2015 Solo Adventure – Bikepacking!
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.
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.
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”.
Boozhoo! Actually I was leaving and turned around to take a picture of this sign.
Thanks for the lovely roads!
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.
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!
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.
Sylvania Wilderness 2014
In keeping with tradition, I planned a little getaway to the wilderness. In the past two years I’ve gone by bike. I find the solo time perfect for getting very introspective. The sound of rushing wind and the rhythm of pedaling somehow put my mind in a place where I can contemplate life and find answers to questions. This year I am happily cohabitating, in a loving relationship and at a new home which feels a lot like paradise. However, I recognize that spending a little time alone in nature helps me center and feel balanced. When I brought up the prospect of a couple solo days on the bike earlier this year, I was given nothing but support. However, as my legs continue to be plagued by knots, the likelihood of riding long with camping gear was slipping away. I was frustrated. Until Steve suggested a paddling trip with my new kayak.
|Steve helping me prepare|
It took relatively little planning. I arranged 2 weekdays in a row off, gathered the necessary items for transporting the kayak atop the Mini Cooper, and set Sylvania Wilderness Area as my destination. It’s less than an hour and a half from home and offers wilderness camping. Another difference this year besides traveling method would be the inclusion of my canine companion, Willow. She happens to fit perfectly in in the kayak. Clothing and food would be hauled in a backpack, tent and sleeping bag in the dry storage compartment. We were to spend one night, paddling the first day to our campsite and then, depending on how the one portage of the first day went, either lake-hopping our way around or going back the way we came.
|Journal on departure day|
The morning of August 19, 2014, I woke up to rain as per the forecast. I had been anxiously watching the forecast for a week leading up to this, and there was a 70% chance of rain for the area we would be in. I decided I wouldn’t let the weather stop me from having an adventure. I never had before, after all. And I do own a rain jacket. The day started with bacon, eggs, coffee, kisses from my sweetheart and a hug from my daughter.
The drive was easy. Through Rhinelander, Eagle River, Conover, and Land O’ Lakes all the way up to US2 at Watersmeet, Michigan. I checked in at the Entrance Station, watched their educational video, drove through some beautiful forest and had the kayak in the water by 9:50. Within minutes I had seen two loons and the sun began to peek out.
|Crooked Lake boat launch|
|A pic before I got too grubby|
On trips past I’d have some sort of mission. See how far I could ride in day, get rid of mental baggage, meditate on my direction in life, find out who I really am and what I’m made of, etc. I didn’t really have any of this. I contemplated purpose to the point of feeling some stress over it. Then it occurred to me that bathing myself in nature is a fine reason. Maybe I’d meditate some. Maybe I’d just observe the beauty and synchronicity of life. I lost myself in the sound of the paddle dipping in the water. I shed some clothing and felt the cool breeze on my warm skin. I breathed in the pungent forest aromas of cedar and pine as I skimmed close to the shore on Crooked Lake. A copper-colored whitetail deer watched us watching it, safe on land, still as a statue. Crooked Lake narrows and widens. Wild rice grew thick on one of the narrows, and I could see a flock of geese ahead. Above, an Eagle soared. It was all so alive. Then, the geese took flight in a raucous flurry of honks and wings beating!
|Eagle soaring above, wild rice growing thick in the water.|
Picnic lunch was summer sausage and Swiss cheese. Willow was pretty happy about the fact that I was sharing instead of saying “no begging”. She is the perfect kayak dog. A far cry from when I took her for her first ride in June and had to chase her down, carry her to the boat, and set her in it. She willingly jumps in now and there are zero signs of resistance.
We paddled for a few hours, checking out bays and keeping a leisurely pace. The weather was holding out but questionable. I was grateful for the map I’d picked up from Sylvania Outfitters on our way in, otherwise I’d have surely missed the portage! It’s rather hard to see from any distance and not marked by any signage.
The photo on the left shows the portage to Mountain Lake, and you can see how green the water is here. It was thick with algae.
The portage is a very short one. 13 rods to be exact, although that didn’t mean much to me. I unloaded the backpack and carried it over the hill. I put a strap on the kayak to carry it on my shoulders like a purse and within seconds could feel the tendinitis in my Achilles’ flare up. My right hip made some weird popping. Now, this boat weighs probably 60# with the tent and sleeping bag in it. I consider myself fairly strong. But, I have crabby tendons. I put the kayak in Mountain Lake and set to finding our camp site. Beaver 2. It was a short paddle and easy to find. To my surprise, I had nearby neighbors. Looked like Scout tents. I could see a couple of men who were dressed like Scout leaders. Cripes. All this way for some solitude and I’m going to have a Troop for neighbors.
I set up the old Bibler tent, journaled, ate a bit and headed up to find the latrine. I’m not opposed to a squat in the woods, but at areas like this, keeping human waste contained is a big deal. I respect that. I do hate to see T.P. in the woods, after all. I filtered some water and by then it was 2pm. Looking at the map, there was a nice hike to High Lake, which I was told is turquoise in color due to it’s depth.
There was a chilly drizzle, but hiking felt good. We walked through an ancient forest of wise, twisted, gnarly trees. Moss-covered rocks and logs littered the forest floor and ferns were richly green. The random fungus would push through the earth to decorate like accent pieces in beige, red, orange and black. Mosquitoes were thick. I found a raspberry or two and wondered at the beauty of High Lake. In all, we hiked about 1.5 hours. Upon return to camp there was not much to do. I pumped more water and dug out warmer clothes. My hat was smelly :-/. Shoulda noticed that before! Oh well. It was too wet to start a fire in the fire pit. I boiled water for supper and coffee, realizing my relatively new mess kit had bowls but no cups. I brewed a bowl of weak but warm coffee, ate rice and shared with Willow. I practiced meditation for a few minutes with my bare feet in the cool soil.
I contemplated things and wrote them down so I’d remember. They included, in no particular order:
Synchronicity with nature, as in wake/sleep cycles and sun/moon phases.
Playing the fiddle more.
Reducing distractions when it comes to health and fitness. I know what works.
67 days to really form a new habit.
Gratitude for the love of a man who shows me nothing but support and kindness.
My kids, who I was missing!
My keen senses, for which I am very grateful.
Yoga, which I did a little of.
|Morning bowl of coffee, anyone?|
It was about 5:30pm. I was chilled and damp, so I decided to just go lay in the tent. Nothing better to do. I read an inspirational book, then the user manual for the MSR water filter. I think I was asleep by 6pm! I woke to the sound of rain, and remembered I’d left a few items out which I should bring into the tent. Headlamp on, I attended to that and my full bladder, figuring it was the middle of the night. Oh and by the way, it was not a group of Scouts next door – just a couple of guys who apparently respected my solitude as I did theirs. I checked the time. 9:40pm. Haha!
I enjoyed a bedtime chorus of loons. I’m used to a loon or two on our lake, but here it was a multitude of them, all with slightly different voices. It was incredible. Red squirrels chattered and moved in close, presumably to inspect my camp cleanliness in hopes of finding bits of food.
As per my usual camping routine, I proceeded to wake up every hour or so to roll over due to sore hips. My camping pad is alright but I do get sore. By 6am I had to get up. I heard the rain drops hitting the tent and wondered if it would ever stop? It had rained all night! I packed everything up, put on my rain jacket and smelly hat, and got out to discover the rain had actually stopped; it was just the wind blowing the moisture off the leaves overhead. Silly me. The old Bibler tent stayed remarkably dry.
Mountain Lake was covered in a thick blanket of fog. I was a little annoyed that I could not connect to mobile data, of all the dumb things, but I wanted to see the radar. I brewed up a bowl of strong coffee, wrote in my journal, and packed up camp.
Based on the short portage the day before, I probably *should* have gone with Plan B and paddled back up Crooked to the short portage to High Lake, which is one I definitely wanted to do. My adventurous side took over, though. I was already dealing with pain; might as well go lake-hopping. Our first portage of the day took 50 minutes and was 96 rods. I unloaded the backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad, and took them to East Bear Lake. I went back for the kayak and picked it up. I realized there was no way I could carry it that far, with or without a strap. Portaging wheels, which I use at home all the time, are not allowed in Sylvania. So I pushed, pulled, and dragged that thing. It was ugly, and it was hard work. Some portages were sandy and gradual. Some were thick muck and straight uphill. The weather was cool and misty. I got lost a few times in the sound of the paddle in the water and then dripping as it rises. Dip, drip… dip, drip… each lake with a character and distinction. Nothing but beauty and nature. Loons, Eagles, Kingfishers, chattering squirrels….
High Lake was astounding! The water was the color of turquoise. The sun finally peeked out and I just floated along, sharing a lunch of beef jerky and pecans with Willow. I was amazed at how fast it got deep as well as the clarity. High Lake reaches 90′ in depth. For a moment I felt a little anxious about that fact. Then, I realized that I was supported. Kind of like life in general. Love and support abound. If you let them.
After the short portage to Crooked Lake, signs of humanity returned. I never saw a motor boat, but several groups of kayaks and canoes.
A pair of loons was fishing on a point to my right. As usual, I gave them a generous padding of distance. They would dive and then come up closer to me. This continued on up through the final channel before the Crooked Lake boat launch. They did not seem afraid, making low noises to each other which I have not been close enough to hear before. I paddled to the opposite side of the channel; they dove and surfaced on that side. Willow quietly watched them. Once we were a ways past, finally, they let out their wails and I had goose bumps. I’ve never been so close and they are so loud! So beautiful. As I type this in our home on Nose Lake, the local loons have been singing all evening.
I went into this weekend well-fed and well-rested. Friday morning TJ and I left, stopping in Merrill along the way to meet up with Steve and go get in line for a good camp spot in the solo riders area. On the way down, it was absolutely pouring rain and I wondered what we were in for. By the time we got in line on Red Bud Road to wait for the gate to open, the rains had stopped. We set up camp and Steve rode the course while I waited for registration to open. I made the switch from 12 to 24 hour competitor, and we left. We had a short visit with my sister, Becky, and then we were off to Merrill for a good night of sleep in a real bed. I painted my nails “Red Carpet”, ate sweet potato/grass-fed beef hash, and was in bed by about 10pm.
|This is how I run. I walk.|
Racer’s meeting at 9, and then I got my bike ready and waited. Around 9:40 I went to place my bike out of everyone’s way for the Le Mans style start. This is the kind where your bike is laying near the start and you run to it. I think it’s kind of funny, and had never done one myself. However, I know fully that if I run at all my Achilles will take me out of the event. So, I found some folks who intended to walk. One of them, a teammate of mine, suffered from a stroke a few years ago and there he was, racing the 6 hour solo. Absolutely amazing to see his progress! That guy is so inspirational.
|Goin’ for a bike ride|
Before I knew it, we were off! I walked, half-joking that I was setting my pace for the day. I walked with a fellow who was doing his 3rd 24-hour solo race, from the Twin Cities area. He gave me some advice on when to rest as we walked briskly to our bikes. I saw a friend along the way and stopped for a hug. Hopped on my bike and set out at an easy pace. It only took a couple of minutes and we were all stopped on the trail where hundreds of riders were funneling into the singletrack. See? What good would it have done to run to my bike, anyway? It was quite awhile of very slow riding but people were in good spirits. We stopped several times just due to the number of people trying to ride on rocky, rooty terrain. I was glad it was easy to make that first lap slow and keep an easy pace. I know if I pushed it hard I would regret it later. I enjoyed the energy of the people around me. It seemed that lap 1 and 2 went by in a blur.
|1 down, a few more to go!|
|Ho Chi Min Trail (partial)|
|Ho Chi Min Cheerleader|
One section of the course, lovingly referred to as “Ho Chi Min”, includes an uphill rock garden climb. I’ve never been able to ride it and was not about to expend extra energy trying during a 24 hour event. Walking it gave me the opportunity to cheer on riders, and for several hours there was a guy out there cheerleading, playing music, and drinking beer. I stopped to visit with him for a couple of minutes and took some photos.
Checkpoint Charlie is about 7.5 miles into the 10+ mile laps. These guys had a bar set up with a variety of alcoholic beverages and were blending margaritas for whoever would like one. Lap 3 I indulged in about 1/2 of a shot of tequila. I swear I had an immediate buzz. The trail turns right here and it’s so fun! You barely have to pedal, just hang on and make sure your front tire doesn’t hit a rock the wrong way, and you’re good to go! I decided alcohol would have to wait until after the race. I did stop here every lap through my 7th for a bootie break (get off my saddle for a minute) and water. It was fun watching them play beanbag toss and run the bar. Late in the night I’d ride by with a “WOOOHOOOOOOO!!!” and they would all yell. I proceeded to burp tequila for the next 3 laps.
|Lap 2 done, checking Steve off my list of people to ride for.|
Speaking of “Woohoo”, I was riding each lap with someone in mind. Of course my mind would wander all over the place as I rode along in my slow rhythm, but I would reel it in and set it on whoever I was riding for that lap. I would imagine them surrounded in a pink light of love and send positive thoughts their way. When I got to one point on the trail, I would jump this dirt bump and catch just a little air, and holler out a “Woohoooo!!”. Around lap 4 a guy was behind me and he just laughed. He said something about some riders being far too serious out there, and when he passed he said he knew I would have a great day 🙂 My last lap was for my inspirational friend, Brenda, and I almost lost the bike out from under me on that dirt bump!
My Achilles was nagging a bit, but not threatening to take me out just yet. I felt it while I rode but especially on my breaks between laps. Typically I’d come in to the pit area, eat, use the bathroom, maybe stretch or change some clothing, and get back out. Anywhere from 5-20 minutes. I was on an adventure, after all, and not racing like those other folks. I had time. I’d feel my Achilles stiff and sore as I walked about, but I could ride alright.
Steve had been watching results and noted I was not in the list of 4 solo woman riders, so he got that straightened out. Thank goodness! I found it motivating to know I was in the lead, but early on that doesn’t mean anything. Just the idea to have led a 24-hour race made me smile. My goals had nothing to do with the outcome. It’s a much bigger picture that I have in mind.
End of lap 7?? Happy happy.
I found some ibuprofen when I came through for a lap, which kind of helped. By lap 6 or 7, though, I was seeking to be taped or something because it was getting quite aggravating. My athletic trainer friend made some neat little bands that went around and just above the knee. She immediately identified it as an IT band issue based on my description of the pain. The funny thing about that is, a few weeks back I was using the foam roller to roll out knots the size of peas in my IT bands (the outer part between the hip and the knee, iliotibial band) and it hurt so bad at the time, I started rolling it with a LaCrosse ball instead but was inconsistent about it. So, I knew they were tight but did not address them properly. Oops. The bands helped keep me going at any rate, although it still hurt. I probably waited too long to ask for help.
My pace was slow and steady. On the longer climbs I would get into my easiest gear and really just soak up the beauty of the forest. It’s a lush green with ferns and rocks, moss, birds singing and the crunch of gravel beneath my tires. At times I’d imagine breathing energy into my legs, or little creatures under my wheels propelling me up the hills. I just go into a different state on something that may otherwise be painful. I was actually finding it easy to go slow. I realize it’s something I’m good at. I can ride a long time as long as I go relatively slow. I resisted the urge to “race” at all. I’d pull over to allow “racers” by and encourage them on their journey. In fact, the entire 24 hours I never felt once as if I were racing. I was riding. Adventuring.
The transition area is very motivational. There are lots of folks waiting for their teammates so they can go out for their lap, and every time I came around I’d hear cheering. That really felt nice. Thank you, friends!
A note on my bike: it is a singlespeed frame. I love riding singlespeed. I’d planned to ride it single and keep my old 1×9 around as a backup. However, leading up to the event, every time I rode my singlespeed my Achilles would flare up for several days. I ran the 11-speed Shimano Alfine rear hub for this event. Lots of guys passed me and because it *looks* like a SS they would say “go singlespeed!” I felt like such a cheater. I really had no time to explain. I’m a singlespeeder at heart, ok? I’ll get back to it, I promise. I do have to say, though, that the upper body strength required for SS is significant and I’d imagine upper body fatigue could have been a major issue had I done it that way.
Lap 8 I rode with Maja, who, as a teen, decided to do a 24-hour duo with her friend Emily. Ambitious girl! She had asked if I’d ride a night lap with her, which I was happy to do. I did find that at night, the rock gardens I had been riding all day had me bouncing precariously and thinking it would be far safer to walk, despite the pain in my legs when walking. I do not currently have health insurance and the risk of a major injury is simply not worth it to me. So, I walked the rocks. No big deal. On an adventure, after all. It seemed every time I was ready to remount and continue my slow pace, there was a line of headlights coming through the woods. So I’d just keep walking until it was clear. No sense in getting started just to have to move out of the way and I certainly didn’t want to hold anyone up! Lap 8 was also the lap I was thinking of trying a different line in what I call the “ninja section” of woods where it is very twisty, tight, and close to trees. It’s just after a really fun section of whoops and speed. I am not a ninja. So I was evaluating how to better negotiate this tight right turn and avoid a tree as well as a couple of rocks, and the next thing I knew I was tangled up with my bike, on the ground, rather unintentionally. I fell on the painful left knee. Maja was there as I extracted myself from my bicycle and assessed things. I was not broken. I knew that would leave a mark, though! It didn’t tickle! It was the kind of bruising you feel when you go over bumps. Good thing there aren’t any of those out on the course (sarcasm).
From 4-5:30 I laid there. I dozed off a couple of times but would wake up. I think it was because there were 2 names left on my list of people to ride for and I was concerned it would take me a long time to accomplish that. I get a goal in my head and unless I am broken, I will get it done. I particularly wanted to ride a lap for Brenda. Although winning this race was never my intention, I knew the lead I had accumulated made it humanly impossible for me to have anything other than 1st place. At that time I had 10 laps and the next woman had 5. By 5:30 my bowels had me out of my warm sleeping bag, shivering my way to a “Tupperware Toilet”. It was 40-some degrees out. Brisk for sure! I took care of business and then wandered to the Muddy Cup. They had a fire going and there were a few people I knew. I sipped a cup of dark coffee and visited with folks. By a little after 6 I was changing in my car, taking my time. I had missed the sunrise ride but that was alright. I needed the rest. I noticed my friend, Beau, was in the car next to mine and his support person was offering him encouragement to go ride. I opened my car door and suggested we go for a little bike ride together. It would be fun. Pretty much every lap I’d leave the pit and say “I’m going on a bike ride, be back in awhile.” I finished getting ready, Beau got ready, and we set out at my super slow pace of getting warmed back up. Everything hurt. Ibuprofen had long since worn off. I may have whined out loud a little. I definitely swore. When I transitioned from sitting to standing or vice versa, the pain in my knee made my eyes water. It felt like a knife stabbing from the outside. Any time I put any force whatsoever into the pedals it would send shooting pains. When I walked it hurt. My Achilles hurt on the right, but that pain in my left knee was excruciating. I wanted to cry. I wanted 12 laps. I wanted to finish with a lap for my childhood best friend, who left this world when I turned 18 at the hands of someone else. I thought maybe I’d consult with my athletic trainer friend and ask her, if I continued, what would the worst case scenario be? The decision to go sit down in the pit and think it over was made. I did not cross the finish line, because to do so would require I go out for another lap. I ducked under the tape, found a chair, visited with friends around a fire…. at 8:00am I opened a celebratory beer (yes, beer in the morning, gluten-free of course). I was up by 5 laps and saw the 2nd place gal go out for another. I knew I was done. My body was broken. However, I had met my goal of at least 10 laps and was still smiling. I had taken a long adventure and loved every moment. I had to wait until 10:00 am to cross the finish line. Our pit neighbors, all the way from Texas, were cheering on the racers with a microphone and TJ joined in with the vuvuleza. Those guys were hilarious! Dollar bill butt crack handups, beer handups, pro level heckling, cowbell and vuvuzela into the microphone…. great for morale! Big Pig Racing. Hope to see them again.
At 10:00 I put my bike shoes and helmet back on. TJ got on his bike and, vuvuzela in hand, rode with me to the line, cheering me on. It hurt sooooo bad to pedal. I had to ride in my easiest gear. My knee was in such pain I was glad I had made the decision to be done at 11 laps.
|Finish Line. Thanks for the encouragement, TJ!|
I could never have done it without my support crew. Steve is absolutely the most supportive partner I’ve ever had. I know I can count on him no matter what. My youngest son, TJ, has a heart of gold. One lap through he had bacon waiting for me. Another lap through it was a cup of dark coffee. Anything I asked for, they made it happen. I hope I give them enough appreciation and gratitude. Shannon with her skill and willingness to patch my legs together and keep me pedaling for so long…. friendly words of encouragement everywhere I went…. I am truly surrounded by love in this world. It’s beautiful.
Winning the Wausau 24 solo was never on my radar. I know other women who can ride double my laps in that amount of time. I wanted to check this experience off of my bucket list, and see how far I could ride my mountain bike in a place that I love. As it turns out, I won by over 40 miles. I guess I’m pretty good at going slow for a long time. I guess my body is very amazing and capable even with a few extra pounds. In fact those extra energy stores may have helped in this case. It seems kind of surreal to me that I won. This morning (the morning after) my body is sore pretty much everywhere. Talk about a hangover!! I move like an old lady. Stairs are not my friend. I will take some time to rehabilitate and nourish myself, looking forward to life’s next great adventure :-).
|My Bucket List|
This is my bucket list. I wrote it out last summer, sitting by a stream in the Porcupine Mountains in the early morning, on my Lake Superior Soul Ride trip. Yes, it does involve a lot of bicycle riding and learning! Top of the list is going to be this weekend. 24 Solo. Wausau 24 is a mountain bike race which starts Saturday at 10:00 and ends Sunday at 10:00. I have been wanting to try it for several years. I’ve raced 12-hour duos and I ride 100+ miles on my road bike without any problems, so I figure I may as well give it a go.
I learned a long time ago, when I was numb from my waist down for a 4-week period, to do the things I want to. There are no guarantees on tomorrow. I am here now, capable and strong.
My desire is nothing at all to do with a podium spot. In fact, I’m looking at is as an “adventure” rather than a race. I simply want the experience. I want to know what it’s like to ride in the middle of the night. I want to see the sun rise through the trees in the forest.
9 Mile forest has a special energy to me and I cannot explain why. It’s a good vibe.
The only issue I’ve had this year, which may cause me to stop sooner than I’d like, is Achilles tendinitis. I’ve been resting, icing, elevating, massaging, foam rollering, compressioning, and kinesio-taping :-p the past couple of weeks in an effort to rid myself of the pain.
Other than that, I feel mentally prepared after today. I sat down to write this blog post last night but my head hurt. I was all jumbled up inside. Today I reached out to an energy healer and went in for a treatment. So healing…. so intuitive…. all of my blocked up energy feels free. This is what my heart wants to do.
I will attach a deeper meaning to the event. While I aim to have LOTS of fun, I will put my focus on something bigger than myself. I will have a white board in my pit area with a name by every lap that I ride. I am going to ride that lap for that person and keep them in mind as I go. In no particular order, these are the people I will ride for (although many others inspire me, I cannot ride hundreds of laps!!):
1. Me – I am really working on loving me unconditionally. It’s been a struggle for the past 1.5 years or so, but that’s another story.
2. Steve – I have never felt to much love and support from a partner. I asked the Universe to provide the perfect partner for me and the Universe came through!
3. My sister, Becky – she had a brain hemorrhage as an infant and will never walk, let alone ride a bike.
4. My oldest son, Dustin – he taught me what love really is, 18 years ago.
5. My daughter, Laina – what a beautiful soul. The necklace I will wear for the race is one she made and reminds me of her positive attitude in the face of adversity.
6. My youngest son, TJ – he and his golden heart will be part of my “pit crew”.
7. Denise Coppock – she would ride it if she hadn’t broken her pelvis. I’ll ride a lap for her.
8. Todd, one of my besties – a true friend even when I’m making stupid decisions. Thank you for being there.
9. Margaret, one of my besties – always so encouraging. Thanks for your endless hours of listening to me when I was going through some tough times. I’ll never forget when we were nervous Citizen racers on the start line and struck up a conversation. Pole dancing lessons. Kombucha buzzes. Hugs and unconditional love.
10. Crille/Chris, one of my besties – thank you for being so supportive and your limitless patience in my learning of Swedish (darn those r’s).
11. Connie, my childhood bestie – her life was taken shortly before she turned 18. I wonder what she would be doing these days if she were still on this earth.
12. Brenda – talk about a beautiful soul and that smile just lights me up. Amazing, inside and out. I’m so glad to know you.
Any more than 12 and I will make it up as I’m inspired.
Here is a quote from Willow Rockwell’s book, My Wheels Gave Me Wings, in regards to a bike ride:
“…limitless opportunities to explore the energy of the universe and the unlimited potential of the cosmos.”
What’s on your bucket list? What are you waiting for? Feel free to comment below.
Double Century Weekend Ride
When I go on long rides, I like to attach some significance for it and keep that at the forefront of my mind as I pedal the hours away. It occurred to me as I was already well into this one, that I didn’t do any of that. I had a weekend to myself, I love to experience the beautiful countryside of the northwoods at a bicycle pace, and I suppose
I was asking my body what it thinks of the possibility of crossing “Race Wausau 24 mountain bike race as a solo rider” off of my bucket list this year. So, nothing profound on this trip. Just experience. I’ve had long rides, but never back-to-back century days.
|Food & Maps|
As always I relished the planning. Mapping, portable healthy foods, stops, choosing a scenic destination. I finally broke down and bought my own panniers this past week. I also acquired the old Bibler tent which has been around the world on a bike, which I used on my Lake Superior trip last summer. This time I planned a route which would take me to Lake of The Falls near Mercer, Wisconsin. “The loon capital of the world”. There is a county park for camping, and I was able to come up with a twisting, indirect route to total 100 or more miles each day.
My daughter, who is 16, stated on Friday evening that she would get up early and start her own 50-mile ride at the same time I started mine. How cool is that?? I made a route for her that would take her with me the first 25 miles, then we would split off. Actually she ended up doing that 50 mile route as well as another on Sunday. Impressive!
Saturday morning I awoke around 4:40am. I showered and dried my hair so it would be somewhat manageable for the weekend. Then I realized it was raining steadily. I ate, dawdled, drank coffee, put kinesio tape on my lower legs, looked at the radar…. it would rain for quite awhile yet. So much for 30% chance. Thanks, weatherman. I don’t mind at all if it starts raining when I’m riding. I am kind of fond of the feeling, actually. However, I do not like to start in the rain. Especially cold rain. I just won’t do it. I will be riding almost all day with breaks, and I do not want to be damp the whole time. Besides, what would that do for my saddle area?? My daughter woke up and was fine with going, rain or shine. I put my tent and sleeping bag inside a garbage bag, refastened everything, and off we went!
|Yes, those are Breathe Right strips.
Now, the wind typically comes from the south/southwest. We were heading north/northwest. On this day it was coming from the north and it was significant, even at 6:30am when we began the ride! “Good thing I have all day”, I thought. We skirted around Rhinelander, dipping south briefly and then west/northwest to the corner of County K and Highway 51. It was slow going, but nice to have the company of my daughter. The rain continued the whole time. We stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break, had a bite to eat, and with a hug we went our separate ways. Soaked.
|Near the Willow Dam|
I continued on Swamp Lake Road. It starts out smooth enough but quickly turns rough. I had been forewarned! Totally rideable and quite scenic, it took me to County Y where I turned north, to Willow Dam Road, to Crystal Falls Road (one of my favorites) all the way to Hazelhurst. I stopped roadside to shed some layers and eat some trail mix. The rain had stopped and I was ready to listen to some of my favorite tunes on my little old iPod Shuffle. I had been on most of these roads before, but at this point I was venturing into new territory. Lower Kaubashine and Camp 9 Road were absolutely beautiful! I crested a hill and surprised a whitetail doe, who also surprised me. I saw little farms with sheep and horses, small lakes, rolling hills…. all the way to Highway 70. From 70 I went into the Indian Reservation, along Thoroughfare Road. I completely missed a turn in my mapping, so at the end I thought I was to go right and be in Lac du Flambeau for a much-needed break. The rain had started again and wind was not backing off. I rode a few miles and decided to pull off on a little side road to check my map/take a natural break. The mosquitoes were so bad
|Lac du Flambeau|
there was no chance of squatting in the woods! I also realized that I was going the wrong way. A few miles back the way I came, and a few more, and I was in Lac Du Flambeau. I toured around looking for a coffee shop. Settled for a gas station. Went across the road to the casino where I was able to charge my phone and eat a salad. It reeked of cigarette smoke from the moment I stepped in. When I finished eating, I walked about (garnering interesting looks from those who were not entranced by the machines they were sitting in front of). It saddened me to see all of these souls, looking so unhealthy and devoid of life, plugging money or cards into machines. How boring! I put $1 into a machine, pulled the lever, lost my dollar, and got back to my ride 🙂 Back to the 18mph headwind, that is.
|Roadside along Highway 47|
I took Cemetery Road and several of the homes were boarded up. Children were playing in a few of the yards and waved as I rode by. Dogs barked. As I got further up, it turned beautiful again. It connected back to Highway 47 and I turned north. My next road was to be River. When I reached it, there was a sign stating “Minimally Maintained”. It looked more like an ATV trail. It was to be a pretty long section, and given the bike I was on, I kept rolling along the highway. Not looking for that kind of adventure on this trip. I rode through Powell Marsh. It was so windy!! Between the wind and the load I was carrying, I was fighting for 15mph. I would get down into my aero bars and start cranking, then realize the foolishness of doing such a thing. I had to ride another 100 miles the next day, after all. I would shift down and spin an easy gear, cover up my speedometer, and try to just enjoy the scenery. I stopped a couple of times to take photos.
|Grasses in Powell Marsh, blowing the opposite direction of the way I am headed.|
Around mile 90 I had to work on mental toughness. I felt beat down. My feet had been wet all day, my saddle felt hard as a rock, and the gusts of wind nearly stopped me. I wanted to be done. I would do my best to duck out of the wind for awhile and then sit back up, defeated by Mother Nature. I reached Highway 51, exhausted. Funny how a change of direction can change a
mindset, though. A sign stated that Mercer was a mere 3 miles away. Yes! That put the pep in my pedals. I was happy to see Clair d’ Loon welcoming me town. Of course I had to stop for a photo. From there I stopped at a gas station for drinking water, a bathroom, and to inquire about any local coffee shops. Turns out there was one, only a block away. Looney Beans. I sat by the air conditioner and sipped a Backroads Coffee Co. French roast. I charged my phone and wrote in my notebook. Less than 10 miles left to the campground. I savored the coffee. The atmosphere was quite different and I will share more about that in a little bit. The barista was the 11-year-old daughter of the owner. She was doing a great job getting drinks and working the cash register.
Back on the bike, I headed north up Highway 51 to County FF. What a scenic road!
Gorgeous! Some of the hills made me work pretty hard, but I had it in me to stand and power over the top. I arrived at the camp ground and selected my site. There were only a couple other campers there. It felt so good to take my wet shoes off. I promptly found the canoe launch and took a full dunk in the lake. It felt *amazing*. I put on a flowy, light skirt and a tank top and went about setting up camp. I love, love, love that old tent. It came with a rich history and I feel privileged to own it.
Shortly after my arrival, my good friend Crille and his 2 dogs pulled up. Crille was my designated person to keep a copy of my route and have me report in at my stops, for safety. He had asked if they might come visit camp for a bit in the evening, since they don’t live too far away. He recently returned from a trip home to Sweden. I thought it would be nice to see photos and hear stories. He started unloading his truck. A grill, cooler, firewood…. and proceeded to grill steak, sweet potatoes, asparagus, green beans and red peppers. Something about a can of sardines not being good enough after a 100 mile ride. He set about starting a camp fire. We walked over to the “falls”. At least I think that’s what it was. It was more or less a man-made dam with a rapids below. Maybe the actual waterfall is somewhere else? I don’t know, and I didn’t feel like going off in search of it. I felt more like eating and visiting around a fire. The food was amazing, and I was stuffed! If I was hiring a soigneur, Crille would be it! Here are some photos of the area around the campground:
|Ginormous rock by the road. I like rocks.|
|Morning fog on the lake|
I was awake at 4:30am but too chilly to get up. I tried to sleep a little more but couldn’t. I listened to the birds while it got light out. I did some reading and reflecting
from my journal from last year. The cell service was darn near non-existent, but I was able to get a current temperature of 42° around 5:30. Brrr…… didn’t bring knee covering. I dressed, wearing my knee-high compression stockings to help keep warm. I ate trail mix and beef jerky for breakfast while I broke camp. My thermos of coffee from the day before was lukewarm but at least it was coffee. I walked down by the lake for a couple of photos.
|Ready for Day 2, Breathe Right
dork strip included!
6:30am, on the bike. Highway FF and the brilliant sun… you know, rain and wind make a person appreciate the absence of rain and wind :-).
FF is twisty and hilly, and there was already a fair amount of traffic. I saw a coyote cross the road but missed the camera shot. Stopped for a photo of the roadside wild flowers:
It seemed much shorter going out than coming in. Highway 51 has some beautiful scenery as well:
me over” wave and he chuckled. He left to go deal with the bear meat. A fisherman came in to order a latte. I had to snap a photo. Check out the barista. This is a northwoods coffee shop, all the way! Nice folks, though. Apparently they own the bait shop next door. The woman in charge also does logging and runs the heavy equipment. According to this fellow, she is the boss, no questions asked!
From Mercer I took county highways up to the Michigan border. Plenty of sunshine and a beautiful route. I love seeing the “Rustic Road” signs. Plenty of exquisite scenery. The smells of the forest and flowers this time of the year are incredible and I breathe it in as deeply as possible. Cedar swamps have a fragrance that is absolutely heavenly. Too bad no photo will allow you to experience it. I suppose you all will have to just get outdoors and get it first-hand!
Here are some photos from the road:
|Doe on the side of the road|
|Mile after mile of this|
And then there I was. At da U.P., eh.
I took a roadside break to relieve my bladder and shed some clothing. All warmed up!
So my bike is kind of a mutt. It’s not meant for touring. It has no rack mount. I use hose clamps to put the rack on. I have a time trial seat post and aero bars from days gone by when I thought I might get into TT racing. However, I have to say on a long solo ride I love spending time in the aero bars. It’s quite comfortable and nice to have
another position option. Also I’m glad my bike has a triple front ring. Definitely used that on some Iron County hills, hauling a load up them. Although I could probably power up, it would be foolish with the amount of miles I plan to be riding. I whisked along with a slight tailwind. Oh, gracious tailwind.
Had to slow down to avoid hitting a grouse. Passed many small lakes. Passed a mailbox painted like the Swedish flag.
|Welcome to Presque Isle|
It was around here I started having to take bootie breaks. My backside hurt something awful.
|Another doe. Can you see her?|
|Big Lake Bootie Break|
Highway P going towards Boulder Junction was beautiful. Another rolling, twisting, forested gem of a road. I pulled into Big Lake state campground for a bootie break, about 10 miles out of Boulder Junction.
15 miles to go. I can’t stand it. This hurts so bad! My legs feel strong. My body feels strong. My butt hurts. I hate this saddle for long distances. Also the only bike shorts that seem to work well are my 6-year-old Pearl Izumis and they’re threatening to fall apart. They were still wet from the previous day or I’d have worn them again. So there I am, standing at the roadside of Pine Lake Road and County D, just hating on that saddle. I whined. I ate some sweet potato. I ate some trail mix. I whine some more. I knew it was less than an hour home. After several minutes I got going again. My legs actually felt, despite a bit sore, incredibly strong. I may never have long and lean legs, but I’ll tell you what. My short little legs are amazing. I was able to stand and truck up some hills. I felt the sunlight pouring through my helmet and into my body as it had been all day. I felt grateful as I approached 100.0 miles on my odometer. This body may never be one of a model, but it’s damn healthy and strong!
Almost home! Love this little lake.
Probable Multiple Sclerosis/I Inspire Me
Today, as I was enjoying the crisp and brilliant fall day from the seat of my road bike, I felt that this is the time to tell my MS story. I hope that by sharing I might inspire others, as that appears to be my calling in this life.
In fall of 2001, I woke up one day just like any other. My feet were “asleep”. You know that pins-and-needles feeling that you get when you lay on your arm? It was like that. Except it did not go away. Over the course of the next few days, it spread upward.
|Me in 2000|
Let’s rewind just a little bit here. At 5’1” I was about 165# and gaining. I had very little self-control when it came to food choices. I recall many times when I’d bake something for my husband and small children, and proceed to eat it all throughout the day. Not only did I make poor food choices, but I was very sedentary. I had never been physically active. Now, as a mom of three small children, I felt exhausted all of the time. I had very little self-esteem.
The tingling went on up to my waist. Believe me when I tell you, everything was numb from the waist down. Everything. Not only that, but my sense of depth perception was off. I was working part-time as a school bus driver, and one day I backed into a pole due to my depth perception. I quit the job at that time. I had a hard time walking and had to pay a lot of attention, because I wasn’t sure about where my feet were.
This was quite alarming, and I have to thank my mom for helping me through the battery of tests that I went through. Some of it is kind of a fog to me yet. I seem to recall a nerve conductivity test (EMG?), being on steroids, and being scared to death of my future. The definitive test was the MRI, which revealed two active brain lesions. I was started on daily injections for a medication to slow the progression of the disease. I do remember having welts on my welts. I remember looking at mobility options. Mind you, I was in my late 20’s at the time. I prepared myself for the possibility of needing a service dog for stability. I struggled to carry my toddler around and feared losing my balance with him.
Looking back, this was just the wake-up call that I needed. I was obese and unhappy. When a friend of mine challenged me to see who could lose the most weight by a certain date, I turned to the Atkins diet. I removed grains from my diet. Slowly, my symptoms went away. I started to exercise, first by doing Tae Bo in my living room. It felt good to get my heart rate up! I quit the daily injections and committed to getting my health in order. I called it a healthy denial. I wanted to give MS the big FU.
Followup MRI showed a healing of the lesions which had been active, so I continued to do what I was doing in the way of diet and exercise.
The only time I’ve had a recurrence of symptoms was in 2009. I had reintroduced grains into my diet, thinking I needed them to fuel my new love of cycling. I was under a lot of stress at the time. In 2010 I gave up grains again in an attempt to alleviate irritable bowel symptoms. I have had zero relapses of multiple sclerosis since.
My own theory on it is that for me personally, grains cause systemic inflammation. It turns out there are many other sources of carbohydrate for fueling my body. This is only my experience, and I realize it does not apply to everyone. It is simply my observation over the years of what works for me.
I fell in love with bicycling in 2007. In 2008 I decided to try our local mountain bike race. I had never been athletic or competitive in my life, so it was a huge step for this former gym-class-skipper. I won my class. I’ve been racing ever since. It has been a growing process, but since I have detached myself from the outcome or awards in my races, it is pure joy. When I think about where I came from and what I have overcome in my life, just the fact that I am out there doing it is a win. That’s all I need. My life is so much richer and fuller in every way since I had my wakeup call.
This may explain to those close to me, why I seem impulsive at times. This also has a lot to do with why I push myself physically and test my limits.
My message is this: There are no guarantees on tomorrow!! You can do and be anything you want to in this life. Now get out there and do it!
“Your adversity is your greatest teacher.” – Paul Chek
|24 hour solo mountain bike race, 2013|
First Bike Adventure – June 2012
|Mapping it out|
Tomorrow morning at dawn I will set out on my bike adventure. It consists of approximately 215 miles. Mostly county highways and roads but also a good amount of crushed gravel rail trail. Before I depart I want to make some notes as to the journey and my reasons for wanting to embark on such an adventure.
This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. The idea of heading out on my road bike with everything I need (which is really very little) and sleeping under the stars appeals to me. I like living like a gypsy, if only for a couple of days. I like sightseeing on 2 wheels. It’s the perfect speed. So much can be missed in a car, and it’s hard to cover much ground on foot. On my bike I can enjoy the scent of a cedar swamp and see the wildflowers by the side of the road in detail. I plan to stop along the way for all historical markers as well as several streams. I’ll ride early in the morning and well into the evening so that during the heat of the day I can soak up some atmosphere in a small town coffee shop if I happen across one.
My summer employment plans were derailed. At this time, due to financial constraints, my racing is on hold. Rather than be all depressed about my situation and before I just go find any minimum-wage job to get by, I want to take this adventure. I’m about to take my final semester of school and then get a real, full-time job and learn about being financially comfortable again. It’s been a long time!
|Making Art into a touring bike|
Of course I would not want this trip to be anything but meaningful on a deeper levels. The reasons I am doing this include:
-My sister, Becky Sann, who is severely handicapped and will never know the joy of riding a bicycle.
-My childhood best friend, Connie Norton, who was murdered when we were 17. This past week my ex’s girlfriend came across a letter Connie had wrote to me in high school as well as some photos of the 2 of us. Damn it, I miss her. She meant so much to me. I’m riding with her on my shoulder. I can only imagine the amazing woman she would be today.
-My battle with autoimmune disease. In 2000 I was numb from the waist down like my legs were asleep. I had a hard time walking for an entire month. I questioned whether I’d be able to function normally again. MRI showed active brain lesions. I gave myself injections to slow the “Possible Multiple Sclerosis”. I believe my healthy diet and lifestyle have sent whatever it was into remission. I’ve only had slight symptoms at times since then. I fight back when it happens. I will not give in to it!
-Because I know that I’m physically and mentally capable. I’m certain there are others in this world who would do this if only they could. I can. And I will.
-My battle with obesity. I’ve come a long way. I am grateful for where I am and have my eye on where I’m going.
-I am working on learning to live in the moment.
Rather than dwell on the destination (which will be quite nice I’m sure) I have been relishing the planning. The mapping. The scavenger hunt for supplies to do this on next to no budget. The packing and repacking to whittle down space and weight. Figuring out how to mount the borrowed pannier rack to my bike with no rack mounting provisions – using my neighbor’s “junk” stash of hose, clamps, nuts & bolts. The unknown of where I’ll sleep tomorrow night. The generosity of those who are helping me make it possible: My kids who are caring for the animals. Elvis Bauman for the pannier rack. Terry Gibbs and his friend for the water filter. My neighbor, Harry, for his supplies. Ben Koenig for his awesome lighting system and a spare tire “just in case”. Denise Coppock for the rice muffin recipe. Laina for her iPod for when mine runs out of battery or when I need some Florence to sing along to. Randy Wegener for his constant support and creativity, and in advance for some meat on the grill when I arrive 🙂 The ride will be enjoyed in the moment. The ups and downs are inevitable.
Above all I will approach this with a heart full of gratitude. For my body. For my bike. For my amazing friends. For the sunshine. For the rain.
My bike will be decorated with inspirational/funny quotes. If you’d like to add one, shoot a message my way and I’ll scribble it on tape to secure to my bike for when the going gets hard. I’ll be checking in only once or twice each day due to a short-lived phone battery. My intention is to arrive in Beechwood, Wisconsin Tuesday evening before dark.
4:00am: My alarm goes off. I’m sleeping halfway dressed to go. It’s raining out. The tailend of a thunderstorm that was moving through and disturbing my sleep. I made a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and dates. Got everything loaded on the bike rack. Woke Laina up for a goodbye hug and a departure picture.
4:40am: Just about ready to roll. Walking the bike down the driveway because the road is all torn up yet, and I tipped my bike slightly. The whole load fell off. Got it all secured a little better. Hopped in the saddle and heard Laina holler, “Happy birthday!!”. She’s so funny.
A few miles down the road is a nice climb. What a way to start! On the descent I heard something hit the pavement. My stainless steel thermos of coffee. Now it has character. Got that secured better too.
50 minutes in, Just north of Enterprise on County Road G I saw a rather large animal crossing the road and I stopped. It was a decent-sized black bear. It stopped to look at me. I’ve never been that close to a bear in the wild before. I reached for my phone to turn it on and take a picture, because it was just standing there so beautifully. I was scared but I wasn’t at the same time. Before the phone loaded up it continued across the road. Good bear. I noticed my legs trembling when I started to pedal again.
Rain clouds looked ominous, so I stopped at the gas station in Elcho to put my sleeping bag in a garbage bag and use the restroom.
From there I took 45 south to County Highway B. I enjoyed the scenery; a little old almost-forgotten town, a golf course, and several farms. Just west of Antigo I made another stop. This time for sardines, bacon, and rice muffins. I was about 47 miles in. The wind against me but that was my only gripe. I was making good time and physically feeling quite well. No rain yet. In the small town of Aniwa I was supposed to find a bike trail that connected to Mountain-Bay, according to the map. I asked at the 1-pump gas station but they had never heard of it, and said no one really bikes in that area. Where the map said to get on the trail I saw just a grassy, unmowed snowmobile trail. That would not work with my road bike. I continued on back roads, some gravel and some paved. I passed “Bogus Rd.” and laughed out loud. Bogus. The trail was bogus.
From there I had to take Highway 45 for a brief period of time, to N, to Bluebird Lane. When I got to 45 I stopped to put my high-visibility gear back on. Lots of traffic, lots of semis. It’s a bit of a thrill, but I was happy to be done with it as soon as I could. Bluebird Lane was a bit hilly. I noticed a goldfinch flying alongside and then just in front of me for quite awhile. I’ve never really paid attention to their flight pattern. This one seemed to be leading my way. Pleasant little bird.
Around mile 73 I arrived at the Mountain-Bay trail, which parallels Highway 29. I was going to take an extended rest at Joe Bikeler’s coffee/bike shop in Shawano. Now, I’ve been on some rail trails. They’re typically crushed gravel and easy enough to manage on a road bike. This one had plenty of hard-packed dirt, and with the rain that had moved through in the morning I found my roadie tires pretty squirrely! Interesting ride! The payoff was shade and no traffic, so I stuck with it.
Mile 80 I came across a scenic covered bridge and stopped for photos. That was near Bowler. Found a gas station for a restroom break, banana, and cold water. Back on the trail, I was startled by an odd sound as a pair of sandhill cranes crossed in front of me, audibly upset. I stopped to let them cross. One started heading my way so I got out of there, apologizing for disturbing their home.
I came across a couple near Shawano – the only other people I saw on the trail – who were on their way from Michigan to Seattle. Their bikes were all decked out with racks and bags. I can definitely see doing that later on in my life. They informed me that the bike shop is closed on Mondays. When I got to Shawano I was at mile 103. It’s been 4 years since I’ve done a solo century. Actually at mile 100 I did a little “Woohoo!!” in my mind. I needed a break so I hopped off the trail and went in the direction of town to find a coffee shop. There were a couple of guys working on something out in a yard so I asked them for directions. They invited me to stay and play volleyball with them that evening. Ha! I thanked them politely and stated after 100 miles I was in no condition to play volleyball.
Next stop was not the coffee shop after all. It was a small park with a shade tree – sardines, bacon, rice cakes and almond butter. Phone conversation with Randy who advised me to continue to Bonduel and find shelter there from a severe thunderstorm that was to hit in about an hour. I was pretty much sick of the rail trail and it’s leg-sucking wet gravel by then but the thunder in the distance prodded me to Bonduel. I walked down a grassy hill at an overpass, hopped on my bike, and rode into town. There was a home with 3 little kids out in the yard yelling something at me. I stopped and they yelled “There’s a BIG storm coming! You have to get out of the storm! The lights might even go out!” I thanked them for telling me about the storm and asked if
they knew where I might find a restaurant. The pipsqueak little boy offered their house. He was adorable 🙂 At that point their mom walked over and told me I’d find a restaurant just up the road. Rooster something. When I arrived there were no cars in the parking lot. It was totally a mom-and-pop kind of diner. I peeked my head in the door and asked the waitress if they would be open for awhile. She responded that yes they would and to bring my water bottles in so she could fill them up. Toni. *Awesome* waitress. I sat there and ate, drank coffee, and charged my phone while the storm passed. It was perfect. Other customers had come in the meantime and they were full of questions. Apparently it’s not a common thing to do?
My conservative goal was to make it to Angelica, about 112 miles in, and find a place to spend the night. All I brought was a sleeping bag. I wanted to sleep under the stars. I knew I would not sleep much anyway but needed to shut my eyes for awhile. With Randy’s help, we came up with that I could probably make it to Seymour. If I was really doing great I could make it to Freedom, around 150 miles in. That way day #2 would only be about 60 miles and I could take my time.
I was feeling pretty good after the diner. I altered my route and took Slab City Rd. I was greeted with a rather large hill, and then another. The downhill before crossing 29 was absolutely a thrill though! I felt the fatigue on the next large climb and eeked down into my granny gear. Thank goodness for triples. 7mph up those hills. Seated climbs to conserve energy. I wanted Freedom. Not Seymour.
French Rd. to Seymour. Dusk and time to put on the night gear. Thankfully my mom sells high-viz equipment so I was set. I had 2 blinking lights on the back, reflective vest, band on my ankle and band on my pack. Commuter headlight on blink setting and mega-headlight (Light & Motion Stella) from Ben Koenig. Sunset was peaceful with it’s hues of pink over golden fields. Now I know where “America the Beautiful” came from. We really do live in a beautiful place. Riding after dark felt pretty incredible. The cooler temperatures perked me up. Fireflies ushered me into Freedom. I was ready to be done riding for the day. With a little guidance from Randy I found a place to throw down my sleeping bag, complete with the luxuries of a bathroom to clean up a bit. I got everything ready for the next morning, then watched stars and heat lightning while I drifted off. Note to self: pack something you can use for a pillow the next time! Between my sore body, pounding head, and not being able to get comfortable using a hat for a pillow, by 4 I was sick of tossing and turning. I was reaching for ibuprofen when my alarm went off. By 4:40 I was back in the saddle. 150 miles in. A new record for me in one day. 60 or so to go!
Morning was clear. The birds were waking up with the sun. I was cruising past farm fields in the direction of pinks and yellows. Flocks of birds scattered around farm fields. One bird seemed to chase me a bit, cackling as if I’d invaded it’s space. You never get that experience in a car. In fact you miss out on so much in a car. Biking, to me, is the perfect pace to see the world. I experienced the sights so much more fully. I could smell the earth and the trees. I could feel the damp air on my skin. Around 5:30 a fuchsia-colored ball rose into the sky. I stopped for pictures and to just take it in.
From there the traffic was fairly heavy into Wrightstown and there was no paved shoulder. Crossing the Fox River felt like a milestone to me for some reason. It was a rush, speeding down the hill to the bridge while another cyclist was climbing up and giving the nod. Speeding over the bridge and letting the momentum carry me up the hill on the other side, almost all the way. I stood and gave a few pedal strokes to the top. A couple blocks later I was greeted with a smile and a “good morning” from an elderly man out for a walk.
Not long after I came to the Fox River Trail. More gravel. Great! I shed my reflective gear. I grabbed a bite to eat and some blackberries that were ripe along the trail. I knew I would be meeting up with someone very special – the only person I’d want riding with me on this trip. A few miles up the trail I thought I saw a rider coming my way. Sure enough. Who else could it be?? There she was! Margaret hopped off her bike and greeted me with a wonderful hug. Ah… my best friend. We visited all the way back to her house, stopping mid-hill to pet kittens near a farm. At the house I visited with her and her hubby over coffee. She fed me eggs and bacon. It was hard to leave!
Back on the bike at about 11:30am it was *hot*. The whole trip up until that point I had not felt like I was frying or anything, but I did then. The roads were not marked so several times I had to stop and verify I was on the correct route. To do so I would seek out the tiniest bits of shade from the sparse trees. It’s very flat, windy, and bare. I felt very exposed and vulnerable. Sweat dripped off of me. I took several breaks to stand in shade and eat, drink, take my helmet off, whine….. I was feeling worn out on the hills, slowly going up in my granny gear. I felt like it would never end. I had anticipated 60 miles that day but it was looking like at least 70. The headwind was relentless. I wanted to just stop. I wanted ice. I thought about going to the Birkie with Laina. I thought about sparkling snow in the woods. I turned left on “Little Kiln Road” and found it ironic. More like “Big Kiln”, thank you very much.
In New Holstein I stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and water. The air conditioned building felt so good, I purchased some almonds and a meat stick and hung around for a bit. I knew that mentally I could finish this trip but I worried if physically it was stupid. I’m familiar with heat exhaustion. With the wind and heat I knew I was working harder than I should for such a distance. I called Randy to whine some more. He broke the rest of the trip down into 3 sections for me. I had about 21 miles left to go. So, I kept on. Stopped at the Sheboygan Marsh restaurant for a small Coke and ice water to fill my bottles. I drank some and poured some on me. I wanted to be out of the wind more than anything. I knew my next stop was about 7 more miles –
Fudgienuckles in Glenbeulah. The name is just so funny, I had to stop in. I ordered a Pepsi. Keep in mind I have not had that stuff in years. I didn’t care. It tasted really good right then. The bartender asked how far I’d ridden and at that time it had been 213 miles. The people at the bar made a big fuss over how amazing that was. It felt funny to me, and kind of surreal. I didn’t stick around for long – just long enough to suck down that ice-cold Pepsi and make the final 9 mile trek.
Leaving Glenbeulah the terrain starts to be beautiful again. I welcomed the hills of the Kettles because they came with trees, and shade, and wind protection. Also I knew that I’d be done shortly. That was a great motivator! At mile 220 I heard a very funny-sounding bicycle horn behind me. I turned to look (WTH?) and there was Randy, driving home from work and figuring I’d be somewhere along that stretch of Highway
A. He drove alongside me for awhile. It was such a good feeling to be almost done and have someone to share that with. I felt relatively strong. As we got to his road, he backed off and let me enjoy the last few moments solo. It was the first tailwind I’d felt for the entire trip. I know I was smiling and not just on the outside. I felt like I was flying, 24mph effortlessly, thrilled to have actually accomplished this crazy goal in my 4th week back on the bike after being injured for a long time. It was the absence of what I love that made me appreciate it more. I did it because I CAN. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle.
Sometimes in life, when an opportunity presents itself we have to go for it. After my first overnight bike adventure this June, I was bitten by the touring bug. It was a one-way trip, consisting of 150 miles the first day and 73 the second. It was brutally hot and windy, but with some friendly encouragement I completed my mission. I loved the planning. I loved the pace. I loved stopping for historical markers. I loved the sunrise from the seat of my trusty road bike.
Soon I go back to school for my final semester. I will graduate this December and will be seeking full-time employment shortly thereafter. This summer, my job requires me to work part-time from home, so I have the flexibility to go places. I do not have much in the way of funds. Therefore, if I want to go see Lake Superior I need to ride my bike. That works for me! I’ve had a lot weighing on my mind the past few months about the direction I want to take as a nurse, relationships, and self-love. As a little girl, I spent hours on the north shore of Lake Superior at my grandparent’s house, hunting for rocks or bits of smooth pottery. As a grown woman I find solace in The Big Lake. I wanted to dip my feet in its cold water, and sit among the sun-warmed, smooth rocks. I wanted to feel the sand between my toes. I wanted time away from home and all of its distractions, to deeply reflect on some recent revelations. I wanted to cast the events that have haunted me since my early years into the depths of the waters. I felt that coming to peace with some issues from my past would help me to become a more effective nurse, mother, and eventually a partner.
Trip planning began a few weeks prior. I laid out one route to Little Girl’s Point, near Ironwood, Michigan. I’ve been there before. Camping is convenient and agate picking is decent. However, I accidentally deleted my route! This caused me to seek other destinations. I settled on the Porcupine Mountains, near Ontonagon. The distance was perfect; approximately 130 miles each way. I know I am capable of that, although I have never attempted two rides over 100 miles in one week. In fact, up until this year, I had only done one century ride per year. Last year I did zero.
I decided to ride up in one day, spend the second day at the lake, and ride home the third day. I would have to find someone to care for Willow while I was gone, and had other obligations to address. I do not have much in the way of gear, so I wanted food I could eat without cooking and while remaining true to my paleo style. Planning for these trips is very fun. I make sure the routes go through small towns so that I can refill my water. I’m prepared to answer the call of nature in the woods, but it is nice being able to use a gas station restroom.
I am fortunate to have local friends who help me by outfitting my excursions. I called on them for a pannier rack, panniers, and a lightweight tent. The panniers and tent have traveled the world, sporting over 31,000 miles of adventure. The panniers are decorated with patches from such places as Newfoundland and Iceland. I felt honored to hang them on my bike.
During the trip planning I was spending time reading and reflecting on my own personal baggage. I loaded up Art with baggage to carry also. This was not to be an easy trip. I felt his weight and my own.
It was a mix of excitement, a strong sense of adventure, and nervousness as the trip grew nearer. I would have no lifeline to call if things went bad. I had to be self-sufficient.
Day #1 Up at 5:00am. I planned to be out the door by 5:45 so that I could see the sunrise as I pedaled. I showered and made a breakfast of eggs, bacon (of course!), acorn squash and black coffee. I sat and read an inspirational story on my front porch, savoring my breakfast, until well after 6:00. I decided it was more important to take my time than to rush out the door. I spend so much of my life in a rush; frazzled and exhausted. The sunrise wasn’t particularly beautiful that day anyway. It was a brisk 46 degrees out and I was going to ride all day. I finally shoved off a little after 6:30.
Mile 2: Road construction. It was the pulverized pavement/gravel blend and it was loose! My bike felt awkward and I nearly tipped over once. I was relieved when I got through it.
Mile 7: I go past this uninhabited lake often and I marvel at its beauty. On this morning it was filled with fog that seemed to be dancing in swirls. I stopped, turned around, and went back to enjoy the view. The morning was brilliant and the chill in the air was refreshing. I was wearing leg warmers with
my shorter bike shorts and it made a very goofy gap where my leg skin was exposed. I pulled my shorts down a little bit every time I heard a car coming. I stopped to try to fix the situation. It just kept happening. I noted the poor combination and vowed to not let it happen again!
Mile 26: First break. Espresso at the Red Canoe in Saint Germain. It was very delicious! One thing about these trips is that instead of saying I’ll refill water at mile “x”, I take water wherever I can. Generally I’ll order a single shot of espresso and ask for a refill on my water bottles. Great service here, and if you’re into that sort of thing, there’s an ice cream shop next door.
Saint Germain is where I picked up the paved bike path. It offers relatively easy riding. It’s fun, with curves and short hills as well as scenery along the way. Of course it’s nice to be out of motor vehicle traffic. I stopped a couple of times to shed layers of clothing on my way to Boulder Junction. There were only a few other trail users out that morning. Some were cordial; some were in their own world.
Mile 51: When I arrived at Boulder Junction, the path was being occupied by the local flea market. I dismounted my bike and walked through the crowd of families, older folks, craftsmen, local farmers, and darting children. The booths offered trinkets, clothing, wooden decorations, birdhouses, local produce and many other items.
Mile 52: Stop #2. Dark roast coffee with almond milk and honey at Dancing Bear Coffee & Gifts in Boulder Junction. I plugged my phone in to charge and enjoyed the plush massage chair. I thumbed through a ridiculously funny book. I ate a small lunch outdoors with my bike. The day had shaped up beautifully. Perfectly warm weather and bright sunshine; it doesn’t get much better.
The county highways between Boulder Junction and Presque Isle are dotted with lakes of various sizes. Lily pads were in full bloom and random trees were starting to show golden and crimson. As I exited the small town of Presque Isle I delighted in a fast downhill, until I realized that with a full load, my bike wobbles at speeds over thirty miles per hour!
It felt very encouraging to see the “Welcome to Pure Michigan” sign. I thought to myself, “I rode my bike to Michigan!” Quick stop for a Lara bar and I was on my way. I had forgotten my map of the Michigan part of my trip. I knew M-64 would take me to the lake, but I like having other options.
Mile 76: Marenisco, Michigan. This is one small town! I stopped at the local gas and grocery store. It appears to be from the 1970’s inside and out. They sell a few groceries and have little area with 2 seating booths for people to sit and eat. I was tired mentally by this point. My shoulders were sore. My saddle had turned into a brick ten miles prior. I felt slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of 50 more miles. I looked at a map the kind clerk offered and purchased a Rock Star energy drink. At this point I popped in an earbud and put on some of my favorite music.
Mile 90: I perked up a bit, but found it difficult to get comfortable on my saddle. Large, rolling hills sprawled out before me as I rode along the west shore of Lake Gogebic. I knew I had to pace myself differently than ever before, because I had to repeat the trip on Day #3. I felt the weight of our collective baggage, and I knew I was not even close to my destination.
Mile 102: Bergland, Michigan. I remembered coming here in 2008 for Tour Da Lake. It’s a mountain bike ride around Lake Gogebic, with several stops along the way and a potluck at the end. I was in a group of riders that would sprint between stops and drink beer while other riders filtered in. It had been a very memorable day, with the sound of fat tires screaming down the pavement in a tight paceline. Today I was in need of a break from the breeze that had picked up. There was no wheel to draft on. I was having mental issues and there were 20-30 more miles to go. I determined I would not make it to the Porcupine Mountains in time to stop at the Visitor’s Center and talk to them about camping options. I knew there was a self-registration for backcountry camping and also Union Bay Campground was open until 11:00pm. My new goal was to make it there in time for sunset.
I departed Bergland, noticing how beautiful the rock was along the roadway with its hues of cream, rust and crimson. I nearly went off the shoulder of the road taking a photo, and as I snapped it saw the large and ugly graffiti polluting nature’s beauty.
Mile 112: A hornet stung me in the lower right arm. Goodness, that hurts! I saw it stinging me, full of anger. I wondered why it was so angry. I was just riding my bike. And then I got angry! I was angry at the hornet. I cursed out loud, and worried that my many allergies might include bee stings. I was stung last month at a local mountain bike trail, but in this situation I was in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. My anger and the pain distracted me from my aching legs and the wind.
I felt as if a tailwind had come up as I rolled towards Lake Superior. I was clipping along with relative ease once the bee sting subsided. My excitement to see the seemingly endless blue water was spurring me on.
Mile 121: First glimpse of the lake! Isn’t it majestic?? I wanted to jump and shout. Instead I rode along with an ear-to-ear smile. I was celebrating on the inside. I was pure joy. I rode my bike to Lake Superior.
I stopped at a campground for prices but was unimpressed. I did not want to camp close to other people. I wanted solitude. I did not need any luxuries besides perhaps somewhere to charge my cell phone, which is also my camera. I continued on to Union Bay Campground and found them very helpful. They understood just what I was looking for and that I could not hike very far with my bike and his baggage. I purchased a two-day backcountry camping permit with the offer of being able to charge my phone there any time. I was given ideas as to which trails to hike that weren’t terribly hilly. From there I rode back to the turn for South Boundary Road, where I would be riding up to find a camping spot. I leaned Art against a road sign and descended the steep bank to the beach. This is what I came for. The cold water felt very healing on my tired legs. I marveled at the bouquet of rocks and the sound of the waves. I looked as far as I could see and the blue sky met the blue water on the horizon.
Because I had to go find somewhere to camp yet and set up the tent, I caught just the beginning of a spectacular sunset show and then climbed the steep bank back to my bike. The Union Mine Trail was a 1.75 mile climb away. My legs felt incredibly heavy.
Mile 128: I made it to the trailhead. The hiking trail was sandy and cumbersome while walking next to Art. Dusk was upon me and I thought about where I might have put my small camp headlight. There are certain parameters for backcountry camping that have to do with how far a person can camp off the trail or proximity to water. I noticed what looked like an old, slightly overgrown trail. I followed it over some sticks and through some brush, and it opened to a perfect spot for my borrowed Bibler I-tent. I set up camp, put on my compression stockings, and got cozy in my borrowed lightweight sleeping bag. This spot was perfect! I could hear the Union River bubbling its lullaby. As I was dozing off, a tree fell nearby! It was very unnerving as it shook the ground beneath me. I got up to make sure I hadn’t heard my bike fall or that the tree hadn’t fallen on my bike. All was well. I started dozing off again and heard curious critters flitting about. I spoke to them and felt thankful for the birds and critters for sharing their home with me. I proceeded to toss and turn all night long. The next time I will have a sleeping pad for sure!
Daybreak was upon me, but I tried to stay in my sleeping bag as long as possible. It wasn’t cold out, but I was cozy and in absolutely no hurry to do anything. As per my usual, I wrote my to-do list for the day, except this one was far different than normal: “Hike, massage legs & shoulders, find coffee, go agate hunting, write”.
I absolutely love backcountry camping! It’s such a sense of freedom. No crowds. No youngsters shouting. Chickadees for neighbors. Curious squirrels scurrying among the trees. I located my breakfast and found a place to sit on the riverbank while I enjoyed a piece of jerky, some mashed sweet potato, a Lara bar and my thermos of still-warm coffee.
The Union River flowed over small rocks and curved to the left just past where I sat on a bed of pine needles. The soft patches of moss were beautiful hues of green against the rust-colored dirt. What a serene setting for breakfast. Once I was finished I re-organized my gear, made the decision to leave the tent set up and stick with this spot as a base camp, then hung Day 3’s food in a tree so that I would not have to haul it around with me. My body was sore from the miles of Day 1 and from the previous weekend’s cross-country mountain bike race. With everything organized, I grabbed my notepad and paper and set out for my hike. On the bank of the river I found the perfect rock to sit on.
My purpose on this trip included putting some thought into those things which make me happy, independently of anyone else. Self-love is important. I think I have it, and then I realize that I don’t. If I did, I would not be sticking around in relationships far too long, hoping for something that will simply never exist with that person. I would not devalue myself hoping to gain the love of someone who has no interest in giving love. I wrote down the things that make me happy, some of which are: riding my bikes, inspiring others, being the kind of friend who can be talked to and trusted with anything, being at bike races, being lean and muscular, hunting for agates… I could go on but those are some of the big things.
Recently I realized that I have had a relationship pattern my whole adult life. I tend to choose emotionally unavailable men. While outside of a relationship I feel quite independent, strong-willed, determined, and full of positive energy, when I am in a relationship I tend to focus on the other person and lose sight of myself. Then everything goes haywire! I wonder why that person doesn’t feel so strongly about me or why he is not as romantic as me. I choose this type every time, and every time it
does not work out. It seems it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know it won’t work from the beginning. I know he will not be there for me on a deep level. I go through the relationship like I used to race, turning myself inside out and trying my very hardest – except there is no trophy here. There is no love. It just is not that important to the other person. I distance myself emotionally and things fall apart. I get tired of trying. The realization was that it started way, way back, with a father who would show up out of the blue, make promises to me, and then not follow through. I might not see him for years at a time. I suppose now that if I choose men who are not emotionally available, and then it does not work out, and I leave the relationship, I will not be hurt. At least not to the degree as if I were to fall deeply in love and then be left by him. I have attracted distance into my love life, be it physically, emotionally, or both.
Now I have recognized the issue and my job is to work on changing the pattern. This is where self-love comes in. No more devaluing myself. I have a lot to offer in a relationship. The same stubbornness that makes me finish a long race or 150-mile day on the bike will be the same effort I put into my love life. I will no longer settle for someone who does not want or appreciate what I have to give. When someone tells me they do not have the time for me, or treats me harshly (to put it nicely), I will move on. I will be okay and I know that. I love me . I wrote down some personal goals to achieve those things which make me happy. I wrote down some of my values in a relationship, as well as deal-breakers.
Since breaking up with my fiancé last February, I have been seeking out happy couples and questioning them. I often ask how they met, and what they think the key is to their happiness. The common theme is mutual support. They are each other’s #1 fan.
I feel a deep love inside of me, and a desire to help others. I often feel it well up within me and I feel I emanate positive energy. My desire is to use that energy to help others, especially my friends and future patients as a nurse. As I approach my final semester of nursing school, I wanted to spend some time thinking about where I would be able to use my positive energy to help someone in need. It came to me, actually in preparation for the trip and as the miles went on I felt stronger about it. Oncology. If I think battling my way through headwinds and rain is hard, it’s nothing compared to what a cancer fighter is going through. I willingly put myself through these things and part of the reason is for the opportunity to overcome adversity. I have had a taste of life-changing medical diagnosis; in 2000 I was diagnosed with “probable multiple sclerosis”. One day I woke up with the sensation of my feet being asleep. It spread up to my waist. My depth perception was skewed. I had a hard time walking. I went through a battery of tests, revealing active lesions on my brain. I went through self-injections to delay the progression of the disease. It’s a whole story in itself, but suffice it to say that plays a part in how motivated I am in life. I know adversity. Physically, financially, emotionally…abuse in the forms of physical, sexual, and emotional reach way back into my childhood. It has shaped me into who I am today. Yet those fighting cancer are often in the very midst of adversity. I want to hold the hand of someone undergoing chemotherapy and radiate light to them. I want to learn reiki and offer complimentary healing through energy. I have it within me. My desire and passion is to use it for good. If I could be a ray of light for someone going through a hard time my life would be worthwhile. I do not seek praise. I seek to make a difference.
I actually began to write out my “Bucket List”. It currently has fourteen items, most of which have to do with bicycling or learning.
I rose from my rock and writing to hike the Union Mine Trail. It is rich with history, and includes informational plaques along the way with details about the mine which was active there in the mid-late 1800’s. I find history fascinating now, although as a teen I slept through most of history class. There were old mine shafts, stone ruins from equipment, remnants of primitive roads, and quotes from Mr. Spalding, including one that made me chuckle. It was something like, “Murdered 700 black flies”. I guess our forefathers dealt with pests, too. My huaraches (shoes) felt so natural and supple on the rooty, rocky, dirty trail. The Eastern Hemlocks loomed above me and I thought about days gone by in that area. The views of the river were incredibly beautiful, with small waterfalls and rapids along the way. I was hungry again. I tend to forget how hungry I am the day after a long ride.
Back at camp I ate and changed clothes. I headed to the Visitor’s Center to ask about the nearest coffee. I dropped my dead phone off at the Union Bay Campground to charge, and went to the Outpost where I purchased a patch to sew on my future panniers, some lunchmeat, and coffee. As I sat to drink coffee at a picnic table, I was approached by a 65-year-old mountain biker from Eau Claire. It turns out he volunteers for his local mountain bike race. I had to miss that one this year due to lack of funds, but I’ve enjoyed that race in the past. What a small world. He and his grandson were on vacation. We talked bikes, and he showed me their bikes with pride. He said he was too old to race and I argued that no, 65 is not “too old”. I know a 60-year-old who could use more competition!
It was finally beach time. I rode to a place where no one was around. I looked at the vast blue water. The weather was perfect for a bathing suit and with the sun sparkling on the water, I ventured in. It is certainly Lake Superior. I was tentative, especially around my belly. I dipped down just a little. I splashed water on my arms and shoulders. I dipped down again, to my waist this time. I thought about a book that I’ve been reading called “The Flinch”, and I submerged myself – to my neck. I did not want to deal with my crazy, fine hair when it gets wet. Once I was to that point I swam out a bit. The water was so refreshing. When I was back near the beach, I knelt in the water facing the shore. I closed my eyes and just let the feeling of the waves move me. They gently pushed me towards the shore. I was so grateful for that moment. Eventually I went back up on shore, head down and looking for the elusive agate. The sand was warm beneath my bare feet. The temperature was in the mid-70’s with a slight breeze. I found a giant log on the beach and laid down on it to dry. It felt so good to lay there and listen to the waves. I started to doze a little.
The man at the Outpost had asked me if I was going to ride up to Lake Of The Clouds. Oh, how I wanted to! My body was telling me to rest, though. I had come for the lake. I had to get home the next day and I was sore. I closed my eyes again and let the sounds lull me into a meditative state.
Some time later I rode back to Union Bay Campground and picked up my phone. I uploaded one photo and it promptly died. I was busy sitting in a pile of sun-warmed rocks near the boat landing so I just let it be. Once I had tired of rock picking I went back and put the phone back on the charger, I ate. It was only 3:30. There was to be an agate hunting program at 7:00 and for the first time in ages, I felt boredom. I cleaned and lubed my bike chain. I thought about drinking a soda but then I did not. I got a refill on my water and went back to the lake, where I spotted a large, sun-warmed rock that looked an awful lot like a recliner. I took another rest.
I picked more rocks and found some interesting, beautiful specimens. There were a lot of spiders scurrying out among the rocks as I disturbed them. Finally my phone was charged and I checked in with the world. I ate again, and it was time for the agate program. Mr. Wild, the Park Naturalist, was leading the group. It was interesting. All this time I had been hunting on shore but the best is in the water. I tried it out and it felt very good, especially on my sore legs. Prior to this I had just been going in briefly to feel the cool water on my feet and legs, but I would wade a bit and return to shore to look for agates. I picked rocks with a group of about 25 people, ranging in age from small children to retirees. My hunt was successful in the way of other beautiful
specimens but not agates. I did find an interesting fossil. Unlike the other folks there, I was not camping at the Union Bay Campground so I left early. At least this night I did not have to set up camp. I rode to the point where South Boundary Road turns up the hill, and just a little beyond there was a set of stairs down the steep bank. I hauled Art to the beach to wait for the sunset. When I got onto the sand, I wiggled the front wheel and the bike stayed in place. I kicked sand over the wheels and took a series of photos. I went in the water and found a small agate. I ate sardines. I found biting flies. And then, I savored the sunset. I knew that Art and I both would be returning home with less baggage.
I climbed the 1.75 miles to the Union Bay Trailhead with tired legs. I lay in the tent and listened to coyotes yipping. I closed only the screen door to the tent and had a view of the night sky. A shooting star brought a smile to my face and I settled in for another night of tossing and turning.
I woke before the sun. I broke camp in the dark, hoping to see the sunrise and allow time to take a different route home. Breaking camp is quick with the lightweight tent and very little gear. I was amused at using Art as a mountain bike down the trail, through sand, over roots. Coyotes were making their eerie noises when I got to the trailhead. I love being in nature. My soul feels at home in the woods, coyotes and all. I enjoyed the 1.75 mile descent on the road, to Lake Superior.
The sunrise was stunning! I stood by the roadside and ate a light breakfast. My mashed sweet potatoes had gone bad but it was not a big deal. I took some photos and headed east to Silver City.
As I turned on M-64 to ride south about 20 miles to Bergland, I felt a headwind. Great. My knees hurt. My knees rarely ever hurt. I was about 6 miles in when I stopped to gauge the wind. If there was any, it was insignificant. My right arm was swollen and looked odd from the angry hornet on the trip up. I thought, “It’s going to be a long day.” Then it started to
rain. I tried to see the beauty in the miles of forest, in the changing colors of the trees, in the roadside flowers…and when I thought I was maybe on a downhill and stopped pedaling I slowed right down. Mentally I was struggling. I stopped to put my earbud in my right ear and played Victor Schueller’s “Positively Empowered” podcasts. I was going to take a side road that would parallel M-64 and perhaps offer a more scenic view. It was my goal in my head, that if I could make it that far I would be doing pretty good and see some new scenery. I got there and it was loose gravel. It would be about ten miles, so I stayed on M-64. Gravel sucks the life out of my already tired legs. This was not the day for it.
Mile 22: By the time I arrived at Bergland I was having a pity party for myself. I had 110 more miles to ride and it was raining. My legs felt sore. I went into the gas station and bought a dried fruit and nut snack mix as well as a hot cup of hazelnut coffee. I rode to the Bergland Community Park where I plugged in my phone to charge and did some writing. The rain came down harder. I no longer felt like riding my bike. My seat area was sore and I knew getting soaked would not help matters, Chamois Butter or not. I proceeded to eat the entire bag of snack mix along with some other items from my panniers. I rationed out my food for the duration of the trip as I was super hungry and getting low on food. I drank coffee. I whined to friends. And then, I got back on the bike. I had no other option, and deep down I knew that even if I did, I had set out to do this and had no reason why I couldn’t. I took the eastern route along Lake Gogebic this time. It was slightly longer but more scenic. I remembered it from Tour Da Lake, and the memories of that day made me smile. The rain had let up a little and I started to enjoy the ride again. I listened to a podcast about overcoming adversity. Yes!
Mile 40: Quick stop for a packet of tuna and a “natural break”. This was a pretty little place. My head felt much better. I was less than 100 miles from home and just had to get to Stage Coach Road, which by the map appeared to be not too far. I was warm and discarded my long sleeves as well as leg warmers. I enjoyed some of my homemade trail mix of coconut flakes, cashews, dried cherries and dark chocolate chips.
Ready to take on the trip, I got back in the saddle and listened to an interview with Tara Mohr about the way in which women tend to speak that makes them sound less empowered, or full of self-doubt. I decided to try to eliminate “just” from my speech, as in “I just wanted to say…” Heck, it should be “I want to say… Why make yourself sound unimportant right off the bat? Sometimes I think I’m too polite. I would not want to be rude, but I devalue myself too often.
My plan was to take Stage Coach Road to US-2 and then a short jog east would take me to a series of roads around small lakes, leading to Eagle River. I arrived at Stage Coach to see more loose gravel. It was a significant road in my plan, and chances were by the map I was using that if what I was seeing was gravel, so were the others, at least for quite a distance. I decided to take the same route that I took up at that point, because it certainly has water stops, and the paved bike path between Boulder Junction and Saint Germain is a good ride.
Mile 45: M-64. Fighting for 7mph. Gassed. Heart beating wildly. Did not look like an uphill, but the moment I ceased pedaling I stopped. I wanted to cry. I did not plan to stop until mile 60. I was working so damn hard, and had so far to go yet, and I wanted to throw my bike in the ditch and thumb a ride. I wanted to be done. I hurt in so many places, and I was exerting far more energy than I should have been. I thought perhaps my tires were flat but they were not. Not even a little bit! I thought I had a wicked headwind but there was just a slight breeze. I was so frustrated. I wanted to yell and scream! I put an electrolyte tablet in my water and decided I had better keep riding. The rain picked up as I neared US-2. I crossed the highway and got soaked as I descended Kimberly Road into Marenisco.
Mile 51: I pulled up to the humble, old little gas station and noted the sign on the door stating that they now sell wine. Oh, so tempting! Instead I bought black coffee, bananas, and peanuts. I plugged in my phone and sat in a booth with my foul mood. It took awhile, but slowly I had thoughts of gratitude creep into my head and heart. I reflected on how fortunate I am to have the physical and mental ability to do this trip. The radar looked like it would be raining for a long time, maybe even the duration of my ride, so I had better be grateful I can ride my bike in the rain. It’s just water, after all.
I was appreciative of the dry place to sit and collect my thoughts. I was grateful for my friends and their encouraging words. I decided to press on after a second cup of coffee. Ten miles to the Wisconsin border, and ten more after that to Boulder Junction, where I would stop for a break and pick up the bike path for some easy riding.
Mile 69: There are many secluded lakes along the route, and although it is a dreary day, this is one of them. I love the uninhabited wildness of these lakes. I was almost to Boulder Junction. The climb into Presque Isle had felt good. It was a steep hill and I powered right up. Raaaaawr! I missed the Michigan roads with their paved shoulders. Traffic on the county highways was busy today and it made me a little nervous.
Mile 73: I saw a sign stating it was 5 more miles to Boulder Junction. I was pissed off. My bladder was full and my belly was growling. “Five more miles?!” I whined to myself. I swung onto a gravel road where I relieved myself and ate sardines.
Mile 76: So it wasn’t 5 more miles. Oh well. I’d rather eat a tin of sardines sitting on a roadside bank of dirt than at a nice coffee shop anyway. On this day I would not enjoy the plush massage chair at Dancing Bear. I was soaked. The bag cover provided in Mark’s handlebar bag made me smile. In big letters that I could read from the saddle it said “BONUS!”. Sure. Bonus rain. Funny. I sat and sipped a dark roast coffee with agave nectar. Rain had pretty much stopped by the time; just a drizzle. It was nice, cool weather which I definitely prefer. I picked up the bike trail. No flea market this time. The water sprayed a fine, cool mist on my legs when I rolled through puddles, and it felt invigorating.
Mile 122: I like this road graffiti
It felt nice to be on familiar roads. I had an energy about me. I was amazed at how strong I felt at over 120 miles.
Mile 128: I made it in time for groceries!! Great feeling. Almost home!
And then, quietly, I was home. My cat greeted me at the door. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and personal growth. I made it.
Clients sometimes ask what made me go into massage therapy. Around 2008, as an amateur athlete, I became interested in sports massage. I had a table and a book, and would work on friends and family at home. I was very interested in the muscular anatomy and the aspects of sports recovery.
In 2011 or so, I was doing some deep soul searching. I spent hours on 2 wheels contemplating my purpose in this life. I rode from Rhinelander to Lake Superior on one solo adventure (135 miles each way – lots of time to think). I camped in a tent near the Union Mine River, and started my official Bucket List. I pick something off of it every year. The first thing was to ride in the Wausau 24 solo category – 24 hours of as much mountain biking as a person could do. This year I’m kayaking Pictured Rocks. At any rate, massage school was on my list. Logistically, though, it seemed far-fetched. It is a commitment of time and thousands of dollars. $6k just for school, not to mention insurance, licensure, equipment, etc, etc. The nearest school is over an hour away.
Then, in 2016, my sister was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. By the time it was found, it was beyond treatment. My sister was handicapped since she was an infant, and I’m not sure she understood what was happening in her body.
<—Becky receiving massage and music therapy from Aspirus hospice, shortly before her death in June of 2016. When her massage therapist came to visit, she would have a moment of relaxation and it made her feel so much better. It was the most beautiful work I had ever seen.
Later that summer, my husband and I were visiting a friend, who introduced us to his lady friend, an RN/Massage Therapist. I was treated to her massage and knew I needed more of that in my life. The environment was calm and relaxed. The touch was enough to send me to that peaceful state of bliss….. I felt like between these 2 women, I was being urged to at least check into massage school.
My husband, per his usual, was supportive in me checking it out. I was working full time as a hospice nurse, with one overnight of call every week. I had struggled financially big-time prior to living with my husband, so I didn’t think a bank would actually finance me. Still, I needed to know. I started by calling my bank. No problem, and a decent APR. The school I decided on (Health Touch) for several reasons had just recently started and would accept me a few weeks in, due to my medical background. They met 2 evenings per week, 3-9pm. One of them was my on-call night. A fellow nurse switched nights with me, no problem. It all just fell into place. How could I not??
I’m still not sure how it all worked out. The schooling was not easy, even with my background. It was 12 hours of classroom and 4 of driving, plus practice time on various friends/family, plus studying, plus full time work every week for most of it. Nuts! Just goes to show you what a determined soul can make happen.
My original intention was to massage for hospice, but there have been no openings in my area for that. In the meantime, my little part-time self-employment gig has taken over in an amazing way, for which I’m grateful. I still hold most Wednesdays open in case hospice needs me to put on my scrubs and help as a nurse, but there’s talk of transitioning my hospice role to massage therapy later in summer of 2018. I’m totally down with that. I love bringing calm and caring touch to the people.
If that isn’t a rambling answer to the question, I don’t know what is! There you have it. 10 months into my professional massage therapy career and I’m wholly in love. Pursue your passions <3