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I was overwhelmed with nervousness as I watched the Wheel & Sprocket van head up the gravel road to the Start Line Inn where we were staying the night before the Tour de Chequamegon. What if we don’t have everything we need? What if they don’t get along? What if this entire thing turns out to be a disaster?

We would soon be leaving our cozy cabin in Cable, WI to pedal our way through the beautiful lands of the Chequamegon National Forest. It is a land that continues to hold the spirit of the Anishinabek Nation, a people known for their stories and songs, and is still home to the six Lake Superior Chippewa Ojibwe communities in Wisconsin: Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac Du Flambeau, St. Croix, Sokaogan (Mole Lake), and Red Cliff

We all packed into the small bike shop to set up our bikes for a three-day bikepacking adventure. Five Black folks who had never met, but were willing to trust Devin and me as guides on their weekend adventure in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

The tents, Voile straps, puffies, and sleeping bags lay scattered across the floor of the Start Line Services bike repair shop next to our Airbnb. I took a deep breath, and by the time I released it someone had turned on some old-school jams. Another participant walked through the door and started handing out beers and soda.  Devin was already stuffing bags and strapping down tents to participants’ handlebars.

Immediately the room filled with laughter as the room full of strangers became family.

My spirit began to center in my body as the pieces started to fall into place. I helped one of the riders struggling to connect a front pack to their bike and then moved from one area of the shop to the next, securing bikepacking bags, answering questions, and doing bike checks. Two hours later, we had stacked all the bikes against the wall and headed up to our rental.  

The Start Line Inn Loft in the Woods where we were staying the night before the ride is a comfy open studio with five beds lined against the wall. Devin made a pallet on the floor, and I took the sofa.  We played music, laughed, and conversed until lights out. I lay there in the dark, eyes wide open, almost too exhausted to sleep. I finally drifted off with the thoughts of What if we continued to support one another when times get tough on the trail? What if the entire thing turns out to be a success for us all? What if everything we need is as simple as being together in this space?

That morning, we woke up to the chill of the Wisconsin fall air. We hopped on our bikes and soft-pedaled a mile on the gravel road to the start to meet up with the other participants.  Although we stood out as the only participants of color, we found comfort and security in our circle. The first day was brutal. We encountered hill after hill, and spent most of our time readjusting our packs. I was sweep, and spent the day supporting mechanical failures and reminding riders of their resilience when spirits were low. When I finally made it to the first campsite at Black Lake with the last participant, the group cheered, and ran up to embrace us with hugs.  

Day two was lighter in miles and vertical feet, but the rain brought morale down, and we leaned on one another for emotional support. That night we celebrated with shots of whiskey. We broke away from our affinity space and settled in with the larger group. We drank beer around the main campfire and made new friends with the other riders. We stumbled back to our tents and prepared for our final day.  

The route for Day three looked a bit easier, given that the final 10 miles were paved, so we delayed our start to try to wait out the rain, but the rain still hadn’t stopped as we slowly gathered our gear and set out for our final forty miles. I began far behind the group so we had space to ride our own rides. I reflected on our journey. All seven of us had come knowing we would be the only folks of color. In our first meeting, we also struggled with all the things that come with being in the remote backcountry, but the discussion kept coming back to us, Black folks, and them, the other forty riders. I kept reminding myself of the gift we were bringing to the group.

I was reminded of the joy, Black joy, that exists everywhere and existed on all 106 miles of our journey.

There is comfort in seeing someone that looks like you. A comfort that carries you through the last brutal forty miles in the rain. A comfort that says this space, this trail, this sport belongs to us too.  

I pulled up to our living space with the final rider, and the group came out to cheer us on as we made our last pedal strokes up the gravel driveway to the bike shop where we started.  

Bikepacking allows us to connect with the land, each other, and ourselves in a way that goes beyond day rides. It forces us to dig deeper, to challenge our minds and bodies. I have always drawn strength from my ancestors. I feel their resilience, which has been passed to me. That week that connection grew, as I relived their joy, and connected with folks on the trail that have similar lived experiences. It was special and rare, but I will continue to create these spaces for me and others.  

This story first appeared in the 2023 Bike Fed Ride Guide magazine. To have the annual magazine mailed to your home each spring, and receive other valuable benefits, we invite you to join or renew with membership.