks. I try the motel across the street but the price was over $100 and I’m too cheap, so they direct me across the street. The lobby is a small room that is stuffed tight with heavy wooden cabinets and chairs and every sort of Winnie the Pooh nick knack that has been made in the past twenty years. A preteen girl is sitting at the reception desk and she finds me an open room with an eye roll. I grab the keys and roll my bike into the room, which is the shabbiest of the entire trip. Missing towels, broken lamp and a lone bar of soap. The roars of late night semis aren’t muffled much and I take a quick shower and apply a sticky cocoa butter paste to all of my sores. I slide my nude body cautiously into the sheets, hoping that they aren’t dirty but without much hope or care. I slowly stretch into a diagonal so that my hands can cradle my phone while plugged into the power cord and I tap out notes in between lukewarm sips of chocolate protein powder, the lumps getting caught on the dead skin of my lips.

DISTANCE RIDDEN: 91 km

SONG OF THE DAY: “Willin‘” as covered by Uncle Tupelo. Thanks Papa Haun!

 

 

sloth

DAY 13:

I am totally knackered.

I cannot feel anything beyond the heaviness of my flesh and I search my mind for the edges of my limbs but all I can identify are the worn cotton sheets. My motivation is the kerig machine to the right of the door and around 8:30 am I stumble to it and smack down a cartridge and was welcomed with a hot water hiss. I pound down the first cup of coffee while gathering all the socks, shorts and t-shirts I had scrubbed out in the sink and hung to dry in the shower the night before. I am getting every damn penny out of this motel room, which I have made into a laundrette, bar and mental health center. Midway through the second cup of coffee I get a call from the front desk. I won’t need to switch to another room today, so I can relax and not have to bundle together all my hobo bundles before 11 am. Last night I decide to heed the advice of a friend and take a rest day (for my knees! i’m so tough I never need rest, ha ha!). My knees desperately needed a break and I couldn’t fool myself that I had the energy for anything besides eating crispy snacks while half reclined. I scrub another round of filthy gear and hanging it up before sliding on a sweater and heading out to find breakfast.

The second I stepped foot out the motel room door the smell purged every square millimeter of my nostrils. It was as if someone had placed a contained of spoiled seafood chowder into a paper bag with some fists full of hair and lit the entire thing on fire. I stumbled to the restaurant across the street and it took a few minutes for stank to dislodge from my nose. I sat down and barely glanced at the menu before ordering coffee, french toast and sausage. I glance around the dining room which has a giant map of Italy on the wall and painted wooden signs with slogans about wine and friends and a few Halloween decorations for good measure. The big screen TV is tuned to the weather channel and after watching for a few minutes I realize I hadn’t checked the weather report the entire trip.
Which is odd considering how relevant weather is to my every waking second, but I dunno if it was ever worth the bother. The french toast arrives and it is a Canadian beauty, stacked high and dusted with powdered sugar and it is egg whipped and light with all the edges crisp and a goddamn delight. I start to mow into it when I overhear the waitresses at their station trying to figure out their time cards. I instinctively start to call out “hey, don’t worry, I’ll fix it later” but then remembered I am an office manager no longer. I’m just a stranger with a sunburned nose struggling to open a tub of maple syrup. A tinge of loneliness. I soon pay my tab and swing by the motel head office to drop off the charger I had borrowed from Boss Lady the day before. The young woman who was cleaning the rooms offered me one of her plug-in USB adapters “I got a  lot of these at home”. MY LIFELINE MY CELL PHONE JUICE. I thanked her profusely, as I had planned an entire day of noodling on the internet and tapping out new blog posts. It’s hard to express gratitude sometimes, in the grandness for what it really is. I return to my motel room, plug in my phone with a silent cheer and roll into the rumpled bed  for another heavy sleep.

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I wake up around 2 pm without feeling rested and head to the grocery store, bracing myself yet again for the stench wave. I wander around in a daze and then buy 2 frozen chicken pot pies, a quart of raspberries, bunch of bananas, knob of fresh ginger, more ramen and a red pepper. I eyed a small section that featured Indian products, wondering if there must be Indian transplants working in the mines or if the local townsfolk had a particularly adventurous palate. It is difficult trying to use clues to answer questions like “why are you selling a giant bags of turmeric and jars of chutney” and “where is that awful smell coming from” but I’m still too timid to ask anyone directly as I don’t want to appear as if I’m gawking. CITY SLICKER MARVELS AT SMALL TOWN PECULIARITIES. I walked to the LCBO next door (all liquor stores are run by Ontario province) which is newly built and one of the swankiest building I’ve stepped into since arriving in Canada. I grab more grapefruit radler tallboys along with a pilsner and a cream ale in the walk in cooler in the back and head towards the front, musing about getting whiskey. I shoo the woman behind me in line towards the register, telling her I have nowhere to be and she can go ahead of me. We start chatting and without warning my vowels are deepened and extended and I dig deep into the words around me. It is a little known fact but I am a natural parrot and repeat back any accents and intonations I hear. My inclinations to people pleasing extend even to language itself.  I mention my bike tour to her and she asks “are you retired???” and I give my spiel “over 30, no husband, no kids, can do what I please.”  I ask if there is anything going on around town and the woman responds “since it’s Thursday, it’ll be wing night at Drifters, which is really the most happening thing around here.” I thank her for the tip and grab my paper bag of cans and wander out the door when an older woman stops me in the parking lot to ask me more details about my trip and she asks where I stay most night and I tell her about warmshowers.org so she can host her own bike tourists and she seems very excited, elbowing her husband and whispering “we need to do that!” A few minutes of pleasantries and I’m back into my motel room.

I settle in and devour the red pepper and raspberries first, hoping that all the fiber after days of industrial starch eating doesn’t cause an accidental intestinal cleaning. A vision of spicy wings danced in my head but even the few minutes of conversation with the women in the liquor store were overwhelming and I didn’t have patience for any small town bar politik. I spend the next few hours sipping on all of the cans of booze and watching hour after hour of VICE channel and I develop a brief infatuation with Matty Matterson and his gooey lasagna. It’s those Canadian vowels and meat sauce in tandem that just make me swoon. I still don’t understand Action Bronson though. It’s mostly just about displays of wealth through food. Expensive fried chicken eaten with organic wines on a Sydney rooftop is the new slick automobile. One fat black fly buzzed around the room as I spend hours sprawled out, the only activity is shifting the ice bag from one knee to the next or cracking open a fresh beer. I feel lazy. I try to build up my own myth and appeal to my teenage self and explain that I am On The Road and instead of Midwestern apple pie and ice cream I’m gauging geography through pancakes and side orders of sausages. I look up the quote from Kerouac and realize that it’s a dull sentence, that I remembered it having much more zing. I’m in this motel room in rural Ontario, closed in and realizing this Beat dreams were childish at best and it isn’t very adventurous to sip on booze in strange sheets. Not alone anyways. What especially echoes is Truman Capote’s critique of those Beats, that “it’s not writing, it’s just typing” as I feel the frustration overwhelm as I tr to compose coherent sentences on my phone, to keep plugging when all I want to do is nothing at all.

I stayed up til midnight again, my body rushed with anxiety and booze calories and I’m nervous from the picnic table of men drinking and smoking cigarettes a few feet from my door, reminded of the strange 3 am phone calls from the night before. But I realize if I can hear them laughing and talking, I at least know where they are. At some point I drift off, finding human warmth in the voices that float past the locked door.

MILES RIDDEN: zero

CURRENT MOOD:  Life isn’t about getting drunk and eating chicken fingers all the time

QUOTE: “I forgave everybody, I gave up, I got drunk.” Jack Kerouac, On The Road

confessions

This election cycle is fucking brutal. I’ve been digging deep into old vices and the shame that has come with it. Let’s just give you part one of my confessions:

  • I have a sexual attraction to Justin Bieber that cannot or should not be explained.
  • I own a “grumpy cardigan” that is sadness brown with sleeves that extend past my hands and deep pockets. There is a small patch on the right side, mostly likely from a cigarette burn. I am not the first owner of this cardigan, so I’m just projecting. It could be from spattering deep fat fry grease or like a fucking spear or something.
  • I spend at least two hours a week scrolling Buzzfeed. Yes, even though death is coming and time is precious. And I’m not reading those high brow essays on current events but more like MY BROTHER PICKED OUT MY OUTFITS FOR A WEEK and 32 TYPES OF MACARONI AND CHEESE YOU’LL LOVE

But there is one particular predilection that I turn to when I am feeling low and overwhelmed by late capitalism: WHITE CHOCOLATE.

Yes, white chocolate. Most popularly consumed along with chucks of low grade macadamia nuts in bland sugar cookies that can be found on any standard cookie platter at staff meetings or generic coffee kiosks in airports or bus stations.

When the scanned won’t send documents to email and the intern incorrectly filled out a health information request form and are we out of packaging tape? That is when I need a fix. Because when the going gets tough, the tough get a white chocolate mocha with a caramel drizzle.

White chocolate is the flavor of dollar store chocolate bunnies, the ones with the creepy painted eyes that are always watching you as you scan the Easter candy aisle. White chocolate is the culinary equivalent of the nostalgia of a white glue sniff. It reminds me huffing the vanilla scented plastic of my childhood dolls (which looked like cupcakes because THE 80s WERE LOUD AND PROUD). There are no antioxidants or flavanoids or anything of remote nutritional value in white chocolate, those are mindfully extracted. No harsh bitter flavors to heighten or balance the rush created by a solid homogenous block of palm oil and sugar.

In an effort to fully embrace the fact that I have poor taste, I decided to devote a snack hour to all of the white chocolate delights that you can find at your local corner store/gas station.

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White Chocolate Kit Kat — The chocolate coating on these is THICK and it makes them practically opaque. One stick is a lot and there are four. These actually felt heavy in my hand. I think these are the most honest application of white chocolate as it had a light vanilla scent but that couldn’t be described as “aggressive” more like “shy.” It was introverted vanilla flavor. The white chocolate was so thick I could barely register a crunch from the wafers. I was overtly aware that this had no nutritional or flavor value. For the white chocolate purist only.

12g of fat/8g of saturated fat (18%/40% of the daily recommended amount)

White Chocolate Reese’s Cups — GHOST REESE’S!! I think this is far superior to the original Reese’s, because at least it isn’t that shitty chocolate that they’re normally cover in. That stuff tastes like cigarette butts. These suckers are just decadent, because they marry two of my sadness combating techniques: guzzling white chocolate lattes and eating peanut butter straight from the jar with a spoon.  A+.

13g of fat/5g of saturated fat (20%/25%)

Hershey’s Cookies and Cream Bar — This was my gateway drug to white chocolate. I first had one these during my Brazilian stoner days, when I would sit on my friends couch with her older brothers and smoke weed and watch concert DVDs. Brazilians have to be one of the largest consumers of concert DVDs, as I have never watched one before or since but spent many a Sunday afternoon high watching U2 from multiple angles (and gratuitous crowd shot!). Thinking about it, I actually bought a concert DVD while there….fuck, does any culture love music more than they do?

Anyways, back to the chocolate bar. This was meh, the meh ist of the bunch. The lil’ chocolate bits aren’t that crunchy and have the taste of generic brand chocolate chips. This doesn’t not hold up to my memory. Then again, i was high the last time and flanked by attractive people.

12g/7g (18%/35%)

CONCLUSION:

In one afternoon I consumed exactly 100% of the daily recommended amount of saturated fat. This shit goes straight to the arteries and makes them thicker than a corn dog at the State Farm. Feed your enemies white chocolate, my friends, and watch their slow doom. I’ll see you at the polls in November.

 

let’s all go to the movies

The heat continued to bloom in my bedroom and naps were just efforts to close my eyes and breathe into vapor. There was a beeping sound echoing in the backyard from the neighbor’s plot, every five second there were two loud beeps, like the alert from a microwave when the pizza rolls and it wants you to come fetch them. This noise had been non-stop for the past 6 hours. There were no pizza rolls. Just beeps. I needed sanctuary.

I hit the trails with my bike, with no particular place to go and after a cruise to Fort Snelling and back I need a sit down in some AC. I decided to hit up my summer stand by for a bit of refreshment and relaxation, the Queen of Cheap Seats: Riverview Theater.

The Riverview Theater is a neighborhood joint. Movies are always $3, which is cheaper than a rental on Amazon. And the Netflix streaming section is pretty bleak, if we’re all honest with ourselves. For the most part, the movie doesn’t matter. It just needs to be something that can provide a bit of distraction.  It’s where you go when you want a sit and some air conditioning and just not be in your damn house anymore. It is also full of real live humans! Lovely!!  People come in groups and pairs and even after the lights dim for the trailers, hearty conversations echoes through the the theater.The seats are comfortable and the popcorn is hot and covered in real butter and you can tap bright orange cheddar cheese or ranch flavoring powder on top. Oh, the popcorn.

I decided to be demure and get the small popcorn for $3, which is foolish because the medium bucket is $3.50 and is almost three times the volume and if I had some honesty with myself, most of the reason I am at the movies is to stuff popcorn into my cheeks. It is mammalian and the salt and fat melt into my tongue and I feel comforted. The lobby of the Riverview Theater is absolutely gorgeous, a revamped vintage theater lobby that has a late 50s vibe and warm wood furniture and a long padded bench next to the window which pours in natural light. If this was a cafe I would spend at least two nights a week here. I sit and read through a book of essays, grasping the book with one hand while shoveling in popcorn with the other, wiping orange cheese dust onto the front of my dress.  It is a extremely comfortable public space and I am abusing of its casual natural to the full tilt.

The advertisements before the feature are quaint and are mostly alerts from the Minneapolis Parks Board on how to prevent the spread of zebra mussels or reminding people to pick up dog shit. There are also slides of terrible movie trivia:  Complete the following quote! From the Wizard of Oz “ THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE…..”The remaining screen time is ads for restaurants that all offer a discount or free cup of coffee or tea with a ticket stub. In between these advertising screens are action shots of Late to Lunch, a middle aged white dude jazzy ensemble whose music places over these screens. It is unremarkable and the shots of the band don’t link up to the actual song, which makes the entire thing seem even more absurd. I would like to recognize the physical enthusiasm of one of their percussionists, who was playing the hell out of an egg shaped shaker. Get that rhythm.

I saw Purple Rain here about two months ago, since the theater decided to show it every night for the month after The Erotic One’s death. The manager came out and said a few words in tribute before the screening and she was sincere, even though I imagine she had repeated similar words each time over the past month. Backlight by a purple screen with the Symbol glowing in the middle, it reminded me of church sermons, stuffy shoving out emotions into a mostly indifferent crowd. I found this to be incredibly endearing.

Tonight late nite feature was Nice Guys, a 70s buddy comedy featuring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. It is classic Hollywood drivel, it starts with the broken, bloodied and of course, nude body of a porn actress, whose blouse just happened to blow apart as her fast car careened off a ridge. Hard tits and fake blood. It’s what America wants! All the baddies are dark bodied and the goodies are just light glimmer from blue eyes. Seriously, all the protagonists have blue eyes. It doesn’t take a fucking scholar to see what’s going on here.  

Blatant racial conditioning aside, I tried to allow myself to be distracted by the costuming and Gosling’s hamming it up for the camera but by the time minute 70 spun around, the dialogue caused me to snap.. When the preteen daughter had a scene where she shouted DAD YOU ARE THE WORST DETECTIVE and huffed out her bangs and spun around, arms crossed, I knew that was my limit. Besides, I had reached the bottom of the popcorn cup within the first ten minutes of this wreck, so nothing was keeping me there. Not even the luscious AC. I toss the butter slick popcorn cup into the trash and walked out into the night. The illuminated marquee adds a bit of magic to this corner late at night and I lingered for a bit before I unlocked my bike and I pushed off into the hazy streets.

meditation #2

Slide into the faded booth closest to the counter. You’ve ordered the #6 Combo: Sesame Chicken (fried rice) and a side of steamed broccoli. As you wait for your takeout, rest your eyes softly on the faded waterfall mural on the opposite wall, the blue water now tinged grey with grease and window light. Gaze to your right and observe a vending machine, filled with plastic capsules each with a primary colored seal, little toys stuffed inside. Place each of your thoughts into those plastic capsules and assign it a toy companion. A bouncey ball that smlls like lemon. A thin hot pink friendship bracelet. A eraser shaped like a teddy bear. Remember the sound of clunking change and the metal crank turning. Hear your name shouted in the empty room. Your order is up.  Nod and grab the paper bag and feel the weight of the #6 Combo in your left hand. Rustle your hand into the bag and using your index finger and thumb, snatch the corner of a cream cheese wonton sweating in the wax paper packet and take a quick bite as you walk through the door. The doorbell chimes, now open your eyes.

one hundred miles

MIDNIGHT: pumpkin head says time for bed. half a bottle of lukewarm Andre next to a backyard fire was ill advised. And the fallen tallboy soldiers that followed.

3:21 AM: thirst shakes awake and water chugs don’t turn off the monkey mind as the sticky heat anxiety loop begins.

3:33 AM: bedside magic 8 ball consultation. Ask again later.

3:54 AM: thumb bass guitar blindly

4:10 AM: frustrate myself into a costume change of my best dress and a white blazer. I want perspective change. I stand on the bed. Extraordinarily sweaty, I remove them in five minutes.

4:45 AM: gunshots. Two. thirty seconds apart

5:23 AM: shadow puppets from the sunrise light

5:29 AM:  7 rotations of a Fiona Apple song

5:42 AM: sirens blare

Well

The sun’s gonna shine no matter what I do. Might as well ride.

I slid on a maroon t-shirt, branded with another stale sweat, and a pair of padded bike shorts. A cool breeze touched my toes as I wandered the bedroom and decided to add a pilled wool sweater on top.

6 AM: two wheel hit the greenway and my strokes are hard and I feel frustration pour out onto my pumping knees. Squirrels dart across the path narrowly avoiding the front rim and a few bunnies almost become splatter with similar twitches.

6:35 AM: By the time the trail turns into soft dirt past Hopkins and the trees fold inward, I encounter women slung with hydration belts and in bright lycra and they are padding out the miles, steady.  Their slack arms bounced and their steps were so soft. Two young deer were meandering down the path and clunked over to the dewy edges once they heard the crisp ring of my dollar handlebar bell.

A hawk dove for the crown of my head as I cycled through a short clearing and a robin’s wing was clipped by my spokes as she dove for cover. At the end of the dirt trail is a paved section then craggy sidewalks and large intersections and windy suburban roads. I stop and turn right back around into the lush green tunnel that I popped out of. No sense going any further.

7:40 AM:  Slung U lock through my frame and bounded into the Depot, a coffee shop oasis. Plastic bottle of orange juice was drained in seconds outside as I was observed by spandex grey hairs and a speaker blared some oldie favorites to placate this gaggle of grumps. “Why doooo foools fall in loooooove”. There were a few bites of banana bread but they crumbled instantly and shellacked my tongue with syrup. Back on it.

7:45 AM:  Looped around Lake of the Isles and Big Ol’ Calhoun, punctuated by a pedal kiss from a last minute curb jump due to an indecisive rider blocking the crosswalk with her bike while trying to decide left or right.

8 AM: Pit stop at home to swap from heavy backpack to bright pink fanny pack. Threw some sport juice powder into a baggie, filled the water bottle and strapped the U lock to the top tube of my frame then the smell catches my nostrils. Cat shit in the middle of the rug again! Plastic baggie sweep then away! AWAY.

8:20 AM: Zipped south on Portland Avenue without not a car in sight. Minnehaha creek trail was abnormally clear of baby strollers and slow cruisers and I zipped through the bends and winked at the bronze bunny statue and considered a pit stop at Bakers Wife but oh no no, St. Paul calls.

9:00 AM: A nod and a wave towards the falls and I push towards the trail entrance which flows along the Mississippi on a tall edge and bumpy pavement. The trees provide a cool channel to bike though and I spy familiar etches in the white rock and sand patches that are a soft tread for a few feet. At the foot of the fort I brace my body at the bottom of the big hill and remember the time I had to charge a pack (gaggle? scream?) of turkeys of the trail, wondering if I had the nerve to boot one if need be. The hill was enough and a dozen strokes in I dismount and grab the handlebars and power walk up the stupid thing because I am stubborn deep down in my genetic pool and I feel like if I just mosey up this thing that’s letting the hill win.  It is at this point that the 38 miles start to settle into my bones a bit.

9:55 AM: Past the hill is a bit of ugly trail but soon stretched the expanse of the Mendota Bridge. I want to have words for this that isn’t just an ugly cliche but I don’t . It is expansive and beautiful and that’s all I have to say about that.

10:17 AM: Slinked up the Big Rivers Trail to the Sibley Memorial Trail and another stretch bound to the Mississippi and the sandstone cliffs. This part of the ride is quiet, even in the typical ruckus that exists between my two ears. St. Paul begins to pull into view and the buildings are almost majestic and the sky always pitches a perfect blue around the concrete and bridges and it is not because of her looks that the city is the overlooked dame at the dance. She has the manners of a braying donkey. BUT WHAT A LOOKER. The manicured park at Upper Landing is completely empty and the only water fountain has such a lousy dribble that it only fills my bottle ⅓ of the way, due to awkward angling of spout and plastic tube. The temperatures are climbing and this is more than disheartening. I give it a few taps to mix the sport powder and consequently spill some of it on my front.

10:45 AM: Downtown St. Paul is pretty vacant. Another big dumb hill to climb. I didn’t jog up this one but a slow steady slog, a promise to myself not to give up, especially not in front of the bleak fucking expanse of the Minnesota History Center. Summit Avenue was packed with a summer festival and I ended up sucking smog behind a rental school bus that was ferrying people a few blocks from their parked cars to another parking lot. I was grateful to hit the river again and slink up towards campus and past the stadium onto the transitway which is nothing but a straight hot shot of concrete. It’s fast but it’s meager. I throttled down Como Avenue past the park dotted with families lugging coolers and holding tiny hands as they leaped in the grass.

11:48 AM : Loops around Lake Como are punctuated by tree root concrete bumps that flare pain into my knees and sightings of the classic carousel. I have a secret soft spot for carousels because they are just nonsense and noise and queer horses and zebras in gaudy paint. Love love love. I remember a date on this carousel and watching a white haired man on bench clutching close a stuffed polar bear. I was in love love love.

The curves around Como get me twisted and my phone loses its last bit of juice, sucked dry by the GPS tracking app. Screen is black at. 65.86 miles. I slipped into mental arithmetic and street map memories and spread fingers on an imaginary map to measure the miles.  But I needed to find my way back to Minneapolis and St. Paul doesn’t just let you leave. I find a few strangers in a front yard and they direct me back towards campus, although they seem unsure. One is wearing a tight jersey and seems to understand as I gesture about being a bit loopy and point to the plastic wrapper from the banana bread in my bag. This is the first moment that I recognize the heat.

Thank them in sputters and bike until I hit the fairgrounds, which is a salvation and a curse. It’s a ten minute wait for the signal to cross Snelling, a river of full throttling cars. The empty streets are confusing and the occasional slow cruising minivan doesn’t inspire confidence. I’m fucking vulnerable and I end up around giant trucks and the smell of shit and horses horses horses and keep cruising next to a chain link fence hoping for an opening. I question the cruelty of the barbed wire that laced up top and wondered if I could just fling frame and all over it so I could escape. I wasn’t making sense.

I found a break just in time before I became fully delusional. I pushed into the direct sun of the transit way and though Dinkytown on it’s stealth lil’ greenway, bumping over railroad tracks and swerving around utility vehicles  and then up through 5th Street NE, a route I have tread after nights spent buried in the shadowy corners of the 331. I could cycle through with shut eyes I know it so well. Avoided those rim cracking potholes on Lowry and held steady against gas pedal heavy traffic.

12:45 PM Pilsner and pee break at Fair State. Barkeep becomes my only cheerleader and watches my fanny pack. He also tells me the time. Fifteen minutes is all it takes for me to empty bladder and pint glass and to top off the water bottle and get back on it.

In front of a Mediterranean restaurant on Central, a team of men were stretching out a large white tent for the reverent and hungry masses that would fill them each night during the coming moon. A tell tale sign that Ramadan would begin the following sundown.

Back to the Mississippi and the frumpy familiarity of the Plymouth Bridge. By the time I hooked up to the Cedar Lake Trail I was on my daily commute route and in autopilot through those five miles. No memories of the second loop around the Lakes, just the wincing of my right knee from any bump or jolt. Swooped past home on Portland Avenue after slowing moving through a packed Greenway and the last six miles was persistence. Chanting the mantra EASY PEASY LEMON SQUEEZY EASY PEASY LEMON SQUEEZY

I was waiting for a wave of relief or accomplishment to hit me when I dodged minivans and rolled into the 30 minute line outside of Sea Salt. I struggled with my U lock and my legs were stiff with stagid blood and squeezing for any moisture they could find in a tendon nook or any organ that didn’t need it vital. I was indifferent about my order and was imagining a nice beer. Just a nice beer so I could go lie down. On an ice pack. And to be rubbed from tip to tip by large hands.

I remember four tacos heaped high with all sorts of chewy sea creatures. I remember chewing in time with Bootylicious, trying to swivel hips and sip beer and chew chew chew without compromising my tongue.

2:30 PM. Approximately.