I’m nestled on the corner of Rolf’s futon on the west side of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I’ve spent many a lonely, cold night on this very futon. It’s the only furniture in his living room now. It used to be in the basement, tucked into a room that was decorated with various guitars and a drum kit. Rolf makes music. A tall, black lamp lit the room. I’d call it a night, and press the black button on the floor to power down the lamp. I’d hear him trot around upstairs, then his bedroom door shut, then, silence. Knowing I had him made the sadness in my soul feel less heavy. I’d had a love flame in this Packer town, it was made up in my brain though and I thought I’d never feel comfortable again. I almost thought I’d never be able to come back and felt loss thinking that my friends would become my history.
Fat biking pulled me back east, and Rolf offered a spare key to his door. You’re always welcome here… Without expectation, I knew that was love in his gesture. It’s security, it’s warmth, comfort that transcends any season. The wall in front of me, painted a deep red, illuminated by track lighting on the ceiling sets the mood while Nathan spits his mad Green Bay rap game. He crosses his arms, bows his head. I clap. He retires to his fortress to conquer the video game world. Rolf, close enough to me that his right arm occasionally brushes my cardigan covered arm. He’s strumming his guitar. Guess this one…
I spent the day swapping parts on the Stella, preparing for my departure out west. Broken Spoke is my home, away from home. George has given me a space to dial my bike and he’s a good resource for my rusty bike mechanic brain. Bike parts have changed so much since the last time I worked in a shop. I have to ask how to take my crank apart. It’s self-extracting he says. Neat, I think. My hub arrives tomorrow, I still have to build my wheel. I’m going 650b for the CTR. It’s so much more fun for trail riding. I9 sent a rear wheel, built, and a rim for the front. I just needed a new SON hub to complete a proper race build. I’m rusty in the wheel building department, but I hear, once you’ve started building it again, it’s just like riding a bike. I’m shocked to see that my Kogel bearings in my bottom bracket still churn, butter. Nearly 5000 miles and they still feel brand new. I clean them, add fresh grease, swap my chainring and reassemble the whole dealio. Last year, my Race Face bottom bracket was toast by mile 2000. I’m using a KMC chain this time, I’m a little nervous; my XTR chain was still strong at 5000 miles. I’m very much a creature of habit, I don’t like to change things that work. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Everything on my bike is fresh, new. Ready to shreddy, well, mostly. I’m just waiting on a wheel… ditibise.
Ditibise is the Ojibwemowin word for wheel. It’s a verb, transitive, both animate and inanimate; it means s/he rolls, goes around. It’s the word, her word. It’s how she spins stories in her head, and how she gets swept up in the whirlwind of Earth rotating on it’s axis. It’s how she remembers, even though, this may pass, don’t forget. You may need to use this lesson again… ditibise. It’s why she does her best to be good, to lead the ‘good life’; what goes around, comes back around.
Ditibised, they called her. She’d been riding an 18 day high that set an ultimate purpose in her life. Find forward, cross that finish line. Once she did, and once those tears left her eyes and found the New Mexican pavement, she was lost. She’d go home for love. She loved him, even though she’d left Nahgahchiwanong to forget him, to leave him in the miles of the divide. He had her heart. And any time another man tried, it was useless. He was all she’d ever dreamt of; you don’t let the man of your dreams retire to the miles.
She’d made it to the Cities. He came to meet her in the big city. As she waited for him on the patio at the hotel, she heard his jeep echo bounce off the concrete castles conquering the landscape. He parked, she climbed the fence and ran to him. She held him, she kissed him. He looked just like she remembered, but this time, he was kissed by the sun. A smile covered his face. He doesn’t smile for just anyone. He smiles for her. And she feels like the luckiest woman on Earth. 12 days at home, with him. But he’s busy too. He has life, and work, and a daughter. So, she waits for him. Because, she understands, she doesn’t just get to leave and call all the shots when she makes an appearance on the homefront.
A mental fog set in and the troubled relationship with food surfaces again. Comfort in her insecurities comes from calories. Post traumatic trail disorder, or that’s what Mazinaakizon calls it. It’s the struggle acclimating back to life after the ultra. Plus, this is a hard one, she’s in limbo. Only home for 12 days. Not even two weeks to stew before she heads out for the Crusher, then the CTR. She can’t get a job, she can’t settle in. It’s that old waiting game, and that lack of purpose. The Crusher becomes everything she thinks about.
The Crusher is a 235 mile race hosted by the 906 crew. 906 is nestled on the shores of Gichi-gami, her favorite lake, Superior. Zanagendam became her favorite race organizer when she’d asked him “what’s in a name” and his answer was “it’s the ultimate story of doing hard things”. Yes she thought, he gets it. The races are proof of that, they host a series of races, The Marji Gesick 100, The Polar Roll 30, and The Crusher 235. And if you finish the longest course option in all three, you are a triple crowner and earn entry to a secret event. The courses are anything but easy. They’re soul-crushing, barrier destroying, they are building blocks to make you a better version of self, me 2point.oh. She didn’t take preparation lightly, the Marji shocked her, and inspired her to spend a season training for the next year. The Polar Roll inspired her to ditch the gears. She was ready to be crushed.
This gravel race was unlike the other gravel races she participated in. It was more like a bike packing race due to the list of required gear. She liked that detail; she thought it would be great training for those who were thinking about competing in longer ultra bikepacking events. Riding with a loaded rig is different than a super fast speed machine. The snorkel and whistle listed added jest to the whole thing; riders must carry a snorkel.
The race begins on the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Copper Harbor. The route winds southeast before jetting west, just north of Mount Houghton. Some punchy climbs present themselves, just little pushes and she can crank the single speed up and over them easily enough. She opted for the same gearing she used on the Divide, 36×19. This will be good she thinks. The route then drops 300 feet to Lac La Belle and the next 20 miles are flat. She tops out at 11 miles per hour. It takes constant cadence to keep that speed and it frustrates her. She’s passed by every-single-person she could see. The next section follows the edge of Lake Gratiot, and she sees a pavement climb up a wall. She catches a glimpse of 7 or so riders spinning up. She knows the only place she can pass anyone is on the climbs and tells the riders next to her that “we’re gonna conquer this climb”. They chuckle, and all three of them start the climb together. She quickly passes them and finds another rider. She gasps how far do you think I’ll make it she asks him. “I believe in you” he says, and she switches into paper-boy mode– she swerves back and forth across the entire road because going straight up is to sweet. She passes 3 or 4 more riders and summits. Gasping for air, I made it. She cruises along and the 20 mile descent comes. All the geared riders pass her again. The following miles are a boring blur, and as she parallels Highway 41, she can’t wait to make it to Houghton. There’s a small 200 foot climb, and then it’s a long descent to town. She finds her singlespeed friend Richard at the checkpoint. He shares a shot of Fireball with her– she’s drinking again.
She has a nasty mood, she’s tired of the flat, boring terrain. She’d geared wrong, she thought. This is no course for a single speeder. But in true 906 fashion, the race hadn’t even started yet. The hills were coming, the sand was waiting, the hike-a-bike was looming… She felt strong until she realized she’d ridden the road when she was supposed to be on the ski trail. She turned around to pass the father and son picking raspberries on the cliffside. She catches up to a group of men on a few climbs and arrives at the Freda Smokestack in jean-short fashion. Selfie time. This race had 5 checkpoints that consisted of selfies as decimal degrees. How do you wear those things? They ask about her denim cuttoffs. “My butt callouses are on point…” She decides she’s going to ride as hard as she can to L’Anse. The first climb away from the smokestack is a 250 foot push, easy, and she passes two more fellas. “You’re killing it guys”. She sees them at the finish the next day. She passes two more single speeders. They’re stopped at the Mosquito Bar, she passes it. There were at least 12 bikes stacked outside. The rowdy boys catch up to her. One on a fat bike. One she knew from Tuscobia. Another who lived in Tucson. A tattooed one. They’re jamming 90’s tunes and pedaling in a cloud of marijuana. They pedal as a crew for a few flat miles until some descents pop up. They pedal away from her, but the 8 or 12 miles they crush out together fly by. She felt fast keeping up with them. They would beat her to L’Anse. Slow and steady though. That’s all she knows.
L’Anse arrives and she downs a veggie dog, saur kraut, pickles, and a handful of pretzels. She washes the food down with two Pepsi’s and hits the road ten minutes later. It’s “self supported”; she appreciates the sentiment, but the thing about 906 is that the community supporting the racers is as big, if not bigger than the number of people racing. There is support pouring out of the seams of this community. And it’s what keeps bringing her back. She’s found family, she’s found her ‘local’ racing crew– nindinawemaaganadoog– all my relatives.
The ride carries on to climb Dynamite Hill Road, where, in the early hours of the night, she finds the mailbox on the top of Mount Arvon. Elevation 1,961 ft. She’d become obsessed with the climb ever since that first single speed ride.
The climbing carries on as the route carries on east. The hours of the day before revealed landscapes familiar to her from different eras of her life. There were the rolling hills of the Wisconsin countryside, and the desolate canyons of Utah. There were the hillsides of the Mississippi and the mountain grades of Montana. It was a fraction from every church she’d ever attended combined into the landscape of home. The shore of Superior at her toes as she fluttered her way to Marquette.
Pedal mildly downhill through the Escanaba River State Forest and wind up at the food refuel trailer tucked in the woods after pedaling a pavement section full of big semi trucks. The crisp air of Red Road and the Dead River Basin chill the bones and make the miles slower than usual. Mosquito Gulch comes, and she’s over the race. Her headlamps stopped working and she was left to her generator light.