When I first left Portland to begin this adventure, it was bittersweet. I was so excited for what I was about to experience, but I was also so nervous and terrified by the gravity of what I was taking on. I was a little bit sad to leave, but I had honestly been incredibly relieved at the same time. I was no longer going to be a burden to my sister and her fiancé, and I was going to be completely free and on my own for the first time in a very long time. I didn’t really feel like I was leaving my home. I felt like I was leaving to find it.
Last Friday, I set off once again to begin my journey from Minneapolis to Boston. Having had ample time to relax since leaving Victoria, I was brimming with energy and felt stronger than ever. Even with all of my gear overburdening my bike, I sailed uphill as my She-Hulk thighs pushed and pushed. It took a while to get out of Minneapolis by staying on the bike paths, but before I knew it, I was on the highway once again. When I imagined biking through the midwest when planning my trip, I just assumed it would be flat. I had an image in my mind of endless corn fields as far as the eye can see. The reality, however, is much less ideal. Endless rolling hills depleted me of my energy, and forced me to utilize every ounce of willpower that I could muster to make it a mere one hundred yards at a time. I had mapped out the longest route that I had so far up to this point due to my misguided assumptions about the topography. (Seriously, will I ever learn to actually prepare for things?) I had made it forty miles before I began to feel stalked by death, and see the acid-trip-esque distortion of the world around me.
I still had another seven miles until my campground, but I knew I wouldn’t make it on the mere six hundred calories I had ingested for the entire day. I decided to hole up in the closest (and cheapest) motel that I could find. With only a smoking room available on the main floor, I suffered through the inhalation of toxic chemicals, flattened myself onto the bed, and buried my sunburned face into the pillow. A monsoon of tears poured from my eyes and painful sobs tore through my esophagus. I could only lay on my stomach because my tail bone hurt so severely that any position other than that one sent shooting pains through my body. The only person in the world I wanted to talk to was my mom, but I couldn’t get a signal in my room, and since I had opted for a motel on the cheap, I couldn’t call long distance on the room phone. My loneliness consumed me and my soul felt like a deflated balloon. I continued to sob and cry until my dehydration prevented the production of any more tears. As I lay there trying to console myself, I decided to start planning my ride for the following day.
I poured over Google Maps desperately trying to find a town with a campground within a reasonable cycling distance. Everything that turned up in my search results was either far too pricey, or all booked up for the Fourth of July. After much deliberation, I finally found this seemingly obscure place called Liberty Tree Farm just outside of the small town of Stockholm, WI. “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “It says it offers camping, but it certainly doesn’t sound like a campground.” I decided not to take any chances and dialed the number that was listed. On the other end, an incredibly kind and enthusiastic voice came on which belonged to a gentleman named Sundance, and I inquired about camping at his establishment. He said that they don’t usually allow camping, except during events, but as luck would have it, he was going to be having one that day since it was the Fourth of July. He continued to paint a picture of an incredibly epic celebration that I wanted more than anything to attend. The only pitfall was that it was forty-seven long and painful miles away. I decided to take on the challenge because the last thing I wanted was to spend the All-American holiday alone in the woods.
I awoke the next morning to a hollow feeling in my heart. I wondered if I wanted to keep going. My body was broken and tired and limp, and it took conscious effort to move any part of it. I thought of the Independence Day celebration at the farm, and a small glimmer of excitement ignited in my soul. I held onto that thought as I packed up my gear, and let it rest in the back of my mind as I headed out the door. I stopped for some breakfast to refuel me, and then slowly lowered myself onto my bike to try to prepare myself for the stabbing pain in my tailbone. I immediately knew I wasn’t going to make it. My legs were like wet noodles, and no matter how much effort I used to push my pedals, I could barely propel my bike forward. The rolling hills were murder. My bike chain kept slipping off of my chainwheel, and I lost a lot of time having to stop to repair it. I made it fifteen miles before I called it. I was done for the day. No July 4th celebration for me. There was a sign for a nearby campground only four miles away, so I headed off, away from the promise of fireworks and patriotic celebration. The signs led me down a terrifying and murdery looking gravel road that went on forever. My bike tires being built for touring, and not mountain biking, kept slipping on the loose gravel and I would topple to the hard ground with my massively heavy bike trapping my leg. An embarrassing amount of time passed before the obvious thought occurred to me that I should be walking my bike instead of remaining in this raging battle between my bike and the poorly constructed road. I walked until the very end of the road when I approached a “no trespassing” sign depicting a myriad of awful things that would happen to me if I didn’t turn back. But where the fuck was the campground? I turned around and walked my bike back the direction from which I came, glaring at Google Maps on my dim phone screen. “What the hell? It should be right here!” I exclaimed in frustration and panic. Tears, again. All of the tears. I had reached a point of exhaustion from the heat and humidity, as well as my dangerous lack of food. I was sweating out water faster than I could take it in, I was getting dizzy, and I could not stop crying. I gave up on the campground and starting searching for help. I knew if I didn’t find it quick, I would more than likely end up passed out on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Who knows who (if anyone) would find me, and getting raped and murdered would have been extremely inconvenient. I went back in the direction of a park I had passed about a mile up the road where I met my literal saviours, Jug (as he introduced himself) and Margaret Anne. They drove me the rest of the way to Liberty Tree Farm, and refused to let me give them any gas money, even though they drove, like, thirty miles out of their way. On the drive up, I looked around at the remoteness of where we were going. When I thought about the fact that the guy putting on the event was named Sundance, I started to wonder what kind of weird cult I was about to stumble into.
We finally pulled up to the farm where I was greeted by the amazingly kind and helpful volunteers, Kate and Grady. I peeled myself from the backseat of the car, and Kate and Grady lugged my things to my campsite. Completely forgetting my social skills, I stood there uselessly watching as Kate proceeded to set up my tent, and I occasionally and awkwardly tried to be “helpful.” She told me that when I was ready, I should come down and hang out and have a beer. After spending about an hour staring into space in my suffocatingly hot tent, I finally summoned the strength to try and interact with other humans. It was a holiday after all, and I had literally almost died trying to get there. I went down to the area where the party was happening, and I was pretty amazed at the spectacle. There were a least a hundred people already there at that point, sitting and watching a band playing in a giant barn with the wall cut out of it and converted into a stage. The bands that played were sensational, and everybody I met was so incredibly kind. I really wanted to meet the organizer of this amazing event, so I asked around about where I could find Sundance and introduce myself. “Oh yeah, he’s the guy in the straw hat,” a guy told me (which surpisingly did not narrow things down that much). Finally someone pointed him out to me, and I approached him with a smile. The moment we shook hands and made eye contact I felt an immediate connection, and an intense attraction. I tried to introduce myself and hold intelligent small talk, but I could not seem to string a coherent sentence together. My heart was racing, and I felt dizzy in his presence. I couldn’t hold his intense and soul penetrating gaze for longer than a few seconds. I was in trouble.
Still reeling from my encounter with Sundance, I returned to my picnic table with a beer in hand that a generous party guest had bought for me. I sat and socialized with several other people I met throughout the night, but I already couldn’t get Sundance out of my mind. I felt like a teenager, and it was ridiculously pathetic. I kept looking around for him and would constantly see him running around getting ice for the bar, and just generally working his ass off to make sure the evening continued without a hitch. When I wasn’t looking around for him, I would bump into him on my way to the bathroom or to my tent. I would look up at him and his smile would make me blush like a freaking school girl. It was so embarrassing. He let me charge my phone in his house, and just him inviting me to walk up there with him made me want to melt. I don’t know if I could describe Sundance in a way that would do him justice. It really has nothing to do with what he looks like, and everything to do with his energy. He is one of those people who have such infectious positivity and sincerity of spirit that you are just drawn to him. And I wanted him. In every way, I wanted him.
In the morning he had laid out an incredible breakfast with an assortment of fruits and pastries, and the remaining campers indulged themselves in delicious foodstuffs and conversation. With my body still weak from the past two days, I decided to ask him if I could stay for an extra day to recuperate. He graciously agreed even though the campground was closed because the guy is just that amazing. Well, one day turned into two on account of thunderstorms, and since the weather report called for two inches of rain, he invited me to stay in the house and sleep on the couch. He was such a gracious host I couldn’t believe it. He made me a breakfast in the morning that was so freaking insanely good that I would have given it all up to him right then and there. (There’s just something about a man who can cook, am I right?) When he returned to his work after breakfast I decided I wanted to show my appreciation. (No, not the way you’re thinking. I did the dishes. But I seriously would have done anything he wanted if he had asked). As I stood at the sink, my hands covered in soap bubbles, gliding the sponge over a surprisingly heavy plate, he came up behind me, put his hands on my waist, and tenderly tucked my shirt hem into the top of my jeans. “What are you doing?” I asked. In a seductive tone that made me weak at the knees, he replied, “It’s so I can get a better view.” I realized he meant my ass, and I blushed bright red. Now, I realize that this is beginning to read more like Fifty Shades of Grey than a blog post about a bike trip. But this is part of my experience, so I am going to share it because honesty is something I strive for, and well, oversharing is just something that comes naturally. So, sorry if you feel like this:
With my legs trembling and my heart racing, I could not stop the continuous smile on my face from peeking through. I was so into this guy. And I really wanted him to get into me. (See what I did there?) He was just so heart crushingly sexy to me. Our chemistry was palpable, and incredibly intoxicating. I hadn’t felt like this since I was an inappropiately aged fourteen year old losing my virginity. I finally got what Madonna had been singing about all these years. I stood there trembling, continuing to wash dishes with this unstoppably sexy man staring at my ass. I heard him get out of his chair, walk towards me, and felt him press himself against me. He grabbed my waist and started kissing my neck. I turned around and we kissed with such passion it shook me to my core. And then he stopped. Aaaahhhghhoijasefkjnossdj. (Keyboard smash). Later in the day, when the rain had subsided, he took me on a small (sort of) hike to the bluff overlooking Lake Pepin. We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We shared such an intense attraction to each other, it was everything we could do to control ourselves.
The next day, as I helped him unload cases of beer into storage for his next event, he said “I think we should have a discussion about Sarah.” (His recently ex-girlfriend from Minneapolis). My heart sank into my stomach. I could tell already that this was not going to have a happy ending for me. He told me that we needed to press pause on anything physical until he sorted things out with his ex. He was angry and confused at her suddenly popping back up in his life with expectations that he wasn’t going to try and move on, but he also still really cared about her and didn’t want to hurt her, and she was clearly hurt by our connection. He went on to explain that he didn’t feel right about starting something up with me while he was still partially emotionally invested in his past relationship, and he didn’t want to spoil whatever potential we had together by tainting it with negative associations. My disappointment gnawed at my stomach. All I wanted was to be able to physically express how I feel about this amazing man, and now I couldn’t. And now that I couldn’t, I wanted to more than ever. (Fucking psychology, man.) It took every ounce of our will power not to act on our mutual attraction. He continued to interact with me in such a devilishly flirtatious way, it made it impossible to think of anything other than grabbing him and pressing my lips to his.
On Wednesday, while we drank beer on his porch, we talked nonstop for hours. He wanted to know all about me, and I wanted to know all about him. I could seriously listen to this man talk forever. And that is very rare for me. I am usually such a chatterbox that no one can get a word in edgewise. But there was just something about the way he spoke that mesmerized me. He detailed his life with such fervor that I hung onto his every word. I felt comfortable and at ease sitting there on his porch facing his gorgeous property that it felt like home. It felt like this is what I had been biking toward, and I knew immediately that leaving this place would be the hardest thing I have ever done.
As the evening progressed, we consumed more and more beer, talking and laughing for hours. When I returned from a trip to the bathroom, he grabbed me firmly, pulled me into him and began kissing me. Despite my attempts to remind him that he didn’t want to do this, I caved. I am a weak woman. We didn’t go all the way, but I was certainly intimate with him, if you get my meaning. We hopped into the shower together and just explored each others bodies. Then I pulled away. I didn’t want to go any further until I knew what this meant. He had been so adamant about not wanting to get physical yet because he thought it would screw things up, so I was confused by his behavior. He suddenly got visibly upset and sad, and I didn’t know what to do. He said he felt ashamed at himself for having been weakened by his intense attraction to me that now he felt like he didn’t have any integrity, now everything was ruined, and that we should end things now. I was crushed. I felt utterly rejected and heartbroken. I wanted to leave immediately. I was so humiliated and angry that I had let myself fall so hard for this guy and allowed myself to be vulnerable. What was I thinking? I went into this bike trip to find myself not a boyfriend. It was time for me to go.
The next morning I arose to prepare for my departure. I was numb all over. I was heartbroken and sad to be leaving, but it had to be done. As I sat there sipping my coffee, I felt as though I wanted to melt into a puddle like Alex Mack and never take solid form again. My feelings were irrational and completely illogical. How could I feel such intense feelings for a place and a man that had only been in my life for five days? It was silly! I was silly. I felt foolish and embarrassed. I needed to snap out of it. Despite the events of the previous evening, he still got up early to cook me breakfast. My heart was in shambles. I tried to play it off as being “tired” when really I was suppressing tears. I couldn’t let him see that. He would have thought I was an overly attached crazy person, and it wouldn’t’ve been a completely inaccurate assessment. I forced my eggs and potatoes down because I needed the calories, and even though they were delicious, I felt too nauseated to eat. We made small talk throughout the morning, and I forced a smile and feigned my contentment.
He offered to drive me into Pepin since he had to go there anyway for gas, and I could make up a bit of the mileage I had lost while staying on the farm. We pulled up into the gas station and I followed him inside so I could fill up my water bottles in the bathroom. During one of our long conversations, I mentioned in passing that I was a bit of a gum addict. I am seriously always chewing gum, not unlike Violet Beauregard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So when I walked out of the bathroom to find that he had bought me, like, seven bucks worth of Trident gum, I was so touched by the small and thoughtful gesture that I couldn’t stop smiling. He had told the people in the gas station all about me, and they wished me luck in my travels.
As he pumped his gas, he watched me load up my bike and was impressed by the amount of gear I could fit onto the thing. I hugged him goodbye and silently hoped that I would get on my bike and it would be irreparably damaged so I might be stuck there a little longer. When we broke our embrace, he said, “Goodbye, Izzy. I’m so glad you walked into my life for five days.” My heart swelled. So was I. I got on my bike, and much to my dismay, it worked flawlessly. I rode away from the man of my dreams, and didn’t look back. As I ride farther and farther away, my heart feels attached to him and his farm like a rubber band, stretching and stretching until it will eventually snap. It feels like leaving home.