It was a hot, sticky morning, Michigan style, the big lake perspiring mist, like all of us, while we struggled to pull on tight bike shorts. Our legs and behinds turned into polish sausages, stuffed in a casing, ready to hold in all our juices and sweat. The North Country Trail hosted our riding group of four, starting at the M-20 trail head. We were headed to Nichols Lake Campground near Bitely, tucked in the Manistee National Forest. NCT single track winds around pine and hardwood forest, bog, inland lakes, through briar and leafy patches and in/out of the baking sun. At the trail head lot, we geared up, adding helmets, bike cleats, sunglasses, sunscreen, Camelbacks and snack bags to our already simmering sausages. We needed all these ingredients to survive 15+ miles of hilly, rooted and rutted natural terrain.
We set off, rolled over M-20 blacktop and into the woods, the trail engulfing us in a steamy canopy of leaves and tall trees. Immediately, sweat rolled off my forehead, down my nose and dripped on to the packed dirt trail below my pedals. Thankfully, a benefit of biking is the self-generation of a breeze. Pedal faster, I thought, it will keep me cool. My theory worked until my quads started to cramp at mile eight. I kept my companions in sight as we swooshed by hardwoods, around banked corners and up a slowly-ascending ridgeline. My gears went down and my body temperature went up. Sunglasses steamed and slid to the tip of my nose, like I was a middle-aged woman, leaning forward, anticipatory, reading a seedy romance novel.
To say we arrived sweaty and tired to Nichols Lake was an understatement. We were wrecked, drenched in sweat, starving and literally collapsed on a rickety picnic table. A barrage of vitamin drinks, salty snacks and tales of trail domination, eventually brought smiles and laughter from four tortured friends. Only nature’s call to the ladies bathroom took me away from reveling over stories of our near-misses with hardwoods.
I walked a short distance and pushed my way through a wooden screen door and found a stall. Instead of my usual hover, I decided to sit and pee, resting my aching quads. I pulled down at my sausage casings, struggling with the Spandex against my still sweating skin. Wrestling them down finally, I bent and locked eyes on to a 1 ½” shiny, dark, wormy-looking object, perched just above my unmentionables. I shrieked, high-pitched and horrified, like a teenager being chased in a horror film. Panicked and still yelling, my fingers flicked at the glistening thing. Dear god how did I get a leech get in my pants? I knocked it hastily off my body to the green-painted cement floor. Pulling in quick gasps, completely grossed-out to have a varmint near my privates, I leaned down toward the floor for a closer look. Almost kneeling and watching intently, it didn’t move. The shine and glisten were now gone. I was perplexed. What is it? Closer still, almost touching the “creature,” I realized it was not a leech, rather the inanimate black-rubber earpiece from my sunglasses. What the hell and how did that get there? I picked it up and examined it for final non-leech confirmation. Shrieking turned to a loud exasperated chuckle, followed by an embarrassed admission to three friends.
Bike shorts don’t have pockets. Off my bike, before my foray to the ladies room, I had stuffed one arm of my sunglasses down the front of my shorts to prevent losing them. I pulled them out, left them on the table, which deposited the culprit unknowingly. I didn’t lose my sunglasses, but almost lost my wits over a leech near my minge.