The Last Push to the Shore

We hit the first sand just west of Drummond. After the hammering we had taken from the last down pour, every foot closer to the Lake I considered a success. The storm had left its mark on the trail in the form of countless mini-dams, bottomless looking puddles and displaced boulders. It was going on 5 pm and we had at least another 80 miles to go. Once again, we entered the weird, weird world of night-time mile-making.

We had been in the same predicament before. The mornings on the Trans Wisconsin would have their own momentum as our tired muscles slowly loosened up after the first few miles. There was the anticipation of the day…what we would see, where we would eat, how far we would go. By 2 pm, though, I would hit the daily doldrums…a low period of energy, of motivation or sense of drive. I recognized it fairly early in the trip and it helped tremendously to have a travel partner such as Farrow to help get through these spells. This period would always pass, somehow, by a stop at a tavern, a tough trail section or some beautiful stretch of Wisconsin farmland or wood. Before you knew it, the witching hour was upon you. Since the sun set so late, this new part of the day actually happened a bit by clockwork. Near 7 pm, we would always seem to have another 70 miles to go. It always seemed impossible, yet I think both of our daily clocks would reset themselves to somehow magically tic off another set of 50 or so miles. Even as I write this, I’m not sure where the energy came from. Certainly not from my hundredth Cinnamon PopTart or Peanut Nutroll. I think darkness brought about a way in which we focused less on our surroundings and more on some perceived destination or sense of speed. It was probably a good thing that we couldn’t see that our speedometers rarely read above 12 mph.

On this last push…our go for broke run to the Lake…our one and only summit attempt…I was running on almost pure adrenaline. I knew it wouldn’t last, but my hope was that it would carry me close enough to the Lake so that it would be impossible to stop no matter what time it was. But when I stopped to take a picture of “Poncho” on the trail, and then he got one of me…I began to notice just how rough we were looking and feeling. Who was this plastic coated one I was riding with? I have said it before and I will say it again. Farrow was starting to be an eerie likeness to one of my greatest wilderness mentors, Paul Schurke of arctic travel fame. I learned from Paul that just about anything can be made to work in a pinch…and you can always go further than you think. Farrow was headed to the Lake with or without me…and just like the rest of the trip, he was a companion I did not want to lose now. I was going to the Lake no matter what.

A fitting final resting place for Trans Wisconsin riders? (just south of Norwalk)
So we rode. And we called Rich to let him know our ETA. We knew we were going to be pushing the time we told him…but we used it as a big carrot. We HAD to go hard now. But this adventure would not cut us any breaks in trail conditions. Just when we started to make decent time, we would hit an uphill road made of nothing but sand and bear tracks. The bear tracks were awesome, but only for a brief time before the hike-a-bike carried us back to the task at hand. This Trans route would push us to the very end.

As night came on, we seemed to enter one of the most surreal environments I have ever traveled in. We were on one of the loneliest roads of the trip. A fog began to settle in. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. My headlamp on my helmet was almost useless against the strange ground fog we were riding through. We navigated by Farrow’s lone handlebar light. I was getting vertigo by trying to focus on the road by looking up to the trees as markers for the road edge. Charlie was unusually silent and I knew he was getting cold and pushing it to the limit. The rattle of his cheap, red, poncho was all that I heard after a while. We would comment on how strange the night was just to hear ourselves talk…just to somehow frame who we were and what we were doing. The fog started to mess with both of our psyches. It started to drizzle. I threw on my cheap, bank robber balaclava that I had bought at the Drummond general store. I loaned Farrow my wind breaker. We kept riding.

As we pushed on to the Lake we both felt like we were being pulled magically to the water. There would be long stretches where we would say, “I feel like we aren’t pedaling! Are we going downhill? We’re going 18 mph on the flats! Look! I’m not even pedaling!” We were both losing it! This is when Farrow started to laugh. I asked him what was so funny. He said that he had just scared himself by thinking that someone was chasing us…until he realized it was the rustle of his own poncho. I laughed but at the same time I realized we had better hit the finish before we both totally lost it.

As we pushed on, I tried to keep us awake by telling my guiding stories from my summer in Greenland. For the first time in a long while, I stirred up memories of that amazing time I spent kayaking the awesome, iceberg filled fiords of the west coast of Greenland. The stories helped me. I have no idea if they did anything for Farrow. But before we knew it, I was looking for one of our last turns! But again…more sand. More epically slow forward progress. I could hardly sit on my saddle due to my butt being so raw. I knew Farrow was in his own personal pain cave, too.

Finally, we saw yet another eerie light in the distance. I finally realized that it had to be our man, Rich, shooting flash photos from about 100 yards away in the fog. That camera became a lighthouse! Ride to the light! We finally reached him and he said, “you’ve got another 200 yards to go…finish it off!” He then got behind us and lit the way with his van’s headlights (this probably counts as “support”…). Farrow and I joked about sprinting to the line but before we knew it we were at some random turnaround with no where else to go. We stopped and looked at each other. Rich handed us a beer and took photos. It was black as tar out and we had no idea where the lake even was. Supposedly, it was within a few feet of us. Rich shepherded us into the van. I think I gave Farrow a quick hug before we got in. We were done. We were headed home.

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