Bikepacking (2015)

2015 Solo Adventure – Bikepacking!

This is my 5th solo adventure since 2012. It isn’t my longest distance by any means. I didn’t set any speed records. In 2012 I took my first solo adventure when I was in nursing school. I was flat broke but wanted to get out of town and do something epic. It was a life-changing experience and one that I’ve continued annually. Last year I kayaked instead, due to the leg pain I have been experiencing. I was unable to ride any distance. This year I have been riding plenty, although the past few weeks I’ve been right on the edge of too much.

In the past, these trips would help me sort out things that were on my mind and give me clarity. This year I couldn’t find anything to ponder heavily, which says a lot for the good space I’m at in my life. Instead, I used this time to step outside of my comfort zone and seek the beauty of immersion in nature. Well, with an iPhone to take pics 🙂

A month or so ago, I picked an approximate destination and put in a PTO request at work. I like 1 night away. That’s adequate for a mini-adventure. I put in for a backcountry camping permit in the Northern Highlands State Forest and started planning a route. To hopefully keep my legs from completely revolting, I figured 50-75 miles each day would be plenty. After all, the bike setup is heavy and camp gear adds a chunk of weight.

The day of departure, I was on call until 0700. I found other things I had to do that delayed me – pump up bike tires, get meeting agenda together for RASTA meeting after work on Thursday, clip fingernails so I can play the uke, etc. With a belly full of summer sausage, eggs and coffee, I departed at 0800 with a forecasted chance of rain the entire 2 days. If I have learned one thing over the past 8 years of riding bikes, it’s not to let the weather forecast stand in the way of a ride.

One thing about the fibromyalgia or whatever it is that pains my tendons is, if I push my body hard it will revolt and I may have several weeks where it hurts to walk. This has been going on since 2010 and although I’ve made a lot of improvement in the past year, it has forced me to slow down enough to enjoy the scenery. There have been several good lessons through this journey, actually. I can pretty much do what I want to, as long as I take it easy.

The sky was overcast as I cruised along at about a 12mph pace. I made several quick stops to inspect my cargo and make sure all was in place, as well as turn on my super-bright rear LED for county highway visibility. I saw a family of turkeys and a brown fuzzy caterpillar crossing the road. I listed to a podcast called The Paleo Women podcast and they were discussing body image. I will come back to that later. All in all, it was a pleasant ride. I stopped for a photo at the Willow Dam.

One of my favorite roads is Cedar Falls Road. It’s super fun; twisty with roller coaster hills towards the end. I saw an otter cross but was not at all prepared with my camera. I soaked in the pungent forest scents, spun up the hills and smiled down them.

Welcome to the gravel shortcut from Cedar Falls Road to Camp 9 Road. It was freshly graded, which equals loose!! Oh man. Well, it is an adventure after all.

Super loose gravel granny gear slog-fest made me glad I had the knobby 40’s and a sturdy bike! Oh and a triple ring in the front! This stretch was only a few miles.

New gear for this year:
2014 Giant Invite – it’s a gravel bike and I mostly use it for commuting to work. The disc brakes, wide tires, and rack mount are major differences over what I used to cobble together.

New shorts and helmet, always a plus.

Sawyer water filter which I’m not sold on, but it worked.

Garmin Edge 800. Definitely like the turn-by-turn navigation!

Took a break at mile 38 for lunch of beef jerky and an apple. I made my way to a nearby river to try to filter some water but found the squeeze bag system awkward and hard to fill.

The scenery between Cedar Falls Rd. and Highway 70 was wonderful. I don’t recall the names of all the roads but there were some tough little climbs and swooping downhills. Very enjoyable. I crossed Highway 70 and continued on into Lac du Flambeau reservation territory.

Loose chip seal, the right bike for it, and beautiful scenery 🙂

Sometimes the GPS and mapping software lead a person to a dead end. Like this! I always carry paper maps for such occasions. Sign says “Private Drive”.

Roadside scenery approaching Highway 51

Boozhoo! Actually I was leaving and turned around to take a picture of this sign.
Thanks for the lovely roads!

Originally I had planned to take a shortcut road over to County M, which would put me close to camp. However, the weather was still holding out and I noticed I was missing a few items which would make my evening more pleasant. I was also low on water. I ducked into a State campground for water and a woman was walking by. She said hello, asked where I was headed, etc. She recommended the slightly longer but easier-on-the-legs County H. I filled my water bottle and decided, in the interest of my legs, to take her advice. Happily, the new paved trail was not far off and took me right into town.

First stop in Boulder Junction… duh…. coffee shop! I have to say I liked it better when it was Dancing Bear. It had the huge chair out front, and inside had an electric massage chair, funny books, nut-based cookies and plenty of good vibe. I probably looked a bit disheveled 64 miles into the wind. There were 3 women working there and the one who took my order was presumably the owner. She asked where I was headed and when I told her, said there are no camp sites there. I told her I was backcountry camping and did not need a site and they all looked at me like I had a third eye. It was kind of funny. I said I like to get outside of my comfort zone once each year and have a little solo adventure. She said “I like my comfort zone! And my comfy bed!”. Haha.

Well, me too, and these trips are little reminders of the comforts I have every day. I choose to experience something else. I like the perspective. I sat down to check the weather but the Wifi was not working. Tried data and could not connect to the network. Tried texting Steve but he was working late. So, I enjoyed my coffee drink outside, used the bathroom, and headed to the corner store.

I had made a list while I was riding: Wine, pen and paper, small flashlight, and souvenir patch. The corner store supplied wine, pen, and flashlight. I didn’t want to lug around an 8.5×11 notebook, so settled for writing my notes on the back of my maps. Across the street I noticed my daughter’s boyfriend’s dad’s (did you get that?) car – he has a business in Boulder Junction. The taillights were on so I quietly rode up next to it to see if I could startle him. It was empty. Oh well. Went in the building and said hi. He generously offered to help my trip and I asked for paper, which his assistant was kind to supply me with. A whole small notebook. Perfect! I went to the Chamber for a patch, who said to try the Highlands shop downtown. They were so nice. No patches for sale, but they gave me a freebie from behind the counter 🙂

Off to find camp! I felt a few drops of rain as I left town. About 3 miles to the gravel road, then 3 miles in. I stopped to cover my sleeping bag and tent and keep it dry. I was able to enjoy the paved path that parallels M to get to the gravel. It was a much smoother gravel road than the one earlier in the day and I was grateful at over 70 miles in! Still, I granny-geared it up the hills. A co-worker had told me about a couple of camp sites accessible only by hiking or watercraft, so I figured I’d camp somewhere in that area.

Welcome to Pallette Lake. So clear. So beautiful. Ducks I did not recognize. And an incredible camp site with rules like: One night only. Clean up after yourself. I had been set on not using a site but couldn’t pass it up. On a hill, too, so I wouldn’t wake up in a puddle.

I set up the old Bibler tent with everything I would need for an evening of potential rain.

Satisfied with camp, I went to the lake and waded out a bit. I was too cold to swim but the water felt great on my legs. 74 miles, most of it into a headwind. Phew!

Pallette Lake

I found filtering water with the squeeze bag system rather challenging. Filling the bag was the trouble. It is rather rigid and doesn’t accept water easily. I found the only way I could do it was walk out in the water and drag it back and forth several times with some force. At any rate, it worked. I’m here typing this today. It tasted alright, too.

A loo with a view?? This was uphill from camp. Convenient place to dispose of TP. I’m fine with a squat in the woods otherwise. It looked kind of funny out there. I could not find it at 0430, though! The trail wasn’t very obvious.

Supper time! I just love this little stove. Super compact. The cook pot could be lighter, but that will be a future addition. For now, this works. Nice to have a hot meal at the end of the day.

I cleaned up supper and decided to send a text to Steve while I sat at the picnic table. It was lightly misting. I got about a sentence in and it turned to a real rain. It was 1800. I covered my panniers with a garbage bag and a rock and got in the tent. Listening to the sound of the rain was very relaxing. So was my wine. I write some notes and strummed the ukulele for awhile. Changed into my flannel jammies. Journaled some more.

On fibromyalgia, or whatever is causing my tendons (and now knees) much pain. The Achilles’ both complain on a regular basis. My calves are full of knots. So are my vastus lateralis and IT bands. I have trigger points by the dozens and they respond to nothing. The IT band stuff can shut me down. It’s a very sharp pain to the knee when I push a pedal. I have been riding a very fine line with it and it was tough carrying a heavy load into the wind. I have all the endurance and mental fortitude but I have the threat when I think of going a speed like I used to, of it all coming apart in a big hurry. Last year I struggled to walk a mile. I barely biked. This year I’ve pedaled over 2000 miles. Riding easy and taking guaifenesin seem to be working, but I have to be very, very careful. Using a heart rate monitor helps, but that started acting funky early in the ride. I went by feel. It’s tough. I try to remain grateful for what I can do, since I can’t feed my ego with “how fast” or “how many miles”. Just enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds. Be grateful. There will be an answer and I will keep seeking.

Decided music frustrates me when I’m trying to learn a song. Picked a little, played some chords with different strum patterns, and called it a night at 1840. Couldn’t keep my eyes open!

Turns out my tent leaks. A lot. Not just at the seams but everywhere. I woke at 2230 with a wet sleeping bag on the top, wet bike shoes, pretty much wet everything. It had been raining steady since 1800. I rearranged things and tried to sleep some more. My camp pad isn’t great. I wake every 30-60 minutes to roll. My hips and shoulders hurt. I woke up a couple of times to take care of bathroom business.

This was the view at 0530:

Not bad. Still raining. Dozed off. And was startled awake by a squirrel at 0615! It stopped raining. 12 hours in the tent and I was ready to get out! Ready for coffee. I started the water heating and noticed some nasty little flying bugs were biting me – hard! I applied some repellent and noticed this:

Repellent makes me sneeze. I was checking out heron. Heron was checking out me. Then I sneezed. And it flew away.

While I ate and sipped my coffee out of the pot (one of these times I’ll remember a mug, maybe) I checked the maps of the Escanaba Lake trails. I had no idea what the weather was going to be, but rain had dripped into my shoes during the night and it was chilly. The shortest trail was a 5 mile loop. I decided to pack up camp and take my time going home, stopping along the way wherever I wanted to. I’d like to return to this area under better weather circumstances and explore the beauty of it. The little sample I got was enough to make me want more, for sure!

I changed into my bike clothes and it resumed raining. I sopped up the puddles out of my panniers with my towel, packed up the wet gear and made sure I had picked up not only all of my stuff but a little garbage left by previous campers.

It’s a pretty climb out of camp. I noticed hiking/biking trails as well but didn’t feel singletrack was appropriate. Might have to come back for that reason as well…

Tough to take pics in the rain. This is about .3 miles and connects to Nebbish Road, which is about 3 miles out. The gravel was much different after all the rain and on tired legs. I worked hard up the hills, feeling the previous day’s miles and the mud trying it’s best to slow my wheels. Everything exposed got a thorough mud coating, myself included.

Back on the paved path, my legs felt good and I relished the little twists and turns through the woods. I stopped at a trailhead to rinse off my mud-covered water bottle. The rain had stopped again for awhile.

This is me, enjoying one of my favorite parts of the bike path. I spent a good bit of time thinking about body image on this trip. Since 2001 I have weighed anywhere between 109-168#. I can say that even at 109#, in 2010, I picked on myself. I had a flat stomach and muscle definition. And I still wasn’t “happy”. I no longer weigh very often, but here’s the thing: This 132-ish pound woman can endure with a smile and a heart filled with joy. What I am is not a number anyway. I am caring, strong, happy, intelligent, worthy, determined, loving, compassionate, maybe beautiful in my own womanly and curvy way and in these moments, I am ALIVE. This body and these legs carry me through space and to some of the most beautiful places anyone could imagine.

Stream crossing along the trail. I stopped for a snack of olives and mixed nuts.

This is near Sayner. The trail between Sayner and St. Germain is a blast! Roller coaster hills galore!

Back in my home health nursing days, this was one of my favorite stops. It was a little out of my way but I was craving coconut. I picked up coconut water and flakes. It’s on 70 between St. Germain and Woodruff if you ever find yourself going that way. I love how they combine the natural stuff with crap like Twinkies. Nice folks, too. I do miss the home health days. Being in that area made me think of the people I’d met along the way. I really could have done that job forever it weren’t so life-consuming. I miss the interaction with patients and the independence. I miss pursuing more holistic nursing. I don’t miss spending all evening charting.

I had figured on a coffee stop at Red Canoe in St. Germain. Another one of my favorite places. The gentleman who was doing lawn work struck up a conversation – I have found the loaded bike is quite a conversation piece – and he mentioned something about the wind not being in my favor. True enough! I was working pretty hard for 12mph. My legs were definitely in need of the break. The menu advertised the quiche as gluten free. I saw the words “bacon” and “cheddar” and figured I’d ask what the crust was made of. When the barista replied cheddar, I said I would definitely order some of that! The no-dairy thing can wait until this trip is over. What a delicious and soul-warming stop!

Leaving St. Germain, County J has a nice, wide bike lane and runs all the way to Woodruff. See that big black cloud? Oh yeah. It let loose shortly after this pic. A straight downpour. If I had begun to dry, it didn’t matter now. I was drenched. The wind blew so hard I had to stop and get off the bike for a minute. I guess I was looking for adventure after all!

County J connects with Raven Trail. The singletrack there is sweet and they recently paved 2 miles of the ski trail. I took this opportunity to fix my rear brake which had failed earlier in the day. Turned out to be a good decision! What a fun trail. It goes all the way to Indian Mounds campground on Highway 47, which is where I did pop out onto the highway for a bit. My Garmin flashed a low battery signal. I hadn’t planned another stop, but there is a nice little coffee shop in Lake Tomahawk 🙂

The Butcher’s Wife, next door to The Butcher Shop, served up a Colectivo almond milk and honey latte and I sipped while I let the Garmin charge. The cup felt nice on my cold hands. Heck, another snack, too. Hungry today!! And to be honest I welcomed a break from the wind. My leg issues were starting to really become apparent. Mostly the tendons and knees. I left here and checked out Lake Tomahawk’s side streets which are really cute, before hopping on Bluebird Lane and heading south towards home.

Yup, heading south and feeling the wind. It was another 25 miles or so to get home and it was a struggle to keep my mind right. I cursed the wind and threw temper tantrums in my mind. I fantasized about calling for a ride home. I thought how nice it is to know that if I did call, Steve would help me and never ever try to lay a guilt trip on me for “quitting”. However, that’s not what I do. I press on. I endure. I try to walk the fine line with the knots in my legs and sometimes my determined mind overrides them. The scenery was beautiful. I love moving my body through space on two wheels. I was almost home, anyway.

I wondered if Steve would be home when I arrived. I knew Willow, our dog, would greet me with that full-body wiggle. My heart lit up when I pulled in the driveway and saw Steve’s car. I couldn’t get in the house fast enough. The hug he greeted me with almost made me fall apart in tears. I love that man. I’ve never been loved like I am with him and I appreciate it more than I can express.

I relaxed in a hot epsom salt bath with a glass of wine, and then we made dinner. Grass fed ribeye on the grill, roasted broccoli we picked last weekend, and butternut squash fries. My daughter bought the flowers just because.

So, in summary, sleeping in a tent in the wilderness doesn’t scare me so much. I feel rather at home in the forest. I have pepper spray just in case, but I tend to feel calm and free. My legs didn’t fare as well as my mind and I have a large amount of pain, mostly in my knees. I will need some extended recovery before I can bike again. I appreciate my dry and comfortable bed, my loving pets who are sitting next to me now, and especially Steve, who somehow understands my thirst for adventure and solo time. I am filled with gratitude on all levels.

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