It is currently day 4 of my trip along the Iron Belle Trail in Michigan. I am sitting in a library in Bay City, called the Sage Branch, which is in this beautiful old Victorian home and conveniently right across the street from the post office. I am on a “rest day,” which is really just an unplanned layover day as I wait for my new stove to arrive.
I’ll give an overview of the experience so far including each day and the stove dilemma. For those of you that want to read this saga, enjoy.
The stove dilemma: I decided to take an alcohol stove on this trip because of the good reviews I had heard from people and the fact that for a through bike/ hike, the fuel is much cheaper and more readily-available (I got my fuel for $.99 at Meijer!) . It seemed like a brilliant idea and I tested the stove out before I left. While it seemed to take extremely long to boil, I finally thought I got the hang of it, with some help from my friend Dan. On day 1, it took 23 minutes to finally get my water boiling, which seemed ridiculous. I am under the impression from the videos I’ve watched, that with the alcohol stove, you are supposed to let it heat up a bit and then the flames will start to come out of the side holes, allowing you to set the pot directly on top of the stove for a faster boil. However, mine never quite got to that point. Every time I thought it was hot enough, I would set it directly on top and the flame would immediately extinguish. I am still convinced that it’s probably user error and I am open to any mocking, help or suggestions. But regardless of the reason, I can’t figure it out and after two dinners and two breakfasts that never quite reached a boil, I’m just not willing to take the risk for the rest of the trip. Luckily, my dilemma is solved with the help of my amazing parents. I had my MSR windpro stove at home in Saline, with my other gear and called them in a desperate panic asking if they could ship it to me as soon as possible, because I was running out of backpacker pantry meals that just needed boiling water. So I ended up doing a little side detour in Saginaw to the Cabela’s store, hiding my bike behind a boat outside because there was no where to lock it up, and praying that no one stole it while I ran inside to buy fuel. Then my parents graciously overnight shipped my stove and it should be arriving at the post office across the street by 3pm today. Lesson learned: If your systems ain’t broke, don’t fix em! (especially when you are embarking on something that you have never done before)
Here’s a quick overview of the first few days of the trip, including Roses and Thorns for all you outdoor educators out there…
Day 1: Belle Isle to Ortonville Recreation Area- about 66 miles.
Roses: beautiful bike paths; met some cool people along the trail who wished me well; got my tent set up and my dinner made and eaten before the rain came; my friend Kendall lived about 2 minutes down the road from where I was staying and came out and talked with me!; no flat tires; my planning was good (except for the not training); guy at the Ortonville Recreation Area was really nice.
Thorns: Not training was a bad choice; the dirt roads near Ortonville were horrifying and I thought my bike was going to break; thunderstormed pretty much all night, so lots of tent time; slugs
Day 2: Ortonville Recreation Area to Otter Lake- originally supposed to be about 65 miles, ended up being about 35-40 miles.
Roses: Otter Lake campground was the shit- showers, cool people, pizza, beer, the owner at the Otter Lake campground was super nice and sat and talked with me for a while, then I gave his son the rest of my breadsticks; the ride was short; it got really sunny and beautiful; I found an outlet to charge my devices; I “showered” (which really meant just standing under the hot shower for far too long and rinsing but it felt amazing)
Thorns: When I first got to Otter Lake, it thunderstormed pretty immediately after I got my tent set up (I was running around frantically trying to get it set up before it hit) and I got soaked; I was kind of a bitch to my Mom as I called her desperately about the stove and then got pissed that it started downpouring and ended the phone call abruptly (sorry Mom); in Ortonville, I had to ride through an insane thunder and lightning storm (I took video) and decided that it would probably be best to just take the direct route to Otter Lake so I didn’t get caught in Flint in a thunderstorm; slugs
Day 3: Otter Lake to Bay City Recreation Area- about 67 miles through Saginaw stopping at Cabela’s
Roses: The ride from Otter Lake was awesome, a little scary at times on M-15, but smooth and good; no one stole my bike at Cabela’s; minimal rain on the ride; getting into the Bay City Recreation Area and seeing the beach was glorious, like I imagine meeting Celine Dion in person would be; I got to spend time and have meaningful conversation with my friend Maria, who picked me up IN A CAR to go get dinner
Thorns: realizing that being alone, I have to listen to the gut feeling when something feels off, and I got that feeling as I went to walk down to the beach at sunset, so didn’t go all the way to the water; my ass hurt; slugs in the morning
Day 4: Layover Day in Bay City- about 15 miles around town
Roses: I am typing inside on a computer; got to eat breakfast at this really cute little place called Mornin Maggie’s in Bay City, which was delicious, quiet, and had NPR on the radio; I get to hang out with Maria again today!; I get to sit inside a quiet library; I got to have a great conversation with a man sweeping the streets in downtown Bay City; no slugs!
Thorns: It’s a little cold outside today; I am sore and stiff
So here’s the part I think is the coolest about this journey so far. Even though it has only been 4 days, I already feel like I have had a pretty cool epiphany. When I set out planning this trip, I was definitely set in my typical Beth Gleason intense mindset where everything has to be extreme and the focus was on the mileage, physicality, and forcing myself to be alone. But in everything, there should be balance, something at which I am not always the greatest.
The very first night, I was offered a warm and dry bed but I refused because it wasn’t part of my original plan, or it wouldn’t be bad-ass enough, or some other bull shit stubborn reason that I came up with in my head. That night, as I was laying in my tent with a thunderstorm coming down, I realized how dumb that was. I refused a warm, dry bed because I thought the trip should be done a certain way and I didn’t want to “give in” so easily. I started to think about this concept of omens, from one of my favorite books, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo. The whole book is amazing, but there is this concept of following the omens throughout that really resonated with me and is something that I would like to practice more.
The book says on page 30, “In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left you.” I set out on this journey for self-discovery and a challenge and to figure out what this “treasure” is I seek. But when I have a plan, sometimes I can be so stubborn in what I think I should be discovering, that I forget to listen to those omens telling me what I am presently or could be discovering.
Two times already on this trip, I have had the opportunity to connect with people that I may not have connected with otherwise, and it has been beautiful, unplanned, unintended, and unexpected. So instead of being stubborn in my ways and intentions, I am deciding right now, to be open to the omens, and allow myself to follow whatever type of journey this will and could be. Hold me to it!
Here’s to the rest of the journey! Cheers!